How carbohydrates effect IBS

How carbohydrates effect IBS

I want to teach you about carbohydrates to understand the different healing diets out their and their benefits.

Carbs are a confusing topic. What we’ve been taught about general nutrition does not apply to IBS. In some cases, it’s quite the opposite.

People come to me in pain, telling me they eat a healthy diet. But while it may be healthy for the general population, it’s not necessarily healthy for a compromised gut.

Whole grains and legumes for example, may be healthy for some, but they can destroy people with IBS. With IBS, we need to write our own healthy food manifesto.

Carbs 101

Here’s what you need to know: intestinal bacterial thrive on the fibers and sugars found in carbohydrates.

The more complex the carbohydrate is the harder it is to digest. So complex carbs like whole grains and beans, while good for balancing blood sugar, are poorly digested by most IBS folks. Undigested carbohydrates become food for pathogenic bacteria or bacterial overgrowth (also called dysbiosis).

Simple carbs like white rice, are easy to digest and therefore well tolerated by IBS sufferers because they breaks down before the bacteria can eat them. The key of course is not to over eat it. Brown rice, on the other hand is harder to digest and can become bacteria food.

The gases produced by feeding imbalanced or pathogenic bacteria is often the cause of painful bloating and gas.

When you understand how carbs digest and interact with your bacteria you can understand why many healing diets limit carbs in different ways.They don’t limit fats and proteins, just different sugars, fibers and carbs.

These diets help us kill bad bacteria, lower overgrowth and balance bacterial populations, which in turn lowers inflammation, stops gas and bloating, helps the gut lining self repair and bolsters the immune system.

Simple carbs also include processed carbs like pastries, white bread, soda and pasta (even gluten free pasta). It’s obvious why this stuff isn’t good for you as it lacks the fiber and nutrients of fruits and veggies and spikes blood sugar. Blood sugar imbalance stresses the liver and the adrenals and promotes inflammation. They also feed bad bugs.

Resistant starch

I wanted to introduce a different kind of beneficial carb. Resistant starch is a hot topic in the health and nutrition field right now.

This carb contains a type of fiber that resists digestion in the small intestine and doesn’t enter your blood stream like regular carbs. This type of insoluble fiber makes it down to the colon undigested so it can feed the beneficial bacteria that live there and and help manufacture a beneficial fatty acid called butyrate.

Butyrate feeds the cells of the colon, reducing inflammation and the chance of colon cancer. Butyrate is extremely beneficial in treating ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, constipation, diverticulitis and diarrhea. Butyrate also increases the absorption of minerals.

Some sources of resistant starch are hard to find or stomach, like green bananas or green plantains. Yuca is also a good source as are cold potatoes. Once heated potatoes lose their resistant starch qualities.

A convenient way to add resistant starch to your diet is through potato starch, which has 8 grams of resistant starch per tablespoon and almost no usuable carbohydrate.

You can add this starch to smoothies, sprinkle it on your food or mix it with water. Potato starch is palatable, with no taste and quite inexpensive. It is also a healthier replacement for corn starch in thickening stews and baking. Green banana flour is another an resistant starch option and fun to bake with.

Eating resistant starch is just as important as supplementing with it.  The two on the go snacks, I love to eat,  that are filling and loaded with resistant starch are green plantain chips and cassava chips. Yum!

With resistant starch it’s a good idea to start slow and work your way up . Don’t over do it because you can’t use more than 50 grams of resistant starch per day. And be patient because it takes about 4 weeks for butyrate to increase and feel the difference.

Resistant starch is also great for reducing hunger, boosting immunity, balancing blood sugar and hormones and decreasing cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk. It’s a great starch for diabetics to consume.

There is one caveat though for this beneficial food. People who have SIBO may not do well with resistant starch. I always test my clients for SIBO first because the nutrition and treatment rules for SIBO are much different than general digestive treatments. SIBO folks can unknowingly do much damage by doing healthy things like eating lots of fiber and fermented foods/probiotics.

Now lets look at the different carb restricting diets.


The Paleo diet is the most basic version of a low-carb diet. Paleo excludes all grains, legumes, dairy, inflammatory oils and processed foods and white sugars. It allows sweeteners like maple syrup, honey and coconut sugar as well as dried fruit and nuts and seeds.

The paleo diet is a low inflammation diet but doesn’t limit carbs or starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes or butternut squash. The paleo diet is not particularly geared towards gut healing, though it does clear up symptoms for some people.

The problem with the Paleo diet is that it includes foods that are common allergens for people with gut dysfunction like eggs, nuts, nightshades, coffee, black tea and dark chocolate. Of all the diets listed here, it’s the least restrictive, but also the least targeted for gut healing. But it may be a good starting point for people who are new to diets because it is the least overwhelming.

Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) & the Gut and Psychology Diet (GAPS)

While these diets are a bit different, bu I lumped them together because the GAPS diet is based on SCD.

Both diets avoid the same foods: Grains, beans, legumes, sugar (including maple syrup and coconut sugar), mucilaginous vegetables (okra, seaweed), most dairy, starchy vegetables (parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes), starchy non-grain flours (tapioca, arrowroot, cassava).

The SCD diet also avoids fermented beverages, chocolate and carob.

Both diets focus on fermented foods like fermented veggies and homemade 24-hour yogurt. Both allow honey as the only sweetener.

The major difference is that GAPS has regimented steps that people go through at their own pace, starting with a small group of foods and adding in foods slowly when ready.

