How To Tell If You’re Carbohydrate Intolerant—And Yeah, It's a Thing

A nutritionist tells all.

carbohydrates
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Carbs, carbs, carbs. The ‘other’ c-word that truly divides rooms. Should we eat them? Are they terrible for our health? Are brown ones better than white ones? Why are they so demonised? Carbohydrates are an integral part of any diet, but the amount that works within someone’s diet is a grey area—meaning what works for one person may not work for another.

If you’re used to feeling a bit on the sh*tty side of life after consuming carbs, you should know that carbohydrate intolerance is totally a thing, and should be taken into consideration when assessing which type of diet is best for you. We asked Cyndi O’Meara, nutritionist and co-founder of Changing Habits to spill the beans on whether carbs are friend or foe. Here’s what you need to know:

What is carbohydrate intolerance?

Carbohydrate intolerance is the failure to digest one or many carbohydrates due to a lack of one or more gastrointestinal enzymes. According to Cyndi, symptoms may include diarrhoea, bloating, nausea and flatulence, and official diagnosis can be made by a hydrogen or methane breath test.

Pasta bows.
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How do you tell if you have an intolerance to carbohydrates?

Listening to your body is the first step. Many people shut out the body’s signals by taking medication and some don’t understand how food can affect not only the gut but also joints, cognition and much more. Definitive signs are indigestion, bloating, nausea at night after falling asleep, excessive burping and flatulence. This is not a complete list, but it will help guide you to seek help.  

Are carbs inherently bad for our health?

They are in fact, an important part of our overall health, the health of the microbiome and they have played a big part in evolutionary eating. Cyndi argues that people may have intolerances to certain carbohydrates as opposed to the food group as a whole; a problem that is exacerbated through the poor-quality of today’s modern diet.

Are brown carbs better than white carbs?

As a whole, yes, unrefined carbs are far better than refined carbs. But there are exceptions to the brown/white carb debate. For instance, honey and a couple of fruits are known as white carbs, which is where I disagree. There is a tribe in Africa called the Hadza whose diet is approximately 30% honey and they do not have the diseases of modern society. Also, white rice that has been cooked and cooled for 24 hours becomes a resistant starch with less carbohydrates and is a wonderful source of nutrition for the microbiome.

What to do if you have a carbohydrate intolerance?

Inevitably, removing the carbohydrate (disaccharide) from the diet is the treatment. An example of this is when lactose (milk sugar) is unable to be digested due to the lack of the enzyme lactase, so trialling a lactose-free diet would be an obvious solution. A low FODMAP diet is also commonly prescribed to people who do not tolerate certain carbohydrates—this is not necessarily due to a missing enzyme but rather a microbiome in dysbiosis which weakens gut function. 

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet or GAPS Diet (Gut and Physiology/Psychology Syndrome) are two wonderful examples of how to fix a gut that cannot tolerate carbohydrates and many other macronutrients. By doing either of these two diets, most people can begin to tolerate more carbohydrates. Hallelujah!
*Always seek the help of a professional when making any major lifestyle changes.

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