Carbohydrate Intolerance (CI) is one of the most elusive and misunderstood, yet widespread, health issues. For many, that familiar carb craving isn’t just a difficult habit to kick but can cause unpleasant side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea. The prescription is simple: cut the carbs. Avoid the unwelcome side effects of carbohydrate intolerance by reducing carb intake and increasing the amount veggies and healthy fats in your diet.

Yet, subscribing to this way of life is not as simple as it seems, especially for vegans. Carbohydrates, such as legumes, oats, and beans, oftentimes act as fillers in recipes that at one time had animal products. Carbs are also hidden in vegan-friendly food including yogurt, whole fruit, fruit juice, and even your favorite cookies.


So, what exactly are carbohydrates and how can someone who is carbohydrate-intolerant cope?

What Are Carbohydrates? 


There are three main energy sources in the human body: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. These are the ingredients that fuel your body. Let’s focus on the third of the three, the carb.

While carbohydrates are a source of energy for the body, when burned, they become sugar. Carbohydrates are split into three categories that are differentiated by this sugar structure.


The first, monosaccharides, are simple sugars such as glucose. Glucose is a natural element found in foods across the spectrum from fruits and vegetables to nuts and meats. The second category is made up of disaccharides, which are made of two joined units of sugar. Disaccharides are most well-known as lactose. Lastly are polysaccharides, the most complex of the three carb structure. Complex carbohydrates include starch and glycogen and are oftentimes the troublemakers. These carbs naturally occur in many well-loved comfort foods including cereal, pasta, and bread, as well as potatoes, whole oats, and even green leafy vegetables.

The Two Types of Intolerance 


When you search for carbohydrate intolerance you will find two different takes on the term: one referencing individuals that experience an immediate physical reaction when they eat carbs and another theorizing about the linkage between carbohydrates and metabolic syndromes. While these are presented as two different ideas, they also represent the short-term and long-term effects of eating carbohydrates.

Intestinal Enzymes and Carbohydrates

Health Gauge/Flickr


Intolerance causes unpleasant physical reactions. This reaction is oftentimes caused by missing intestinal enzymes that ultimately make your body intolerant of a specific food substance. Depending on the enzyme deficiency, symptoms can range in severity from gas and cramps to diarrhea, upset stomach, and vomiting.

With carb intolerance, the root of the issue comes down to undigested sugar. Without proper intestinal enzymes, the body is unable to break down certain sugars, which remain in the intestines causing gas, cramps, and bloating. If it’s a severe case of intolerance, the body will flush the intestines causing diarrhea.

If carbohydrate intolerance is left unchecked, it can lead to malnutrition caused by nutrients being flushed from the system.

Metabolic Syndromes and Carbohydrates


It’s not just carb intolerant sufferers that have to worry. Recent studies have unveiled a possible connection between long-term ingestion of carbohydrates and metabolic syndromes. This is an umbrella term for a set of conditions including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

The danger stems from the sugar in carbs.


Consuming over 100 grams of sugar per day overworks the pancreas and adrenals. These organs keep the body’s systems in balance. This overuse leads to the production of insulin, which drains the body of energy while increasing the amount of stress. This stress, as well as other sugar-related factors, has been connected to the development of metabolic syndromes. Your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes drastically increases when you suffer from a metabolic syndrome.

While symptoms may initially manifest as fatigue, bloating, and loss of concentration, they can escalate into serious conditions. Therefore, whether you suffer from an intolerance to carbohydrates or you just can’t get enough of that pasta, decreasing your intake of carbohydrates has many benefits.

The Carbohydrate Elimination Challenge 

Roasted Chickpea Stuffed Sweet Potatoes With Creamy Tahini SauceRoasted Chickpea Stuffed Sweet Potatoes With Creamy Tahini Sauce/One Green Planet

With new knowledge comes the power to actively tackle carbohydrate addiction. As a staple of plant-based diets, devising a limited carb menu is challenging.

Find Go-To Carb-Free Resources


Begin by making a list of items to avoid. Various websites offer comprehensive lists of carbohydrate-based foods, including this helpful carb-finder. Keep in mind, not all carbohydrates are bad, and they are in fact necessary for a vegan diet. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes are staples that you can’t avoid. On the other hand bread, whole oats, and baked goods are not necessities.

Next, create a list of go-to carbohydrate substitutes. Try a few of these healthy carbohydrate-friendly ideas:

Vegan Carbohydrate-Friendly Recipes


Flavor and filler are the two main necessities in low-carb, vegan-friendly recipes. Carb-heavy foods fill you up faster due to their sugary makeup. It’s also important to recognize the effect that your taste buds have on your addiction to carbohydrates. Recent studies conjecture that your taste buds can detect the sugars in carbohydrates causing an immediate, addictive response.

Try finding recipes like these from the Food Monster App that simulate the flavor and texture of carbohydrate foods. Also, make sure the recipes you choose include plenty of protein and healthy fats to keep you full longer.

To help build a carbohydrate-friendly menu, download the Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

Lead image source: Roasted Chickpea Stuffed Sweet Potatoes With Creamy Tahini Sauce