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Why do I need to eat 100g+ of carbs per day to maintain weight if my ancestors didn't?

Answered on February 14, 2014
Created February 12, 2014 at 1:11 PM

Hi there,

My question relates to the issue of carb intake and subsequently fat adaptation.

I need to eat about 150g of carbs per day to maintain my optimal bodyweight of 79kg. My hight is 6.1" and do a bodyweight workout twice per week by the way.

Most Paleo people would say this is still a low-carb diet. However, from studying some anthropology/wild foods available in Europe I just can't see how my European/Caucasian ancestors would have been able to access 150g of carbs per day.

Unless they ate huge amounts of berries and roots, which are not available in winter.

So why do I need to eat carbs if they didn't? On high fat (already eating 200g per day)/ low-carb I just seem to lose weight.

I want to try and match their diet as closely as I can as I think that would be optimal from an evolutionary perspective.

Any thoughts on these questions and the diet of European hunter-gatherers?

Eb87941a669017dfb288d296cc672130

on February 14, 2014
at 05:35 PM

Well you might have misread because my advice was not to keep your intake of carbs up. My advice was to track your cals/macros and measurements/body fat so you can be sure that when you're dropping out carbs, you aren't also dropping calories too, which would easily explain the weight loss without carbs.

F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

(50)

on February 14, 2014
at 12:57 PM

Thanks arnakuagsak,

That is a great answer. I had a rough understanding that you need to eat more calories from fat to gain weight compared to carbs if following a low carb/high fat diet but I wasn't really sure why, so thanks for explaining that.

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on February 14, 2014
at 11:48 AM

Um, not necessarily true, you might be eating 100g less carbs, but maybe 100g more fat which has twice the calories. It doesn't mean much in terms of calories. But I agree on the water storage, so +1 however, if you go very low carb, you should go higher on the salt, so in the end, you might have the same water storage. Higher insulin doesn't mean you'll add more muscle, you might just add more storage in the muscle (store more fats/glucose in the muscle making it look bigger). When you go low carb and fast, you'll look leaner, but show your true muscle size.

Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on February 13, 2014
at 09:44 PM

+1. Great answer.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 13, 2014
at 01:22 PM

High-fat, low-carb… There is a grain of truth to the criticism that paleo is rethought Atkins. Even as you step away from ketogenic paleo, you're still much lower carbohydrate and higher fat than conventional diets. Eliminate the crap and nearly any macronutrient ratio is healthy.

Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on February 12, 2014
at 06:43 PM

Yes, but it is quite a bit of work. I find that in order to keep from wasting away I have to do some form of resistance exercise, if not I become underweight. Also I've noticed that eating huge quantities of fat (since I don't do starchy carbs) is the only way to keep from feeling like I'm going to pass out. So I drink olive oil by the cup, eat butter by the stick, eat almond butter straight from the jar, and find creative ways to put more fat in my food. This method spares my muscle mass noticeably without adding any fat or flab whatsoever. My definition has definitely improved since.

F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

(50)

on February 12, 2014
at 06:35 PM

Thanks, great answer. Think I will continue to keep the carb intake up. Makes sense following your advice.

De1095b2ba29c1035f00428cbfe3cc7c

(777)

on February 12, 2014
at 05:57 PM

Being an ectomorph myself i'm interested whether you notice any worrying lean mass loss on the low carb/lowish protein approach? Rosedale says that once you're used to not burning glucose & fully fat adapted then you won't be burning your lean mass to make glucose, but i figure the glucose we use (even if its just a little) has to come from somewhere. Do you find that you can maintain your lean mass?

Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on February 12, 2014
at 05:26 PM

Yeah, fellow ectomorph here lol. I do see the oddity of being skinny in a cold climate, it seems adverse to survival.

Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on February 12, 2014
at 05:23 PM

I agree. They probably ate it because they had no choice (aside from starving or freezing) and in freezing winter weather you just take whatever you can get.

Medium avatar

(624)

on February 12, 2014
at 04:03 PM

Ectomorph FTW! BTW I would guess ectomorphism was more rare in ancient european peoples, but I'm sure this could be verified/disproved by looking at fossil records. It just seems like the environment would be more conducive to the stocky, strong, or gluttonous.

F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

(50)

on February 12, 2014
at 04:01 PM

Very true.

F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

(50)

on February 12, 2014
at 03:37 PM

Those are two very interesting points. I completely understand that it's important not to define the norm by the diet one particular culture and Paleo is not a 'one-size-fit-all' diet. So forgive me if this sounds ignorant but I do wonder why low-carb/high fat is so dominantly promoted within Paleo? This seems to be the rough advice of almost every well-known Paleo figure and what the Paleo diet is modelled on. Although I realise it's a flexible guideline, so please correct me if I'm wrong and I can freely enjoy sweet potatoes : )

Thanks

F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

(50)

on February 12, 2014
at 02:01 PM

I don't think I'm really assuming anything about my optimal bodyweight to be honest. For example, if I eat less than 150g of carbs per day I can actually see I lose weight and become too thin from weighing myself and looking in the mirror.

