In Defense of Starch: How Carbs Can Fit Into a Paleo Diet



Photo by Christian Guthier via

Thanks again to all that have reviewed the book. We’ve mentioned it before but we are truly grateful. It is a terrifying thing to hope that people “get” what you have done and provide a place for them to leave an indelible, public critique of your pride and joy. But your comments have been amazing. To see reviews from all over the world and from people actually making the recipes and reporting back with rave reviews removes so much of the anxiety. We’re proud to have reviews like that, from real users. Not the  kind that write an infomercial sales pitch version of the book with compliments like “looks great”. We strive to be genuine in all we do and recommend. We’d rather put our effort into making something worth liking than trying to fool you into believing we have. Random side note: Much to my chagrin, and at our illustrator’s insistence, I joined Instagram.  I’m only using it to “creep” on #primalcravings and #healthbent; I’m not interested in posting anything–like I really need another social media outlet to suck at, but it’s been extremely cool to see what y’all are making.


Some of our reviews mention the starch content in the book in a negative context. We thought we’d address our feelings on that here, for what it’s worth….

We  recommend what we’d refer to as a “low-carb” diet, but to us the “low” implies a lesser amount relative to the Standard American Diets 300-500 grams. To those who consider low to be an Atkin’s induction phase (or any other ketogenic diet) at 0-50 grams of carbs per day, it’s probably more accurate to call what we believe in a moderate-carb diet. As we personally fall in the 75-200 grams per day of carbohydrates. The amounts vary based on our training and current goals (and male/female).

To obtain those carbs, we don’t see harm from (and actually see benefit with) starch. We are big fans of Paul and Shou Ching Jaminet’s work in this arena. In their book The Perfect Health Diet, the Jaminet’s argue for including what they call “safe starches” which include plantains, tapioca, rice, and potatoes of all kinds and colors.

Citing several ways at which they arrive at what The Perfect Health Diet would consist of; they argue that in many cases nutrient deficiencies can arise from a paleo diet that is too low in carbs for long periods of time.

We certainly have nothing against ketogenic or very low carb diets. And we know that there are certain conditions that they suit very well, in addition to being very effective for weight loss. We just don’t think that the extreme necessarily means that it’s more healthy long term. We don’t believe that insulin is evil or that rises in blood sugar from sensible choices are unnatural/dangerous in those with normal metabolisms. We agree with Kurt Harris’ assessment that very low carb diets are unnecessary and can be problematic long term. That said, if you were eating very low carb for any reason we still feel the book contains many (90+!) recipes that would be suitable and knock-your-socks-off tasty.

In what I’d estimate is about 30 of the 125+ recipes, we use tapioca flour or some form of starch, with tapioca flour as the basis of our baking. These starches and flours are only used where other traditional paleo recipes would include almond flour. And we’ve written about why we avoided using almond flour.  Not only have we been able to use about half the amount of total flour for the same yield out of baked goods (which usually contain coconut flour too, so it’s not all starch), but we also use the minimum of sugar (less than traditional almond paleo recipes) and the carb load is actually not as much as or that different from traditional almond flour recipes.

CrossFitters and all other active folks will likely do well with some starch with amounts depending again on size/activity level/goals/gender. And honestly I’d be pretty surprised if anyone reading this wasn’t incorporating much good activity into their day-to-day since paleo as a lifestyle is about more than just what we eat. It’s about using our bodies to stay capable.

We do think “carbs can be evil” but isn’t this stigma that all carbs are terrible like saying all fat is evil because trans fats are? We just want to be careful with lumping all carbs in the same boat with processed non-food foods. At first, the paleo diet was labeled as “lean meats only”. A trend that has since been bucked and it seems that to some the same is now happening with carbs. The paleo diet can be a very low carb diet but it’s not synonymous.

Last, we do have a great primer to the paleo diet in the front of the book. It’s probably already apparent from the rest of this article that our take is slightly unique in some ways. We say in the book that the recipes are of course the books primary intent, but that since they are recipes about a dietary lifestyle, we’d be remiss if we didn’t touch on what our principles are and how we use those recipes.The recipes in our book are how we really eat within the context we describe in “our philosophy”.

