Specific Carbohydrate Diet

What Should You Know About It?

Specific Carb Diet

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The specific carbohydrate diet is a strict grain-free, lactose-free and sucrose-free diet that was designed for people with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The specific carbohydrate diet was developed by Sydney Valentine Haas, MD. Elaine Gottschall helped to popularize the diet after using it to help her daughter recover from ulcerative colitis. Gottschall continued research on the diet and later wrote her own book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet.

What Is the Premise of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet?

Dr. Haas' theory was that carbohydrates, being forms of sugar, could promote and fuel the growth of bacteria and yeast in the intestines, causing an imbalance and eventual overgrowth of bacteria and yeast. He believed bacterial overgrowth could impair enzymes on the intestinal cell surface from functioning and prevent the proper digestion and absorption of carbohydrates. This would cause the carbohydrates to remain undigested in the intestines and provide even more fuel for bacteria and yeast.

Toxins and acids could then be formed by the bacteria and yeast and injure the lining of the small intestine. Excessive mucus could be produced as a defense mechanism against the irritation caused by toxins, acids, and undigested carbohydrates.

According to Dr. Haas, a number of illnesses could then develop from this altered digestive balance:

  • Crohn's disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Spastic colon

Dr. Haas designed the specific carbohydrate diet to correct the imbalance by restricting the carbohydrates available to intestinal bacteria and yeast. Only carbohydrates that he believed to be well absorbed are consumed on the diet so that intestinal bacteria have nothing to feed on. This, he proposed, would help correct the bacterial overgrowth and related mucus and toxin production.

Digestion and absorption of nutrients could then improve, leading to improved nutritional status. Immune system function could then improve.

Proponents of the diet claim that improvement is possible for many people with diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease after one year. 

So far, scientific support for the benefits of the specific carbohydrate diet is lacking.

What Does the Specific Carbohydrate Diet Involve?

Foods to avoid:

  • Canned vegetables
  • Canned fruits, unless they are packed in their own juices
  • All cereal grains, including flour
  • potatoes, yams, parsnips, chickpeas, bean sprouts, soybeans, mung beans, fava beans, and seaweed
  • Processed meats, breaded or canned fish, processed cheeses, smoked or canned meat
  • Milk or dried milk solidsButtermilk or acidophilus milk, commercially prepared yogurt and sour cream, soymilk, instant tea or coffee, coffee substitutes, beer
  • Cornstarch, arrowroot or other starches, chocolate or carob, bouillon cubes or instant soup bases, all products made with refined sugar, agar agar, carrageenan or pectin, ketchup, ice cream, molasses, corn or maple syrup, flours made from legumes, baking powder, medication containing sugar, all seeds

Foods to eat:

  • Fresh and frozen vegetables and legumes
  • Fresh, raw, or dried fruits
  • Fresh or frozen meats, poultry, fish, eggs
  • Natural cheeses, homemade yogurt, dry curd cottage cheese

Using the Specific Carbohydrate Diet

Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend this diet for the treatment of any health condition. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. If you're considering the use of the specific carbohydrate diet, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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