The Specific Carbohydrate Diet


The Specific Carbohydrate diet was developed by Elaine Gottschall, a biochemist and mother determined to find an alternative to surgery forelaine_book her little girl with UC that was unresponsive to standard medical therapy. The diet is based off of the research of Dr Sidney V. Haas, a researcher and well known New York pediatrician that used the nutritional regimen on his own patients.  Dr Hass made an incredible contribution to celiac disease research and published one of the most comprehensive medical text books ever written on celiac disease, The Management of Celiac Disease. (1)

The diet works by eliminating carbohydrates that are not well digested, these include disaccharides (milk sugar, maple syrup and table sugar) and polysaccharides (potatoes, wheat, grains etc) and allows only foods that contain monosaccharide (most veggies, fruits and protein) which are readily absorbed through the intestinal wall.  The SCD diet was based off of the therapeutic effects that elementary diets have on digestive diseases. Elementary diets are liquid diets that consist of only predigested sugars and fats. The premise of how this diet works, is that by removing complex carbs it starves the harmful bacteria in our intestines and restoring the gut bacteria balance.

Allowed or “Legal” foods

  • All meats and animal products
  • Fats, oils, butter (although I recommend against highly processed vegetable oils)
  • Most fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Most beans
  • Most vegetables
  • 24 hour home made yogurts (if you tolerate)
  • Certain hard cheeses (if you tolerate)

Not allowed or “Illegal” food

  • Breads, rice, wheat, oats, quinoa, corn
  • Margarine
  • Table sugar, cane sugar, lactose, maple syrup
  • Milk, commercial yogurt.
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, other starchy tubers.

Emphasized Foods

  • Bone BrothsDSC_0119
  • organic, free range, wild caught, local grass-fed etc depending on what you can afford.
  • Fermented foods

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) was tremendously helpful for me in the beginning of my Ulcerative Colitis diagnosis. It made my realize the dramatic effect that food has on health and disease, I highly recommend SCD for anyone dealing with IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative colitis, Diverticulitis, Gastrosophageal Reflux Disease and Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Interestingly parents and clinicians have observed improvements in neurological and behavioral disorders after putting their children on the diet. Unsurprisingly more and more research is coming out about the connection between the gut and the brain.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet has a very large network of patients, parents and clinicians following or utilizing the diet in clinical practice. Blogs and support groups are a helpful resource in partaking in the SCD.

If the thousands of success stories online and the huge network of providers that use the diet clinically, aren’t enough to convince you of this nutritional regimen, there are a few studies of the diet specifically being used on humans.

SCD Studies

In a small study from the University of Massachusetts, “9 out of 11 patients were able to be managed without anti-TNF therapy, and 100% of the patients had their symptoms reduced”. (2) No side effects were reported.

Rush University Medical Center they did case control study of 40 patients, 20 following SCD and 20 not following SCD and found that “individuals in the SCD group had greater intestinal bacterial diversity compared with those in the control group”. (3) Greater intestinal bacterial diversity is consistently associated with better health outcomes in digestive and autoimmune conditions as I wrote about in Fecal Microbiota Transplant Part 1. Ece Mutlu, MD, associate professor of medicine and author of the study made the comment “I have observed that a small number of my own IBD patients drastically improved on the SCD and achieved complete long-term mucosal healing, or were able to reduce or discontinue immunosuppressants for several years.”

A study at UC Davis Medical Center, demonstrated that the SCD diet increased microbial diversity and increased faecalbacterium prausnitzii in crohns disease patients. (4) Low levels of faecalbacterium prausnitzii is associated with crohns disease. (5) (6)

In 2015 the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a case series of 50 subjects with inflammatory bowel disease. Sixty six percent of subjects noted complete resolution of their symptoms after being on the SCD diet an average of 9.9 months. Data obtained from the subjects showed that the SCD diet was 91.3% effective at controlling acute flare symptoms and 92.1% effective at maintaining remission. (7)

A case report examined a 73 year old Asian female physician with confirmed ulcerative pancolitis (involvement of the entire colon). The specific carb diet was started due to failed conventional therapy. Within a year no abdominal pain or diarrhea was absent and she was able to return to work. Two years later a coloscopy and biopsy showed a complete resolution of pancolitis. (8)

Specific Carbohydrate Diet Resources

  • Breaking the Vicious Cycle: This is the official book of the Specific Carb Diet. Dont try to cheap out and do the diet without this book, it has information in it that is fundamental to starting the diet.
  • Stages of the specific carb diet are very helpful starting out, as many SCD foods are not well tolerated when you are in a IBD flare. Foods on stage one seem to be the most well tolerated foods, as you begin seeing improvements in gut function start moving up the stages. There is no set time that you should stay in each stage, it will depend on your speed of healing and individual sensitivities. Try only add one new food every two days as you work your way through the stages. This type of food introduction is helpful for identifying any food sensitivities because you are generally adding one new food at a time and seeing how you react to it.
  • SCD legal/illegal list: A comprehensive list of what is and isnt allowed on the SCD.



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