The Low Starch Diet is a prescribed treatment option for IBS.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a bowel disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract resulting in recurring abdominal pain and discomfort, alterations in bowel function, diarrhea, constipation (or a combination of both), usually over long periods (months or years).
IBS may affect as many as 20% of people in the UK at some time in their lives, and reportedly 10%-20% in the USA have been diagnosed with IBS.
Females represent over 70% of IBS sufferers. Recent findings suggest that the colons of IBS sufferers react to stimuli that do not affect normal colons, and their reactions are far more severe – irregular or increased GI muscle contractions producing lower abdominal pain and cramping (often severe), extreme diarrhea and/or constipation, gas, and bloating.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not the same as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which refers to two chronic diseases causing intestinal inflammation: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, although IBS and IBD have some common features.
Carol Sinclair’s IBS Low Starch Diet
There are a number of dietary approaches to the management of IBS; Carol Sinclair’s IBS Low Starch Diet differs from most in two respects:
- She herself is an IBS sufferer who has successfully overcome IBS pain through her own efforts to identify foods that contribute to the problem
- The main focus of the diet is the elimination or reduction of starch
Carol Sinclair’s book The IBS Low Starch Diet details her years of struggle with IBS without any answers until she heard a doctor talking about the theory that among other chronic conditions, IBS was caused by food intolerance. It was stated that eliminating wheat flour from the diet could eliminate the symptoms!
She promptly gave up wheat in her diet with immediate relief from her symptoms, and for about a year remained totally free from pain and bloating. When the symptoms returned, she set out on the task of identifying problem foods, spending many years researching and refining her diet as a virtual ‘walking laboratory’.
Her eventual discovery that starch was the cause of her IBS symptoms has resulted in her book ‘The IBS Starch-Free Diet’, the complete guide to a starch-free lifestyle. There is a chapter on each of these topics:
- Her years of advice from doctors to no avail
- Explanation of irritable bowel syndrome
- Behavior of normal digestion
- What starch is
- Effects of eating starch and the reasons for those effects
- Foods containing starch
- Recognition of starch in food
- Managing the Sinclair Diet System (IBS Starch-free Diet)
- What can be eaten
- Nutritional safety of the diet
- Side-effects of a starch-free diet
- Eating-out guide
- Shopping suggestions
- Over 200 recipes for:
- soups, starters and fish;
- main courses of chicken, rabbit, turkey, pork, beef, lamb;
- everyday meals and salads;
- desserts, baking, sauces, candy, relishes, drinks, snacks.
A sample menu, starch-free of course:
- Starter: Scallops
- Main Course: Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Salad
- Dessert: Pavlova
Validity of starch effects in the diet
Significantly, two recent developments have given impetus to the starch-free, or a low-starch, diet.
- There now appears to be a connection between IBS and the arthritic condition known as Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) – diagnosed in 1 in 200 adults – with the discovery that IBS and AS are often the same autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are chronic degenerative and/or inflammatory conditions resulting from abnormal immune reactions to compounds absorbed from the environment. One of the defence mechanisms of the body is to mount an immune response by launching antibodies against foreign substances in order to protect itself from potential harm.
It does this by recognizing what is ‘self’ in order to respond to ‘foreign’. In autoimmune diseases there is a failure to recognise some part of self, with the result that antibodies attack the body’s own cells. This destruction may be restricted to a single organ, a localized region or the whole body. The consequences may vary from minimal to catastrophic, depending on the extent to which the body is affected. In the case of AS, it has been found that a particular bacterium normally resident in the digestive tract is the cause of AS in persons uniquely susceptible to the disease.
Proliferation of the bacteria cause the immune system to manufacture antibodies, which help destroy the ‘invading’ substance, but appear to also attack body cells. So the bacteria are not the cause of damage to tissue, rather the body’s own defenses become the problem. A diet low in starch reduces the primary food source of this bacterium, lowering the population of the species in the digestive system, with marked beneficial results. The low-starch diet has been extensively and successfully employed in treating AS sufferers at the AS Clinic at London’s Middlesex Hospital.
