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What Is Carb Sensitivity and How To Know If You Have It

February 3, 2017

It seems like the latest buzz is always about carbs! Some say all carbs are bad. Others say there are some good carbs, but only those with a low glycemic index. And what about the health-promoting resistant starches, a carb that is contained in legumes and pasta to help you feel full? It’s a lot to keep up with. And now, there’s carb sensitivity!

Carb sensitivity is important for you to understand and especially if you struggle with your weight! Everyone is sensitive to carbohydrates but consuming them to some degree is vital for your health. However, the type and amount of carbohydrates consumed may affect some people differently and this type of sensitivity can influence how you feel physically and your weight.

Carb Intolerance vs. Carb Sensitivity

Carb Intolerance: Carb sensitivity should not be confused with carb intolerance. Carb intolerant people cannot digest specific carbohydrates due to a lack of one or more specific intestinal enzymes, and this can result in diarrhea, bloating, gas and sometimes weight loss.

Carb Sensitivity: If you are carb sensitive, at the time you ingest a portion of carbs, your digestive mechanisms may become overstimulated. Perhaps you know what this feels like? At first, you might feel good but within a short period of time, you begin to experience hunger irrelevant to the calories already consumed. As this cycle continues, you may begin to feel moody, agitated and hungrier. When this cycle is perpetuated it can lead to weight gain.

How to Determine if You are Carb Sensitive

The best first step is to visit your doctor and have your blood sugar tested. Specific tests may include an oral glucose tolerance test, a fasting blood glucose test, a fasting blood insulin test and a two-hour postprandial insulin test, which measures blood insulin levels two hours after consuming glucose, a simple carbohydrate. High blood sugar levels can indicate borderline diabetes/prediabetes or diabetes and low blood levels can indicate hypoglycemia. Each of these results can indicate a carb sensitivity.

If you are carb sensitive, reducing all carbohydrate consumption can prove helpful for energy, mood, cravings, and weight management. But which carbs do you reduce and how?

Helpful Approach to Carb Reduction for Carb Sensitivity

Step 1 - Remove high glycemic index carbohydrates. These are carbohydrate foods that absorb more quickly and increase blood sugar and insulin levels more rapidly. Sugar, sweeteners, fruit juice and refined flours are a few examples. Check out the complete Glycemic Index list. If this step improves your physical symptoms and you begin to feel much better, there is no need for Step 2. If it does not improve your symptoms, attempting Step 2 may prove of further help.

Step 2 - In addition to the changes that you made in Step 1, remove all grains (rice, wheat, oats, etc.) and legumes (beans, green peas, lentils, etc.). Continue to consume fresh or cooked fruits and vegetables, and dairy products. If you continue to have symptoms after this step, move on to Step 3.

Step 3 - In addition to the former steps, remove all dairy products that contain lactose (milk, yogurt, kefir, etc.). If you continue to have symptoms, consider testing Step 4.

Step 4 - In addition to above, remove all dairy products like cheese, not just high lactose ones like milk, to check for a carb sensitivity as well as a dairy sensitivity.

Step 5 - At this point, you probably have a good idea of how sensitive you are to carbs and to which types. There are a few dietary approaches that may help you manage your carb sensitivity based on the results you have experienced so far. Incorporating healthy foods like lean meats, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and oils, and low-fat dairy products or dairy alternatives will serve you the best. It is recommended to base your diet approach solely on your noticeable symptoms as opposed to fad diet plans.

Listed below are some options that may work well for you. Remember, the term “low-carb” is a lowered carb intake of only those carbs that you are sensitive to, not all carbs!

  • Low carb diet approach including all dairy foods
  • Low carb diet approach without lactose-containing dairy foods
  • Low carb diet approach without all dairy foods
  • Low carb Paleo-style diet approach including all dairy
  • Low carb Paleo-style diet approach including only full-fat dairy
  • Low carb Paleo diet approach without all dairy

Remember that this is not a lifetime eating plan. It is simply a test to see how your carb sensitivity mechanisms work and which types of carbohydrate foods cause your sensitivity.

Hopefully, this nutritional information has served you well and you can begin to manage your dietary preferences to those of your carbohydrate sensitivities while also focusing on your overall health. In doing so you may notice a big improvement in your mood, quality of life and your weight.

For further detailed instruction please see an RDN specialized in this area for counsel and a more fine-tuned plan that suits your situation specifically.

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With over 17 years of experience, Misti Gueron, MS, RDN comes to the Khalili Center from her private practice specializing in weight control, weight loss surgery and eating disorders. With insight, understanding, and her friendly style, Misti helps each patient and groups by teaching, problem solving, and new ways of eating and food behavior. She celebrates their many successes, helps with setbacks and is there for the long term outcome.

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