Let me begin by saying I am NOT a proponent of this diet. The purpose of this post is to share what this diet is so when you hear about it, you can be aware and also to share a bit about why I don’t use this diet in my clinic, despite it being recommended by many conventional dieticians.
Specific Carbohydrate Diet: This diet is primarily used for those with irritable bowel diseases (IBD). It permits monosaccharides (simple sugars) but not complex carbohydrates (starches). This diet eliminates all grains, potatoes, most legumes and processed foods. You can still eat fruit, most non starchy vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts and some fresher dairy products.
What symptoms would one present with that would warrant many dieticians to recommend this diet to begin with?
- A diagnosis of IBD which includes:
- Celiac disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
These conditions are characterized by a great deal of pain and inflammation in the digestive system. The microbiome is often challenged which can impact nutrient absorption.1
One of the main challenges of this diet is the fact that RDI’s (Recommended daily intakes) are normally not met for several nutrients.2 RDI’s are often low standards but in this diet, even those low standards aren’t met. You may recall from my previous post on “How to know what you need”, even being deficient in just one nutrient can wreak serious havoc on the body and potential disease status.
Another potential issue is compliance. Restrictive diets tend to be more difficult to stick with long term and for this diet to work, “fanatical adherence” is required.3 For personal as well as social reason, most people have trouble eating this way, although it is of course, possible.
Finally, although it can help with IBD overall, it is not recommended during a flare when there is active cramping or diarrhea, which commonly characterized many IBD symptoms.3 This is perhaps the times when a client is suffering the most and thus when they are in greatest need to have a food program that can sooth and heal the digestive tract.
If followed strictly, the specific carbohydrate diet does appear to help manage IBD by reducing painful symptoms.4 However, it is my opinion and my clinical experience, that there are superior ways to get the same result. I have successfully used a high starch whole food plant-based diet to gain the health benefits without the “side effects”. A whole food plant-based diet is also a great way to improve the microbiome and increase nutrient intake and thus is better for overall health. Keep in mind that one of the main reasons that people feel better on diets like this at least initially has to do with the fact that processed food is removed. As compared with a standard American diet (SAD), this diet would be an improvement.
Some key tips for sticking with ANY food program:
- Choose the most nutrient dense version of this diet to compensate for potential deficiencies.
- Work with a qualified health care practitioner to monitor potential deficiencies and advise on proper supplementation.
- Never leave home without bringing snacks and planning meals so you are always prepared.
- Remember that YOU are worth the efforts required for healing!
What are realistic expectations of what you could expect in changes in their health/symptoms based on literature findings?
You can likely expect for symptoms to improve and for IBD to go into remission on this diet.5 As I mentioned before, it’s not that this diet doesn’t work. The trouble is that it’s not sustainable for long term health, vitality and longevity (the ultimate goals). Check out some of my other blogs on the ideal way to eat:
Also for more information, stay in touch on social media.
1. Pigneur B, Ruemmele FM. Nutritional interventions for the treatment of IBD: current evidence and controversies. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2019. doi:10.1177/1756284819890534
2. Braly K, Williamson N, Shaffer ML, et al. Nutritional Adequacy of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet in Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2017. doi:10.1097/MPG.0000000000001613
3. Kakodkar S, Mutlu EA. Diet as a Therapeutic Option for Adult Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2017. doi:10.1016/j.gtc.2017.08.016
4. Burgis JC, Nguyen K, Park KT, Cox K. Response to strict and liberalized specific carbohydrate diet in pediatric Crohn’s disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2016. doi:10.3748/wjg.v22.i6.2111
5. Kakodkar S, Farooqui AJ, Mikolaitis SL, Mutlu EA. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Case Series. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.04.016
Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease. It does not take the place of a health care practitioner. It is for educational purposes only.