My journey figuring out the carbohydrate intolerance has been rather twisty and challenging and will probably continue to be both for the rest of my life. But I’ve learned a lot of things, and I figure some of them might be useful, so I’m gonna share some of the things I’ve learned in case it’s helpful to you.
First, I gotta point out: this was originally recommended by my doctor, with a few guidelines, to improve my health. Is weight loss a part of that? Yeah, but as a symptom reduction, NOT the key goal. So, I’ve lost weight, yes, but if all you are interested in is weight loss, you might be disappointed.
-Less than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day.
-Avoid aggravating the insulin intolerance by avoiding the false insulin responses caused by artificial sweeteners.
More specific guidelines:
-No grains (including corn and rice. And wheat flour is grain.)
-No starchy vegetables (potatoes, carrots, peas, etc.)
-No fruits except occasional berries
-No milk (some unsweetened milk substitutes are usually okay, but make sure the carbs are low! You can use the carbs per serving of unsweetened almond milk as a guideline)
-No beans. Yes, really! They are way too starchy!
-Of course, no sugars (including white, brown, honey, maple syrup, etc.)
-No artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, saccharine, etc.) Note that I said ARTIFICIAL sweeteners. Low-glycemic natural sweeteners like monkfruit, stevia, and sugar alcohol sweeteners like erythritol (which tends to cause less digestive upset than other sugar alcohols), xylitol, maltitol, and other -itols have not been found to cause nearly as much of an insulin reaction, so they are more acceptable. You still want moderation (especially with sugar alcohols, as they can really cause severe gut issues if you’re not careful), but they are less evil.
Note: When I say “no,” it doesn’t mean that trace elements will cause a reaction. It means that you generally want to avoid these things for the carbohydrates they contain or the insulin response they invoke, though the thing itself isn’t directly harmful.
-Some supplements, such as alpha lipoic acid, can be helpful to aid in the insulin sensitivity.
Related Things I’ve figured out:
- if the carbohydrates listed are in the double digits (or more, heaven forbid), it’s gonna cause me problems.
- the first 10 days of this diet are detox. And detox is HARD. Try to put yourself in a supportive and less stressful environment when you start. There are both physical (pain, digestive issues, etc.) and emotional (the toxins purged temporarily into your bloodstream can literally make you irritable) symptoms during the detox.
- cheating does NOT make you a bad person. It makes you human. It may not seem fair that others can eat carbs and not get sick, but there is no ‘fair.’ If your body doesn’t react properly to carbohydrates, it is what it is. That can make some of your choices have somewhat different consequences than other people making the same choices. Knowing more about the consequences gives you power, because knowing what causes what consequence helps you pick the consequence you want. And the more you recognize it as a choice and not a ‘sign of weakness’ or ‘curse’ or whatever negative spin your brain might like to put on it, the easier it will be to find the success you want.
- fat is NOT your enemy. But also, this is NOT keto (not all low-carb diets are keto, though a lot of people think they are the same), so you don’t have to eat mostly fats, but you don’t need to restrict them, either. (And lest you think “oh that’s bad for my cholesterol,” let me tell you: eating more meats, bacon, eggs, heavy cream, and butter than I have ever had in my life while also strictly limiting my carb intake made ALL my blood lipid numbers improve by a lot, and my triglycerides PLUMMETED. All to WAY better than they were last time I was down to this lower weight. So anyone saying that low blood fat MUST equal low dietary fat needs to take that ignorant idea and shove it into a cold, dark, wormy place.)
- the internet is full of both good stuff and complete crap (not to mention everything in-between). Lots of recipes claiming to be keto or low-carb which aren’t. Lots of people posting stuff out there claiming they know how to cook well when they really don’t (they just want to make money). Lots of products claiming specious benefits or low-carb that’s not so low-carb. So the more you learn from good sources (a good doctor who has done good research, real, respected research sources, real cookbooks, sources that know how to actually cook), the more success you will find.
- There’s growing evidence that shows ties between stress (especially chronic), inflammation, sleep dysregulation, trauma, obesity (because it breaks the metabolism), and mental health symptoms (especially depression & anxiety). So a) don’t judge yourself or others if there seems to be a chronic weight issue, and b) stress reduction…not just when you really feel it, but ALL THE TIME as REGULAR SELF CARE, is essential.
- Often when we are told to restrict something in our diet (or life in general), the first thing we try to do is replace it with a similar substitute. Soda’s bad? Diet soda to the rescue! Butter is bad? Enter margarine! Not only are both of those ideas falsehoods (Studies have shown diet soda to cause more health issues than regular soda, though both are terrible for you. And trans fats makes margarine way worse for you than the cholesterol in butter), but they are just substitutes, pushed by a market (yes, it’s all about money) that feeds you lies that you can have everything that you want in just a slightly different format, and that’s enough. But in my experience, I’ve found 2 major problems with substitutes:
- Substitutes, by definition, get compared to the original. And, by definition (otherwise, it would be the ideal, not a substitute), it won’t measure up. So you are never going to be as happy with the substitute. There are many WHOLE foods that meet the low-carb criteria without funky tricks and flips, so they taste way better than any substitute, comparisons fall by the wayside, and you are happier.
