"Welcome to Nutritionhelp - supporting health for 26 years."
Erica White DipION, FBANT, Nutritionhelp Founder

Diets in Detail – The Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

Thu 1st Feb, 2018 - 7:35pm by Emma Cockrell

I continue my review of current diet programmes by considering the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), and whether it has a role alongside Erica White’s Four Point Plan.

That is the SCD?

The specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) is a grain-free diet, low in sugar and lactose. It was developed by Dr. Sidney Haas, a paediatrician, in the 1920’s as treatment for celiac disease. In 1987, Elaine Gottschall wrote “Breaking the Vicious Cycle”, having improved her daughter’s inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) with the specific carbohydrate diet.

Symptoms Which May be Helped by the SCD

Many individuals testify to the benefits of the SCD, particularly in supporting uncomfortable digestive issues. These include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Food allergies like celiac disease or lactose intolerance
  • Diverticulitis
  • Cystic fibrosis

There is also a growing body of research on the use and benefit of the SCD, particularly in relation to paediatric digestive disorders, such as Crohn’s disease. The conclusion of one such study is that

the SCD and other low complex carbohydrate diets may be possible therapeutic options for paediatric Crohn disease.

The Rationale Behind the SCD

The understanding behind the SCD is that many digestive disorders originate with dysbiosis, where the intestinal flora has become imbalanced and overgrown. This can lead to an increase in harmful types of bacteria, yeast and fungus within the body, mostly within the gut, where the majority of the immune system is located.

As Nutritionhelp advocates, diet has an enormous impact on the balance of microbial organisms within our digestive systems. This is because these organisms feed on the food we eat. As Dr Axe says:

So it makes sense that if we change the types of foods we eat, we can alter how harmful bacteria are able to repopulate.

The aim of the SCD diet is to encourage beneficial bacteria to repopulate, while at the same time reducing unhelpful microbes, and so improve the balance between the two. Dr. Gottschall wrote:

By altering the nutrition we take in, we can affect the constitution of our intestinal flora, and bring it back into balance, healing our digestive tracts and restoring proper absorption.

Carbohydrates which haven’t been digested fully can become a food source for some of the unhelpful microbes in our digestive tracts. Also, if not completely digested, the carbohydrates can ferment and then produce gases and toxins. This can of course impact onto feeling bloated or ‘windy’, but can also irritate the gut lining, and potentially cause tiny gaps to occur between the tight junctions of the cells in the gut wall, causing it to become porous or ‘leaky’. This can then create more digestive discomfort and also lead to food sensitivities.

This build up of unhelpful toxins might allow bacterial mutations, changes in stomach acidity, nutrient deficiencies and inflammation- which can affect the entire body. For this reason, there has been some use of the SCD with children with autism.

How Does Dysbiosis Start?

How these bacteria initially get out of balance (dysbiosis) is the song that Nutritionhelp has been singing for many years and includes –

  • The frequent use of antibiotics – particularly during childhood and adolescence
  • The use of hormone medications, such as the Pill and HRT, which can actively encourage intestinal yeasts
  • Reduced acid in the stomach, often as a result of medications but also part of the natural process of aging. If stomach acid is low, then this can allow certain bacteria and fungi to thrive.
  • High stress can reduce beneficial bacteria while also encouraging intestinal yeasts.
  • A high sugar, refined carbohydrate diet, provides plenty of nourishment for unhelpful bacteria and yeasts, but very little food matter for beneficial bacteria.
  • A caesarian birth and not being breastfed can limit the development of beneficial microbes

Comparing the SCD and Nutritionhelp’s Anti-Candida Diet

The rational of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is very similar to that of Nutritionhelp, but the approach is somewhat different. The SCD removes all grains, but allows some simple sugars, nuts and low lactose cheeses.  I don’t recommend these elements since simple sugars can easily feed intestinal yeast, while the toxins associated with peanuts, and the fermentation of cheese can encourage yeasts such as Candida.

Whether or not grains can be included in a diet plan depends on the individual. If someone isn’t seeing progress in gut-related issues on the basic anti-candida diet, then it may be helpful to remove certain grains. Typically I would initially suggest avoiding the gluten grains – wheat, rye, barley and oats – as these are now known to encourage inflammation. However, a proportion of my clients, can’t even manage some or all of the gluten free grains, such as rice, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, and maize. It is here that it may be helpful to follow elements of the SCD, to allow the gut time to heal.

It is important to remember however, that the intestinal yeast, Candida albicans, can actually adapt to feed from ketones – the by-product created when the body burns fat rather than carbohydrate for fuel. This being the case, if lab tests or symptoms indicate that Candida is a problem, then a certain amount of carbohydrate from starchy vegetables, may need to be included in the diet if possible, to prevent the over-encouraging of candida

The SCD Food Lists

Foods Allowed:

(Foods in italics are not included in the Nutritionhelp anti-Candida diet)

  • Meats without additives, poultry, fish shellfish and eggs
  • Certain legumes, including dried navy beans, lentils, peas, split peas. Also un-roasted cashews and peanuts in a shell, all-natural peanut butter and lima beans
  • Dairy limited to low lactose cheeses such as cheddar, Colby, Swiss, dry curd cottage cheese; and homemade yogurt fermented for at least 24 hours
  • Most fresh, frozen, raw or cooked vegetables and string beans
  • Fresh, raw or cooked, frozen or dried fruits with no added sugar
  • Most nuts and nut flours
  • Most oils, teas, coffee, mustard, cider or white vinegar and juices with no additives or sugars 
  • Honey as a sweetener

Foods to Avoid:

  • Sugar, molasses, maple syrup, sucrose, processed fructose including high-fructose corn syrup or any processed sugar
  • All grain including corn, wheat, wheat germ, barley, oats, rice and others. This includes bread, pasta and baked goods made with grain-based flour
  • Canned vegetables with added ingredients
  • Some legumes
  • Seaweed and seaweed byproducts.
  • Starchy tubers such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and turnips
  • Canned and most processed meats
  • Canola oil and commercial mayonnaise (because of the additives)
  • All milk and milk products high in lactose. Such as mild cheddar, commercial yogurt, cream and sour cream, and ice cream.
  • Candy, chocolate and products that contain FOS (fructooligosaccharides)

Individuals Require Tailor-Made Approach

So once again, we see that different diet adaptations may be required for each individual. The Anti-Candida diet as laid out in Erica Whites’s Beat Fatigue Handbook provides a starting platform for those who want to discourage intestinal yeast and encourage beneficial bacteria. However, there may be additional foods that also need to be avoided, such as the vegetables of the FODMAP diet  or the grains of the SCD, in order to relieve discomfort and encourage healing.

We need to be careful whenever major food groups are taken out of the diet. This caution increases if it is a child’s diet. This is where careful planning and diet management is important, to ensure meals provide the required cross-section of nutrients. With adults, some thrive on a very low carbohydrate diet, while others need carbohydrate foods for optimum health. Again, the type and quantity of carbohydrates may be different for each individual. This is where support and menu ideas from a nutritional therapist may be invaluable.

Do get in touch if you want diet advice for you or your child suffering with digestive discomfort. www.nutritionhelp.com