Bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, gas…not too desirable, right? If you suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms like these, you have felt the frustration that comes with it. Luckily, one diet has shown some promise in helping people find symptom relief: the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, also known as the SCD diet.
Whether you suffer from ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or just undiagnosed bloating and cramping, an SCD diet menu plan may help you.
What is the SCD Diet?
A pediatrician named Dr. Sydney Haas developed the SCD diet in the 1930s. In the past one to two decades, the SCD diet increased in popularity due to positive results in published research studies and in patients. This is basically an elimination diet. It excludes (you guessed it) specific carbohydrates: all grains, sugars (except honey), processed food, and dairy (1). Some fermented dairy and hard cheeses are allowed.
In order to understand the basis of the SCD diet, we must flash back to chemistry 101. In general, carbohydrates are grouped into three categories based on their chemical structure:
- Monosaccharides – one starch molecule
- Disaccharides – two starch molecules
- Polysaccharides – many starch molecules
Starts with Elimination
The SCD diet eliminates both disaccharides and polysaccharides from the diet. Inflammation in the gut (a key factor of inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal permeability i.e. leaky gut) disrupts digestion. When our gut inflames, it may not effectively break down these larger carbohydrate molecules. As a result, the bacteria in the gut ferments the large carbohydrate molecules and produces gas. Excessive gas from fermentation can cause symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and even damage the gut lining (2). No fun!
By removing these larger carbohydrate molecules, the theory behind this diet is that less fermentation occurs, and thus, fewer symptoms and damage to the gut.
10 interesting facts about the SCD diet…
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1. SCD: Popularized by a Patient’s Success Story
Although Dr. Sydney Hass developed the framework of the SCD diet, it was actually a patient’s mother that made it so popular. Elaine Gottschall was the mother of one of Dr. Hass’ successful patients. Her daughter was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis the 1950s. This little four year old suffered from intestinal bleeding, severe malnutrition, failure to thrive, and even delirium (3). Every doctor told Elaine that diet had nothing to do with her daughter’s ulcerative colitis, and suggested more drugs, and even a total removal of her daughter’s colon (at age 4 ).
Refusing to accept this fate, Elaine searched for other options. Then she found Dr. Hass (who was 92 at the time). Within 10 days on the SCD diet menu plan, the little girl’s neurological symptoms went away. Within a few months, her intestinal symptoms improved. And in two years she was completely symptom-free.
By the time of her daughter’s remission, Dr. Hass had passed away. With a desire to share her daughter’s success and carry on Dr. Hass’ legacy, Elaine went on to earn degrees in biology, nutritional biochemistry, and cellular biology. She eventually published her complete SCD guide book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle; Intestinal Health Through Diet, in 1994.
Never underestimate the power of food as medicine and a determined mama!
2. Reduces Inflammation
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, are autoimmune conditions. This means the body attacks itself, causing repeated injury. Unfortunately, the repeated injury to the sensitive gut lining causes a chronic state of inflammation. Most of the conventional methods to reduce inflammation include some type of medication. But what if we could lower inflammation with what we eat?
That’s exactly what the SCD diet intends to do! You see, we have good and bad bacteria in our gut. When the bad bacteria outweigh the good bacteria, our gut is in a state of “dysbiosis.” The premise of the SCD diet is that by restoring the balance of beneficial bacteria, we lower inflammation in our gut (4). Eliminating foods that stimulate and “feed” bad bacteria may help us do just that.
The available research backs this theory, too! Some smaller studies showed that the SCD diet lowered levels of inflammatory chemicals in both blood and stool, while significantly healing the gut lining (4,5).
3. Some Approved Legumes
On the SCD diet, some legumes are listed as “legal,” while others are eliminated. This is interesting, because many elimination diets for gut conditions restrict ALL legumes. Some SCD diet menu plans include legumes because the carbohydrate profile of each one varies. For example, chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) contain primarily long-chain carbohydrates, like polysaccharides. On the other hand, the SCD diet allows kidney beans. There’s a little catch, though. Many SCD websites recommend soaking beans in water before cooking them. This decreases the phytic acid content and make them less likely to cause gas and bloating (6).
4. Yes to Wine
Do I hear cheering? That’s right, the SCD diet allows wine. Wine comes from grapes, which become fermented. Ethanol (alcohol) is produced through the fermentation process. Some SCD diet food lists recommend choosing drier wines over the sweet varieties. Drier wines have less sugar per serving, so would be more SCD compliant.
