What is the SCD Diet?

What is the SCD Diet and how can it help if you have coeliac disease, IBS, crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or other gastrointestinal disorders? The Free-From Fairy Vicki Montague explains the purpose and benefits of adopting a SCD Diet…

SCD Diet
Organic chia seeds

SCD stands for Specific Carbohydrate Diet. It is a well-balanced, normal diet that is highly specific as to the types of sugars and starches that are allowed. In 1951, after many years of clinical experience, doctors Sidney and Merrill Haas published a book entitled The Management of Celiac Disease based upon this diet. They found that when patients followed this diet for a minimum of one year, they were then able to return to a normal diet with complete and permanent disappearance of symptoms. Reading that in the first chapter of the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall, immediately caught my attention. As a long-term sufferer of IBS, a biochemist by training as well as the mother of a coeliac, I immediately set about wondering if this could be the answer to our problems. As I read the book from cover to cover I decided to test the diet out on myself, before attempting to introduce it to the whole family. In March I started my journey following the SCD.

Much scientific evidence backs up the diet and it was clinically tested for over 50 years by Dr Haas and biochemist Elaine Gottschall, with convincing results. Many studies have shown that reducing carbohydrates in the diet can bring remission in crohn’s patients, while others have shown that single sugars (monosaccharides such as glucose found in fruits and honey) require no digestion and can therefore be absorbed by the cells of the small intestine by people with disturbed digestive systems.

Studies have also shown that patients with coeliac disease, soy protein intolerance, intolerance to cow’s milk protein, intractable diarrhoea of infancy, chronic diarrhoea in children, parasitic infections of the intestine, cystic fibrosis of the pancreas and crohn’s disease have an abnormally thick layer of mucus created by the intestinal cells. This appears to prevent contact between disaccharides such as sucrose (table sugar) or polysaccharides (such as starch) and the digestive enzymes of the absorptive cells. That means sugars that need to be processed before digestion are not absorbed to provide energy for the individual, but instead remain in the intestines where they act as food for the microbial world. In turn, the yeast and bacteria change the carbohydrates in ways that can injure the intestine which then responds to the microbial by-products by secreting excessive mucus leading to a chain of events.

In a healthy intestinal tract, microbes appear to live in a state of balance; an over population of one type seems to be inhibited by the activities of other types ensuring that no one type overwhelms the body with its waste products or toxins. When the equilibrium of the colon is disturbed for any reason, microbes can migrate into the small intestine and stomach hampering digestion, competing for nutrients and overloading the intestines with their waste products.

Usually the high acidity of stomach acid, together with the waves of contractions that take place in the intestine, ensures that this does not happen. However, the over-use of antibiotics, continual use of antacids, decreased acidity of the stomach, which happens in the ageing process, and nutritionally poor diets can lead to an initial imbalance of bacteria and yeasts. The purpose of the SCD Diet is to eliminate foods that can feed the microbial world of the intestine, to ensure that yeasts and bacteria do not over grow either initiating or perpetuating the above chain of events. In addition, it relies upon probiotic-rich foods to ensure that the correct beneficial bacteria are re-populated in the digestive tract.

The diet relies upon predominantly ‘predigested’ carbohydrates, thereby allowing an individual with an intestinal problem to be maximally nourished without stimulating the overgrowth of the intestinal microbial population.

But what does that mean you can eat on the SCD diet?

Well, for the first few days on the SCD Diet you soothe the intestinal tract with lots of nourishing meat stock and soups. After that point you can start introducing more variety, depending on your symptoms. The basis of the diet is meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, honey, certain less-complex beans and pulses and the all important fermented foods such as saurkraut and 24-hour fermented yoghurt, that contain a multitude of probiotics to repopulate the intestines with ‘good’ bacteria.

Essentially the diet follows that which our ancestors would have eaten. Being a vegetarian would be pretty tricky, although it is not impossible as Vicky Rockcliffe of the blog Gluten Free, SCD and Veggie found. She says: “I found it tricky at the beginning of the diet – making a meaty type stock was something that I had never done before, but it didn’t take long before it became second nature and now I actually enjoy drinking it and using it for the basis of most of my meals.

” Within a few weeks of following the diet I noticed various benefits; my tummy was flatter and more comfortable, my skin was clearer, my nails stronger and my hormones seemed to settle, leaving me with no PMS. After a couple of months on the diet I was, however, still reacting to foods. I hadn’t listened to my body and had rushed ahead with the diet, introducing various foods that are better for people who have been on the diet for a while.

“Rather than push on, I decided to try the GAPS diet. GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) is based on the SCD diet, but is a little more prescriptive about what foods to introduce at what stage. After returning to the beginning of the diet, I now feel that each day I understand better what my body needs and likes. It is, however, a very slow process and one that at times has been incredibly difficult and frustrating. I really believe that the key to success is to take things as slowly as your body needs. If you have been unwell for some time then it is bound to take longer than if you have only been suffering for a short time; and since I have had IBS for around 20 years on and off, I figure it is going to take me a while! I have never eaten so healthily in my life and I am learning just how strong I am. I am also finally at peace with the idea that I can’t eat traditional cakes at the moment (but I will be able to make cakes with ground nuts instead of flour when my tummy is ready), and am looking forward to better health and happiness in the future.”

If you are thinking of starting the SCD Diet or any other diet and have any pre-existing medical conditions, always check with your GP first. If you need any support or recipe ideas, then visit Vicki’s website where she shares her family’s free-from journey.

For more articles by Vicki Montague, aka The Free-From Fairy, visit www.freefromfairy.com