The 3-Step Process to Determining Your Ideal Carbohydrate Intake
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The 3-Step Process to Determining Your Ideal Carbohydrate Intake

by Kelsey Kinney, RD

Last updated on

Cathy Yeulet/Hemera/Thinkstock

There’s been a lot of talk about the right amount of carbohydrates to eat lately. Laura Schoenfeld started us off with her article about the possible detriments of eating a low-carbohydrate diet for too long, and Chris Kresser followed this up with his discussion of the common misconceptions people tend to have about low-carb diets. They’ve done the heavy lifting here and provided lots of scientific evidence to back up cases where a higher or lower carbohydrate diet might be beneficial.

What I want to get into today is the practical aspect: how do you determine the amount of carbohydrates that’s right for you?

To do this, I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process that I take with clients so you can start to think about it for yourself. While many people find it easier to work with a professional on this, I think it can also be done on your own.  The important thing to remember is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

When most people start a Paleo diet, they typically start a low- (and sometimes very low) carbohydrate diet. They get in the habit of not including starchy tubers and fruits.

Some people will thrive on a diet like this, which is fantastic. Others might feel great for a while, but then slowly start to feel more fatigued, have more difficulty during workouts (and even more problems recovering), and overall just don’t feel so great. Guess which clients I’m going to be seeing?

I see the clients who don’t thrive on low-carbohydrate diets. They come to me wondering what they’ve done wrong and why they’re feeling sick when all they’ve done is followed the Paleo diet to a T – and that’s why this conversation is so important to have. We need to make sure that folks starting the Paleo diet understand that there’s a range of carbohydrate levels that can be consumed, and that everyone will feel best at a different level. I can’t tell you how many of my clients have come to me legitimately scared to eat carbohydrates of any kind. I don’t think any diet should cause people to be afraid of an entire macronutrient. All of us here at believe in personalization, and that’s exactly what I’ll be teaching you about today.

Let’s go through the 3-step process I use to help clients determine their ideal carbohydrate intake.

Step 1: Consider Underlying Diseases/Conditions

This is critical. If you have diabetes, you’re likely going to do better on a lower carbohydrate diet (though check out some of the comments under Laura’s article – even diabetics don’t all thrive on low-carb). If you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, you’ll probably want to limit your carbohydrate consumption while you treat the SIBO. Note the emphasis there: for someone with a gut dysbiosis issue, a low-carbohydrate diet is used as a therapeutic intervention and isn’t meant to be continued for life. I see so many clients who started a low-carb diet because they wanted to use it therapeutically, only to never try reintroducing those foods again.

If you have adrenal fatigue, you’ll likely feel better on a more moderate carbohydrate diet along with eating snacks to keep your blood sugar stable. Breastfeeding? You’ll definitely want some carbs, too.

The point here is that there are many conditions that affect how your body deals with carbohydrates, so you need to take these into consideration when thinking about how much carbohydrate you might do well with.

Chris discusses the different levels of carbohydrates that work best for a variety of conditions in his book, Your Personal Paleo Code (published in paperback as The Paleo Cure in December 2014). I’ve listed them in the chart below:

Carbbohydrate Intake Chart

Step 2: Get Started!

If you are an overall healthy person (and you either don’t exercise or exercise moderately), I suggest starting on a moderate carbohydrate diet and experimenting from there. When I first start working with a client who has no underlying health issues and wants to find their ideal carbohydrate intake, I often have them begin by implementing what I like to call “The Rule of Thirds”. That is, their plate should be ⅓ protein, ⅓ starchy tubers, and ⅓ non-starchy vegetables. It ends up being a moderate carbohydrate diet (though it depends on their calorie intake of course) – not astronomically high like the Standard American Diet, and nowhere near a ketogenic diet. Eating three meals a day like this also means they’re less likely to skimp on calories (and I’ll work with them to make sure this is the case).

If you do have a condition that would affect your carbohydrate intake (diabetes, hypoglycemia, thyroid disease, adrenal fatigue, etc) and/or you exercise a lot, refer to the chart in Step 1 to know what carbohydrate level you should begin with.

