What is SCD {Specific Carbohydrate Diet}?

Egg Salad

In general, I’m not a big fan of the “D” word—diet that is. I believe you need to find what works best for you, and treat your body as an individual unit. For example, I know I do best with little to no fish and meat, some nuts, yogurt, lots of veggies and fruits, little to no grains, and I must keep the sweets to a minimum.

There’s one diet I do need to mention, and that’s the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Every so often a reader will ask me what “SCD” is, and until now I haven’t explained much – I’ve just linked to other pagesSince I categorize a lot of my recipes under this umbrella, here is a bit about SCD and my experience thus far.

The best introduction to the diet is to read Breaking The Vicious Cycle, by Elaine GottschallThere’s a fascinating story behind the formulation of the SCD diet, and many live  by it, have healed themselves with it, or have healed a child with it. The goal of the diet is to starve out bad bacteria in the gut so that your intestines can heal. I’m simplifying it of course, but to get a full understanding, read the book.

SCD is effective for Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Diverticulitis, Celiac Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Autism, as well as many other diseases that are affected by or result in intestinal issues. The other interesting and important aspect of the diet is how it helps both gut and brain, and how they are connected and affected by imbalance in the gut. And, it’s a gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free, lactose-free diet as well, so it serves a lot of folks with food intolerances and allergies.

The SCD diet is the culmination of Elaine Gotchall’s experience with her daughter, who at a very young age had a digestive illness. You can read a more in-depth story here, but the bottom line is that she spent a lot of time figuring out what would heal her daughter, and SCD is a product of that tireless effort that many of you may relate to.

So is SCD working for your son?

Quite often I’m asked if diet alone is working for my son who has Crohn’s Disease. The short answer is no, diet alone is not working for him at the moment. But the full answer is more complicated. At some point soon (because I really need to do this anyway), I’m going to post a timeline of what has worked and what hasn’t, but remember that your mileage may vary.

We first tried SCD about 6 years ago and it did work for him for about 8 months (after a 2 month dose of prednisone—yuck). Then I talked to some folks who said some bread is ok. So I occasionally let him have some bread, which of course backfired on us for two reasons: 1. The diet can’t tolerate cheating, and 2. He has an intolerance (immune reaction) to gliadin, which is a component of gluten, and therefore he can’t eat bread (which I didn’t know for sure until about 6 months ago when we had him tested without any drugs in his body at all). While he still doesn’t test positive for Celiac disease, he tests positive for a severe reaction to gliadin. More on this weirdness in another post at another time.

Several readers have already posted comments on Comfy Belly recipe posts to support SCD, but if you have a story about SCD or any tips to share, please feel free to leave a comment to encourage others along this path. This is not an easy switch, going SCD. And I’ve been told it takes time to heal, at least a few years.

Here are some other things I’ve observed when my son has been on SCD:

  • the most basic recipes are the easiest and the best
  • avoid additives and processed food
  • if you’re not sure, try one thing at a time
  • start slow, or start with the intro diet; do what works best for you
  • freeze food and buy in bulk when possible
  • modify it for your body; if you need to go dairy-free, do it
  • try eating small meals throughout the day
  • drink lots of water, broth, and/or electrolytes
  • avoid lots of sweets; balance out your diet with other foods
  • don’t try to live on almond flour
  • think Paleo (many Paleo recipes are SCD-compatible)
  • prepare lots of snacks for travel
  • know what brands of food and drink you can have when you’re away from home
  • think low residue, easy-to-digest foods all the time (cooked veggies, fruits, smoothies, soups)
  • find out if you’re vitamin or mineral deficient and then supplement with vitamins, shots, or IV nutritional fluids
  • Do what’s right for you. Ignore comments by others, bring food you like to parties, explain in simple terms that you have some food intolerances. It’s becoming increasingly common, unfortunately.

Try not to get caught up in balancing your diet based on food pyramids – they don’t apply here; nutrition level does though. You may be forgoing some things by not having grains or cereals so you’ll need to balance that out in another way (and/or take vitamins) which I think is essential for healing and general mental health.

One last note: many folks combine SCD with a mild treatment of drugs with great success. This can be a stepping stone to getting off drugs. Again, everyone is different, so your mileage may vary.

Eggs and cashew bread loag

And now for my favorite egg salad recipe on some toasted cashew bread.