Maybe the question is partially based on assumptions, but my 'assumptions' are based on pretty reliable evidence: in winter plants do not grow. (I could elaborate with more scientific examples but there's not enough space).

I don't agree that it's a ''joke question'' either. I am just asking questions so I can make informed choices about diet.

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11 Answers

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Medium avatar

on February 12, 2014
at 04:11 PM

Honestly I grow tired of trying to reconcile my diet with the supposed diet of my European ancestors. From what little we know, we can derive a good template for the elimination side (they probably didn't eat a whole lot of grains and fruit would be only seasonal, for instance) but trying to surmise specific macro ratios seems silly.

I'm learning to eat where I feel right. That appears to be somewhere around 45-65% fat, 15-40% carb, and 10-15% protein. I "aim" for 55/30/15 but I don't fret if I'm off, so long as my nutritional requirements are met and I feel good. Sometimes that means a day of 50% carb calories. Sometimes little to no carbs. W/E.

Limiting protein intake also seems conducive to health, but I would guess Euro ancestors in winter time got at least 30% of their calories from protein if not a lot more, whether that was healthy or not. It probably did some damage... so I'm not going to emulate those harsh conditions by shivering in the cold and munching on the frozen corpse of a starved deer.

Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on February 12, 2014
at 05:23 PM

I agree. They probably ate it because they had no choice (aside from starving or freezing) and in freezing winter weather you just take whatever you can get.

0
F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

on February 14, 2014
at 01:12 PM

Very interesting post on starch and it's availability in the wild.

http://paleohacks.com/questions/65130/does-eating-fat-with-starch-decrease-the-digestibi.html

0
7160a3fb485cb0af573c0292fdb08144

on February 13, 2014
at 10:02 PM

It all hinges on your definition of "ideal body weight". IMO, ideal body weight should be defined as what you eat when you eliminate modern foods (specifically grains, sugar/HFCS, and vegetable oils) and eat whatever else your body is telling you to eat. If you naturally don't want to eat 150g of carbs per day and are having to force yourself to do so, then I would stop doing that and let myself get smaller. I would argue your ideal body weight is smaller than what you would like it to be.

0
Fea6afb2ce36ad8df5548e6a5195af4d

on February 13, 2014
at 09:39 PM

So why do I need to eat carbs if they didn't?

You likely don't need to eat more carbs than they did. But your goals are probably different from theirs. For instance, you want to maintain a particular body weight. Depending on how far back in time you go, your ancestors were probably too busy trying to stay alive to worry about how much they weighed.

On high fat (already eating 200g per day)/ low-carb I just seem to lose weight.

You realize that the rapid "weight-loss" phase of many diets is the low-carb, high-fat phase? (It's not "just water" that's lost, but actual fat mass. Body builders tend to also adopt low-carb diets during their "cutting" phase.)

The reasons for the "weight" loss include:

  • reduced sugar availability => reduced insulin => reduced fat storage
  • fat metabolism => ketone production (for energy) => unused ketones excreted in the urine
  • increased fat intake => reduced gastric motility => decreased ghrelin, increased leptin => decreased hunger

Note that the calories from carbs are not equal to calories from fat because sugar is highly conserved by the body, while ketones (a product of fat metabolism) are not. If you want to maintain weight, you may have to replace calories lost by removing carbs from your diet with double (or more) the calories in fat. (Or add more protein to your diet.)

I want to try and match their diet as closely as I can...

Your ancestors ate what they could get. If you want to eat like they did, become a hunter-gatherer. Eat only what you can successfully catch and kill. Learn how to use every last bit of each animal you catch.

... as I think that would be optimal from an evolutionary perspective.

High-carb diets aren't doing very many people much good, but that has to do with how people's bodies function now, not how their ancestors' bodies functioned thousands of years ago. Humans have had more than enough time to become maladapted to their ancestors' diet, such that adopting it could be harmful. For example, people with PKU cannot eat phenylalanine, even though their (immediate) ancestors likely consumed plenty of it.

Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on February 13, 2014
at 09:44 PM

+1. Great answer.

F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

(50)

on February 14, 2014
at 12:57 PM

Thanks arnakuagsak,

That is a great answer. I had a rough understanding that you need to eat more calories from fat to gain weight compared to carbs if following a low carb/high fat diet but I wasn't really sure why, so thanks for explaining that.

0
56c28e3654d4dd8a8abdb2c1f525202e

(1822)

on February 13, 2014
at 12:41 AM

Gorillas for sure eat (or more exactly absorb) high fat, SCFA from gut fermentation. For the rest of us, you can assume up to a point. I work more hours than successful hunter gatherers, and I need more calories. Also, I live in a heated dwelling, so my diet is closer to that of people in the tropics than those who had to brave snow and freezes for four months barefoot.

0
Eb87941a669017dfb288d296cc672130

on February 12, 2014
at 05:15 PM

There are 3 possibilities that I see.

