Sunday, 11 September 2011

Why No Sugar or Starch?

On the GAPS diet, sugar and starch are restricted.  Or as Dr Campbell-McBride says, no wheat or sugar beet.  I was recently asked about this and thought it would be a good topic for a blog article.  The fact is, wheat and sugar are staples of the western diet and are causing a lot of ill health.

GAPS has a two-pronged meaning.  Initially, it stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome and is an acronym coined by Dr Campbell-McBride to refer to mental illnesses such as Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, Depression and Schizophrenia.  She cured her son of autism with the GAPS protocol, which includes a special diet based on organic whole foods and basic lifestyle changes.

But GAPS also stands for Gut and Physiology Syndrome and this mainly refers to physical chronic degenerative diseases including Arthritis, Heart Disease, Cancer, Obesity and Diabetes. 

So the point is that the GAPS protocol is a special regime to cure a health problem, whether great or small.  Instead of taking medications which generally do not cure anything but mask symptoms and cause side-effects, the GAPS diet prescribes eating certain foods and not eating others.

The biggest hurdle for many people contemplating doing the GAPS protocol is the fact that sugar and starch need to be eliminated from the diet because it’s such an ingrained habit in our culture - spanning hundreds of years for sugar and even longer for starchy foods.

Sugars not allowed:
Sugar beet
Sugar cane
Corn syrup
Maple syrup
Agave syrup
Lactose (the sugar in milk, milk products need to be fermented for long periods to avoid this)
And artificial sweeteners too

Starches not allowed:
Starchy beans
Corn, corn meal, corn flour and corn starch
Starchy vegetables such as Jerusalum artichoke and yams

Like the solution (no sugar and no starch), the problem is two-pronged too.  I will call everyone who could benefit from this diet, GAPS people.  First, GAPS people will invariably be infected with an overgrowth of harmful fungi, one of the most well-known being Candida which is accompanied by some 500 plus other disease causing microbes, and also pathogens such as the Clostridia family.  This in turn leads to the second problem of a defective digestive system.  Sugar and starch negatively affect both these factors which in turn lead to disease.  So how does this happen?  Dr Campbell-McBride explains it fully in her GAPS book, but I’ll give a summary here for those who have not read it yet.

Everyone has some pathogens in their body, but Candidasis (thrush) is a growth out of control.  From a harmless one cell state, Candida grow long stringy filaments which invade the tissues of the body and produce toxic substances such as alcohol and acetaldehyde (a cumulative carcinogen).  When in the gut, these toxins damage the digestive tract.  The photo is from the GAPS book and depicts the absorptive surface of intestines.  In a healthy gut, the cells called enterocytes with the little hair-like tops called the brush border are protected by beneficial bacteria such as those found in yogurt.  So for example, when you take antibiotics and kill the beneficial bacteria along with the harmful ones, it is putting your whole digestive system at risk which in turn puts your mental, physical and even emotional health in danger.

That’s a very brief sketch of how the digestive system gets damaged.  There are many ways other than taking antibiotics to damage the gut lining, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll leave it at that for now.  The next stage is what happens when you eat sugar and starches, otherwise known as carbohydrates.  This is another two-pronged factor – carbohydrates are either simple or double sugars.

The first type of carbohydrate is the monosaccharide, the simplest form of sugar, which needs little if any digestion and is easily absorbed even by an unhealthy gut lining.  Fruit, vegetables, honey and soured milk products like yogurt contain this type of sugar.

The second type of carbohydrate is the disaccharide, called a double sugar because it is made out of two molecules of monosaccharides.  The milk sugar called lactose, sucrose as in cane sugar, and maltose which is produced from the digestion of starch are all commonly ingested double sugars.  These need to be processed by the enterocytes into monosaccharides before they can be absorbed.  Starch is the most complex carbohydrate and therefore requires even more effort by the enterocytes to digest.  In the case of an unhealthy gut, the little enterocytes with their brush borders are damaged and cannot produce the enzymes needed to break down the double sugars.  What happens then?  These indigestible sugars are left in the small intestine and end up feeding the pathogenic bacteria, viruses, Candida and other fungi which of course then go on to emit more toxins and damage health further.

Every time GAPS people eat a bowl of cereal, a biscuit, a slice of toast or drink coffee/tea with milk and sugar, they are basically making themselves sicker.  They may not notice it or they may have a symptom and attribute it to something else, such as a headache, but little by little things get worse with every bite.  That’s how serious eating sugar and starch is with GAPS people.

To improve health, I would recommend cutting back on sugar and starch as quickly as possible.  Strangely enough, you will find that with the elimination of sugar and starch in conjunction with the addition of more nutritious nourishing foods, you will not only be improving your digestion and health but also stop craving sweets or starchy foods, which is especially helpful for the many today who have a weight problem.  It’s a two-pronged bonus!