Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
14 Jan

The Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve

GraphYesterday, low-carb blogger Dr. Michael Eades (he of Protein Power) posted a message from his friend and fellow low-carb guru Richard Feinman as sort of a call-to-action in public policy-making for upcoming 2010 USDA guidelines. Dr. Eades and Dr. Feinman have suggested that we ought to quickly find a way to help the USDA arrive at a sensible recommendation for carbohydrate consumption. Feinman asked:

“how can the benefits of carbohydrate restriction that you have experienced personally or in your immediate environment be translated into reasonable recommendations that the USDA could put out?”

In conjunction with my forthcoming book “The Primal Blueprint”, I have been working on an easy-to-understand explanation of how carbohydrates impact the human body and the degree to which we need them (or not) in our diet. I have also developed a chart (not the one above) that is intended to assist those who want to go “Primal” in visualizing the impact of carbs consumed within certain ranges. I was going to hold off on releasing this information until my book is published, but decided to introduce it here in response to Dr. Eades’ post. Since the choice of how many and what types of carbs in one’s diet depends on the context of one’s life (current weight, disease condition, activity levels, etc), I see carb intake as a “curve” ranging from “allowable” to “desirable” to “unhealthy”.

The following descriptions illustrate how carbohydrates impact the human body and the degree to which we need them, or not, in our diet. The ranges represent daily averages and are subject to variables like age, current height and weight and particularly training volume. For example, a heavy, active person can be successful at a higher number than a light, moderately active person. In particular, hard training endurance athletes will experience a greater need for carbs and can adjust their personal curve accordingly. This is a topic I address further in the book (e.g. – experimenting with adding 100g of carbs per hour of training per day), on and in a future “primal” book dedicated to endurance athletes. Here then is my “Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve.”

300 or more grams/day Danger Zone!

Easy to reach with the “normal” American diet (cereals, pasta, rice, bread, waffles, pancakes, muffins, soft drinks, packaged snacks, sweets, desserts). High risk of excess fat storage, inflammation, increased disease markers including Metabolic Syndrome or diabetes. Sharp reduction of grains and other processed carbs is critical unless you are on the “chronic cardio” treadmill (which has its own major drawbacks).

150-300 grams/day – Steady, Insidious Weight Gain

Continued higher insulin-stimulating effect prevents efficient fat burning and contributes to widespread chronic disease conditions. This range – irresponsibly recommended by the USDA and other diet authorities – can lead to the statistical US average gain of 1.5 pounds of fat per year for forty years.

100-150 grams/dayPrimal Blueprint Maintenance Range

This range based on body weight and activity level. When combined with Primal exercises, allows for genetically optimal fat burning and muscle development. Range derived from Grok’s (ancestors’) example of enjoying abundant vegetables and fruits and avoiding grains and sugars.

50-100 grams/day – Primal Sweet Spot for Effortless Weight Loss

Minimizes insulin production and ramps up fat metabolism. By meeting average daily protein requirements (.7 – 1 gram per pound of lean bodyweight formula), eating nutritious vegetables and fruits (easy to stay in 50-100 gram range, even with generous servings), and staying satisfied with delicious high fat foods (meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds), you can lose one to two pounds of body fat per week and then keep it off forever by eating in the maintenance range.

0-50 grams/day – Ketosis and Accelerated Fat Burning

Acceptable for a day or two of Intermittent Fasting towards aggressive weight loss efforts, provided adequate protein, fat and supplements are consumed otherwise. May be ideal for many diabetics. Not necessarily recommended as a long-term practice for otherwise healthy people due to resultant deprivation of high nutrient value vegetables and fruits.

