May 10, 2011

Low-Starch Diet

In the UK it’s estimated that at least 1 in 5 people suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) at some point in their lives, over 10 million people suffer from arthritis and 2-5 in 1000 people are diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS)... not to mention other certified autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 Diabetes.

Recent scientific findings suggest that the symptoms of some of these conditions may indeed be caused when certain intestinal bacteria trigger antibody production causing an over-reactive immune response. These bacteria are often fed by starch.

Like so many scientific discoveries, this one came about almost by accident. Dr Alan Ebringer, a rheumatologist based in the UK, put one of his AS patients on a high-protein, low-starch diet purely for weight loss reasons. Little did he know that that one small step would end up being a giant leap forward in treating this autoimmune disease.

Since then, many studies have been carried out to investigate how starch effects the progression of AS. Similar studies carried out in patients with IBS found that symptoms associated with the condition improved after a short period on a low- or no- starch diet.

How a low-starch diet claims to work

In the case of AS, it is suspected that a particular bacterium (Klebsiella) normally resident in the digestive tract is the cause of AS in persons uniquely susceptible to the disease (with a specific gene). Proliferation of the bacteria may cause the immune system to manufacture antibodies, which help destroy the ‘invading’ substance, but appear to also attack body cells.
So the bacteria isn’t be the cause of damage to tissue, rather the body’s own defences become the problem. A diet that’s low in starch can reduce the primary food source of this bacterium, lowering the number of the species in the digestive system considerably, with striking beneficial results.
There now appears to be a connection between IBS and AS, which means that it could be worth considering a Low-starch diet for people with these inflammatory conditions in order to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with “flare ups”.

A low-starch diet can also help people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels. The goal of diet for a diabetic person is to remove the foods that most stress your insulin system. When you eat, your food will stimulate the release of insulin, which helps nutrients, especially glucose (blood sugar) to enter your cells. Not all foods stimulate insulin equally. However, starches tend to require maximal insulin function to be removed from the blood. Thus, a low starch diet may help in the long term to improve insulin sensitivity.

The low-starch diet regimen

There are many different versions of low- no-starch diet out there but in general most involve decreasing the following foods in the diet:
  • Bread and bread products
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Breakfast cereals/pancakes/waffles
and increasing the following:
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Milk and milk products
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
There are no restrictions on beverages or spices.

Is a low-starch diet healthy?

Following a low starch diet can be healthy. It's really about going back to a hunter-gatherer style of cooking and eating - simple wholesome food! Some foods that need to be cut back on such as potato, rice and wheat products can make cooking feel fairly restricted at first but once alternatives are discovered and accepted the diet becomes easier. Just allow a little time for a transition period.

Whether the diet is easy to maintain is the real question. If you have a sweet tooth you may find it quite a challenge to cut out the refined processed wheat products such as cake, biscuits and white rolls/bread. This is important to do as these foods contain high levels of starch. Also rice is extremely starchy so if your main meals are often rice-based dishes this diet may be restrictive.