Specific Carbohydrate Diet

By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)

specific-carbohydrate-dietThe Specific Carbohydrate Diet was created by biochemist Elaine Gottschall. After witnessing her daughter’s complete recovery from severe Ulcerative Colitis with a version of the diet that was introduced to her by Dr. Sidney Valentine, she was compelled to research more about the diet and later to write about her discoveries.

The publication of her book Breaking the Vicious Cycle popularized the diet and made it accessible to the public.

The diet is currently being used successfully to treat sufferers of digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac disease and Candidiasis. It is also used to treat Cystic Fibrosis and Autism.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet Basics


The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is a very stringent plan that completely eliminates grains, lactose and sucrose. As the title of the diet suggests the basic concept is that only specific types of carbohydrates are included in the diet. It is not a low carbohydrate diet although it can be followed as such if desired, especially if weight loss is a goal.

The basic concept of the diet is that certain carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for specific intestinal microbes. Gottschall declares that undigested carbohydrates cause an overgrowth of harmful microorganisms that can produce toxins and trigger damage to the lining of the small intestine that results in malabsorption of nutrients and impairment of immunity.

The diet involves eating foods that either contain no carbohydrates or only simple carbohydrates, which include fructose and glucose. Simple carbohydrates are absorbed completely in the first part of the intestine and microorganisms will not have the opportunity to feed on these carbohydrates.

Disaccharides, which are sugars containing two molecules are not permitted because they take longer to break down. Sugar and lactose are disaccharides. Some types of starch are also incompletely digested such as those found in grains and potatoes so these foods must be strictly avoided. Processed foods must be eliminated as sugar and starches are added to almost all processed foods.

With enough time on the diet it is expected that the normal balance of the microflora will be restored. Dieters are advised to continue with the strict version of the diet for at least six months and then to experiment very carefully with reintroducing foods.

Recommended Foods

  • Meat, poultry, eggs, fish, oils, butter.
  • Homemade yogurt.
  • Most vegetables except potato, yam, parsnip, seaweed and canned vegetables.
  • Certain legumes are allowed including navy beans, lentils, split peas, lima beans, and string beans. Many other beans such as garbanzos, soybeans and mungbeans are to be avoided.
  • Cheese with a low content of lactose such as Swiss, cheddar, colby, havarti, dry curd cottage cheese.
  • Most fruits including apples, apricots, ripened bananas, cherries, dates, berries, grape, mango, papaya, citrus, peaches, pears.
  • Nuts such as almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, filberts, raw cashews, natural peanut butter.
  • Honey and saccharin are the only permitted sweeteners.
  • Almond flour is used as a substitute for grain flours.
  • Weak black coffee and tea is permitted.

Sample Diet Plan

Breakfast

Smoothie made with blueberries, strawberries, ripened banana, homemade yogurt and honey

Morning Snack

Muffins made with almond flour

Lunch

Leek and spinach tart
Green Salad
Grapes

Afternoon Snack

Dates stuffed with pecans

Dinner

Mexican Pork and Vegetable Stew
Monterey Jack Cheese

Evening Snack

Pumpkin Pie

Look for other meal ideas here.

Costs and Expenses

Breaking the Vicious Cycle retails for $22.95.

There are several recipe books available by various authors. Recipes for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is one of the most well known and this retails at $19.99.

Eat Well, Feel Well is a the newest cookbook to compliment the Specific Carbohydrate Diet containing more than 150 recipes and retails at $16.00.

Grocery bills may increase due to the cost of purchasing special foods.

Pros

  • Appeals to individuals with digestive and immune disorders who have tried other dietary approaches without success.
  • Contains a good variety of highly nutritious unprocessed foods.

Cons

  • Extremely rigid and will require a great deal of determination for dieters to adhere to the plan long enough to achieve results.
  • May be psychologically stressful especially for children due to the severe nature of the diet.
  • Will significantly interfere with social situations involving food. Very difficult to eat out.
  • More studies are required in order to confirm the effectiveness of the diet.
  • Many patients have attempted the diet without achieving an improvement of their symptoms.
  • Requires a fair amount of time to be spent on food preparation.

Conclusions

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is targeted at those individuals with the health disorders outlined above. It is not designed for weight loss and on the contrary the goal of the diet is often weight gain as individuals with digestive disorders often have difficulty with losing too much weight that is related to malabsorption. Simple carbohydrates and high fat foods may need to be restricted if weight loss is a goal.

There is a need for more studies to be done to confirm the effectiveness of the diet however it shows great promise for sufferers of chronic digestive disorders who have been unable to obtain relief via other methods and dietary approaches.