Drop me a line in the comment boards. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Further Reading:

The Definitive Guide to the Primal Eating Plan

The Definitive Guide to Insulin, Blood Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes (and You’ll Understand It)

Primal Fitness

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. i just started after years of going back and forth on so many plans. I have done this before and it works. I spent years as a vegetarian and no weight loss. South beach is good and saw good results. However I now have been diagnosed with celiac and see this as a great approach. As far as the carbs go, I am trying to keep it at 50 or less for a few days a week. Any thoughts?I do want to lose 6 pounds.

    deb wrote on August 12th, 2014
  2. Hi,

    I’ve been trying to lose 20lbs for a year now and it’s been 2 months I’m on the paleo diet. I lost 13lbs on a juice diet but gained 7 back. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to lose weight while eating healthy and this carb thingy is confusing me. I looked on Myfitnesspal and eating some fruits in the morning, a salad for lunch, and vegetables for dinner is already 95g of carbs… So if I add nuts for dinner it’s more than 100g.. How is it possible to limit our carb intake without losing our mind?

    Debby wrote on August 20th, 2014
  3. DEBBY-
    1. DO NOT EAT FRUIT IN THE MORNING! Save it for the afternoon snack or after dinner as dessert and only berries at first! Blood sugar…!!
    2. Fiber is a negative, so veg (non-starchy veg when you’re starting out!), nuts, seeds are not counted fully. but don’t overdo.
    3. Think of each meal as ” A lil’ protein, a lil’ veg” and then add fats:Olive oil, flax oil, walnut oil, coconut oil.
    4. Download Mark’s recipe books!
    5. Eat LESS at first to get a feel for the choices.
    6. If you don’t lower your carbs enough to get rid of your sweet tooth it will not work well for you.

    I have to be at 20 grams a day or less, everyone’s different.I eat brussel sprouts, brocc, salads, carrot, etc, berries, nuts, protein of every kind-I’m never hungry.

    Good luck!

    DBeee! wrote on August 20th, 2014
  4. OK, this is pretty easy to understand. What I can’t seem to find on this site, however, is the range of other macronutrients we need. How much fat are we supposed to consume? How much protein? Somebody please point me to the right page!

    Amber wrote on August 25th, 2014
  5. When you get down to the < 50g/d range, it really doesn't make a lot of sense to talk about "grams or carbohydrates". At that point, it really only makes sense to talk about grams of non-fiber carbohydrate. It makes a huge difference. Then the whole business about being deprived of "nutrient rich vegetables" goes away. 16 servings of spinach is only 19.5g of non-fiber carbohydrate. I eat loads of a wide variety of non-starchy vegetables each day, and generally stay under 25g/d of non-fiber carbohydrates.

    Steve Bergman wrote on September 27th, 2014
  6. have tried several times in the past to do a paleo/low carb/high fat diet and have been tripped up on over eating nuts/nut butters and paleo “treats” and blowing into a very high calorie range without even realizing it. i am 5-8, 175 lbs have yo yoed 10 lbs up and down for the past couple of years. i have PCOS and have generally eaten fairly low carb for over 10 years, but with “cheats” on the weekends which i realize over time would negate my efforts. your site has been very helpful, but i wanted to ask a couple of questions….1. i struggle with where my calories should be for weight loss on a primal style diet and 2. are the carb amounts in your guidelines net carbs (deducting for fiber?)

    jordana wrote on November 7th, 2014
  7. Thank god somebody has the brains to figure it out. After eating my way into type 2 diabetes, I keep being told by doctors, nurses etc to keep eating more grains and just take more insulin when needed. It is also a bad idea to use butter or cream as the excess fat will shorten my life span.

    I finally have a doctor who supports low carb and says there is no reason to ever eat grains or junk food. Incidentally, she is the only doctor I have ever has that was not fat.