- An Australian immunologist has discovered a link between starch foods that trigger, in people who have a particular gene (the HLAB27 gene), a range of symptoms such as gut pain, back ache, foot pains, eye pains, acid reflux, stiff back, stiff neck, sciatica, achilles tendinitis and frozen shoulder.
It is possible that a simple blood test can diagnose your symptoms, and that a low-starch or starch-free diet may improve your health.
What about starch foods in other IBS diets?
The apparent paradox – soluble fiber is most important dietary aid for preventing Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms initially as well as for managing the symptoms of IBS. Soluble fiber prevents and heals diarrhea and constipation, unlike anything else.
Since it dissolves in water and soaks up excess liquid in the large intestine it stops diarrhea, or cures constipation by softening faeces for a smooth transition through the colon. Trouble is, soluble fiber is NOT typically found in foods usually considered to contain fiber, such as bran or raw leafy green vegetables; this is insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber is found in starchy foods, though soluble fiber, but is different than starch because it can’t be digested by the human body. Soluble fiber passes through the human body without releasing calories.
Insoluble fiber as well as fats stimulates the human digestive system and this of course isn’t good for IBS sufferers! But you can, and must, eat insoluble fiber foods, though always within the IBS dietary guidelines: never eat insoluble fiber on its own or on an empty stomach, but always with a larger quantity of soluble fiber, ensuring you cook, peel, chop, seed, dice, and/or puree all fruit and vegetables to remove the toughest insoluble fiber and break down the remainder before you eat it.
So what about the starch in insoluble (therefore digested) fiber foods?
Fiber Foods for an IBS Diet
At the top of the list are common foods that many can eat everyday and ones that most people have success with, but if you adopt the starch-free diet, check out how to remove starchy insoluble-fiber foods from your menu. Note that the recommended daily soluble fiber consumption for a ‘normal’ person is 5-10 grams.
|Rice (brown)||0.5 cup cooked||0.1g||1.6g|
|Rice (white)||0.5 cup cooked||0.0g||0.2g|
|Rice cereal||1.0 cup cooked||0.0g||0.2g|
|White Pastas||0.5 cup cooked||0.4g||0.5g|
|Pasta, whole wheat||0.5 cup cooked||0.5g||1.8g|
|Oatmeal||1.0 cup cooked||1.8g||2.0g|
|Barley||0.5 cup cooked||0.9g||3.3g|
|White Bread||1 medium slice||0.4g||0.3g|
|Soybeans||0.5 cup cooked||2.3g||2.8g|
|Corn meal||1.0 cup cooked||0.0g||0.4g|
|Carrots||0.5 cup cooked||1.1g||1.5g|
|Sweet potatoes||0.5 cup cooked||1.4g||2.4g|
|White Potatoes||0.5 cup mashed||0.9g||0.7g|
|Beets||0.5 cup cooked||0.7g||0.8g|
|Squash (butternut)||0.5 cup mashed||0.7g||1.0g|
|Pumpkins||0.5 cup mashed||0.5g||3.1g|
|Mushrooms||0.5 cup cooked||0.2g||1.6g|
|Applesauce||0.5 cup cooked||0.4g||0.5g|
|Avocados||0.5 cup cooked||0.4g||0.5g|
By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)
- Sinclair, C. S. (2004). The Ibs Low-Starch Diet: Why Starchy Food May Be Hazardous To Your Health.
- King, T. S., Elia, M., Hunter, J. O. (1998). Abnormal colonic fermentation in irritable bowel syndrome. The Lancet, 352(9135), 1187-1189. abstract
- Dobson, B. C. (2008). The small intestine and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): A batch process model. Medical hypotheses, 71(5), 781-787. abstract
Last Reviewed: April 1, 2017