By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)
  • desperado

    Hello.
    I am 20 years old and suffering unbearably from ulcerative colitis.
    I started the diet outlined in Elaine’s book “Breaking the Vicious Cycle” almost 3 weeks ago. Unfortunately I have been admitted to the hospital this past week, and I don’t know how to continue the diet here.
    I can’t just go to the grocery store, nor prepare foods in here, and mostly everything they serve is processed and illegal…
    Someone please help me!

  • Theresa

    I have recently had conversations with two people who were identified as having Crones disease and healed themselves adhering to the SCD diet. I have IBS-C with multiple food allergies and have been on the diet for two months… learning as I go. Are there any success stories with respect to food allergies? It makes sense that a healthy gut would mitigate this problem but I have yet to read any info on this thus far. Thanks for your input!

  • Katie

    I was diagnosed with coeliac disease when I was 13 years old, after no symptoms other than being underweight and having really bad acne. I stuck to a strict gluten free diet for 4 years, but at the age of 16 I began to develop nausea. By the end of the year, I was so sick I could barely get out of bed. I had dizziness, headaches, extreme, constant nausea and was always tired. I couldn’t go to school and there was a good chance I would have to be kept down and repeat grade eleven because I couldn’t keep up. I had been to every doctor and specialist and no one knew what was wrong. I had also come down with glandular fever, and was feeling miserable. My mum discovered the Specific Carbohydrate diet as a last resort, and after being on it for only one week I was feeling better. The glandular fever disappeared very quickly and as the days went on, I went back to school, got a job and even started going to the gym. I felt better than ever and every symptom vanished! I stayed on the diet for one year and it was the only reason I managed to graduate high school. I have been back on a relatively normal, (but still gluten free) diet for the past 6 months and I’m feeling well.

  • Lala

    I had been on a veg diet for years and years, gradually I went off and got into a fast food routine, and my health has suffered. I have started the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) for a little over a month now for health reasons (it is good for serious digestive disorders) and I’ve lost 25lbs quickly, great bonus! It’s very similar to the Paleo or Primal Diet and the GAPS Diet for autism also is based off of it’s science. I have heard a lot of great things about this diet working fast for children with digestive issues, and miraculous recoveries for others. I had started avoiding GMOs and getting into organic and raw foods just prior to starting this, but see the pecanbread website for the stages, raw foods have been rough on my system, you may have to work up to eating the allowed raw foods, but on the plus side, with no grains, soy, corn, it’s easy to avoid GMOs, and the money you save on processed food can go to good organic meats, milk, eggs and cheese. Eating out is the biggest challenge, but friends and restaurants have worked with me, (just keep it simple like eggs or steak nothing added, you usually save money with this too) and stick to small restaurants vs. chains. It’s safer to bring a cooler if traveling. Feels good to lose weight, and I have more energy. I added TJ Clark’s liquid trace minerals (which I hope works within the diet), and Freida’s SCD vitamins at least until I can eat all the raw veggies and get my nutrition on the diet and not suffer.

  • Janet

    Thank you for an informative article that spreads the word about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. As one who follows the SCD and having read the book several times, I do feel I should point out two mistakes in your article which could confuse your readers.

    #1 Stevia is illegal on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. “HONEY – This is the sweetener of choice.” (p77).

    Although I have not found stevia to be mentioned in the book, on the official SCD website, “Elaine writes:
    Stevia belongs to a family called Terpenoids. According to my book called The Organic Constitutents of Higher Plants by Trevor Robinson, 2nd edition, page 158, ‘This class of glycosides (terpenoids) often have physiological effects on mammals and microorganisms.’ Perhaps the affect is good, perhaps it is bad; I don’t know, but its molecular structure resembles a steroid. It is not SCD™ legal.” http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/knowledge_base/kb/stevia.htm

    #2 The diet must be strictly followed for at least 12 months, not six as mentioned in your article. “Many cases of celiac disease, spastic colon, and diverticulitis appear to be cured by the end of a year. Other disorders such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis take much longer with the minimum time of two years on the diet. A rule of thumb is to stay on the diet for at least one year after the last symptom has disappeared.”(p. 70)

    People who do not stay on the diet for a sufficient length of time most often find that their symptoms eventually return, so it’s important to be clear about the time frame.

    NOTE: I am not sure where you get the claim that “Many patients have attempted the diet without achieving an improvement of their symptoms.” However, this could be due to the fact that the diet must be followed “fanatically” as Elaine has written, and those who have not found improvement may not have been following the diet strictly or for a long enough time.

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