Low Carbohydrate Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
In general, carbohydrates in our diet include foods like fruits and vegetables as well as grains and starchy foods such as pasta, rice, breads, and cereals.
But when we refer to a low carb diet, generally we are referring to one that is low in the starchy types of carbs like grains, breads, cakes, pastas, cereals, and starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, taro and corn, and sometimes the stimulating, high sugar sweet fruits.
This diet suits those who have difficulty digesting starch, want to lose weight, control diabetes, or simply feel better and have more vitality when they eat less starch.
Some say that it is wrong to not have starchy foods or many carbohydrates in our diet, claiming that starchy carbs are part of a complete balanced diet. My response is if these carbs suit your body, then that’s great and keep eating them. But the fact is, they don’t suit everyone or every health condition.
Another point raised is that we need starchy carbs because of their fibre content. While starchy carb foods certainly contain fibre, much of it is a type that is difficult for some people to process. When foods such as low GI fruits and vegetables which contain other types of carbs are used to replace starchy carbs, there will be plenty of fibre available, including the resistant starches needed to feed our friendly bacteria.
If you feel your body can handle starchy vegetables like potato, sweet potato, and corn (but you get bloated and uncomfortable with breads and pasta) then by all means add these vegetables to your diet, especially if it is beneficial for a health condition you are balancing.
Another bonus of eating less starchy carbs is that you will naturally eat more of the non-starchy carbs, thereby resulting in more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Let’s face it, if your plate isn’t half full of pasta, bread, or rice, then it will probably be filled with more vegetables.
To read more about low carb choices related to specific diet types and health conditions, please click onto these articles:
- Adrenal fatigue diet
- Alkaline diet
- Allergy and intolerance diet
- Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive decline diet
- Anti-aging diet
- Anti-candida diet
- Anti-inflammatory diet
- Autism Support (ASD) diet
- Auto-immune diet
- Cardiovascular diet
- Cartilage regeneration diet
- Celiac & gluten sensitivity diet
- Cellulite diet
- Detoxification diet
- Diabetes support diet
- Endometriosis diet
- Fertility Support Diet
- Fibromyalgia diet
- GAPS Diet
- Grain Free Diet
- Headache Prevention & Support Diet
- Hypoglycaemia Diet
- Hypothyroid (underactive thyroid) Diet
- Insomnia Diet
- Insulin Resistance Diet
- Intermittent Fasting Diet
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Diet
- Ketogenic Diet
- Leaky Gut Diet
- Liver Support Diet
- Low Fodmaps Diet
- Low GI Diet
- Low Histamine Diet
- Mediterranean Diet
- Migraine Diet
- Neurological Support Diet
- Paleo Diet
- Parasite Cleansing Diet
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Diet
- SIBO Diet
- Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
- Weight Loss Diet
A low carbohydrate diet can help all the conditions listed above and many more. The digestive system, and all conditions that stem from the digestive system, can be well supported by a low carbohydrate diet.
Healthy digestive system
A low carb diet has been shown to help difficult digestive system disorders, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. People with Crohn’s disease have a lot of intestinal inflammation. Studies show that removing certain foods like grains can help to support the healing of the digestive symptoms for those with Crohn’s disease.
The overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine can cause increased gas and acid production through fermentation from foods that don’t digest well. This overgrowth of bacteria also increases toxic waste production which creates digestive discomfort and problems of absorbing nutrients efficiently.
Symptoms can include constipation, diarrhea, gas, or bloating. Removing more fermentable foods like grains and starchy vegetables can help to remove the source of the problem, allowing the gut to heal.
Healthy nutrient absorption
The harmful toxic by-products caused by fermentation of grains and starches (a high carb diet) affect enzymes produced in the digestive tract that are needed to metabolize food and absorb their available nutrients. Important digestive enzymes and friendly bacteria located on the surface of the small intestines can be reduced by growing the wrong type of bacteria and toxic waste, blocking normal vitamin and mineral absorption.
Consequently, the mucosal layer of the small intestine produces a protective mucus coating, which further inhibits normal digestive processes and absorption of nutrients. The mucus coating becomes ‘Biofilm’ that traps the bad bacteria in a way to protect the lining of the intestine. But in effect it also protects the bad bacteria from attack from the immune system, which means the bad bacteria can thrive even more.
Thus the benefit of a low carb/starch diet is to enhance healthy nutrient absorption and prevent many of the problems described above, which are caused by the fermentation of starchy carbohydrates.
Along the lining of the mucosal layer within the gastro-intestinal tract are tiny micro-villi, which provide greater surface area for the absorption of nutrients. But the microvillus can get damaged by the fermenting of starchy carbohydrates which then reduces the absorption of certain nutrients such as folate and B12.
The longer this goes on, the more the villi get damaged and the barrier created by the microvilli breaks down and allows for more gut permeability (leaky gut). This allows particles to enter the bloodstream where they shouldn’t be, which signals to the immune system that something is wrong, commonly resulting in food allergies and sensitivities.
A low carb/starch diet can help to reduce or eliminate inflammation in the body.
As mentioned above, a starchy carb diet can increase inflammation and bacterial fermentation, creating lactic acid which can affect brain function and behaviour as well as create a ‘foggy head’ feeling.
Gut fermentation is commonly seen in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The role of gut bacteria in ASD is still being researched, but anecdotally results of a specific low carb diet with many of these children is showing promising results.
Because a low carb diet can reduce or eliminate inflammation, symptoms described above can be reduced.
Further benefits of a low carb diet include healthy weight, healthy hormones, and a healthy body. Read through the many articles listed above to get the picture. 🙂
- Many types of sugars, such as lactose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, molasses, maltose, isomaltose, fructo-oligo-saccharides and any processed added sugars
- Grains and grain-based products, including wheat (all types), corn, barley, oats, rye, rice, buckwheat, soy, spelt, amaranth and products made with any type of grain flours (seed flours & coconut flour in small amounts are ok)
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, yam and parsnips
- All dairy products including milk, dairy yogurt, cheeses, ice cream, etc.
- Canned veggies or fruit with added sugar and other additives
- Most leguminous beans, chickpeas, soybeans, black, white & navy beans
- Many types of vegetables (depending on their carbohydrate structure)
- Grass-fed, pasture-raised meats and poultry
- Wild-caught fresh fish, or frozen at sea to be fresh as possible
- Eggs, cage-free/free range and preferably organic
- Homemade coconut probiotic yogurt (others contain additives)
- Certain low-sugar fruits
- Certain soaked/sprouted legumes
- Healthy fats, including coconut oil and olive oil
- Sweeteners: small amounts of honey, maple syrup, rice malt syrup and coconut sugar
- Condiments like fresh herbs, spices, mustard and vinegar
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.