- Substitutes, especially MARKETED substitutes (as quick, easy, tasty), are full of funky ingredients and machinations and weird lies to convince you to spend money on them, when in reality they are rarely very healthy. Historically, for instance, it has been found that the original studies in the mid-20th century that convinced health officials that dietary fat was bad, were in fact falsified (data was cherry picked to get the results the ‘scientist’ wanted) and paid for by…guess…the sugar industry! Because they KNEW that if they could vilify the other primary taste factor in food, that Americans wouldn’t just cut out that ingredient, they would need a SUBSTITUTE to keep flavor profiles high. So the sugar companies waltzed in as our fabricated saviors, and diabetes rates, obesity rates, and health issues began their rapid climb into the stratosphere.
- Even without money-grubbing bigwigs against us, the bottom line with science is that we are CONSTANTLY learning new things, including things that disprove things we thought we ‘knew’ for decades or even centuries. It’s not that real science is bad. It’s that, by definition, good science is always learning but too many people (notably science reporters and science evangelists) want to feel more important/grab more attention by insisting that we have all the answers NOW. All you have to do is look at samples of major beliefs every couple of decades to know that widespread belief in a single conclusion or interpretation of data doesn’t mean it won’t be disproven.
- On a more personal level of understanding, I have found that the more ‘clean’ (that is, fewer substitutes or pre-made foods, while eating more whole, natural foods) my low-carb eating is, the better I feel in every way. I know this is anecdotal, but considering that the most consistent thing through most diets is more whole fruits (in my case, berries) and green leafy vegetables (which tend to be non-starchy) a person eats, the better their overall health tends to be, my personal findings seem to have some scientific support.
- 99% of people I talk to assume this is about losing weight. While that is a side effect, it is not even remotely the goal. Being healthier is the goal. But this, again, leads to the bad assumption of a weight loss goal because we as a society have been taught that excess weight is the sole cause of many of these health issues–with the less overt implication of “and excess weight is caused by laziness, weakness of will, and stupidity–” but IT. IS. NOT. Regardless of any enhancements achieved alongside losing weight, the weight is a SYMPTOM, not a CAUSE of the underlying body malfunction. So as I address the MALFUNCTION, the symptoms go away. Symptoms like bad cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, chronic pain, increased inflammation, liver disease, brain fog, worse asthma and allergies, etc. etc. Oh, and I start losing weight. Because, as I’ve said, it’s a symptom. Not a cause. Yes, there’s a correlation. BUT CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION.
- Is this a soapbox issue for me? Yes. Because the toxic and incorrect cultural belief that health problems are ‘deserved’ when someone is fat because having excess fat is a result of personal weakness, is destructive. Because the toxic and incorrect cultural belief that people with excess fat are acceptable objects of derision and shame because they are ‘obviously’ weaker/stupider/lazier, is also toxic. And I will fight the shaming and ignorance to my dying breath.
Quick reviews of some helpful resources:
First, my go-to quick WHOLE foods and ingredients that are good in most things:
- meats (any you like)
- heavy cream
- extra virgin olive oil
- green beans
- baby spinach
- low carb protein powders
- frozen berries (for smoothies)
- xanthan gum (for thickening things)
- Brussels sprouts*
- fresh berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries are my faves)
- super dark chocolate
*These veggies I have to do in moderation, because they cause intense gut issues for me. Since most of them are cruciferous, they can cause gut issues for most people if too much is eaten.
Then there are a few substitutey-type things for special occasions or cravings. Yes, I know I just told you substitutes don’t work as well. But they work better than carbs! So here are some of my favorites:
- Lakanto maple flavored syrup (thin, but tasty & easier to find)
- ChocZero pancake syrups (thicker & spendier than Lakanto’s)
- SkinnySyrup’s keto syrups (these are generally for flavoring drinks, not putting on baked goods)
- Torani PureMade sugar free syrups (more expensive than Skinny Syrups, but in glass bottles rather than plastic, so better for the environment, and they have more flavor options)
- King Arthur Baking Company’s Keto Wheat Baking Flour (when you really need something that can rise. Warning: it’s got a spongey texture in baked goods, won’t thicken things like gravies, and is $$$!)
- King Arthur Baking Company’s Baking Sugar Alternative (more $$ than Lakanto, but seems to bake up better)
- almond or coconut flours. In moderation and with recipes only. Because they don’t tend to work well and you will get REALLY sick of them REALLY quickly.
- Lakanto’s monkfruit & erythritol sweeteners
- Mission brand Carb Control flour tortillas
- Orowheat Keto bread (I like them better than the Franz Keto bread, but Franz can be easier to find and will do in a pinch)
- ChocZero baking chips (chocolate, mint, peanut butter, etc.)
- Birch Bender’s pancakes/waffles (mixes & frozen)
- Kirkland signature shelf-stable unsweetened almond milk