One of the largest issues up for constant debate within the paleo community is how many carbs (and what kinds) we should consume. Opinions differ considerably from those who recommend living close to (and dipping in and out of) ketosis (such as John Welbourn, Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Dr. Michael Eades, author of The Protein Power Lifeplan) to those who recommend limiting fruit but eating starchy vegetables (such as Prof. Mat Lalonde and Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution), to those who recommend limiting starchy vegetables while eating plenty of fruit (such as Prof. Loren Cordain author of The Paleo Diet and The Paleo Answer). I should point out that all of these diet experts have different recommendations depending an individual’s weight, goals, health issues, and activity level. While recommendations for carbohydrate intake are uniformly much lower than typically consumed in the Standard American Diet, this disparity likely reflects the individuality of carbohydrate requirements. Even diet analysis of historically studied and modern hunter-gatherer populations shows substantial variability in their carbohydrate intake. So, it can be tough to sort through the recommendations and rationale to decide what is best for you. Should you eat 30g of carbs a day? 50g? 100g? more? Should you limit your carbs to breakfast? post-workout? early evenings? Does it matter what kind of sports you enjoy? if you’re an endurance athlete? What kind of carbs are best and does it matter?
If you are a person who is struggling to figure out just how many carbohydrates you should eat while following a paleo diet (or even a standard low carbohydrate diet), I highly recommend reading Sweet Potato Power by Ashley Tudor. This book takes a thorough look at this aspect of a paleo diet and not only explains the difference between different carbohydrate food sources but also provides a comprehensive set of tools for determining your individual carbohydrate tolerance and requirement.
The first two sections of Sweet Potato Power deal with the history of the sweet potato and the essential principles of a paleolithic lifestyle; including diet, activity and stress-management. These chapters are full of delightful historical information, which I greatly enjoyed. Ashley Tudor is also adept at providing unique analogies (although at times oversimplified) to help the reader understand the role that diet plays in inflammation and disease. Perhaps most useful in these sections, Ashley Tudor explains the interplay between diet, hunger hormones and stress hormones is a very approachable way. In anticipation of the third and ultimate section of this book, she provides guidelines for setting goals and embarking on a carbohydrate self-discovery adventure.
The real meat of this book is in Part Three: Your Body, Your Rules, where Ashley Tudor provides a comprehensive set of tools to determine your personal optimal carbohydrate intake. Her tools range from free and simple to costly but hugely informative, all of which she has experimented with personally to optimize her own health. Most useful in this section, was a guide to medical tests (including how to ask for them and how to interpret the results within a paleo framework) that can be used to determine the body’s reaction to carbohydrates, as well as the body’s level of inflammation, stress hormone profiles, and cardiovascular risk factors. She even provides instructions for entering ketosis as a strategy to normalize cholesterol, regulate insulin and leptin sensitivity, lose weight, and treat anxiety and depression.
Perhaps the most useful for me personally was Ashley Tudors’ recounting of her experimentation with a continuous glucose monitor. In particular, she noticed that her blood sugar was unusually high one morning after skipping breakfast. This was a complete eye-opener for me. I had just started eating breakfast regularly again about a week before reading this chapter. I had skipped breakfast most mornings for two months to see how this would work for me (I’m not usually that hungry in the morning so I rationalized this by saying I was listening to my body). However, over those two months I watched my weight creep up and my sleep quality deteriorate. Ashley Tudor cleverly explains this as a cortisol spike from the stress of not eating. It also explains the four pounds I lost in just a week of eating breakfast (even though I’m actually eating more throughout the day) and confirms that I am on the right track.
The only issue that I felt was missing from this book is the tolerance for starchy vegetables in those with Small intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, which is a common health complaint among those seeking to use paleo to address a variety of diseases. I personally can’t handle sweet potatoes and have to stick to less starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruit. However, the tools for determining carbohydrate tolerance and monitoring health provided in this book are still useful for me and I found many jewels of wisdom amongst its pages.
As an added bonus, Sweet Potato Power provides a guide to cooking with different types of sweet potato as well as 35 recipes taking advantage of the sweet potato, ranging from breakfasts to main courses to treats and even sports gels. I was slightly disappointed that some of these recipes fell under the primal category rather than paleo, using ingredients such as heavy cream, Gruyere cheese, cream cheese and even sour cream. Butter also featured heavily in these recipes with no dairy-free suggested alternatives. I was also disappointed to see baking powder (a non paleo/primal ingredient due to its cornstarch content) in some of her baked goods recipes. However, the variety of sweet potato presentations was remarkable and I found several of these recipes to be very exciting. I cooked two recipes from the book for my review.
First up was Sweet Potato Linguine with Sage and Brown Butter Sauce. While I have used other vegetables as paleo noodle substitutes, I had no idea that sweet potato would work so well! The butter and sage flavor was divine and this dish was a delicious accompaniment to fish. My husband has requested that this become a regular part of our veggie side dish rotation. I am happy to comply since it was also very easy to make!
Second, I baked Fudge Brownie Bites, although I replaced the baking powder in the recipe with baking soda and cream of tartar and also omitted the espresso powder since I let my kids be the taste testers. These brownies were easy and quick to make and a resounding success with my family (they are perhaps sweeter than many of my recipes, which makes them an extra special treat). My 2.5-year old has pronounced them her favorite cookies.
I have to thank Victory Belt Publishing for sending me Sweet Potato Power. This book flew below my radar and was not one I would have purchased on my own. And I would have missed out! I have gleaned so much useful information from this book and have changed behaviors as a direct result from some of its content. If you are struggling to figure out what your carbohydrate intake should be, this book may help you find the answer.