Egg salad on toast

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    Posted in Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free, Salads, SCD, Vegetarian, Wheat-Free  |  33 Comments

    33 Responses to What is SCD {Specific Carbohydrate Diet}?

    1. Joslyn says:

      First of all, The egg salad looks fab! I read on FB that your son was in a flare, I hope that he’s feeling better. You know I am also on SCD and I agree with everything you wrote in this post, one thing isn’t going to work for everyone. I am still on meds and doing the diet, so far so good, but I realize this might not last forever and I’m going to have to adjust as time goes on. We just do the best we can with what we know in the moment. (( hugs )) to you and your son!

    2. Diagnosed with Celiac in 2005, did gluten free for a year and now our whole family is SCD/Paleo. It works on so many levels for my family. I know people think it is hard but it can be simplified by thinking of some meat and 2 veggies for supper. I make my own bread and all our desserts. Have no choice as there is nothing out there commercially that would do. I feel lucky in this age of internet where I can get good recipes from you and others like Elana.
      I believe in the future that people will know that eating wheat 3 to 4 times a day is not good. That the GMO’d wheat we are eating is bad for our intestines. Thanks for the recipes and advice.

    3. I’m in love with your Blog. Every recipe is so simple. I’ll be making many of them!

    4. Erin says:

      That looks so yummy!

      I wonder if something like low dose naltrexone could help your son? It sounds like his immune system could use some additional modulation? I know it’s common to have gluten-like reactions to other foods, so maybe there’s something else he’s eating that he’s reacting to. I react to corn, as well as gluten (I don’t have GI issues, but Hashimoto’s.) Have you considered a Cyrex Labs panel? They have some pretty advanced saliva panels to test for cross-reactivity.

      I know that research is being done on TH-17 immune modulation for Crohn’s (high dose D3 and transdermal glutathione cream help, I believe).
      I hope you solve the puzzle!

      • Erica says:

        Thanks – he’s taking LND now, but we have a few complications, so we’re not sure that’s it working for him.

      • Maria says:

        I too have Hashimoto’s and wondered if you would be willing to share some choices you’ve made to heal yourself and how you observe how different foods affect this disease? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
        Thank you.

    5. Joan Litsky says:

      This diet in some ways reminds of the diet advocated for people
      worried about heart disease. Eat nothing with a face, a mother,
      or dairy.

    6. Susan says:

      My son has Crohn’s and has been in remission for two years using Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN), SCD diet, probiotics, vitamins & supplements, anti-yeast and anti-fungal medication. I’m so grateful that he avoided a lifetime of dangerous chemotherapy by taking this path.

      I was freaked out when I started SCD, but this website has been a guiding light.

    7. Miranda says:

      Love your blog! Especially when I’m feeling in a ‘food rut’ which happens since I try to follow the SCD. Every time I go off of it because I’m feeling lazy or feel like I ‘deserve’ a treat, I end up feeling terrible. I had to learn to think of food as the fuel to run my life, not as something to satisfy emotional needs or social agendas (although your blog does help put the fun back into eating and cooking, thank you for that). Great advice on anyone starting the diet, its so worth it, I recommend for anyone!

    8. Kate says:

      Perhaps you’ve already pursued this, but GAPS is a variation on SCD which allows you to go through items to make sure there’s not something on the basic SCD that you’ve developed an intolerance for. Sometimes GAPS helps when SCD alone doesn’t.

      Even if GAPS does not help, at least, if you go back to SCD, it will make SCD look easy! :D

      This is my first reply to one of your posts, but I read your blog regularly and love so many of your recipes! Thanks for the help you’ve given me and my family. :)

    9. Pingback: What is SCD? | My Cranky Gut

    10. Michelle says:

      Best wishes with your son and we love your recipes and website! My daughter was diagnosed at age 11 and had extremely debilitating Crohn’s for 2 years in which we tried several diets (SCD),grain free, candida diet, along with low dose naltrexone, Aloe, probiotics, herbs and vitamins, several different alternative pracitioners. She did NOT have a normal life during that time, constantly missed school, woke up with daily stomach pains, other GI symptoms etc…had to be home schooled for “ill children” provided by our public school with tutor….for 4 months total. We finally tried Dr. Simon Yu, an MD with broad experience and training in alternative medicine, http://www.preventionandhealing.com and he literally saved her life. He is an international expert on parasite treatments and acupuncture meridian testing (largely used in Germany and other European countries), and looks for hidden causes of “incurable Illnesses”. Our daughter has been off all prescription allopathic drugs for year and half, has lived normal life during that time, to school on time, now on cheerleading squad in highschool… She had to have several rounds of parasite prescription medications and this was the only thing she responded to. She also takes vitamins based on her hair analysis past 1.5 years and follows mostly “healthy” diet, minimal processed foods…Hope this helps someone. My testimonial is on Dr. Yu’s website. These diseases can be terrible and allopathic medicine does NOT have good answers for them…Best wishes to everyone struggling with these illnesses.

