Paleolithic Nutrition: Refined Carbohydrates


By John Michael

It was our aesthetic sensibility, a preference for white flour, which aggravated our current predicament. We’re eating processed grains that have been refined to please our eyes, noses, and taste buds, but which are mostly devoid of nutritional value, because this value has been removed in the effort to make these foods more palatable, in a process that “gives foods a finer texture and prolongs shelf life, but also removes important nutrients, such as B vitamins, fiber, and iron.”

These refined grains are often no better than sugar. We digest them quickly, leading to a rapid increase in blood sugar that’s followed by an equally precipitous decrease, which we feel as a bump in energy and then a crash. Unsurprisingly, then, both white flour and white sugar are refined carbohydrates, which are “produced when whole plants which are high in carbohydrates are processed in a way to strip out everything but the highly digestible carbohydrate (starch or sugar).”

Why, if they’re so unhealthy, are refined carbs so prevalent? For one thing, we’ve become accustomed to eating them. The intense sweetness that sugar adds is something we’ve come to desire; ominously, one rat study showed it to be more addictive than cocaine. While we’ve also become accustomed to white flour, its power over us doesn’t have to do with any addictive qualities, so much as with its ability to take on the flavors of whatever ingredients are added to it, like sugar or salt, among others.

One of the biggest problems with these refined carbohydrates is that they’re nutrient deficient; they take up a large part of our diets, and so reduce our overall nutrient intake by replacing healthier foods. Another problem is that the energy we derive from them, if not quickly used, is stored as fat, which is why in America we often find the overweight are malnourished. According to some speculation, the short uptick in blood sugar caused by refined carbs leads to an excess of insulin, which, after removing the sugar from the bloodstream, causes a sudden lack of it that could possibly lead to severe problems, like the exacerbation, or even the cause of, cancer.

These refined carbohydrates are playing a role in the spread of several modern diseases, among them diabetes and hypertension. While it’s easy to make villains of the corporations that use refined carbohydrates in their products, we also have to accept some of the blame ourselves. By overindulging our tastes, we went too far down the wrong road, refining carbohydrates so much that we stripped them of their beneficial qualities. At the same time, we over-exerted our tongues, over-stimulating them with the crude tastes of refined carbs, and so allowed ourselves to forget the deliciously subtle flavors that natural foods like those found in the Paleo diet have to offer.