A diet of only meat and non starchy vegetables is great in theory, and great for many people. But it does not work for everyone. It does not work for the poor young women who tell me that they have valiantly avoided rice with dinner, only to collapse with tears and ice cream in the evening.
A low carb diet does not work for anyone with adrenal fatigue. (Or to put in more modern terms: HPA axis dysfunction).
A somewhat out-dated term, adrenal fatigue presents with abnormal DHEA and cortisol on saliva test. In reality, it’s more about the nervous system than the adrenal glands. The modern term is hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction. Essentially, the nervous system is over-stimulated, and cortisol and DHEA struggle to keep up with that. It commonly presents with the the symptom of low blood sugar.
The adrenal kind of ‘low blood sugar’ is not a problem with insulin, but rather a problem with neurotransmitters and stress hormones. For those with HPA dysfunction, cortisol is both too low (daytime) and too high (night-time). Furthermore, the body and brain do not respond to cortisol the way that they should. Cortisol resistance impairs serotonin production and causes insulin resistance.
Other symptoms of HPA dysfunction include: Anxiety, low or high blood pressure, dizziness, brain fog, insomnia, and autoimmune thyroid disease.
Gentle Carbs calm your nervous system
What are Gentle Carbs? In a word, they are starchy foods that are not inflammatory. They do not spike insulin and stress hormones.
In contrast, there are the un-gentle Carbs: 1) Gluten grains and 2) Concentrated fructose (sugar). Those two foods single-handedly generate more inflammation, more impaired insulin response, more HPA dysfunction than any other food. But why should their crimes cast aspersions on their non-inflammatory non-fructose carb-cousins rice and potato?
The best gentle carbs are rice and potato. They are glucose—not fructose. And when combined with protein, fat and vegetables, they are low glycemic. (Not that I find GI a useful concept.) Rice can be basmati or brown rice. It can even be white, but not a bowl of white rice and nothing else. It should be a serving of rice together with butter, lamb cutlets, and broccoli (for example).
What is the evidence for Gentle Carbs?
One animal study found that too much protein reduces GABA. GABA is the lovely, calming neurotransmitter that we all need more of. In contrast, starch may increase GABA because starch feeds healthy intestinal bacteria, which produce GABA.
Another study found that carbohydrates improves the cortisol response in very stressed people. And there is some evidence that carbohydrate increases tryptophan uptake and brain levels of serotonin (a controversial topic). Carbohydrates promotes sleep.
I’m not pushing high carbohydrate intake for everyone. I’ve recommended against sugar and flour for decades.
But if you are a young woman with HPA dysfunction, you won’t do well avoiding all starch. Yes, you probably feel better off bread, but that is because you are off gluten and FODMAPs.
Young women are not the only ones to suffer HPA dysfunction, but in my experience, they are the ones who are most likely to benefit from Gentle Starch intake. Perhaps because young women are less likely to be insulin-resistant. Perhaps because estrogen creates a particular situation with neurotransmitters and HPA axis. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment.
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Yours in Health,