When you see the Paleo Plus icon, it means that the recipe contains gluten-free grains and other complex carbohydrates like white potatoes and legumes. These are important for regulating female hormones, and for maintaining healthy gut flora in both men and women.
When you are trying to heal a damaged gut, it is important to avoid foods with complex molecular structures. These are difficult for the body to digest, because they need to be broken down into smaller units before they can be absorbed by the gut. Carbohydrates are made up of chains of sugars, or ‘saccharides’. Simple carbohydrates are comprised of one or two sugars bonded together, which are referred to respectively as monosaccharides or disaccharides (mono- meaning one, and di- meaning two). Complex carbohydrates are comprised of three or more sugars bonded together, and are referred to as starches or polysaccharides (poly- meaning many). A diet that is high in polysaccharides can place an intolerable strain on the small intestine. Unable to keep up with demand, this creates a a backlog of undigested food particles in the digestive tract. The small intestine should be relatively free of bacteria, but this tempting source of food attracts bacteria from the colon. This bacterial invasion is known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). It leads to unpleasant symptoms like pain, gas, bloating and weight loss. If you continue to eat carbohydrates, then you perpetuate a vicious cycle of carbohydrate malabsorption and gut irritation.
When you have a healthy gut, starches that completely ‘resist’ digestion in the small intestine, and pass intact to the colon, are actually beneficial. Resistant starch is found in legumes, whole grains, starchy vegetables and cooked then cooled rice and potatoes. Once in the large intestine, resistant starch provides food for ‘good’ bacteria, strengthening the gut wall and reducing inflammation. Complex carbohydrates are only a problem when they linger undigested in the small intestine, and cause the bacterial environment to resemble that of the colon. Carbohydrates are also essential for regulating female hormones and reproductive health. Without sufficient carbohydrates, many women find that their periods stop. By severely restricting your carbohydrate intake, you place your body under stress by sending a signal that you are in a famine situation. This switches on a fight or flight response, and non-essential bodily functions like reproduction are bypassed.
So while processed foods, sugar and harmful oils deliver nothing but a digestive burden, there is an important nutritional value to some of the food groups that are excluded in a strict Paleo diet, like legumes and potatoes. I advocate gently reintroducing starches that are low in, or free from, natural toxins as soon as your gut is ready. Remember: the Paleo Diet is a restrictive diet, and variety is the key to a healthy, happy gut! Everyone is different, with a unique genetic makeup and gut microbiome. Allow yourself to be guided by your body, rather than by strict definitions.