Everyone has their own context of how things work for them. We do get a little sick of the warnings that people try to give about sweets and treats. “Don’t eat this at every meal”…”this isn’t how you should always eat”…and blah, blah, blah. Not only are they likely overstating the supposed “danger” of some carbs (and projecting it onto everyone without regard for individual variance) but it’s extremely patronizing to assume you have to save everyone from their own ignorance. And is there really anyone anywhere thinking that a treat of any kind, paleo or not, is appropriate all day every day?

fictional person: “Well I’m so excited, I’ve made 17 cookie and cake recipes and I’m all set for my meals for the week.”

fictional snob: “You shouldn’t eat treats at every meal, or all day every day.”

fictional person: “Noooooooooooo. Thanks so much for letting me know. Now what am I going to do with all 50 lbs of these treats?”

Sound realistic? To us it’s on par with suggesting a glass of wine or a cocktail can be good for you but feeling the need to add a disclaimer…”Now make sure you don’t drink 413 of them per day or from a beer helmet while on the way to work!” No shit.

To describe our view on the paleo diet we use our “umbrella diagram” expertly illustrated by our artist Danna Ray. We try to make this thing as simple as possible! We get fed up with books and sites that at times seem to want to complicate it and add impractical “rules” that add more hassle and undue neurosis about food choices. Our diagram ties together our motivation for eating this way in the first place, the principles that determine what foods to choose (for autonomous decision making), and what the foods included are. But it emphasizes what to avoid since we really feel that’s the most unifying principle of paleo diet evidence and the biggest impact.

We just wanted to have our view accompany the recipes to highlight our subtle differences but also to provide a solid yet hopefully very reasonable and non-dogmatic version of what the diet is in hopes that the book would make a great gift to those with less paleo knowledge.

There are so many “intro to paleo” books out there now. Our real emphasis for this book was to try and create recipes to blow your mind, but we didn’t want you to need an “intro to paleo” book to go with it if you were just learning about the diet.

We wanted to explain the diet our way and then provide the recipes before anyone can even utter the phrase “so now what can I eat?”.


25 responses to “In Defense of Starch: How Carbs Can Fit Into a Paleo Diet”

  1. Thank you so much for this very thoughtful and thought provoking post. I’ve been guilty of looking at carbs in a negative light, but I realize that everyone’s body responds differently to different types of CHO’s. I, for one, don’t have negative responses to potatoes (white, sweet) and rice. I’m Asian. I can handle rice! LOL. I also know that if I don’t get below 100g of CHO’s a day, my WOD’s suck. I suck. I hate that feeling. So, I’m learning to strike that balance between leaning out and getting enough food/energy to get through a workout. Your cookbook has given me all options I need to eat a balanced, pleasurable and sustainable diet. I don’t desire to live a life a complete deprivation. That’s no fun! So, thank you for this post and for reminding us that potatoes, rice, starches can have their place in our diet.

  2. I eat plenty of carbs in the form of veggies and fruits with a mix of grass finished meats, nuts, seeds, I just avoid the grains, lectins…so often people associate the word “carb” only with starches like rice, potato etc ….not sure why….

    1. There is a big difference in nutrient value too though. I just read this article yesterday which offers some really good input on carb differences:

  3. Great article. This is one of those issues in paleo that is slowly starting to take better shape. A perfect example you used is that when paleo first came out it was focused around lean meats and saturated fat was still somewhat demonized. Now, after further research, we have fine tuned that (thank God for ribeyes) and are in love with good fat (oh Kerrygold). 🙂 The reason low carb works for most people is that many Americans are pretty sedentary by comparison. We drive everywhere, sit all day, workout for a brief period if at all, etc. So we ARE NOT depleting glycogen stores. However, if you work out and are fairly active you ARE depleting glycogen stores and protein synthesis can’t do all the work at that point. High level athletes especially will suffer without carbs as fuel. Nate Miyaki is a great resource on this issue as well. Eattoperform is another fantastic website for people to get a realistic idea of what they should be eating macronutrient wise.