If you have multiple conditions that place you in seemingly opposite carbohydrate levels, I suggest working with a practitioner to help you craft a diet that will suit you best.

Step 3: Experiment! (And Take Notes)

From there, we experiment. Sometimes the carbohydrate intake will feel too high. It might trigger cravings for sweets, or perhaps increase their blood sugar too much.

I’ll have my client track their meals and take notes along the way with how they’re feeling so we can really see what’s going on. This is a crucial (and often overlooked) part of the process. If you’re not taking notes and keeping track of your meals, the experimentation phase can feel downright overwhelming. Being able to look back and track how your symptoms change with a concurrent change in carbohydrate intake is vital to figuring out the right level for you. If there’s a disease we’re dealing with (i.e. diabetes or adrenal fatigue), we focus on tracking those symptoms (blood sugar and fatigue, respectively) to see how they change. I have my clients use an app called Meal Logger for this task, where they can take pictures of their meals and keep notes on their symptoms.

If the carbohydrate level seems to be a bit high for the client, we bring it down. If it feels too low (perhaps they’re still feeling sluggish and are having trouble with their workouts), we’ll try bringing it up and monitoring their reaction. Eventually, we settle on the sweet spot.

So there you have it – my step-by-step process for determining your ideal carbohydrate intake. I hope seeing this helps you start this experiment for yourself and find what’s right for you. Don’t feel like you need to put yourself in a low-carb or high-carb camp – you just need to do what works for you! There’s a huge spectrum of carbohydrate intake; it’s just a matter of finding where you should lie on it. This is something I help clients with all the time, so if you’re having any trouble, don’t hesitate to reach out.


Join the conversation

  1. I crossfit 3x’s a week and I eat what I would consider high carb. I don’t consume anything with actual sugar including honey/etc., but my carbs come from whole fruits, organic corn tortillas, some gluten free bread, and once or twice a week fries (yum!) at my local grill but bunless burger. This has worked very well for me for 2 years. I do have adrenal fatigue and have been taking a physiologic dose of cortisol (20mg daily, spread throughout the day) for the past year. I have had no problem maintaining my weight with this combination at about 16-17% bodyfat. I once tried to go low carb but felt like utter CRAP at crossfit after a few days, so went back to what feels good! I do intermittent fast 1-2 days a week for 18-24 hours (non crossfit days only) and I usually don’t eat anything before noon-2pm daily so my meals are more like 2 larger meals a day, and later evening snacks.

    • I’m pretty sure crossfit and intermittent fasting are both contraindicated for adrenal fatigue—I would focus more on rest and relaxation, and strengthening your circadian rhythms. But keep doing what makes you feel good! The main issues with fries, though, are degraded oils with trans fats and acrylamide, which can increase your health risks over the long term even if you feel fine eating them.

  2. What is a good carb amount for someone with candida problems/fungal infection susceptibility? Would this fall under the “digestive problems” category?

    • For anti-candida, Paul Jaminet advocates his standard Perfect Health Diet, which recommends 30% of total calories as carbs per day from safe starches. For someone eating 2,000 calories, that works out to 150g of carbs as safe starches. Personally, I responded very well to it.

      Mark Sisson writes:

      From: A Primal Primer: Candida

      Avoid very low carb. Paul Jaminet, who suffered from candida overgrowth, argues that since candida (being eukaryotes) have mitochondria that can feed on both ketones and carbs (as opposed to prokaryote bacteria without mitochondria), going very low carb or ketogenic will only provide more fuel for the overgrowth. Furthermore, since ketones are water-soluble and pass easily through cellular membranes, ketones will actually be a more accessible food source for candida. Don’t go high-carb, since any extra glucose will just be food for the yeast, but don’t go ketogenic, either. Stick to around 100-150 grams of carbs while still limiting sugar. Although other sources do recommend going as low-carb as possible, my money’s on Paul.

