Carbohydrate Sensitivity Diet Options

The fastest way to figure out if your symptoms are due to carbohydrate sensitivity is to remove all carbohydrates from your diet. However, many people don’t want to go to that extreme, and some people can feel better by making simpler changes. This is why I have laid out a spectrum of options for you—from low glycemic index diets that let you eat slow starches and certain fruits, to very low carbohydrate diets that eliminate virtually all carbohydrates. Which diet works best for you will depend on your chemistry and your personal preferences.

Most of us have been eating lots of sweets and starches every day for most of our lives, so if you’ve never tried cutting back, it’s definitely worth doing—you may be very surprised at how much better you can feel.

If you are someone who wants to know as fast as possible whether your symptoms are due to carbohydrate sensitivity, and can make major changes to your diet all at once, skip straight to Level 5 and work your way backwards, but most people like to make one change at a time. If that’s you, then begin with Level 1 and work your way down towards Level 5, one level at a time, until you feel better. Bottom line: if you are impatient, start at Level 5. If you are methodical, start at Level 1. There is also no law against trying the levels out of order, it just makes it harder to figure out which types of foods trigger your carbohydrate sensitivity symptoms.

If you are have dairy sensitivities or dairy allergy and you already eat a dairy-free diet, then you can skip Levels 3 and 4 (and obviously remove dairy from all other levels).

The more carbohydrate sensitive you are, the more levels you may need to try before you start to feel better. If you still have symptoms after trying Level 5 for 4 weeks, then you may want to consider a “ketogenic diet”, which not only limits carbohydrates, but also limits protein, which can cause slight elevations in blood sugar and insulin levels.  For more information about ketogenic diets, please see my low-carbohydrate diets page

If you discover that none of these diets works for you, carbohydrates are probably not the problem, and you should consult again with a health care professional.

LEVEL ONE: Low glycemic index diet for 2 weeks

Remove high glycemic index carbohydrates—these are carbohydrates that are rapidly absorbed and can cause sharp spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. They include things like sugar and other sweeteners, refined flours, dried fruits, white potatoes, tropical fruits, candies, sweet liqueurs, and fruit juice. You can continue eating whole grains, legumes, most fruits, peanut butter, and unsweetened dairy products. This is essentially the “South Beach” diet (www.southbeachdiet.com). If you feel a lot better just by doing this, then you may decide that you don’t want to or don’t need to advance to level 2, but If you still have symptoms, move to Level 2.

LEVEL TWO: Low glycemic index Paleo diet + dairy for 2 weeks

This level is essentially the South Beach Diet meets the Paleo Diet (www.thepaleodiet.com), but allows dairy.

In addition to removing high glycemic index carbohydrates, as in Level 1, remove all grains (corn, rice, wheat, oats, etc) and legumes (soy, chickpeas, beans, peanuts, lentils, green peas, etc) for 2 weeks. These are the modern (“post-agricultural”) carbohydrates that humans have only been eating for the past 5,000 to 10,000 years. You can continue eating low glycemic fruits and vegetables.

This diet allows you to include unsweetened dairy products, which a true Paleo style diet excludes. This means you can have plain yogurt, cheeses of all types, cream, butter, sour cream, and any other dairy product that has no sugar added. If you still have symptoms of carbohydrate sensitivity, move to Level 3.
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LEVEL THREE: Low glycemic index Paleo + full-fat dairy for 1 week

In addition to all the foods removed in Level 2, also remove all dairy products that contain lactose (milk sugar) or whey protein—a protein in dairy products that raises insulin levels (see dairy) for two weeks. This leaves you with the following dairy products: hard cheeses, heavy cream, sour cream, and butter (or ghee). If you are still having symptoms, move to Level 4.

LEVEL FOUR: Low glycemic index, dairy-free Paleo for 1 week

Same as level 3, but no dairy products of any kind. This level will give you a lot of helpful information about how dairy affects your body—not just your carbohydrate sensitivity symptoms, but also any dairy sensitivity issues you may not have been aware of before.

LEVEL FIVE: Low carbohydrate diet for 4 weeks

At this level, you have six options below—three “modern” diets and three “paleo” diets, each with different amounts of dairy. The diets are listed in order of how healthy they are, from least healthy (low-carb modern) to most healthy (low-carb Paleo). Regardless of which option you choose, you will reduce your carbohydrates to a maximum of 10 grams per meal, for a maximum of 30 grams per day. You can go lower than this (as low as zero) if you like. This stage requires 4 weeks to obtain full benefits, as it can take the body 3-4 weeks to completely transform itself from a carbohydrate-burning machine to a fat-burning machine.