(1). When you're eating at least 100 grams of carbs, you're simply eating more calories than when you're eating less than 100 grams of carbs, and so the extra calories and necessarily the carbs are what cause you to maintain and not lose weight.

(2). Every 1 gram of carboHYDRATE stores 3 grams of water. So that weight might just be water weight and not actually body/fat mass

(3). Muscle weighs more than fat. When you eat more carbs, you're aslo remaining much more anabolic than when you're not (glucagon lowers, cortisol lowers, testosterone increases, insulin increases) which is really the ideal environment for building a lean, hard physique. When you're eating less than 100 grams of carbs, you could be burning muscle and fat, and muscle at a higher rate than fat mass, causing your weight (and body composition) to drop.

Those are the possibilities I see. Best way to find out precisely is to (a) track your calories/macros and (b) measurements/body fat percentage over time.

F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

(50)

on February 12, 2014
at 06:35 PM

Thanks, great answer. Think I will continue to keep the carb intake up. Makes sense following your advice.

96440612cf0fcf366bf5ad8f776fca84

(19463)

on February 14, 2014
at 11:48 AM

Um, not necessarily true, you might be eating 100g less carbs, but maybe 100g more fat which has twice the calories. It doesn't mean much in terms of calories. But I agree on the water storage, so +1 however, if you go very low carb, you should go higher on the salt, so in the end, you might have the same water storage. Higher insulin doesn't mean you'll add more muscle, you might just add more storage in the muscle (store more fats/glucose in the muscle making it look bigger). When you go low carb and fast, you'll look leaner, but show your true muscle size.

0
F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

on February 12, 2014
at 03:54 PM

By ancestors I meant Paleoithic ancestors; extending back to a point in history which would be far enough to enable the adaptation to eating the foods found in Europe (where I assume they lived) or a low carb/high fat diet. Obviously I understand I could have genetic lineage form much further afield.

Thanks for all the answers btw,keep them coming!

0
56c28e3654d4dd8a8abdb2c1f525202e

(1822)

on February 12, 2014
at 03:31 PM

define ancestors. savanna ancestors or vikings?

0
Be157308a0438e382b88d9db4c12ab30

on February 12, 2014
at 02:37 PM

Well, your paleolithic ancestors didn't have mirrors to look into and didn't care about being skinny, and they didn't go to the gym to lift and "get big". These days society insinuates that guys should all be muscly and stocky, which is BS; there's nothing wrong with being an ectomorph. Girls also have similar body image issues thinking they are "too fat" or "too scrawny" even when they are perfectly fine. Body image issues are common these days.

F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

(50)

on February 12, 2014
at 04:01 PM

Very true.

Medium avatar

(624)

on February 12, 2014
at 04:03 PM

Ectomorph FTW! BTW I would guess ectomorphism was more rare in ancient european peoples, but I'm sure this could be verified/disproved by looking at fossil records. It just seems like the environment would be more conducive to the stocky, strong, or gluttonous.

0
32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on February 12, 2014
at 02:00 PM

1) Food availability is not a constant, nor is body weight. Carbs (unless stored) would have been scarce in winter. And when energy availability decreased, bodyweight would also decrease.

2) Do not use outliers to define the norm. Cultures living in extremes are not one to model diets from. Even if you claim to hail from such cultures/locales.

F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

(50)

on February 12, 2014
at 03:37 PM

Those are two very interesting points. I completely understand that it's important not to define the norm by the diet one particular culture and Paleo is not a 'one-size-fit-all' diet. So forgive me if this sounds ignorant but I do wonder why low-carb/high fat is so dominantly promoted within Paleo? This seems to be the rough advice of almost every well-known Paleo figure and what the Paleo diet is modelled on. Although I realise it's a flexible guideline, so please correct me if I'm wrong and I can freely enjoy sweet potatoes : )

Thanks

0
7904c7276d7e48f1be887fabd263bfd9

(300)

on February 12, 2014
at 01:23 PM

Too many assumptions. Assuming you do have a good idea what they ate, and assuming that you actually 'need' the carbs of your assumed 'optimal' bodyweight and assuming you're in the average...and assuming there have been no changes to people since your arbitrarily chosen 'ancestors' -- as I'm assuming you don't mean fish? -- then I would imagine the issue is that you're not conforming with the way they lived, activity/enviornment wise.

But it's a joke question to begin with.

:D /meanness over

F823371a5c530abf36eab29b7ce3ee2a

(50)

on February 12, 2014
at 02:01 PM

I don't think I'm really assuming anything about my optimal bodyweight to be honest. For example, if I eat less than 150g of carbs per day I can actually see I lose weight and become too thin from weighing myself and looking in the mirror.

Maybe the question is partially based on assumptions, but my 'assumptions' are based on pretty reliable evidence: in winter plants do not grow. (I could elaborate with more scientific examples but there's not enough space).

I don't agree that it's a ''joke question'' either. I am just asking questions so I can make informed choices about diet.

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