Dry red wines: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel
Dry white wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc
Plus, red wine may benefit our gut bacteria due to its polyphenol content (7). Just remember, too much alcohol (even wine) detrimentally affects gut health and bacteria.
(We only drink Dry Farm Wines, which is why we are an affiliate for them. Therefore, the link we provided is an affiliate link, at no extra charge for you. In fact, our link gets you a second bottle for a penny!).
5. Eat Homemade Fermented Yogurt Daily
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet relies on homemade fermentable yogurt to repopulate the gut with good bacteria, also known as probiotics. Probiotics can benefit our gut health in many ways (8):
- Protects the gut lining, and prevents overgrowth of bad bacteria
- Boosts the immune system
- Helps the GI tract return to normal after illness or disease
- Maintains this desirable balance of good gut bacteria
Most SCD diet menu plans recommend fermenting the homemade yogurt for 24 hours. This enables the bacteria to properly digest the lactose in the yogurt, so it does not cause GI distress when eaten. Since it is difficult to know how long commercial yogurts are fermented, making your own yogurt at home is the recommended method for SCD.
6. Yes to Fresh Fruit
The SCD diet allows all fresh fruit, and only restricts canned or frozen varieties due to common added sugars and preservatives. This is very different from other common diets for GI disorders, such as the low-FODMAP diet. The low-FODMAP diet has varying fruit allowances, mostly based on the fruit’s fructose content. High fructose foods are eliminated on the low-FODMAP diet, as they are suspected to cause fermentation and gas. However, the SCD diet includes all fresh fruit because fructose is an allowable carbohydrate (monosaccharide).
Nonetheless, some SCD diet menu plans restrict fruit during the first few “intro” days.
7. It Starts with a Short Introduction Diet
The first four to five days on the SCD diet is known as the introduction phase. During this time, almost all sources of carbohydrates are eliminated. This is meant to “starve” the bad bacteria while feeding the body easy to digest foods. Roughage is also limited in the introduction phase. In addition to the “illegal” foods on the SCD list, the introduction diet eliminates all fruit, raw vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and legumes. In cases of severe diarrhea, some SCD sources recommend to avoid eggs until diarrhea subsides.
8. Cheese, Yay or Nay?
Many other elimination diets restrict all dairy. However, the SCD diet allows some dairy in the form of hard cheeses.
“Legal” cheeses: cheddar, Havarti, Monterey jack, Parmesan, Swiss
“Illegal” cheeses: ricotta, cream cheese, mozzarella, processed cheeses (like American), and any soft cheese blends
The lactose content determines whether or not a cheese is allowed on the SCD diet. Lactose is the sugar found in cow’s milk products. It is often poorly digested in people with GI conditions (lactose intolerance). When your body does not produce enough enzymes to break down lactose, it goes into your large intestine undigested. The bacteria in your large intestines interact with the lactose, producing gas, pulling in water, and causing unfortunate diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Nearly 65 percent of people in the world have a decreased ability to digest lactose. So, eliminating it on the SCD diet may reduce symptoms (9).
9. Try Bone Broth
It wouldn’t be a gut-healing protocol without some bone broth, right? Many SCD diet menu plans call for this protein-rich broth. Bone broth is made by simmering animal bones for many hours. It is rich in collagen, many minerals, and glycine (an essential amino acid during times of stress and illness).
Although there hasn’t been much research about bone broth’s direct effects, some studies suggest that people with inflammatory bowel disease have lower levels of collagen in their blood (10). Additionally, the amino acid glycine in bone broth provides anti-inflammatory effects. It may promote cell repair in the intestines too (11).
10. More Research Needed
Ah, the common (and somewhat cliché) “more research is needed” statement. Nutrition research is tough. Most studies always end in a recommendation for more research! A few studies analyzing the SCD diet show promise (4,5). But, these studies are very small, making it hard to draw definite conclusions. Nevertheless, many people suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases share positive testimonials of remission with the SCD diet.
How do we incorporate SCD principles into the 131 Method?
As part of the 131 Method, you experiment with various foods and how your body responds to them. Your body is unique, and we emphasize this concept. Throughout the phases of the 131 Method, you try eliminating foods similar to those on the SCD diet food list. In addition, many of our recipes in these phases mirror SCD diet recipes. Grains, sugar, and gluten are eliminated due to their inflammatory profile. Other foods may be inflammatory to your gut, but not for everyone. This includes foods like beans and dairy. We understand gut health, and we individualize your program for your body.