Option A: Low-carb Modern with Dairy

If you did not feel any better when you moved through the levels above, or if you simply prefer a modern diet to a Paleo diet, then choose this option. It allows you to eat any food you want as long as you limit carbs to 10 grams maximum per meal. This is essentially the Atkins Diet.

Option B: Low-carb Modern with Full-Fat Dairy

Same as Option A, but eliminates dairy products that contain lactose or significant amounts of whey. The only dairy products allowed are hard cheeses, heavy cream, sour cream, and butter (or ghee). All other foods are allowed, just limit carbs to 10 grams maximum per meal.

Option C: Low-carb Modern, Dairy-Free

Same as Option A, but eliminates all dairy products. This is a good option if you are dairy-sensitive. All other foods are allowed, just limit carbs to 10 grams maximum per meal.

Option D: Low-carb Paleo PLUS Dairy

If you felt better when you moved from Level 1 to Level 2, you may want to stick with the Paleo style diet. This is essentially Level 2 but instead of just being low glycemic, it’s low-carb (10 grams of carbs per meal). All types of dairy products are allowed, as long as you count carbohydrates. This diet consists of meat, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, and dairy products.

Option E: Low-carb Paleo with Full-Fat Dairy

If you felt better when you moved from Level 2 to Level 3, then this option may be best for you. It is the Paleo Diet but allows full-fat dairy products. It removes dairy products that have lactose (milk sugar) and most whey protein, which can cause insulin spikes. This is the same as Level 3 but limited to 10 grams of carbs per meal. This is essentially the “LCHF” (low-carb, high-fat) diet made popular by Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt in Sweden (www.dietdoctor.com). This diet consists of meat, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, hard cheeses, heavy cream, sour cream, and butter (or ghee).

Option F: Low-carb Paleo (dairy-free)

If you felt better when all dairy was removed in Level 4, then follow thePaleo Diet , but modify it by limiting carbs to 10 grams per meal. This diet consists of meat, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, eggs, and non-starchy vegetables.

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  • So in Option F, would you be consuming any oils as well, or ONLY animal fat? I am wondering how I can make sure I get enough fat if I am eating mainly meat, but cannot eat eggs, nuts, or seeds, and I am unsure how dairy sensitive I am. I have been sticking with butter since going low carb, but I don’t want to be unknowingly consuming mass amounts of butter if it is going to do more harm than good!

    • Hi Elaine

      Good question. Seed oils (such as canola, soybean, corn) are discouraged in primal (“Paleo”) diets, but some plant-based oils are considered healthy, including olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil. Fatty nuts are also included in primal diets. Butter is a matter of personal sensitivities–some people tolerate it very well, while others don’t. Strictly speaking, primal diets do not include any dairy foods at all, as they are considered pre-agricultural foods. It can help to choose fattier cuts of meat as opposed to lean cuts.

  • Rick Stewart

    I’ve been ZC for about a year… Is there any hope for my metabolism to completely repair itself of will I always have to watch carbs? Does going VLC/ZC repair the metabolism or does it just keep a damaged metabolism from reacting to carbs?

    • Hi Rick
      What a wonderful question. I wish I knew the answer. I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but if there is a road back to healthy carbohydrate metabolism, I would think that a z-carb diet would be the way. I have heard that some of the enzymatic pathways that are responsible for carbohydrate processing and carbohydrate cravings can persist for years. I personally doubt that we can ever fully repair our broken carbohydrate processing systems, but I can’t say for sure.

  • Kate Falcon

    Dr. Ede, I’m a 14-year old female. I’m disturbed by how my midsection looks. I keep wondering if it’s a because I eat more than my friends, (which I think I don’t,) who are quite slim in appearance. By all appearances I look slim as well. But I know that I have moderate, if not high, carbohydrate sensitivity. My stomach has never looked nice, not even when I was very young. In fact, I had eating problems when I was younger in which I had terrible stomach pains as a result of not eating enough. Should I follow any of the methods above, Dr. Ede? My mother keeps telling me that I’m not fat and that I am still growing. I believed her before I reached pre-adolescent and adolescent stages, because I haven’t changed. I should note that one reason I am so dejected about my appearance is that I am short. I’m one of the shortest people in my grade. I used to think I would grow taller and therefore slimmer, because my body fat would be more equally distributed. Although I am shorter than most of my classmates, I am stronger and more muscular than they are. I love to run, but it never seems to help, because it gets my legs thicker with muscle, instead of slimming me. Why do my legs get thicker instead of thinner when I do high intensity exercises? Please reply. Thank you in advance for any answer you might give, Dr. Ede.

