I’m really, really pleased to focus our attention on this question (which I get asked a lot) — is it okay to eat grains if I’m trying to heal my gut? I asked nutritional therapist Lydia Shatney, teacher of the online class Heal Your Gut (open for enrollment through Mar 5, 2014) to step in and help us really understand this issue. Below, you’re hearing from Lydia. If you have questions or comments, be sure to speak up in the comments. –Wardee
Carbohydrates are made of sugar molecules, and can take the form of either monosaccharides, disaccharides, or polysaccharides. These names are really just a way of classifying carbohydrates according to their length.
Monosaccharides — also known as “simple sugars” — are single sugar molecules such as glucose.
When any two monosaccharides bond together, they form a disaccharide, which is essentially two sugar molecules bonded together.
Polysaccharides are the long chains of sugar molecules. An important polysaccharide in the kitchen is starch, which is a chain of thousands of glucose sugars!
All three of these — monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides — are known as carbohydrates.
If carbohydrates aren’t broken down in the gut properly, they cannot be absorbed by the body into the bloodstream. If they aren’t absorbed, they proceed into the lower gastrointestinal tract or the colon, where they are attacked by the microflora, bacteria, and yeast there. This produces carbon dioxide, which in turn produces gas and bloating. Not fun!
Let’s delve deeper into the subject of carbohydrates and discover exactly how each kind acts in our digestive system.
Monosaccharides, the simple sugars, include glucose, fructose, and galactose. They can be transported right from the intestine into the bloodstream, so these are the easiest carbohydrates for us to digest. Glucose and fructose are found in honey, fruits, and some vegetables. If you have gut dysbiosis (leaky gut, candida, etc.), these are the carbs for you!
(However, keep in mind that gut-healing diets, especially for candida, often exclude honey and most fruits.)
Disaccharides, since they are made from two simple sugars, are harder for our body to break down. There are four main dissacharides: lactose (milk sugar), sucrose (table sugar), maltose, and isomaltose.
Enterocytes — cells in the intestinal lining — must produce enzymes able to split the disaccharides. However, in people with gut dysbiosis, the microvilli on the enterocyte cells may not be healthy enough to produce the enzymes at all.
As a result, the disaccharides will remain intact and cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream. They stay in the small intestine and become a food source for candida, pathogenic bacteria, and fungi — all of which convert the disaccharides into toxic substances that damage the gut wall and wreak havoc in the body.
Dissaccharides are found in a lot of foods, including fluid milk, commercial yogurt, processed cheeses, ice cream, table sugar, corn syrup, and milk products with added milk solids or whey. Raw honey has virtually no sucrose in it, since there is an enzyme in the honey that immediately splits any sucrose present into fructose and glucose (both of which are monosaccharides). Cereal grains, tubers, and root vegetables are the foods with the highest levels of maltose.
Then there are the polysaccharides. For the purposes of our discussion we’ll focus on starch, which can be classified into two different categories: amylose and amylopectin.
Amylose is a linear chain of glucose sugars, while amylopectin is a branched chain of glucose. As you might imagine, amylose is easier to digest than amylopectin. After these starches have been partially digested by pancreatic enzymes, however, the disaccharides maltose and isomaltose still remain as fragments of the original polysaccharides.
In some cases, the maltose and isomaltose escape digestion altogether and remain in the intestine to increase microbial fermentation. Amylose and amylopectin starches can be present in many types of grains and other starchy foods.
So, what’s the bottom line?
Carbohydrates are hard to digest even for those with a healthy gut, so it stands to reason that those with digestive issues have a harder go of it. As a population, we have become more and more intolerant of carbs; nowadays even properly prepared grains are difficult for a damaged gut to handle.
Ancient, soaked, or sprouted grains may be tolerable at first, but in time, if the gut is damaged and candida, yeasts, or bacteria are present, healing will be prevented and further damage is unavoidable.
If your gut is damaged, I recommend you eliminate all grains from your diet for at least three months. Elimination diets are the most straightforward way to pinpoint the foods that affect your health and how they do it.
Usually, properly prepared grains can be added back to the diet eventually — but everyone is different and healing times will vary. Some people may find that excluding grains for the most part, with occasional consumption (such as holidays, birthdays, etc.), goes a long way to improving digestive issues and overall health.
Given the evidence, it is a good idea to remove most carbohydrates in order to heal the gut. Ultimately, however, the choice is yours.
What do you think about the role of grains in a gut healing diet — yes or no? If you have questions or comments for Lydia, let us know below!
Lydia Joy Shatney — blogger at Divine Health from the Inside Out and leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation chapter in Delaware County, Pennsylvania — is a certified Nutritional Therapist Practitioner. She offers personalized step by step counseling via phone or in person to transform your health. Or you can learn online from Lydia through any of her online courses: Heal Your Gut, Revitalize Your Health and A Calm Mind.
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