    Again, thanks for addressing this issue. Simply put, carbs are used as fuel. If you don’t need them and you eat them, your body will store them. If you are working out, your body craves and needs them for recovery. So in a way, you do earn your carbs. I LOVE YOUR BOOK. I can’t tell you how much I’ve cooked from it already. I love all the recipes I’ve tried so far. The double chocolate mocha cookies? Are you kidding me….nomnomnomnom. Love you guys-thanks for all you do!

  4. Elizabeth H

    Amen. There are many shades of paleo/primal/caveperson and everyone can find his/her best shade.

  5. Thanks for this! I completely agree, and this is an easy-to-understand explanation of the reasoning behind ‘why carbs aren’t evil’. Will definitely be sharing this 🙂

  6. Excellent article, thanks! I bought your book when it came out, and have enjoyed several of the recipes, both making them and eating them (I am a 46 year old guy who is pretty clumsy around the kitchen). One of the parts I enjoyed the most of your book was precisely the intro, where you explain your philosophy. I live in the Dominican Republic and would really like to translate that part into Spanish so I can share with my friends and relatives. Would that be possible, and if so, how? Please let me know. Thanks.

  7. So you’re saying I SHOULDN’T be wearing my beer helmet to work? This Paleo diet is sooooo strict.

  8. Nicole Franklin

    Concise , rational and BS-free. Love it. Carbs are physical and emotional medicine, plain and simple.

    PS – I am also a PHD fan, nerd alert!

  9. Made the hazelnut coffee pancakes this morning and they were delicious! I do a LOT of baking with almond flour so I am GLAD you have switched it up for some of your recipes. I have also made the chocolate chip cookies and brownies, and love them all! Everything in moderation!!!

  10. Thank you for this article!! I LOVE your cook book and I’m a huge fan of blending coconut flour with starches, too. I wish that more people would be accepting with potatoes and starches in baking, especially over almond flour.

  11. Rick Nielson

    Very sound and rational. I think many live in fear of Carbs as alcoholics live in fear of booze. Thank you for supporting balance. You’re really good at wording your point of view. You should get your own Blog or something…Lol

  12. Anthropology was my minor at Texas Tech…whoop!…and any Paleo human would have gone for as much carbs as they could find!!! Be it from acorns to root veggies to wild grains! Honey, I mean the real stuff was a FIND! They would risk life and limb to get some honey. Not to mention fruits and berries!
    Everyone, I mean everyone, would benefit from an anthropology class!
    You all are doing great!!!!!
    Thanks bunches

  13. It’s interesting all the variations and options unfolding within the Paleo realm – Fantastic! I eat an entire baked potato (with skin) every day; it’s a vegetable for heaven’s sake, it’s not on par with manufactured flour/starch laden pasta, rice, or bread.

  14. There’s something about those “don’t eat this every day!” warnings that really rubs me the wrong way (even though I confess I sometimes hand them out myself when handing my boyfriend something especially decadent…), so I appreciate that they aren’t plastered on your treat or higher carb recipes! I’m pretty capable of figuring out my own treat/carb “threshold”, thanks!

  15. I bought your book the day it came out because I was so excited to find a paleo book that didn’t use almond flour (I am sensitive to almonds). I like to indulge in a treat every once and a while and this is just what I needed. I have also been guilty of carb phobia but after going low low carb and noticing several negative health impacts I know freely enjoy veggies, fruit (in season) and the yummy treats from your book. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making a book where I can eat every recipe!

  16. Randy Paulson

    I am not particularly active and eat a large part of my diet as potatoes and white rice. Is this damaging? I am not overweight at all. I hear that carbs are fine only for active people.

  17. Sooo…I’m late to this but it’s timely for me.

    I went out for lunch with co-workers for my b-day lunch & ate very well at Chipotle. I left a little bit hungry 🙁 & had to make a quick stop at Traders Joe’s to stock up on bbq meats for the weekend. My willpower got the best of me & I grabbed a gluten free brownie. Hey…it’s my b-day tomorrow! 😉

    After I downed one of the duo while driving back to work, I checked out the package details & realized that one brownie contained 50+ grams of carbs!!!

    Now see, had I just made the brownies from your book, I would have eaten one of those and:

    a) consumed a LOT less carbs &
    b) enjoyed it more.