      Keep in mind that 150g of carbs as “safe starches” would translate to about a pound of potatoes per day. So, for some people, they may find themselves increasing carb consumption to combat candida. I ate a banana per day (as Paul recommends some of the carbs to be fructose) and was fine.

      Basically the goal is to turn candida into a benign yeast with some glucose and fermentation from RS-rich foods and then hit it with anti-fungals, bio-film disruptors and anti-candida enzymes.

      The traditional low/no-carb diet for combating candida appears to be an over-simplistic reaction to candida’s glucose metabolism and is actually not well-supported by the scientific literature. See this comment for links to relevant studies as well as a link to a well-researched moderate-carb anti-candida/biofilm protocol.

      • Hi again,

        Thanks for this great reply. And clue how long it would take to turn candida into a “benign yeast”?

        • I should refine that statement a bit. If you have an overgrowth of candida, you need to trim that overgrowth. It’s not really possible to fully eliminate candida—and nor would you want to, as benign candida apparently offers us some benefits as a symbiont.

          That well-researched protocol that I referred to involves enzymes that digest the excess candida. It works pretty well, actually.

          Those enzymes are advertised to diminish candida in the body fairly quickly (in 30 days or less). But I suspect that might be a bit too rapid for someone with a severe candida infection. As the candida goes away, the die-off toxins can be very taxing on the liver (as the post explains). So, it helps to go slow and help your body deal with the process using the recommendations. Some say going too fast can damage the liver, so you have to listen to your body for aches and pains along the way and use those reactions as a guide. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

          Most people say that it takes 6 months to a year to combat candida successfully. I think the enzymes can offer rapid success, but I would go try to go slow depending on the severity of the overgrowth and keep in mind the understanding that you are modulating an ecosystem and not just killing candida.

          The goal of an acidic gut really just switches the hyphal candida off and the goal is to keep it switched off (i.e. benign) so that it doesn’t easily grow back. But, simply switching it off when the overgrowth is present doesn’t fully diminish the overgrowth.

          So, even if it’s benign, and you feel much better with an acidic gut, the remaining overgrowth will probably still present a load on your system and be waiting for the right conditions to pounce. That’s trimming back the candida with enzymatic therapy is a good thing to incorporate into a protocol.

          Sorry for the confusion.

  3. I have been doing a poll on how the carbs are counted. Paul Jaminet says not to count the leafy greens at all, Jimmy Moore says to count them all, Dave Asprey seems to go along more with the thinking of Jaminet. Several others say ‘net’ carbs are about half the carbs in veg, due to the fiber being used by the gut bacteria and turned into SCFA. Makes a BIG difference for me, as almost all my carbs are from non-starchy veg. Often wonder if I am getting enough to produce mucus. Would love to know where you weight in on how to count them.

    • Chris does not recommend counting carbs from leafy greens. You can hear his detailed explanation on this podcast.

      The goal in eating starchy carbs is to obtain exogenous glucose—so your body doesn’t have to chronically produce all of its glucose. When you obtain carbs from greens, you end up burning more glucose digesting them than you can extract from them. So, you don’t obtain net glucose from greens.

      While SCFAs do contribute to intestinal gluconeogenesis, the amount of SCFAs produced by most leafy greens tends to be scant. The predominant fibers in leafy greens tends to be cellulose and a significant quantity of the cellulose that humans consume is not metabolized by gut microbes.

      From: The cellulose-degrading microbial community of the human gut varies according to the presence or absence of methanogens

      “Attempts to elucidate the cellulose-degrading microbial community have only been partially successful as only a restricted number of individuals appear to harbour such cellulose-degrading organisms (Bétian et al., 1977; Montgomery, 1988; Wedekind et al., 1988)”

      And even if you did harbor such cellulose-degrading microbes, the amount of potential SCFAs that can be generated from cellulose is still relatively paltry compared to other more fermentable fibers (such as resistant starch). Cellulose is still important, but mainly for stool bulking/transit times and the phytonutrients that come with those plants.

      • Thanks Duck – I somehow missed that Podcast.
        I think this point (what carbs are we counting) needs clarifying in the Paleo/low carb community. I eat 75 ish carb grams per day, but almost all are from leafy veg. I think I will add some berries and maybe even some sweet potato. Perhaps I’ve been too low carb now for awhile.

