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The Specific Carbohydrate Diet

Some Find The SCD Restrictive, But Others Find That It Is Helpful


Updated June 05, 2014

Wheat Bread

Can you do without bread? On The SCD, wheat is not an allowed food.

Photo © Svein Johannessen

What Is The Specific Carbohydrate Diet?

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) is a diet described in the book The Management of Celiac Disease, by Doctors Sydney Valentine Haas and Merrill P. Haas. Dr. Sydney Haas, a pediatrician, who took an interest in the diet of his patients who had celiac disease. He noted certain carbohydrates were better tolerated than others, and went on to develop the SCD as a treatment for celiac disease.

Elaine Gottschall, desperate for a treatment for her daughter who had treatment-unresponsive ulcerative colitis, was put in touch with Dr. Haas. Gottschall started her daughter on the SCD and the girl's symptoms improved. Gottschall was then inspired to research the diet more, and went on to write Breaking The Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet, which details the specifics of the SCD.

The Helpfulness Of The SCD For IBD

The short answer is maybe. Some people have found that the SCD is helpful for their IBD, but the diet can be difficult to follow. The SCD is not endorsed by either patient advocacy groups or professional medical societies. However, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America does say that while the diet will not reduce inflammation, trying it should not be harmful.

The Premise Behind The SCD

In the SCD, grains, lactose, and sugar are not allowed. The main premise is the elimination of complex carbohydrates from the diet. Only simple carbohydrates are allowed. The theory is that complex carbohydrates are food for the harmful bacteria in the gut. If these bacteria are starved, they will not be able to multiply and continue causing gastrointestinal symptoms.

In addition, complex carbohydrates are difficult to digest. The undigested carbohydrates are thought to contribute to the creation of toxins in the gut. The toxins can further contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms and the incomplete digestion of carbohydrates.

Foods That Are Allowed/Disallowed On The SCD

The SCD is fairly restrictive, and some people find it difficult to follow. It is recommended that the diet is followed for at least one year before non-SCD foods are added back into the diet. Foods such as nuts, aged cheeses, fish, beef, and unsweetened juices are allowed. Examples of foods that are not allowed include sugars, oats, pasta, potatoes, rice, sugar substitutes, and wheat.

The Bottom Line

The SCD is rigid, but some people do report improvement in their symptoms after following it. The SCD will not reduce inflammation, nor will it cure inflammatory bowel disease, but it is not considered to be harmful.


Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. "Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis Diet and Nutrition Q & A" CCFA 30 May 2012. 4 Nov 2013.

Gordon D. "The Specific Carbohydrate Diet: Does It Work?" CCCFA.org 1 Jun 2013. 30 Aug 2013.

Hesche K. "The Legal/Illegal List." Breaking the Vicious Cycle 2013. 30 Aug 2013.

SCD Web Library. "When can I add some foods back to my diet?" SCDiet.org 2003. 30 Aug 2013.


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