  • Fabio Bolognesi

    Thanks so much for the information! My wife is 32, six months out from having our second baby and has been having undiagnosed gallbladder pain and nausea for about 2 months (She has “gravel” and polyps but no big stones). We finally realized that carbs and sugar were making it worse. She’s been a vegetarian and carb-addicted most of her life, and usually barely passes the diabetes tests. We’ve reintroduced fish, turkey, and chicken but it’s incredibly hard figuring out what she can eat (plus accessing it in a time-efficient manner!) This diet breakdown is very helpful.

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  • cking9900

    I completed my first Whole 30 in November. I also eliminated eggs as I gave a known egg sensitivity. During my Whole 30, it seemed I still get drowsy/brain fog after eating. Particularly after breakfast. It made no difference whether I ate some sweet potato or not. I brought eggs back and full fat cheese. I’m still fighting the same symptoms. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Hi cking9900,

      It is hard to troubleshoot your symptoms without knowing exactly what you’re eating, as there are many possibilities–the most common food cause of fatigue is excess carbohydrate–meaning too much carbohydrate for your system. In some cases even excess protein will cause fatigue. If you want to share more about your diet I’m happy to take a look and give some suggestions.

  • Denise

    Hey am a 20 year old lady..no matter what I eat..I always have indigestion and excessive gas..have got gluten insensitivity.advise me on my diet

    • Hi 20 year old lady Denise!

      Plenty of hope here. Digestive problems are caused primarily by foods that are hard to digest or are irritating to the body. Plants and dairy foods are the prime suspects, because meat, poultry, seafood, and animal fat are easy to digest and non-irritating. There is a list of the most common food triggers on my post: http://www.diagnosisdiet.com/common-constipation-culprits/ and there is information about fruits and digestive problems on my post: http://www.diagnosisdiet.com/is-fructose-malabsorption-causing-your-ibs/

      Generally speaking: fiber, dairy, and fruit sugars are fermented by bacteria in our intestines, causing gases to be produced in the process, leading to bloating and indigestion. For more information about how fiber affects the body: http://www.diagnosisdiet.com/food/fiber/ and for more information about how dairy affects digestion, including information about lactose intolerance: http://www.diagnosisdiet.com/food/dairy/

      Good luck and feel free to keep us posted!

      • Denise

        Thanks. For reply, but have tried changing diet nothing works the moment I ingest a spoon of any food my tummy starts paining, the pain is worse in the morning whether I eat or not,..and I can pass gas upto100+ times in a day without even eating.

  • Bianka Gales

    Hi, I’m 50 years old and my diet is almost vegan ( I eat honey from time to time because of its healthy benefits, ghee because it’s the most satvic food, and for 2 weeks I’ve started eating eggs because of their B12 content ), I don’t eat dairy and I will definitely won’t eat meat, ever ! I also cook everything from scratch at home and I don’t buy anything that has been processed. Therefore how can I stay low in carbs since carbs are the basis in my diet ? I also love fruits and starchy veggies and legumes for their protein intake. Can you give my a way out ? I mention I’m not fat at all, but I’d like to cut down a couple of kilos that won’t go away. Thank you.

  • Daniel

    I am a diabetic, I was reading a book written by South African health professionals or medical doctors. Their recommendation is that we must reduce food from animals and that we must also use soy products since they help to suppress blood sugar. Creams and fats from animals are strictly discouraged but you recommend them, I fail to understand this contradiction really. The name of the book is The Healing Power of Vitamins and Minerals.

    • Dear Daniel

      I have not read that book, and I don’t know which studies they cite to support their claims, but I know of no study demonstrating that simply reducing food from animals reduces risk for diabetes. All of the studies I am aware of that attempt to demonstrate this don’t simply remove animal foods; they also remove refined carbohydrates. For a more complete discussion of this problem, please see my post: http://www.diagnosisdiet.com/diet/vegan-diets/ , particularly the section on blood sugar control. There are numerous references at the bottom of that post as well.