        • “I think this point (what carbs are we counting) needs clarifying in the Paleo/low carb community”

          Well, I wouldn’t expect clarification. The community is well-populated with people who seem to have a fear of eating carbs. They’re never going to agree. I would keep in mind that Asprey and Moore are not clinicians — they don’t see hundreds of patients. They are just guys with gut/metabolic derangements who blog/podcast about it.

          The phrase “Paleo/low carb” is really an oxymoron. I have yet to come across an indigenous culture that didn’t go out of its way to consume glycemic carbs wherever they could find them.

          • “The phrase “Paleo/low carb” is really an oxymoron. I have yet to come across an indigenous culture that didn’t go out of its way to consume glycemic carbs wherever they could find them.”

            THANK YOU for saying this!!! U have been silently wondering about this prominent point regarding indigenous diets for awhile now, with no one I felt safe asking! This makes soooo much more sense to me!

            I usually start out feeling amazing on a keto diet (like the first week) and then about week three I end up blacking out or having intense recurrent dizzy spells. (I do 3-5 30-45 minute HIIT cardiovascular sessions weekly and have a very fast-paced job).

            • I also have very low non-fasted blood sugar, even when i am getting moderate carb intake, but my doctor keeps telling me it’s unremarkable and I’m frustrated about that … any suggestions? I live in a small town so I can’t just switch GPs

  4. Well, you are very right. Everyone is different, but the problem, real problem is most people, like me, have been so wrong on health and diet for years that we don’t even know what “feeling good” is.

    I started off with Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution, on my Dr.s suggestion, and did very well for about 4 mod. Lost 36 lbs. was feeling pretty great, energized. While starting the Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution, I also went to a local nutritionist and did blood work. Many small problems, but the two that stood out was Adrenal Fatigue and very high iron in blood.

    Now, after two years of not loosing any more weight, need to loose at least another 30 lbs., and really not feeling any more energized or for that matter better, I am sadly unmotivated.

    Yes, I mildly exercise. I’m 61, 5′ 4″ and weigh 166. No energy, not sleeping (my average hourly sleep at night for over 30 yrs. is about 4). Sometimes it is easy to get to sleep to only wake up at 2pm and never get back to sleep. Sometimes it takes forever to get to sleep and then I toss/turn all night in wakeful sleep.

    I’ve tried for months with Mark’s Daily Apple routine, Robb Wolf, and Chris Kresser information. Nada.

    Frustrated, tired, unmotivated,

    • What is your salt intake? I had similar problems and resolve them with high salt intake. 5-10 grams daily.

  5. Kelsey or Chris, just one question: I work on my feet for 8 hours a day. Does that alone justify a higher carb intake? My goal is weight-loss, but it’s hard for me to to stay asleep if my carb intake is low. I just don’t know which group I’m in here.

  6. I think when we talk about low carbohydrate diets everyone is talking about something completely different .
    For example
    Some term a low carbohydrate diet as not eating bread, rice pasta, starchy vegetables and have little idea how much carbohydrate is in other foods.
    Research states that a low carbohydrate diet is anything less than 40%E as carbohydrate So on a 2000Kcal/d this is 200gm carbohydrate . Yet you term this as a high carbohydrate diet?
    To meet your minimum nutritional daily intake of 2 servings fruit, 5 servings of vegetable , 2-3 servings of dairy products, without considering any other foods with carbohydrate in them , your diet with less than 75gm/carb would mean you could not achieve this, unless you severely restricted an enormous number of different kinds of fruit and vegetables. Certainly you couldn’t include beans, legumes and lentils.

  7. I really appreciate this series on carbs, and especially the ongoing discussion of the therapeutic uses of various diets.

    Specifically in regards to gut-healing, it would be awesome to hear further discussion of the Tough Cases – those patients who are extremely carb-intolerant, very sick, and who still – after a round of a GAPS-type, probiotic-rich experimentation, still can’t seem to find a sweet spot. In other words: how else can one target gut dysbiosis besides varying macronutrients in an otherwise Clean diet?

