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The Specific Carbohydrate Diet / Haas-Gottschall Diet

What conditions is this diet best for?

Elaine Gottschall, B.A., MSc., who until the end of her life in 2005, continued the original work of Drs. Sydney V. and Merrill P. Haas, authored Breaking the Vicious Cycle, in which she provided scientific rationale and instructions for following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.  According to Gottschall, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is a suitable treatment for Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis and chronic diarrhea.  Of these conditions, Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis and celiac disease have strong autoimmune characteristics; chronic diarrhea is often associated with inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, both autoimmune disorders.

What are the main tenets of the diet?

Strict avoidance of foods containing carbohydrates other than those found in fruits, honey, properly prepared yogurt and approved vegetables and nuts.  The basic premise is that carbohydrates must be broken down into monosaccharides (single sugar molecules) before being absorbed.  When carbohydrates cannot be broken down, due to compromised digestive function for various reasons, these disaccharides and polysaccharides (chains of sugar molecules) become food for unfriendly bacteria, which overgrows and produces harmful toxins.

What foods are frequently eaten or given up?

The following list is not exhaustive.  For a complete view of permitted and disallowed foods, please refer to Gottschall’s book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle.

Proteins

Permitted Unprocessed, fresh and frozen meats of any kind, eggs, natural cheeses (listed in book), homemade yogurt made according to Gottschall’s recipe (to ensure no lactose remains), dry curd cottage cheese, canned fish (in water or oil).
Not Permitted Most processed meats, since they contain starch, whey powder, lactose, or sucrose. Examples are most lunch meats, hot dogs, bologna, smoked meats (unless you can confirm that no sugar or starches were used), canned fish with sauces, breaded fish/shellfish, spiced ham, processed cheeses & potted meat.

Vegetables/Grains

Permitted Fresh or frozen: French Artichoke (not Jerusalem), asparagus, beets, dried white (navy) beans, lentils and split peas (specific preparation methods for dried legumes provided in BVC Gourmet Section), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, kale, lettuce of all kinds, lima beans, mushrooms, onions, parsley, peas, peppers (green, yellow and red), pumpkin, spinach, squash (summer and winter), string beans, tomatoes, turnips, watercress. If diarrhea is active, raw vegetables should be avoided.
Not Permitted Any canned or jarred vegetables; ALL grains such as wheat (including wheat germ, couscous and risotto), barley, corn, rye, oats, rice, buckwheat, millet, triticale, bulgur, spelt, amaranth, quinoa, or any cereals, pastas, bread or flour made from these; Potatoes (white or sweet), yams, parsnips, okra, chickpeas/garbanzo beans, bean sprouts, soybeans, mung beans, fava beans, seaweeds, turnips (may be tried after considerable improvement); Avoid concentrated tomato products such as canned tomato paste, canned tomato sauce, or canned tomato puree.

Fruits

Permitted Fresh, raw, cooked, frozen (with no added sugar) dried (caution with sulfite sensitivity—if so, choose dried fruits with no added sulfite), canned fruits “packed in own juice” (not in any other kind of juice): apples, avocadoes, apricots, bananas (ripe with black spots appearing), all berries, cherries, fresh coconut or unsweetened shredded coconut, loose dates (if stuck together, typically there is added sugar/syrup), grapefruit, grapes, Kiwifruit, kumquats, lemon, lime, mango, melons, nectarine, orange, pineapple, papaya, peach, pear, prune, raisin, rhubarb, tangerine.
Not Permitted Fruits sweetened in any way, except with their own natural sugars.

Nuts

Permitted Almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts (filberts), walnuts, raw cashews, boiled chestnuts, any nut butter without additives of any kind; roasted peanuts in the shell may be tried cautiously after about 6 months on the diet. If diarrhea is active, use nuts ONLY as nut flour. When diarrhea has cleared, nuts may be eaten in any permitted form.
Not Permitted Shelled peanuts (most have added starch), nuts sold in salted mixtures (most are roasted with a starch coating).

Beverages

Permitted Most fruit juices (see exceptions below), such as orange, grapefruit, grape and pineapple—must be unsweetened and not from concentrate; unsweetened apple cider (verify with producer); fresh juice of any permitted vegetable; canned tomato juice (salt-added variety only) as a drink or used in cooking; weak tea or very weak coffee, perked or dripped, without milk or cream; peppermint or spearmint herbal teas; milkshakes made with homemade yogurt (BVC recipe), fruits, sweetened to taste with honey or saccharin (the only allowed sweeteners); very dry white wine and occasional gin, rye, Scotch, bourbon, vodka; Club soda, mineral water.
Not Permitted Frozen grape juice (usually has added sugar), apple juice (unlisted added sweeteners), juices packed in boxes (not well-tolerated), V-8 juice and other canned tomato juice cocktail or other tomato juice mixtures; fluid milk of any kind, dried milk solids, any commercially prepared dairy product, soymilk, instant tea or coffee, coffee substitutes, postum; Beer, sherry, cordials, liqueurs, brandy.

