Are you getting enough calories on Paleo? If you’re already at your desired weight, doing serious exercise, or struggling with low endocrine function, it may be time to add more carbohydrates, or perhaps more calories in general.
So, which do you add: rice, quinoa, tubers, fruit or fat?
The “Primal Blueprint” by Mark Sisson has always been my favorite Paleo primer. It’s easy to read, well-organized, and walks us through everything from gluten to exercise. One key part of “Primal Blueprint” is the Carbohydrate Curve graph with suggested grams of carbs depending on your weight. The advice given is 50 to 100 daily grams of carbs if you need to lose weight.
After weight is stable, 100 to 150 grams will maintain weight. Exceed that and you’ll gain weight. These figures are estimates and don’t necessarily work for those doing serious athletic workouts. But it’s a starting point we can customize, depending on your body type and health conditions.
The low-carb, ketogenic movement suggests keeping carbs under 50 grams a day to assist with serious weight loss and serious illness support such as MS (Terry Wahls) or Alzheimer’s prevention (David Perlmutter). Read my articles on these authors or listen to my interviews here with Terry or here with David). Note that at this time, I don’t recommend geting the bulk of your calories from fat….
For many of us not going ketogenic, there may be a problem getting enough calories on Paleo.
You may unintentionally be under 50 grams of carbs a day. Here’s a checklist to help you see what’s needed, and a 3000 calorie Shopping List…
Getting Enough Calories on Paleo
Here are the keys to Paleo calories, as I see it… If you’re at a decent weight, or exercising hard, you’ll want at least 100 grams of carbs.
- Are you eating enough vegetables?
- Can your gut digest starchy carbs such as sweet potatoes, plantains, quinoa or wild rice?
- Are you making up the caloric deficit with coconut oil and other fats?
- Can you really tolerate dairy products?
- Are you consuming too much honey, juice or chocolate? Or fruit?
Are you getting enough vegetables?
As a rough estimate, seven cups of cooked vegetables only yields about 150 calories or about 40 grams of carbohydrates. So, even seven cups of cooked spinach, brocoli, green beans and squash will only get you 40 grams of carbs. And many of us don’t get nearly that much. (Have you measured lately?) Salads hardly count, as raw leafy greens may look like a lot of food, but will chew down to almost nothing.
Winter squash such as Acorn and Butternut have about 60 calories per cup, or about 15 grams of carbs. Adding 1 cup of Acorn Squash to your 7 cups of daily veggies still only gets you to 55 grams of carbs.
Note that all measurements are for cooked foods, as many vegetables compact greatly when cooked. If you’re using a Nutri-Bullet, you’ll have to imagine what those leafy greens would cook down as to get to my “7 cups of cooked veggies” measure. Other veggies are generally the same bulk raw or cooked.
What about starchy carbs?
Winter squash sits in the vegetable kingdom rather than the starch kingdom as far as calories and digestibility go. Complex starches include sweet potatoes, potato, rice, quinoa and lentils. The carb and calorie count of sweet potatoes is less than white potatoes, but white potatoes are a nightshade, and sweet potatoes are tubers. Other tubers include plantain and taro. They’ve got around 115 calories per cup.
If you can digest these, you can ADD them to the above list. Don’t replace the veggies though as you need the variety of nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants vegetables provide.
If your gut, like mine, rebels at the complexity of sweet potato or lentils, try some well-soaked and longer-cooked Quinoa. Here’s how to properly prepare Quinoa which I have found digestible and an easy source of extra calories (220 calories per cup).
Add wild rice or quinoa slowly, a few bites a day, if you’ve been off starch for a while. I’ve been on a modified Specific Carbohydrate Diet since the 1990’s, but can handle quinoa now.
Are you getting your calories from fat?
You may unintentionally be in ketosis if you consume more than 6 tablespoons of pure fat a day and insufficient carbs. I find it difficult to keep weight on if I slip into simply adding more fat to keep my hunger at bay. Especially coconut oil, which is highly thermogenic. It seems to literally burn the fat off. Ok if you need it but not good if you’re underweight, sick or in training. Other fats such as ghee, lard and olive oil are not as thermogenic but will still drop you into ketosis if you’re relying on them for calories.
Can you really tolerate dairy?
If you’re getting calories from yogurt, kefir and cheese, your calorie balance may be good, but you may have dairy antibodies and not know it. A big part of my practice at the Diet and Health Center in San Antonio is encouraging correct food challenges of dairy and egg to see if they may be causing problems. Here’s one article on doing a food challenge properly.
I highly recommend Cyrex Labs for their Gluten Cross-Reactive Foods panel. This will check dairy, coffee, oranges, chocolate and other foods that may provoke gluten antibodies. I was off the chart on dairy reactivity even though I was only consuming a few tablespoons of butter a week….. I’m OK with just ghee.
Classic signs of dairy intolerance are bloating, arthritis, snoring, reflux, loose stool and allergies. Eliminate ALL dairy except ghee for 1 to 4 months, watch for improvements, then add it back slowly and see what occurs.
Are you getting too many sweets or fruit?
Fruit is pretty high in calories. A cup of blueberries has 85 calories (21 carb grams). Many of us don’t digest fructose well, and a cup of fruit sends my blood sugar off. So fruit may or may not be a good choice for you.
Juice, honey and sugar obviously will provide calories, but will cost you in terms of blood sugar and other concerns. Chocolate might be OK, but I personally can’t handle it. The sweetener, milk solids, caffeine, etc. Plus it’s a common (and sneaky) allergen.
3000 Calorie Shopping List – Gluten Free, Dairy Free
For an avid exerciser or an older teen boy (they need plenty of calories), here’s what 3000 calories/day might include: (all are approximate)
800 calories average: a pound of meat, seafood, poultry meat
750 calories: 6 Tablespoons pure liquid fat such as butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, macadamia nut oil
240 calories: 1/2 cup canned coconut milk (Natural Value on Amazon has no Carrageenan gum or BPA). Coconut water or coconut milk in cartons is different, with calories from carbs, not fat….
280 calories: 4 eggs
150 calories: 3 pieces bacon
225 calories: 1 avocado
85 calories: 1 cup whole fruit
200 calories: 1 cup Quinoa or 2 medium sweet potatoes or 3 cups winter squash
150 calories: 7 cups of cooked vegetables (about 10 cups before cooking)
200 calories: 2 tablespoons almond or cashew butter
What about the rest of us?
For the rest of us, 2000 calories/day might work for women, and 2500 for men. Adjust your diet so you’re getting enough calories on Paleo without too much fruit or starch. Eat more when under stress or ill or ramping up your exercise. Best wishes to you!
Beverly Meyer, Holistic Nutrition Counselor and Podcaster