    Thanks again,

    • Have you tried resistant starch? Low-FODMAPs? When I could barely tolerate any plant foods at all and was having increasing problems due to eating VLC for too long, I found the Fast Tract Digestion series by Dr. Norman Robillard, and was able to introduce jasmine rice to get some glucose without feeding my SIBO. Getting enough calories and carbs this way allowed my metabolism to improve, which helped my body beat the SIBO. Over time I was able to increase the variety of starches and other low-FODMAP fruits and vegetables to help feed the good bugs and probiotics I was taking/eating.

  8. Thankyou for this information. I am a 39 year old male, I think I’m generally healthy, pretty active physically and been low carb Paleo for the last couple of months. I’m 178cm and weigh 62kg. I was lean before Paleo and now I’m even leaner but I’ve lost a couple of kgs and have noticed drops in energy levels and I think it might be lack of carbs. So as of now I’ll start getting more sweet potatoes into me and see how it goes. Cheers again.

  9. Although not paleo, Dr. Richard Bernstein who wrote “Diabetes Solution” has been treating his patient and himself with a very low carb diet to control diabetes and reverse and stop complications of diabetes for many years. He says that a person with diabetes deserves truly normal blood sugars. He recommends eating 30g carbs/day – 6 for breakfast and 12 each for lunch and dinner. He also uses medications to cover anything the diet does not cover. His dietary recommendations can easily be made into a paleo template.

    As a person with diabetes, the only way I know how many carbs I can eat and how I react to foods is to use a glucometer before and after eating. This cannot be done by just looking at symptoms or by noting how one feels.

    In you rule of thirds, where is the fat? All you mentioned was protein, tubers and veggies.

    I agree that there is no one perfect diet, but making sure blood sugars are truly normal is of utmost importance.

    • For the rule of thirds, the fats are included (or added) to meats, veggies etc. I’m just trying to keep it simple with the easy explanation. If you check out my blog post on my site about it, I mention where the fat comes from.

  10. I am pretty well convinced of having SIBO and just newly pregnant. I recentlyl tried upping starchy veggies to help with energy and the pregnancy, but that aggravated IBS symptoms. I’d rather be miserable with IBS and have a healthy baby to show for it than otherwise, but is it doing the baby more harm than good if I aggravate SIBO/IBS?
    If there’s someone you recommend I see in the Minneapolis area, that would also be helpful. Thanks!

  11. I realize most people here know this already, but for any newbies it’s worth mentioning that for those who are targeting a moderate level of carbs (150g), while *also* avoiding grains, it can be very easy to under eat carbs.

    Unlike refined grains, which are very carb-dense, most whole food carbs tend to be mostly water, making them rather carb-sparse.

    It shocks many people, but 150g of carbs is actually a pound of potatoes. It’s a bit of a paradox that a pound of potatoes a day is technically “moderate carb”, and I think it really demonstrates how many carbs people eat as refined carbs on a high-carb SAD diet.

    I personally found it to be a bit confusing when I first started trying to target a moderate level of carbs. A good resource is, where you can enter in foods/weights into the tool and instantly see how many grams of carbs each one has based on various weights or volume. After just a few days, you learn pretty quickly and can begin to eyeball it.

    Another way to ballpark carbs in a meal is to just ask WolframAlpha, like this. As you can see, a 1/4 cup of mashed potatoes only has 9.2 grams of carbohydrates. (Which means that you need to eat a lot more than that to get to 150g of carbs/day.)

    So, that’s the “easy” way to ballpark it.

    To put the amount of carbs in perspective. To get to a moderate target of 150g of carbs (for an average 2000 calorie consumption) you would need to consume:

    1.5 cups of mashed potatoes = 55g of carbs
    1 cup of cooked rice = 55g of carbs
    1 medium beet = 8g of carbs
    1 large banana = 31g of carbs
    TOTAL CARBS = 149g carbs

    So, as you can see, it’s more than most people probably realize once grains are removed from the equation. Personally, I find it a challenge to overeat whole food carbs and I usually have to make sure I’m eating enough whole food carbs in a day.

