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.
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.