Carbohydrates are not the devil. An oft-misunderstood macronutrient, carbs can be found in everything from broccoli to brioche, but different carbohydrates play very distinctive metabolic roles in the body. We’ll go more into the different classifications of carbs in a future post; for now, I want to focus on the role of carbohydrates while treating SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
The foods allowed on the SIBO diet are based on their chemical structure. Most of the carbohydrates we recommend during this time are monosaccharides, meaning they have a single-molecule structure that allows them to be easily absorbed by the intestinal wall.
Complex carbohydrates (disaccharides, polysaccharides, and oglio-saccharides) are limited during this time because they are not as readily digested. In patients with SIBO, these carbohydrates may remain undigested in the gut for prolonged periods of time, feeding the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This overgrowth can cause inflammation in the gut and lead to a myriad of gastrointestinal, mental, and physical symptoms.
The SIBO diet is, by its very nature, a low carbohydrate diet. Since bacteria primarily subsist off of carbohydrates, it’s important that we reduce carbs to reduce the bacteria’s food supply.
The thing is, while we’re determined to starve the bacteria and begin the process of gut healing, we absolutely do not want YOU to starve. That will require some carbs, which is no problem because there is an abundance of easily digestible carbohydrates on this diet. You may just have to shift the way you think a little bit; think: carbs are in fruits and vegetables, not just bread and pasta!
The first thing I hear from many SIBO sufferers undergoing treatment is that they need a list of carb-rich foods so they can work out, think, breathe, etc. I get it.
But there are two KEY points to keep in mind as you’re treating SIBO:
1) We’re starving the bacteria of their food source, therefore restoring a more optimal ratio of good and bad gut bugs. So, reducing sugars and starchy carbs is sort of the whole point.
2) You will need to increase your fat and protein intake substantially over the course of the diet in order to maintain energy and hormone balance.
I don’t want to scare you. Many people feel just fine or even pretty awesome on low-carb diets, but this is not a long-term solution for everyone. Dr. Brighten and I may even make some adjustments to the diet if a patient is breastfeeding, has additional dietary restrictions, or requires energy modifications.
Carbohydrates on The SIBO Diet
Carbs are necessary for many people to function optimally. Many healthy adults will thrive on about 20% of their daily calories coming from whole foods-base carbs, or about 100 grams. (This does not account for pregnant/breastfeeding patients or those focusing on healthy weight gain.) For our purposes, I would shoot for 50 grams per day or more to keep energy, hormones, and sleepy time healthy and balanced.
Some Reasons Carbs Might Be Necessary:
- Immune System Support
- Thyroid Function
- Optimal Sleep
- Optimal Energy
- Fertility & Pregnancy
- Treating Constipation
- Healthy Weight Gain
As we switch from a diet reliant on processed grains and/or starchy vegetables to feel full, it’s also important that we focus on getting plenty of healthy fats from ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds.
What 50 grams of carbs looks like:
- 3 cups kale (1 cup per meal)
- 3 cups lettuce/arugula
- 1 cup cabbage
- 2 tomatoes (spread over two meals)
- 1 cup acorn squash (spread over two meals)
Here’s another 50 grams:
- ½ cup coconut milk
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1 cup pineapple
- 6 Brazil nuts
- 2 tbsp. pumpkin seed
I encourage you to experiment with what feels good to you. As long as you’re spacing meals/snacks 3-4 hours apart and eating the allotted portion sizes, eat as much as you want. Bulk up meals with high quality protein, fats, and eat your greens!
For a comprehensive list of “legal” carbohydrates while treating SIBO, get this free download now!