    Dean s. wrote on November 13th, 2014
  8. I’m currently trying to lose some weight but most importantly I’m trying to find a long term, sustainable diet plan to “cure” or manage my ecszema better (it is quite severe). I read quite a bit where going on a raw diet could really help with as little as 6 to 12 months result.
    However going raw means high carb with lots of vegetable. Anyone has some input on this?

    farahfutom wrote on November 23rd, 2014
  9. Hey guys,
    I’m quite confused about cutting carbs and losing weight, as I feel its only marginally worked for me. I’ve been attempting to keep my carbs under 80g on most days (super challenging for me) even though I don’t eat any bread, pasta, rice etc (I would say I’m mostly paleo now). I do drink milk in my coffee (might have 1-2per day, which is carb heavy). I also love bananas, but have been trying to cut back to 1/2 a day. Though only since cutting carbs dramatically have I been experiencing really painful cramps and spasms in my legs like never before whilst dancing (I dance about 1-2hrs each evening 4-5x a week -ballet/contemporary) After I upped my carbs again (to about 90-100grams by eating one whole banana) and by taking magnesium pills has the cramps let up. I also couldnt get through a full ballet class (50min or so), halfway through I would be completely exhausted and have no energy left whatsoever for the big jumps.

    Now I desperately want to trim the fat from my waist/back (I’m competing in a ‘modelling’ competition of sorts) in 2 weeks and want to be toned! (not scrawny and sickly), but cutting carbs just doesn’t seem to ‘cut’ it (hah pun) So yes, any advice? Should I be eating more carbs for my exercise? I’m going to be exercising 1.5hrs per day (weights or cardio alternating days – I know not really primal, but its the only thing thats ever worked for me to get to where I want to be physically) + the dancing at night.

    Please any help/advice would be greatly appreciated!!

    Anzjuli wrote on March 13th, 2015
  10. I’m hypoglycemic and also have mesentery panniculitis (inflammation of small intestine). Since the gastroenterologist wants to do a biopsy in my small intestine and because my symptoms make me understand that something wrong is going on in my intestine ( not the colon, colonoscopy was fine) I decided to start a ketogenic diet. I didn’t know the consequences and I jumped into it without much knowledge. One good thing is that my blood glucose is not lowering as fast as it was, I’m not having the strong low sugar symptoms anymore and I’m experiencing clearer mind. But I have experience a low in my minerals and I have to be getting information on correcting that. The worst part was the constipation I experienced that made me rush to Google to find the reason. In my search I found about the resistant starches and added plantain flour to my diet and my bowel movement regularity has been improved. I was a raw vegan for 10 months before switching to the ketogenic diet and I eat eggs and fish now but I can’t even look at red meat without feeling a rejection. I feel that my body is telling me there is something wrong with the ketogenic diet or my body itself so I have been searching more about the resistant starch until I found your website that seams very interesting to me. I wouldn’t like to let go of the ketogenic diet since my blood sugar is not lowering fast as before.. Any suggestion? Thanks a lot.

    Haydee wrote on March 19th, 2015
  11. I think it’s been said before, but should be said again. A lot of these ranges are going to depend highly upon your body size and activity level.

    While I don’t advocate that athletes and physically fit men eat tons of sugar and carbohydrates, I do think it is a good idea to eat more carbs if expending carbs is a major past time.

    I know from experience that I have needed to increase my carb intake a lot as I have gained muscle mass from working out and doing acro yoga more often. I’m relatively lean and still 185 – 190 lbs. which means I just can’t go on that low of carbs unless I am super keto adapted!

    Mansal Denton wrote on April 10th, 2015
  12. Hi,

    My question is very simple: I thought ketosis was a “yes-or-no” state that triggers after several days under 100 g. of carbs.
    “Yes-or-no” meaning, if I still eat 130 g. of carbs a day, my brain still receives enough glucose to NOT trigger ketosis.
    Is that the case?
    If it’s a “yes-or-no” state, are you able to burn fats when you’re between 100 and 150 g. ? If it’s not ketosis that’s “burning fat”, what is?
    Can’t it be dangerous on the long term to eat a whole lot of fat when you don’t know exactly how much you’re burning ? Are you guys all making excel spreadsheets to calculate exactly how much from carbs and fats you should eat?

    Thanks a lot


    Raf el Grok wrote on July 19th, 2015

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