The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is Backed by 124 Years of Research & Testing

In the early 1900’s, researchers were feverishly working to understand the role of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in Celiac Disease patients.

At first, it was theorized that protein was the problem; then fat was the bad guy. But after 30 years of research the theories begin to converge on a single macronutrient: carbohydrates.

It all started with Dr. Samuel Gee’s 1888 report “On the Coeliac Affection” in which he clearly noted several important facts about his patients including:

 “if the patient can be cured at all, it must be by means of diet,” that cow’s milk “is the least suited kind of food,” and that “highly starchy food, rice, sago, corn-flour, are unfit.”[1]

It Wasn’t Until 1921 that the Next Major Piece of the Puzzle Showed Up… 

That’s when Dr. John Howland of the Vanderbilt Clinic gave his presidential address before the American Pediatric Society which included the paper “Prolonged Intolerance of Carbohydrates.” In it, he stated:

“From clinical experience, it has been found that of all the elements of food, carbohydrates is the one which must be excluded rigorously; that with this greatly reduced, the other elements are almost always well digested…” [2]

Interestingly enough, Dr. Howland’s partner was Dr. Sidney V Haas, who was also very interested in helping those with digestive conditions.  They both assisted Dr. Holt, who was working with Dr. Herter, in 1908 to write the paper “On Infantilism From Chronic Intestinal Infection” and said:

“Temporary relapses are very common in the course of this disease, even when great care is taken to prevent them. The most frequent of such relapses is the attempt to encourage growth by the use of increased amounts of carbohydrates.” 

Dr. Haas Saw the Immediate and Lasting Results in Patients with a High Protein Diet

But, he was fascinated with the idea of finding a carbohydrate source that was tolerable. In November 1923, Dr. Haas presented 8 patient case studies to the New York Academy of Medicine in the paper “The Value of Banana in the Treatment of Celiac Disease.” He showed:

“8 patients who had been cured by a high-protein diet similar to Howland’s plus banana and other fruits and some vegetables which supplied carbohydrates in a form that was well borne even by advanced cases of Celiac Disease” [3] 

This is the first account of what we now know as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) successfully treating Celiac Disease.

Lucky for us, Dr. Sindney Haas has a captivating account of this research as it evolved into the 1950’s in his book Management of Celiac Disease. The book was published in 1951 and outlined the first full version of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. In it, he differentiated between a low-carb diet (something like the Atkins diet) and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. The difference was in the details of which carbohydrates were allowed. On SCD, only those from non-starchy fruits, vegetables and a small amount of dairy sugar left over after fermentation were deemed suitable to eat.

Dr. Haas successfully treated over 600 Celiacs using this Specific Carbohydrate Diet, reporting that:

“There is complete recovery with no relapses, no deaths, no crisis, no pulmonary involvement and no stunting of growth” after these patients were on the diet for at least a year[4]. 

Wow, so I feel the need to pause and let this all sink in, no drugs, no relapses… remarkable.

The unfortunate thing is we don’t know how many other inflammatory bowel diseases he treated with his Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

Soon Thereafter the Trail of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet Goes Dark

Prior to Dr. Haas passing away in 1964, he treated a patient in 1958 named Judy Gottschall. Her mother Elaine Gottschall recounted Judy’s poor health,

“Three years before she had been diagnosed by specialists as having incurable ulcerative colitis and her condition was deteriorating… innumerable other medical approaches had been unsuccessful and surgery seemed imminent.”

Dr. Haas put Judy on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and she was symptom-free in two years. Elaine was so grateful and motivated that she dedicated the rest of her life to studying and improving digestive health treatment via diet. Elaine Gottschall, a biochemist, published “Food and Gut Reaction” in 1987. This was the first edition of the book now called Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet, which has sold over 1 million copies (by 2005).

In her book she demonstrated not only how Celiac Disease can be treated with SCD but many diseases such as Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Diverticulitis, Cystic Fibrosis and chronic diarrhea could also be helped by the Specific Carbohydrate Diet[5]. She furthered Dr. Haas’ theory by explaining how and why only simple monosaccharide carbohydrates are well tolerated when the digestive tract is damaged. She also added sections on brain connection and how many people were reporting improved brain function and the successful treatment of Autistic disorders.