    The moral of my tale is, we are not robots. Sometimes we want a treat, & personally, I feel a lot less “yuck” when I enjoy a treat that I made from Primal Cravings than one I mindlessly grab from Trader Joe’s & eat in my car. 🙁

    P.S. I LOVE your book. I’ve made several recipes (most, believe it or not, of the “non-treat” variety) to date but I’ve memorized the Chunky Monkey Muffins recipe & make it weekly. My 1 & 3 year old love them too.

    1. yes, we are not robots. and we shouldn’t feel guilty about the foods that we CHOOSE to eat. thank you so much telly!

  18. After reading the negative comments about your book on Amazon, I decided to forgo ordering your book–Hubby is a genetic diabetic (whole paternal line is full of both types), ad I’m doing everything in my power to keep him off insulin…first Paleo, then Atkins induction, then keto 4:1, and now Warrior Diet-style meals spaced widely apart.

    After listening to one of Jimmy Moore’s recent podcast guests, who wrote the book “Carb Nite Solution”, I decided to try what he suggests in the interview and book: do a Carb Night once weekly to shock the system, and spike the blood sugar. I was hesitant at first, because it takes Hubby 3 days to clear a spike, but I figured I had enough chromium in the house to handle whatever happened.

    We did it, and the next day, his BG was BELOW 100! We were going to try it again last night, but he got waylaid Friday at a departing co-worker’s party–he gorged on fruit, which he hasn’t eaten for about a year. Again, his BG the next morning was below 100.

    Is this what is referred to as “physiological diabetes”?

    The time between the 2 spike episodes, his BG was staying below 100, so this got me to thinking…and rethinking…about ordering you book. Maybe a weekly dose of tapioca or potato starch is just what he needs!

    I figure I could whip up one of your recipes and use it for Carb Night. I’m ordering your book and am going to give it a try–now if I could only get up the nerve to eat bananas again!

    1. Update: Hubby tolerated unmodified potato starch well (only a +3 point rise after an hour), tapioca starch blew him out of the water (+45 point rise), and good ol’ bananas blew us both out of the water (him by +20 points, me by +10 points).

      Melons and strawberries are the only fruit he can tolerate right now, but we’re still hunting and testing.

      Like you, we’re also fixing to leave Paleo after we see what beans do to Hubby’s BG. If he tolerates then well, he’s going to start eating them again. Unfortunately, I’m allergic to all but lentils and adzuki beans.

  19. Elizabeth Elliott

    Just got your book from Amazon last week. I have made 2 recipes so far; Philly stuffed peppers and butternut squash lasagna. Both recipes were really easy to make and both were delicious and satisfying. I love your pizza sauce…it’s so quick and tasty. I couldn’t believe the lasagne didnt have pasta in it—no one would ever know. The butternut squash is amazing. I felt satiated rather than uncomfortably stuffed the way regular pasta lasagne leaves you feeling. I did place a sheet of non-stick aluminum foil over the dish while it was baking because the cheese started getting too brown and I was afraid it would burn.

    Just read “Grain Brain…” by Dr. Perlmutter. He has a rather interesting take on what gluten can do to our bodies.

    Love your book…please keep the recipes coming!

  20. I appreciate this clarification. I feel horrible and stop losing weight if my primal diet goes too low carb but it’s challenging some days to get enough carbs in even though I still eat high-fat dairy and small amounts of cane sugar & honey. I’m going to give potatoes a try in moderation when needed. Also wanted to say that I love your new cookbook! Every recipe I’ve made has turned out great. I made your banana chocolate chip muffins this morning but did it with pureed pumpkin instead. A few weeks ago I did Zucchini Chocolate Chip muffins from that base recipe-Yummy! I really like the flexibility of the recipes and can’t wait to try out more recipes in the book.

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  22. […] In Defense of Starch: How Carbs Can Fit Into a Paleo Diet – 24 thoughts on “ In Defense of Starch: How Carbs Can Fit Into a Paleo Diet ” Liz N. 21 Aug 2013 Reply. Thank you so much for this very thoughtful and thought …… […]

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