Carbohydrate Intolerance is on the Rise

You may have never heard of carbohydrate intolerance, but it is real, it is serious, and it’s on the rise. In a world of ever-changing trendy diets, it’s easy to lump low carb and keto ‘diets’ into the fad category and dismiss them as crazy or unsustainable. The problem is, more and more people could benefit from reducing their carbohydrate intake, especially the highly refined variety.

Carbohydrates are one of the three main macro nutrients that we eat, the others being fat and protein. Carbohydrates can be found in the form of sugars, starch and fiber. Apart from fiber, which cannot be digested by the body, most carbohydrates break down to glucose, which is used for energy. For example, if you hold a piece of white bread in your mouth for a minute, it will start to taste sweet. The reason is that bread is made from grains that consist of long chains of glucose. When the enzymes in the saliva break down this chain, the result is glucose, which is a form of sugar.

Current research estimates that 88% of the population are metabolically unhealthy. Type 2 diabetes, the epitome of metabolic dysfunction, is now being seen in children, having previously been called “adult onset diabetes’. The root cause of this issue for most people is poor blood sugar regulation and insulin resistance. This occurs for a variety of reasons, but the most common one is an overconsumption of sugar and refined carbohydrate rich foods. The world we currently live in is so full of these highly processed ‘foods’, that it has become the norm. The low-fat movement has seen many products replace fat with sugar and refined carbohydrates. In addition, food manufacturers hire experts to create food formulas with the perfect amount of ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat to optimise deliciousness. These products can be addictive. Just think of the Pringles ad with the slogan “Once you pop, you can’t stop”. Sad, but true for many.

In an ideal world, in line with the way our ancestors ate, we would eat food in its whole form. When we do this, we eat carbohydrates with fiber intact. This reduces the speed at which the carbohydrates break down into sugar in the blood stream. When we eat sugar (either table sugar or other varieties such as honey, maple syrup, rice syrup etc) or foods that turn into sugar quickly (such as rice, pasta, bread, potatoes etc.) our body must provide enough insulin to remove excess glucose from the blood before it gets to a dangerous level. There is a very narrow range of healthy blood glucose and the body does a great job keeping it within these ranges in the short to medium term. However, over years of excess sugar and carbohydrate consumption, the body must produce more and more insulin. The cells eventually become insulin resistant and do not respond as effectively to the signal to store the excess glucose. Thus more insulin is produced and a vicious cycle begins.

Over a period of many years the body is gradually becoming carbohydrate intolerant. An intolerance is defined as an inability to eat a food or take a drug without adverse effects. Because the body cannot metabolise carbohydrates efficiently when insulin resistant, there are several short and long-term adverse effects. In the short term, by eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates and not enough healthy fat, protein and fiber, the glucose levels in our blood spike too high and then often crash too low. This can result in cravings, fatigue, anxiety, light-headedness, shakiness, headaches and brain fog. Over time persistently high insulin levels can cause skin tags, high blood pressure, acne, weight gain (especially around your middle) and hormonal issues such as PCOS. Eventually even more serious chronic diseases can emerge, such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even Alzheimers (which is now being referred to as Type 3 Diabetes).

If you have any signs of poor metabolic health such as the above symptoms, you may be carbohydrate intolerant. Do not despair. In most cases, especially if you get on to it early enough, you can reverse the problem. The key of course is mainly in diet, but other lifestyle factors can play a role too. The most important thing is to avoid all sugars and refined carbohydrates. If you have diabetes, prediabetes or other more severe symptoms, you may need to reduce all carbohydrates, including ones from whole foods. Replace these foods with plenty of protein (preferably animal based for best absorption and range of amino acids), healthy fats and low carbohydrate fruit and vegetables. The faster you start altering your lifestyle, the greater chance you have of reversing your condition. Of course, if you do reverse it, only to start eating the same foods that caused the problem, you will likely develop the same issues again. You need to make lifestyle changes, not go on a ‘diet’. There are many other lifestyle changes that can help you avoid or reverse carbohydrate intolerance/insulin resistance. To find out more, please come and see me speak at The Free From & Allergy Expo in Sydney at the ICC on Saturday 21st October. I look forward to seeing you there.

Come along and hear Carla Veith-Carter speak on the Learning Theatre Stage on Saturday 21 October at 2pm.

Picture of Carla Veith-Carter

Carla Veith-Carter

Hi, my name is Carla, and I’m a Nutritionist, passionate Keto Coach and Keto Podcaster.

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