    Hope that’s helpful to those who are new to this.

    • Now this gets me wondering how resistant starch carbs would be counted. Say your banana is under-ripe, and your rice or potatoes are cooled. If those do not count the same as other regular, non-RS carbs, then would a person’s carb intake be even lower?

      • Yes, it’s impossible to metabolize/digest starch and feed your gut flora at the same time. However, the bacteria in your gut can eat resistant starch and contribute to intestinal gluconeogenesis. In other words, in a way, feeding our gut bugs can reward us with energy.

        But, I wouldn’t worry about it. One way or the other, you or your gut bugs are going to extract the energy from that sweet potato!

        Additionally, many people might be surprised to learn that the carbs in the USDA nutrition database aren’t intended to be precise. Since carbs are actually difficult and expensive to accurately measure and the weights of polysaccharides and monosaccharides do not necessarily equal their glycemic potential, most government databases just focus on measuring a general level of fiber and not the precise amount of carbs or glycemic impact.

        The international bodies call this standardized estimation the “subtraction method” or the “by difference method” and what they do is measure all the components of the food and whatever the remaining weight is is considered to be a carb. It sounds totally dumb (and in some ways it is) but this provides an acceptable estimation of fiber content, and it creates a less confusing nutrition label for the masses.

        For instance, there are scientific protocols to only measure glycemic carbs in a food, but the measurement is typically expressed in “monosaccharide equivalents” and includes free sugars plus dextrin, starch and even glycogen. But this expression can lead to a confusing nutrition label.

        For example, 100g starch expressed in monosaccharide equivalent weights 110g, and therefore it’s entirely possible to have a starchy food whose glycemic carbs weigh more than the food itself. That can be very confusing. So, most people (and most governments) prefer the dumbed-down nutrition label because of the neat and tidy measurements and the focus on fiber. The food industry prefers it this way too, and the analysis is less expensive this way.

        But, this can introduce all sorts of errors, as further discussed in this article.

        So, the international standard for measuring carbs in most government databases is to simply estimate the carbs. They are by no means intended to be precise.

        Therefore, I’d say it’s probably not worth your time worrying about the precise amount of carbs in a sweet potato or any other carb because there are too many variables to consider (gut bugs, cooking times, estimated glycemic values, species variations, etc.). The best we can do is to estimate our carb intake and the official government databases are generally an adequate ballpark.

        So, now that we can see that even the official databases are just a fudge, we can see that the point of eating isn’t to be weighing every single morsel that goes in your mouth. The idea is to get used to conceptualizing a rough daily intake of food — perhaps just weighing your carbs until you can visualize an ideal *estimate* of your target carb intake.

        Hope that helps!

        • DuckDodgers – Had to comment and say thank-you for so generously answering so many questions for people! You’re so helpful and have clarified lots of things for me too. Thanks again!

    • That is very helpful, thank you!

      It makes me realise that, while I would call my diet moderate carb because I’m not actively avoiding carbs, it is probably actually low carb. I’m really only have rice and sweet potato as carb sources and not having large quantities of those. Occasionally potatoes or quinoa or a bit of fruit.

      I have an issue where eating any significant amount of carbs for lunch causes me to be incredibly tired all afternoon. Whereas at breakfast or lunch I can tolerate it fine. I’ve just bought a blood glucose meter to try to work out if it is being caused by blood sugar swings.

      • Kelly,

        I can only tell you my experience. I used to have the same problem. It happened after going VLC and then transitioning back to whole food carbs. Eating certain carbs would put me right to sleep after lunch. It felt like I was drugged. I also bought a glucose meter and my blood glucose was fine. No spikes, no dips.

        I soon realized that only certain carbs caused the intensity of the sleepiness. Long grain rice knocked me out, but short grain rice (sushi rice) didn’t give me any problems.