Unfortunately, just as the internet and the ability to spread this important message was about to explode we lost a leader in digestive health when Elaine passed away in 2005. But just as we lost one digestive leader another stepped up. On the other side of the pond (Europe) Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride was hard at work figuring out a way to help her young autistic son. Her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), was published in 2004.

It Was Designed to be a Comprehensive Treatment Plan for Gut and Brain Disorders

The diet portion of the book was built on the previous work done with the SCD diet. She then excluded a few extra foods, including dairy and industrial seed oils. GAPS is much more of a treatment protocol than a diet (remember the diet part is 95% SCD). I say this because she recommends very specific supplements, detox methods, staging of foods allowed and extra potentially therapeutic foods (juicing for example). It has been used successfully in the Autism community and digestive community since its introduction.

Maybe it was timing, maybe it is fear, but there seems to be some misplaced feelings from some members of the SCD community towards the GAPS community. In many ways, Dr. Campbell-McBride did as Elaine did for Dr. Haas; she added new pieces of research to the puzzle, spread the adoption of the diet, and helped thousands, if not millions, more people feel better.

If you’ve been following the research and adoption of real food diets over the past 30 years you’ll also notice a newer trend: Paleolithic diets.  The most popular version of this is called The Paleo Diet or The Primal Diet and both have been delivering amazing results with almost every modern disease. One of the original Paleo diet books, Stone Age Diet: Based on In-Depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man, was written by Gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtilin. In his book, he noted positive results in patients who suffered from digestive conditions such as colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion.

The Best Part About the Success of these Diets Is…

They only reinforce and add to the body of research that backs the use of natural food diets like the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for the treatment of digestive problems. These diets go above clinical and biochemical research to add the lens of evolutionary biology to guide our eating habits. This meshes perfectly with SCD. In fact, we believe SCD is just a variation of Paleo. One that is specifically tailored to those with digestive complaints.

But what about _____ food? It’s not legal on _____ (natural food diet), You say…

Oh Stop it already, each of these diets are 90% the same and they share the same goals. It’s time to stop being dogmatic and start being progressive. The science moves on and therefore, so should the best possible solution for people suffering the awful symptoms of these digestive disease. What science and case studies are revealing now is that we still have work to do. Starting with these foundational works and incorporating behavioral psychology, the latest research and feedback of 1000’s of people, the systems can still be improved, the healing process shortened and remission times made longer. Our experience is showing that everyone has a custom real food diet, so that means you need to test everything. Don’t think in terms of, “Well, they said it was okay.” Figure it out for your specific case.

Remember, the principles of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet started over 124 years ago, and if we view that fact through the lens of the Paleo community we see that it’s supported by 10,000’s to Millions of years of anthropological data. The basic tenants of high quality, real food that are low-toxin, full of protein and fat while low in carbohydrate, remains the same.

It’s time to unite the real food groups. What do you think, can we all be friends?

– Steve


1. [Page 8] Haas, Sidney Valentine; Haas, Merrill P. (2011). The Management of Celiac Disease. Literary Licensing. ISBN 1-258-19621-2.
2. [Page 17] Haas, Sidney Valentine; Haas, Merrill P. (2011). The Management of Celiac Disease. Literary Licensing. ISBN 1-258-19621-2.
3. [Page 18] Haas, Sidney Valentine; Haas, Merrill P. (2011). The Management of Celiac Disease. Literary Licensing. ISBN 1-258-19621-2.
4. Haas, Sidney Valentine; Haas, Merrill P. (2011). The Management of Celiac Disease. Literary Licensing. ISBN 1-258-19621-2.
5. Gottschall, Elaine, G. (1994). Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet (Revised edition ed.). Kirkton Press. ISBN 0-9692768-1-8.

Did You Like this Article?

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive email notifications, some ways to find relief, and next steps.