      As for dairy fats, I generally do not support the inclusion of dairy fats in the human diet beyond the age of weaning from breast milk, due to the fact that dairy contains hormones that can raise insulin levels and also because many people (including myself) do not tolerate dairy products. However, for those who can tolerate dairy fats, they do have the advantage of not raising blood sugar the way that carbohydrate-rich foods can.

      I have not researched the effect of soy on blood sugar, but it makes more sense to me to reduce the source of the sugar in the diet rather than to eat foods to try to lower blood sugar.

  • Jennie

    I am 44 yr old female and have been struggeling with a condition i thought was a freak of nature for the last 4 years. I went to 4 diffrent doctors asking each to check me or diabetes, each told me i was not. I would eat certain foods, i would get dizzy, feel ill, sweet, and usually have to go home, sit down, or lay down. in most cases i would fall asleep for hours then wake up feeling fine. At work I fight sleep, after lunch I would sit in my vehicle and struggle to stay awake. I quit going to lunch with co-workers. It was embarrisng i would fall asleep on the way back to the office. I thought I had a weird mental condition. Until i realized it only happenes with certain foods, pasta’s rice, potatoes, breads, starches, ect. I live in the South, that is all we have here. So i quit eating! Unfortunatly now i am dropping weight, drastically fast, i am scared to eat, i live on protien drinks, they have low carbs high calories and i have not figured out what foods to eat, No one can tell me what to eat. I check my blood sugar after i eat, several times i have recorded it at 500, the lowest it has been was 55. I find i fall asleep around 60 when its dropping but i wake up around 100. Ive been to 4 more doctors, they have all ran test, all say I am not diabetic, since i quit eating, my blood sugar has not dropped below 80 and has not gone above 200. Any suggestions!!!!!! The protien shakes are really getting old!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Real food would really be nice about now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi Jennie

      What an ordeal! I’m sorry to hear you are going through all of this. I can’t diagnose the problem over the internet, of course, but it is interesting that you noticed you only get sleepy if you eat carbohydrates. That’s true for a lot of people, so you are not alone.

      The fact that your blood sugar sometimes rises to as high as 500 means that you probably are diabetic, so I’m confused as to how your doctors decided you are not…I don’t know what tests they ran on you, though, or what you had eaten before the tests.

      In any case, whether you have diabetes or not is a lot less important than answering your question about what to eat. For people with carbohydrate sensitivity, the healthiest pattern is to eat meat, seafood, and/or poultry, non-starchy vegetables and plenty of healthy fats (olive oil, animal fats, avocado oil). If you eat that way for a couple of weeks your blood sugar should stabilize. [If not, then I would suggest you see a specialist].

      If you are doing well after the first couple of weeks, you can try adding eggs, nuts, and (sugar-free) dairy products like butter, cream, and cheese to your diet one at a time to see how you tolerate them.

      I hope that helps and feel free to keep us posted!

  • Valerie P

    I do know that I am carb-sensitive. And that’s due to the fact that went on a low-carb diet. For five days, I was in ketosis. I dropped weight, very quickly (four pounds, to be exact). Water weight? Probably. But water weight is still weight, especially when it comes to someone who is prone to false fat. I noticed that the inflammation that I had around my waist, back, and even knees, was almost gone. That pain that I had, was pretty much a constant, became manageable…at worst. For too long, I had thought it was due to high sodium intake. Of course, that was easy to assume since most of my foods were in the form of processed crap (not completely my fault; I’m not the primary grocery buyer). But when I cut my carbohydrates to less than 50g/day (sometimes, less than 20), I did nothing to reduce salt intake–even increasing that. But the swelling did not come back.
    As for the future of my diet, I probably won’t be sticking to the keto diet for long, if only for the fact that I would become addicted to it. And, the last time I ended up becoming addicted to a ‘diet’, my health ended up in critical condition. I will, however, continue to keep my carb intake at less than 100g/day. Because I really don’t miss feeling bloated all the time.

  • Larysa Baldwin

    Hi, my name is Larysa and I have just recently discovered that I suffer from this carb allergy or whatever you want to call it. I went on Dr. Poons Diet and for 2 weeks I was off all carbs/sugars and my leg pain left. When I was let go from Dr.Poons I started eating carbs again and got the pain back. Even when I eat fruit it bothers me. I am looking for a simple diet to follow that has little or no carbs or sugars. I can barely walk when I am in this pain. It really hurts my legs badly! Please give me some advice or some doctor who I can see for this problem. Thank you

Last Modified: Jun 19, 2016 at 2:10pm