What Is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet?

Specific carb diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

What is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet

The specific carbohydrate diet follows the theory that restricting certain carbs can help those with gastrointestinal issues (GI), such as irritable bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation, celiac disease, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The diet's food limitations include no grain, lactose, or sucrose, as they are thought to be harder to digest than other carb types.

This diet was developed by pediatrician Sidney Valentine Haas, MD, and his research was published in the 1951 book “Management of Celiac Disease.” According to Dr. Haas, carbohydrates are forms of sugar that promote the growth of bacteria and yeast in the intestines, which causes a bacteria imbalance and overgrowth.

He suggests that if you remove or restrict certain carbohydrates available to intestinal bacteria, you will remove opportunities for this bacteria overgrowth and production of toxins. This, in turn, will help correct GI issues.

Dr. Haas suggests that this diet type can benefit anyone with irritable bowel issues, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, celiac disease, chronic diarrhea, spastic colon, and Crohn’s disease. However, scientific support and peer-reviewed research for the specific carbohydrate diet remain limited.

What Experts Say

"This plan restricts certain carbohydrates, claiming this will reduce symptoms in those with GI disorders. There is little research to support this. However, experts agree the diet is likely not harmful, so long as it’s under professional guidance to ensure nutrient needs are met."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

The 7-Day Diet Plan

All grains are off-limits on this plan, including those that do not contain gluten. Fruits, both fresh and dried with no added sugar, and low-starch vegetables are allowed. Certain fruit juices with no added sugar, such as fresh-squeezed orange juice, are also acceptable.

Meanwhile, most nuts are approved, but seeds are not. Lean protein sources—including meat, fish, and eggs—are permitted, as long as they are unprocessed with no additives. Some milk-derived dairy products are also included. Almost all added sugars and artificial sweeteners are banned. A week's food intake could look like the following:

  • Day 1: Unlimited fresh fruit with a cup of coffee; salad with a side of asparagus; lentil salad
  • Day 2:  Unlimited fresh fruit with a cup of coffee; homemade plain yogurt with berries and honey; grilled eggplant with fresh fish
  • Day 3: Unlimited fresh fruit with a cup of coffee; salad topped with nuts; sharp cheddar cheese slices and dairy-free tomato soup with no added sugar
  • Day 4: Unlimited fresh fruit with a cup of coffee; salad with eggs and a handful of unsweetened dried fruits; dry curd unsweetened cottage cheese with grilled chicken     
  • Day 5: Unlimited fresh fruit with a cup of coffee; shrimp sautéed in oil and artichoke hearts  
  • Day 6: Unlimited fresh fruit with a cup of coffee; green bean salad topped with cheddar cheese; two boiled eggs and salmon filet cooked in olive oil
  • Day 7: Unlimited fresh fruit with a cup of coffee; unsweetened juice with boiled eggs and a slice of Swiss cheese; a handful of raw cashews; grilled fish of your choice and a side of mushrooms sauteed in oil.

What You Can Eat

The specific carbohydrate diet is not a low-carb diet as the name might suggest. The plan does restrict a number of carbs, but not all of them like other low-fat/high-protein diets do.

In this diet plan, all grains must be removed, along with seeds, added sugars, sweeteners, seaweed, some dairy products, and processed meats.

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Fresh and frozen non-starchy vegetables
  • Some legumes
  • Fresh or unsweetened dried fruits

Proteins

  • Fresh or frozen meats without additives
  • Fresh or frozen poultry without additives
  • Fresh or frozen fish without additives
  • Eggs

Nuts

  • Most nuts
  • Nut flours
  • Unsweetened nut butters

Dairy

  • Natural cheeses
  • Homemade plain yogurt
  • Dry curd cottage cheese
  • Sharp cheddar (not mild)
  • Swiss
  • Ricotta
  • Cream
  • Feta
  • Mozzarella
  • Cottage cheese
  • Gouda

What You Cannot Eat

In the specific carbohydrate diet, you cannot eat anything that contains grains, added sugars and sweeteners, seeds, some legumes, some dairy products, and processed meats. Here are some examples of foods you need to avoid on this diet.