        After a bit of research, I learned that different species of carbs, such as rice, have different starch structures and can feed different species of bacteria and with different quantities of fiber. For me, certain species of rice would metabolized into compounds that made me incredibly sleepy. There was no blood sugar issue.

        So, some people (in reality it’s their gut biomes) are sensitive to specific types of starch, for instance specific branching structures that only appear in certain foods.

        After a few months of figuring out which carbs to focus on, and focussing on various fibers including resistant starch, my gut biome normalized and I no longer have those afternoon issues with sleepiness.

        Of course, in your case it could be any number of issues, and Chris has talked about more than a few of them on this blog and in podcasts. But at least try experimenting with different kinds of foods to see if it’s at all related to that.

        • Thanks so much for your reply Duck, that is really good information for me. It sounds like I am having the same thing, because I was VLC a few years ago and it’s probably been happening since then. And yes, feeling drugged is exactly how I would describe it.
          Interestingly, sushi rice is definitely a bad one for me. I will experiment with various carbs as you suggest. I’ve also started on resistant starch and Prescript Assist recently. The more I read, the more it seems it all comes back to the gut microbiome. I’m hoping once I get that sorted out it will help with my fatigue issues also.
          Thanks again, it’s one more piece of the jigsaw to put in place.

    • This is where I get confused how to calculate carb consumption.

      So one sweet potato that weighs 150 grams means you have consumed 150 grams of carbs as per Kelsey’s chart? Is that right?

      Or do I need to do another calculation to determine the actual carbs in that potato?

      • A sweet potato isn’t 100% carbohydrate – there are other things in it like water, fiber, etc that add to its weight. 1 5″ long sweet potato that weighs 120 g only has 26 g of actual carbohydrate. You can look up the carbohydrate content of different foods online. Hope that helps!

        • I see… Perfect. Thanks Kelsey. I know what I’m doing now!

          I wasn’t really eating 400g of carbs a day then!

          • This is what I’m talking about! People are often confused by this. I’ll bet a lot of people make this mistake. You guys should really think about doing a post on how to guestimate carb intake.

            • Duck

              How did you test your veggies–if you eat them. I know you handle some rice but how did you establish your veggie tolerances?


              • Well, I just experimented. It turned out I only really had trouble with long grain rice and the occasional ingestion of refined sugar (which I try to avoid anyhow).

                But, I have no problem eating a big heap of short grain rice as part of a meal. So, I could tell it was species-related.

                By the way, I should mention that I completely agree with Chris and Kelsey’s view on non-starchy carbs. I don’t count them towards my carb intake because non-starchy carbs tend to not be a *net* carb.

                In other words, if a vegetable like a carrot or broccoli has more fiber than sugars, it often takes more energy to digest that vegetable than you can extract from it. So, it doesn’t really give you any net energy and shouldn’t be counted as a “carb”. You eat those vegetables for the fiber and phytonutrients — not for energy.

                So, this all shows you have to eat a lot of starches to get to your carb target. The key is to just find starches you can tolerate. If you can’t tolerate any carbs, it may be a sign that the gut biome needs tending to.

          • @Chris Lines, Also keep in mind that 150g is adjusted for a 2,000 calorie diet. Many adult men require more than 2,000 calories per day, so you may infact prefer to target more than 150g of carbs.

            I’m amazed at the paradox. Many people would struggle to consume more than 150g of whole food carbs in a day if they knew what it really entailed. And I think that shows just that the volume of carb intake can be very deceiving.

      • I was interested in learning how you’re defining carbs. I typically include nuts and seeds in this category, which I didn’t see mentioned. Also, because I treat clients with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, I don’t recommend high-sugar fruit like dates or high-starchy vegetables like plaintains or yucca, which can spike their glucose levels.

        Interested in your thoughts.

        • Christine, I believe they’re using the standard definition of carbs, which is not a category of foods, but a macronutrient found in foods (measured in grams, and not including fiber).

          While cooked ripe plantains are high-GI, green plantains and yucca are low-GI and among Chris’s recommended starches. Dates are also low-GI, but as with most dried fruits, they can be easy to overeat.