Both these diets focus on eliminating complex carbs and certain starchy carbs and adding fermented foods and bone broth to heal the lining of the intestinal walls, a condition common called leaky gut.

Bone broth is used to tame inflammation, provide amino acids and minerals and seal the tiny holes in the gut lining that lead to food intolerances.

The SCD diet is recommended to treat Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The GAPS diet is also geared to autoimmune disease but focuses on recovery from autism and ADHD. GAPS is recommended to people with severe symptoms.


This is probably the most popular diet for IBS. Even some doctors have begun to recommend it. But it primarily is based on the idea that most people with IBS have SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).

I’ve found SIBO to be quite common but not everyone with IBS has it. If you have bacterial overgrowth this diet will ease symptoms, but won’t heal the infection. It’s just a management tool. SIBO needs to be tested for and treated based on the results. The type of medications used to treat this infection depends on what gases are produced, methane or hydrogen.

The infection is treated by prescription antibiotics, herbal antibiotics or an elemental diet. I find that the elemental diet works best for my clients. but must be done under supervision of a health professional. I do NOT recommend an elemental diet called Vivonex, because it is full of processed, low-quality ingredients.

SIBO means you have too much bacteria in your small intestine where there should be very little. It’s not necessary pathogenic bacteria, it’s just too much and in the wrong place. If you want to know if you have SIBO, contact me through my sidebar and I will send out a test to you.

SIBO feeds on high FODMAP carbs, which are rapidly-fermentable short chain carbohydrate. Examples are fructose, lactose, sorbitol, mannitol, fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides.

High FODMAP foods include “healthy” produce like apples, pears, avocados, garlic, onion, cabbage, broccoli and brussel sprouts. Also yogurt, milk and soft cheeses, sweeteners like agave and sugar alcohols. Beans, wheat and rye are also high FODMAP. I find that a combination of Paleo and low FODMAP works best for people to manage symptoms.

SIBO symptoms include gas, bloating and abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation. It can also cause leaky gut and candida infections.

The low FODMAP diet is an elimination diet where you exclude all the FODMAPs for a period of time and then add in each food one at a time to test your reaction. Most people are intolerant to some FODMAPs but not all of them.

While the diet can be effective in relieving some IBS symptoms I don’t recommend staying on the diet forever as even a small cheat can trigger an IBS attack.

The point of this diet, in my opinion, is to use in conjunction with treatment to get rid of the SIBO infection. Why would anyone want to live on a restrictive diet forever? There is no freedom in that.

Autoimmune Paleo Diet (AIP)

This diet is based on Paleo but excludes additional foods to heal leaky gut and bolster the immune system. It manages the symptoms of autoimmune disease and food intolerances.

AIP also excludes nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant, peppers), eggs, chocolate and nuts and seeds. The AIP diet, like the low FODMAPs diet, is an elimination diet, where you take out excluded foods for 6 to 8 weeks, then slowly reintroduce each food to gauge your reaction.

The ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet is the most extreme in limiting carbs. It excludes carbs like carrots that other carb-limiting diets allow. I have never put any of my clients on this diet but wanted to mention it to discuss the dangers of going too low carb.

This diet is successfully used by people who are carb intolerant, insulin resistant or cancer patients. It emphasizes getting most of your calories from fat and then protein. You can eat non starchy veggies like greens, zucchini, tomatoes, asparagus, cucumbers, kale and radishes, to name a few.

You can still get fiber and vitamins, but no sugars or carbs. Your body learns to burn fat for fuel instead of sugar.

People going on low carb diets often experience something called carb flu (flu like symptoms) for the first 2 weeks, but switching to keto can intensify this detox.

This diet is popular because some people report a clearer head,  more energy and mood stability. It’s also amazing for weight loss. I know a few people who thrive on this diet, but they are a rare breed.

For most people, this diet will mess with their hormones, adrenals, energy and mood. It can also mess with the liver, destabilize blood sugar and increase depression and anxiety.

This diet is great for cancer patients because it starves cancer cells. It’s also extremely effective for epilepsy.

I wanted to use this diet as an example of extremism. If you know that carbs are a problem for gut health and bacterial balance, then going extremely low carb seems like a good idea right?

It isn’t.

Extremism is never the answer. It’s about balancing. Personalities, such as mine, are attracted to extremes because they reduce anxiety. Balancing entails constant decision making, extremes are clear cut but they will get us into trouble.

So that you’re an expert on carbs, I suggest noticing how your body reacts to carbs. If it’s an issue I suggest getting tested for SIBO.


The diet you choose needs to match your underlying issue. That’s why I’m a big advocate for testing. It cuts to the chase, instead of messing with a slow trial and error process.

Is your issue bacterial overgrowth in the large or small intestines? Do you have adrenal fatigue? Is your main issue leaky gut? Do you have other infections like h pylori, parasites or candida? Are there food intolerances present?

These are the consideration you and your health care provider must address along with symptom analysis to pick the targeted diet. This is will lead to a fast acting and wildly successful treatment protocol.

angelafavheadshotAngela Privin is proof that IBS is NOT an incurable disease or a disease at all. IBS is a body out of balance. It’s an invitation for change. After solving her own IBS mystery more than a decade ago Angela trained as a health coach to help others.

Angela uses both science and intuition to help people figure out what’s out of balance in their body. She works with lab tests, dietary changes, supplementation and nervous system rebalancing. Get help rebalancing your digestive system and solving your IBS mystery here.

One Comment

  1. Really good summary of the diets. Thanks