What is the Paleo/Primal Diet? Part 5: Carbohydrates the Key to Eternal Health?

What is a “Carbohydrate?”

We’ve discussed a variety of important factors in maintaining a healthy Primal life including grains,  beans, and dairy. But what about carbohydrates? Raise your hand if you know what a “carb” is or how they operate in the human body? Alright, lower your hands; I’ll just tell you . . .A “carbohydrate” is one of the four major classes of biomolecules. Now fasten your goggles, because it’s gonna get a little sciency in here.

Carbohydrates, also known as “saccharides,” are given the name “carbohydrates” because the molecules carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, are usually in proportion to form a water molecule. When these molecules are combined into large groups, they can be used for long term food storage, as protective membranes for cells, and for structural support in plants and in their cells.

A quick explanation of a saccharide. The illustration to the left demonstrates how saccharides break down.

Saccharides have two main components:

1. Aldehydes- Made up of double bonded carbon and oxygen atoms, plus one hydrogen atom.

2. Keytones- Made up of double bonded carbon and oxygen atoms, plus two additional hydrogen atoms.

The following are three of the five major types of saccharides that we will explore:

  1. Monosaccharides (simple or one sugar)— the smallest possible unit of sugar. A few examples of these units include glucose, fructose, and galactose. When talking about diabetes and blood sugar levels, we are talking about the amount of glucose in the blood. Fructose is mainly found in fruits and vegetables, while galactose can be found most readily in dairy products.
  2. Disaccharides (two sugars) two monosaccharides combined together in a glycosidic bond. Lactose (in milk), maltose (common ingredient in confectionery and candies), and sucrose (table sugar and produced as a result of photosynthesis in plants) are all examples of disaccharides. Also, interestingly enough, when the two monosaccharides glucose and galactose are bonded together, lactose is formed. Now you see how it all connects?? Disaccharides are technically Polysaccharides, defined next.
  3. Polysaccharides (three+ sugars)— literally “many saccharides.” Can be a chain of two or more monosaccharides. These chains can be anywhere from 100 to 1000 monosaccarides long. There are three types of polysaccharides: storage, structural, and bacterial. However, in an effort to keep this somewhat brief, we are only going to explore the first, because it has the most to do with the human body.
    • Storage Polysaccharides— main objective is to store food; in form of starch in plants and as glycogen in humans.
      • Glycogen—a polysaccaride found in nearly all animal cells. Stored in the liver of humans as well as in muscles, glycogen acts as the main form of stored carbohydrates for the body. Glycogen can be broken down into glucose, which is stored in a reserve and used by your body when an energy supply is necessary.

If you totally missed that bit of biochemistry-talk, never fear. Here’s where carbohydrates meet the world of nutrition and your body.

Carbohydrates and Nutrition—What You’ve Been Missing

In America today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a whopping 45-65% of your daily calories come from carbohydrates. That’s a maximum of 1300 of your 2000 Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of calories coming from carbohydrates. This recommendation alone leaves very little room for the absorption of vital nutrients you gain from fat and protein, not to mention that it is extremely difficult to lose weight while maintaining 65% of your RDI as carbohydrates.

More and more studies are coming out revealing that decreasing your daily carbohydrate intake can positively effect your weight loss goals. Recently, in a study done by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), they concluded that “participants burned about 300 calories more a day on a low-carb diet than they did on a low-fat diet.” An additional benefit of the low-carb diet includes far better sensitivity to the action of insulin (triggers the storage and usage of glucose).

It’s no coincidence that today 36% of American adults and 17% of children and adolescents are considered obese. Most of the time, an average American will consume a chilling 300+ grams of carbs everyday. You may think how do people get to 300 grams in one day?? Well basically, it adds up. Fast. It all starts with an unassuming piece or two of whole-wheat toast or a “healthy” muffin with breakfast, slices of bread or a bagel for lunch, chips or pretzels for snack throughout the day, and the loaded baked potato that comes on the side with dinner.

I urge you to take a minute right now to think about your daily food intake and how many carbs you really intake. If your tally adds up to anything over 150 grams, you should seriously rethink some of your daily food choices or face inevitable weight gain and pant-button popping.

