Gut Ecology and Carbohydrates

In my last post I noted that there are two main sets of foods that fall within the carbohydrate category – simple and complex, and these can be further assessed by looking at the glycaemic load of a specific food. So how does this relate to using carbohydrate foods while on a diet to encourage gut ecology – minimising yeast growth and encouraging friendly bacteria growth?



If you have ever made bread you will have first had to activate the yeast. To do this, in addition to warmth and moisture, the main ingredient to encourage yeast activity is sugar. And so it is within our guts.The high level of sugar within the Western diet is a main factor behind the large number of people who have symptoms related to excess gut yeast. The pathogenic yeasts within the gut should be kept in check by the presence of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and  friendly bacteria in the small and large intestine, but much of our diet does not include nutrients to encourage stomach acid production, while antibiotics, steroid and hormone treatments (e.g. HRT and the Pill) and stress all have a negative impact on the levels of friendly bacteria.



So in addressing gut ecology, we need to starve the yeasts and pathogens by depriving them of the sugar they need to feed on, and to encourage friendly bacteria by ensuring they have a plentiful source of nutrition.

It is in the area of how to starve the yeasts that nutritional therapists may slightly differ. Some say that all carbohydrates should be avoided, others say just added sugar should be avoided, but fructose in fruit is fine. It is no wonder that many clients come to mevery confused about the way forward. What advice should they listen to?



The approach I use was dvised by Erica White as she constructed a programme to restore her own health after years of illness due to the overgrowth of the gut yeast Candida albicans. She then went on to use this approach with thousands of clients. Erica found that it was vital for all simple carbohydrates (sugars) to be completely avoided, including fructose in fruit, in order to properly starve the yeast. She also found that as long as any other carbohydrates included in the diet were whole grain, this was generally acceptable and did not hamper bringing yeast under control. These whole grain carbohydrates are digested slowly, therefore not flooding the blood-stream with glucose, and therefore not providing food for yeast, either in the gut or in colonies around the body. Whole grain rice, whole grain wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, rye, oats and amaranth can all be included in the diet for the majority of people, and they will still see encouragement in gut ecology.



What about the sweeter, more carbohydrate dense vegetables? Again, these vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, sweet potato and butternut squash, can all be used by most clients. Potatoes I recommend should be eaten when they are still slightly ‘glassy’ and only  just cooked, as when fluffy they will have a readiness to turn to glucose.



Sometimes a client may find that yeast has damaged the integrity of their gut wall, making digestion difficult and leading to food sensitivities  Frequently, avoiding the gluten grains – wheat, rye, barley and oats makes a big difference, and this is an area where specific support from me may be beneficial.



And what about encouraging friendly bacteria? Unrefined grains and vegetables contain two sorts of fibre – insoluble and soluble – both of which are a food source for the beneficial bacteria in our guts. Murray and Pizzorno write of insoluble fibre in The Encycopaedia of Natural Foods:


“The best example of insoluble fibre is wheat bran. wheat bran is rich in cellulose. Although it is relatively insoluble in water, it has the ability to bind water. This ability accounts for its affect of increasing faecal size and weight, this promoting regular bowel movements. Although cellulose cannot be digested by humans, it is partially digested by beneficial microflora in the gut, for which it is the primary food source. The natural fermentation process, which occurs in the colon, results in the degradation of about 50% of the cellulose, and is an important source of the short-chain fatty acids that nourish our intestinal cells”


Soluble fibre is found in the majority of plant cell walls and can be subdivided into a number of groups. Murray and Pizzorno write, “Bacteria in the gut digest soluble fibre, increasing the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut and creating short-chain fatty acids which the colon cells use as fuel and which decrease cholesterol… A diet high in dietary fibre promotes the synthesis of short chain fatty acids, which reduce the colon pH, creating a friendly environment for the growth of acid-loving (friendly) bacteria.”



So the careful use of carbohydrates as whole, unrefined grains and vegetables can be included as a part of the plan I use in addressing gut ecology, while also providing an array of nutrients, fibre and an important energy source. For the majority of clients, they find this protocol a very ‘workable’ approach, enabling them to adapt family meals, and gain the calories and nutrients they need for day to day energy.