          • Actually, from other comments I see that Chris doesn’t count carbs from green leafy vegetables because they’re burned during digestion—and perhaps even all non-starchy vegetables, although that seems a bit simplistic to me considering things like cooked beets and carrots.

    • Many thanks for this post, DuckDodgers! That clears up a lot of confusion about the weight of the food vs. carb content.

  12. I did Mark Hyman’s beta Detox a couple of years ago and found that the best marker for me if I am eating too many carbs is my fasting blood sugar. My daughter is type 1 so we have numerous glucometers around the house. I like to be in the sweet spot (for me) of 82 – 87. I know it could be lower, but I’m 51 years old and that’s where I feel best. So, that means low fruit (berries mostly), lots of veggies, some dark chocolate, protein, and once or twice a week I can indulge in gluten free grains, or even a pale almond muffin (actually do well with those) and a big sweaty workout if I do have carbs and then I don’t go high. Eating tubers, rice, etc..runs my fasting blood sugar in the low 90’s.

  13. Does the chart above include carbs from non-starchy veggies? I recall it the book it only said to count starchy veggies toward your carb macros.

  14. I started a low carbohydrate diet when I was having some balance issues. When those cleared up, the strict Paleo diet made me jittery as if I was on caffeine. As I started adding carbohydrates back, I became aware that with the ingestion of gluten products, my neurological symptoms came back. So what I did was eliminate gluten grains, added legumes (mostly lentils), increased animal-based fat while decreasing my consumption of muscle meats. I get much better results with modifying carbohydrate intake by tweaking the amount of fruits. Vegetables and tubers have no effect on total carbohydrate load.

  15. Hi!
    I’ve been happily paleo for the past 18 months, and recently was wondering if dips in energy could be due to a deficit in carbs. But I’ve never calculated my carb intake and don’t really know where to start. I have no idea if my current diet is very low, low, or moderate carb.
    What tools would you recommend for calculating my macronutrient intake?

  16. Very helpful! My latest test results had good Beta cell function markers but some of the insulin markers were “in the yellow”. the hydroxybutyrate was red (6.8). Glycemic rates were good. I am a 49 year old female from Europe (living in the US since 2000) and have been on the Primal diet since 2012. My HDL and tryclycerides are in good hsape, but my APO B and CRP are in the red. My (Paleo) doc told me to skip grains completely (I am still eating white rice and quinoa every now and then). This time she told me to lower my carb intake even more. But looking at my intake (between 80-180) I really don’t know how much more I should cut out! I now wonder if there’s a relationship between these insulin resistance rates and my CRP?

  17. Great article Kelsey – thanks.

    In Personal Paleo Code, Chris says he only counts starchy plants, fruit, dairy and sweeteners when measuring carbs.

    He also suggests doing the first 2 weeks of the 30 day reset at one level of carbs, then altering for the second to test difference.

    Being lean, moderately active but feeling generally fatigued, I decided to start my reset at a high carb level.

    Do I just literally just weigh the grams of starchy plants & fruit (no dairy for reset!) I’m eating each day to see what level I’m consuming?

    At the moment I’m regularly between 300-400 grams a day – no problem! I think I would probably faint if I ever tried under 100 grams! As you say, everyone is different.


    • No, you can’t just weigh the starchy foods you’re eating to know how many carbohydrates it contains. For example, a sweet potato is not PURE carbohydrate. It has water, fiber, etc that make up some of its weight. A 120 g sweet potato only has 26 g of actual carbohydrate in it.

  18. I have elevated sdLDL. Reports are that low (not very low) carb diets with saturated fats like coconut oil or animal fats will help. But what carbs to reduce? Wheat? all grains? Does it matter?

    • The most important carbs to reduce are probably high-glycemic ones like refined sugars and flours. Most people in these parts recommend avoiding all grains besides white rice (especially wheat), but the importance of this depends on your individual sensitivity. The approach Chris advocates (and I agree with) is to do a strict paleo “reset” for a month and then see how you tolerate other foods from there, if you wish to.

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