A note on desserts:
Gottschall points out that with the use of honey, nuts/nut flours and dried fruits, a person on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet can enjoy delicious cakes, cookies, muffins and candies.  Recipes are provided in Breaking the Vicious Cycle, and Specific Carbohydrate Diet recipes also abound online. Very helpful additional instructions, which accompany permitted and non-permitted foods, are given in Breaking the Vicious Cycle.

Meal frequency/portioning:
No restrictions or recommendations on meal frequency or portioning are discussed, as this is not a calorie-restricted diet; however, smaller frequent meals may be helpful to those with decreased appetite and gastrointestinal discomfort or diarrhea.  The sample menu provided in Breaking the Vicious Cycle is based on the convention of three meals per day. Weaker persons, those with food allergies or special nutrient considerations, should seek guidance from a Registered Dietitian (RD) or Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) for proper dietary balance.  Find a Dietitian in Integrative and Functional Medicine (DIFM).

Vitamins/Supplements:
None recommended; however, a pure L-glutamine formula may be helpful in restoring gut health.  Dosing should start small and be gradually increased.  Other supplements and functional foods may be very helpful, and should be individualized.  Seek expert guidance on supplements and dosing from a health care practitioner who is knowledgeable in the science of nutritional supplementation, especially as it pertains to restoring gastrointestinal health.  Especially where supplements are concerned, the RD or CCN trained in integrative and/or functional medicine can be most valuable in facilitating a clear path to a positive outcome.

Will this diet require shopping at a specialty or organic grocery store, or buying the diet’s pre-packaged food (aka, is this diet going to be very expensive to sustain)?

Gottshall does not state the need for organic foods, although since pesticide and xenobiotic exposure are likely related to autoimmune diseases, purchasing organic foods, or at the very least, choosing organic when buying the “dirty dozen” foods is optimal.  Some of the suggested foods, such as nut flours and dry curd cottage cheese, may require a trip to a specialty or organic grocery store, or online purchasing, which may be more economical and convenient.

What other autoimmune diets is this diet similar to?

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is somewhat similar to the low FODMAPs diet (used to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome and fructose malabsorption), in that it aims to reduce/eliminate certain carbohydrates which serve as a food source for unfriendly intestinal bacteria.  Although the two diets have this commonality, the carbohydrate-containing foods allowed and not allowed on the two diets are strikingly different. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is also similar to the Paleolithic Diet, which removes all grains, legumes and dairy. The Specific Carbohydrate Diet does remove all grains, but does allow specific and precisely prepared forms of legumes and dairy, although many people will need to avoid dairy temporarily or altogether; persons on gut-healing programs may also be advised to avoid all legumes until sufficient progress is made.

Questions for your doctor:

A note to the reader: If your doctor dismisses diet therapy as an option for treatment, you may want to seek another opinion from a doctor who will support you on your journey to restoring positive vitality.

  • Can you refer me to a RD or CCN experienced in gastrointestinal health restoration and nutritional supplementation?
  • Can you provide a medical symptoms questionnaire for me to fill out periodically, in order to track my progress?
  • If and when my symptoms begin to improve or worsen while on this diet, will you be available to adjust or discontinue my medications as necessary?
  • Do you recommend any nutritional lab work to gauge supplementation needs, intestinal permeability testing, or a stool analysis in order to identify and eliminate overgrown pathogenic bacteria, before getting started on this diet?
  • Do you recommend any other therapies or lifestyle changes in conjunction with this diet?

 

About the Author
Angie King-Nosseir MS, RD is an Integrative and Functional Registered Dietitian, with a passion for walking with people along their path toward health transformation. Angie has a Master’s degree in Nutrition, is a Certified LEAP Therapist, corporate wellness health coach, freelance nutrition and wellness writer, and certified yoga instructor. She is trained in Functional Nutrition and Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine and in Food as Medicine through the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

 

This post contains opinions of the author.  AutoimmuneMom.com is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment, and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances.  Camino Real Ventures, Inc., the company that makes AutoimmuneMom.com available to you, does not endorse nor recommend any products, practices, treatment methods, tests, physicians, service providers, procedures, clinical trials, opinions or information available on this website.  Your use of the website is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

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