Grains

  • Corn
  • Wheat germ
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Rice
  • Spelt
  • Amaranth
  • Wheat flours and flours made from beans
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat

Fruits, Vegetables, and Legumes

  • Canned fruits or vegetables
  • Potatoes and parsnips
  • Sweet potatoes and yams
  • Corn
  • Beetroot
  • Cassava
  • Chickpeas
  • Bean sprouts
  • Soybeans

Meat, Poultry, and Fish

  • Processed proteins

Dairy Products

  • Milk
  • Store-bought yogurt
  • Sour cream
  • Mild Cheddar

Sugars and Sweeteners

  • Sugar
  • Sweeteners
  • Agave

How to Prepare the Specific Carbohydrate Diet & Tips

The essence of the specific carbohydrate diet is that it recommends restricting certain carbohydrates that are never fully digested. According to the diet's creator, they stay in your gut and get broken into bacteria which he believes can cause bacteria overgrowth and severely irritate the body.

On this diet, you only eat foods you can easily digest. This is not a short-term diet for weight loss, but one to help treat long-term GI issues.  

Pros of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet

Scientific evidence on the specific carbohydrate diet's efficacy is quite limited, but a couple of studies demonstrate support on restricting carbohydrates as a GI treatment:

  • May Help Manage Crohn’s Disease: In a 2016 study, researchers found that following the specific carbohydrate diet helped young peoples ages 6 to 17 with Crohn’s disease better manage their symptoms.
  • May Help Treat GI Symptoms: The specific carbohydrate diet can help with flare-ups of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In a recent review on pediatric inflammatory bowel disease in clinical practice, researchers found that incorporating an integrated specific carbohydrate diet into a treatment paradigm can positively affect the clinical outcome. However, the authors do note that more studies are needed to assess the diet’s safety.

Cons of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet

You should be aware of the disadvantages of this diet plan before considering it as a GI treatment. Additionally, you should always consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before starting a new eating plan.

  • Restricts Nutrients: The specific carbohydrate diet eliminates grains, bread, grain-based flour, and starchy vegetables that provide valuable nutrition. This means potentially removing vital nutrients and minerals from your diet. In a 2017 study on the nutritional adequacy of the specific carbohydrate diet for GI issues, researchers found that 100% of the participants were below the recommended daily allowance for vitamin D, and 75% of the daily intakes were less than what is recommended for calcium.
  • Requires Work: Following this diet requires reading ingredient lists on all the foods you consume. The North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition also says that this diet requires the support of a multidisciplinary team for the best outcomes.
  • No Scientific Support: According to the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, few scientific centers support this diet as therapy.

Because so many foods are off-limits, this eating plan does not provide sound nutrition and might not supply enough calories. In addition, little scientific research is available on the effectiveness of this plan.

Is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

You should speak to a medical professional before beginning the specific carbohydrate diet, as
another diet type might work best to treat GI issues. This includes the low-FODMAP diet, which is geared toward those with irritable bowel syndrome, and is less restrictive.

This is also not a weight loss diet; rather, it is designed as a treatment for proper digestive health. This diet also makes consuming nutrient-dense grains and dairy-rich foods impossible.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests eating plenty of whole grains, legumes, and dairy products. The specific carbohydrate diet eliminates many of these foods, which means that it does not meet the current recommendations set by nutrition experts.


A Word From Verywell

Because of the lack of peer-reviewed research on the specific carbohydrate diet, you should consider speaking with a healthcare professional first to see if this diet can treat your GI condition. They might recommend modifications to ensure you get the proper nutrients and minerals or refer you to a registered dietitian or gastroenterologist to discuss what to properly restrict from your diet and how best to do this.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NASPGHAN Foundation National Office. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

  2. Diabetes. Starchy vegetables are those with a relatively high amount of carbohydrate per unit weight. Updated January 7, 2022.

  3. Burgis JC, Nguyen K, Park K, Cox K. Response to strict and liberalized specific carbohydrate diet in pediatric Crohn’s diseaseWorld J Gastroenterol. 2016;22(6):2111-2117. doi:10.3748/wjg.v22.i6.2111

  4. Obih C, Wahbeh G, Lee D, et al. Specific carbohydrate diet for pediatric inflammatory bowel disease in clinical practice within an academic IBD centerNutrition. 2016;32(4):418-425. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2015.08.025

  5. Braly K, Williamson N, Shaffer ML, et al. Nutritional adequacy of the specific carbohydrate diet in pediatric inflammatory bowel diseaseJ Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2017;65(5):533-538. doi:10.1097/MPG.0000000000001613

  6. NASPGHAN Foundation National Office. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

By Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed
Jennifer Purdie, M.Ed, is a certified personal trainer, freelance writer, and author of "Growth Mindset for Athletes, Coaches and Trainers."