The Primal Carbohydrate Curve suggests that in order to be a steady fat burner, you must maintain a daily carbohydrate intake of 50-100 grams everyday.

Now before you start thinking that range is just too low, let’s look at what modern-Primal man Korg eats in a typical day:


4 eggs scrambled w/coconut oil

any variety of sautéed vegetables

a pear, handful of berries, or a banana


Big Ass Salad with spinach and any veggies I’m feeling that day

leftover steak or chicken or canned wild salmon/tuna

maybe add a small handfull of berries and/or macadamia nuts

one medium-size apple


10 oz Wild Salmon filet in coconut oil

sautéed spinach with toasted pine nuts

roasted baby carrots

Snacks Throughout the Day

handful of macadamia nuts or almonds

few pieces of Trader Joe’s 85% Chocolate Lover’s Dark Chocolate (it’s really dark & really good!)


So after tallying the carb total, Korg hovers around 75 grams of carbohydrates a day, a perfect number which will allow him to burn stored body fat and get lean.

While it may not be THIS simple, the whole idea of the Primal lifestyle is to simplify your choices. Animals, plants, fruits, fats, and nuts and seeds should all be a part of your daily food intake.

The recommendation in the Primal community for daily carbohydrate intake is between 50-100 grams if you’re trying to lose weight or lean out and 100-150 grams if you are happy and healthy with your current weight and simply want to maintain.

If you are a picky eater and have trouble finding fruits and veggies you enjoy, get creative! Explore rare, foreign veggies you’ve never heard of like the Japanese Yubari King type cantaloupe. There are plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables out there for everyone to enjoy!

Friends of mine who started the plunge recently have told me that for the first week or two, cutting out those extra carbohydrates was really tough on their body and it felt weird, some would even get grumpy and aggravated more than usual. This is completely normal. Any time you tweak your lifestyle, it’s going to take a few weeks to get used to, so be patient, but after that third week, once you start seeing results, it will all be worth it.

If you manage to fit yourself into the fore mentioned framework, along with maintaining a regular exercise routine, you will have that sexy body you’re looking for and feel healthier than ever in fewer weeks than you think.

Have more questions about carbohydrates, their effect on your body, and/or what you can do to start burning fat now? Want a Caveman College t-shirt? Leave a comment or question below. Stay tuned for What is the Paleo/Primal Diet? Part 6!


About The Author


As a recent recent high school graduate, I've seen a lot of kids struggling with health and fitness over my years in school. I went Primal when my physical trainer helped me really focus on my physical well-being in training for my baseball career. I credit a large percentage of my health and well being on and off the baseball field to my Primal lifestyle. An idea came to the my mind to create a website where kids going into college could find great information on health and nutrition as well as functional fitness. I am extremely excited to be able to write about health in the college world, as a lot of times kids forget how to eat healthy when they go off to the college world. While we saw this as an opportunity to reach out to the college world, we also wanted this site to be a resource for people of all ages struggling with their health as a place for them to go and find great resources and information. Feel free to email me or Max at cavemancollege@gmail.com with any questions you may have. Email Josh at joshsinger11@gmail.com.

4 Responses

  1. Graham
    Graham July 15, 2012 at 4:50 pm | | Reply

    People are always saying “but I felt so crappy when I cut out grains!”

    And I’m all, “it’s called withdrawal. You feel crappy if you stopped doing cocaine too, but that’s not a reason to keep doing it!”

    1. Max Ungar
      Max Ungar July 15, 2012 at 6:03 pm | | Reply

      It’s the classic “Carb Flu”. There was actually a study done that found that mice were more addicted to sugar than they were to cocaine


  2. Gary Conway
    Gary Conway July 17, 2012 at 11:40 am | | Reply

    Good in-depth article. The sad thing is that many people try to take the “healthy” alternative and end up munching on 100 calories grain snacks which offer no nutritional value and encourage fat storage. Protein, good fats and sensible carbs like fruit and veg are the key to a more healthy and natural diet.

Leave a Reply