      • Samantha says:

        This message is for Michelle. Glad to hear your daughter’s recovery. My daughter has alopecia areata and like you, we’ve tried many doctors, allopathic and naturopathic. Can I ask you how quickly you saw results. And are dr. Yu’s charges reasonable? Thank you.

    11. Susan says:

      Just to put it out there, LDN isn’t supposed to be done in conjunction with Imuran or other similar drugs.

    12. This is a wonderful and informative post from a personal persepctive. I totally believe in the principles behind this diet and I actually use aspects of it as a reference for my fertility patients. If you want to learn about an amazing story of healing associated with this diet then head on over to http://www.roostblog.com/ – a blog that details a personal story of healing due to SCD. Wonderful photos and wonderful recipes can be found as well.

      • Darlene Gurr says:

        I just tried to access your website “roost blog” but it said that I need a password. How do we get to your blog? Thanks.

        • Erica says:

          sorry, that’s not mine. I’m sure she’ll be back soon :)

          • Julie says:

            Hi Erica,

            Roost blog is recently back but very different than before. I don’t see the reference to health/healing (or her personal story)but is more about lifestyle, art and what inspires her. Still a beautiful and special place worth spending time on. If you look at “older Posts” under “journal” you will find some recipes but it doesn’t seem the focus of Caitlin’s new site.

            Enjoy

            • Julie says:

              Oops…there are photos of foods under “works” that have links to recipes also. Just not as extensive as her previous site.

              • Hi Ladies!! Roost has always been an extension of my artistic expression, for a couple of years that expression was based around food and food photography but currently I am focusing in a big career change which involves more writing, travel and directing for film. I still love and appreciate the transformative powers of food and eating well but I am an artist and where my heart leads I follow :) Thank you for your understanding and if you do not see a recipe you want under my “Works” tab send me a note and I will hook you up!

    13. The SCD has been a complete lifesaver for me. I went from being in such poor health while battling UC and taking medication that did not work that I was seriously thinking of having surgery to remove my colon. The SCD was a long process of healing (over 2 years) yet has given my life back. I have now been on the diet for over six years and would have it no other way. Its just natural now. I have started a blog about my daily adventures with the SCD (http://twostepsscd.blogspot.com/) and have just published a book about it as well: Two steps forward, one step back. A journey through life, ulcerative colitis, and the specific carbohydrate diet. Available at Amazon.com
      Your blog here at Comfy belly is awesome and it is great to see so many new ideas and inspiration with the changing dietary needs of our population. I check your site weekly for new goodies and am always impressed! It is also so cool to see the amount of new food blogs related to the scd, paleo, gaps, etc. About time!

      Tucker Sweeney

    14. Eugenia says:

      I follow SCD/Paleo for 3 weeks now, and it has already (almost) cured my IBS-D. If it continues like that, I expect to be completely asymptomatic in a few months. I don’t expect to be cured, because as Dr Haas said to Gotchall, only kids can have their intestinal lining regrown fully. Most adults can stay asymptomatic only as long as they follow SCD/Paleo forever.

      BTW, Dr Haas also said (according to an SCD-related book I’m reading now) that some kids needed 6 years to get cured, so don’t lose hope. Go back to SCD and follow it with “fanatical adherence”.

    15. Janet Firestone says:

      I just discovered your blog when looking for some new SCD recipes. We LOVE your Coconut Donut recipe – we made muffins with it. My daughter diagnosed with Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID) one of 150 types of Primary Immunodeficiency Disease (PIDD). Many unknowingly have PIDD because they are first diagnosed with Celiac, Crohns, UC, etc… I encourage all with digestive autoimmune diseases to research PIDD and go see an Immunologist if symptoms fit. My daughter follows stict SCD diet to mange GI issues and must receive antibody infusions for her type of PIDD. PIDD test and diagnosis finally helped us understand what antibody subclasses were missing causing her GI and immune issues – to learn more visit Immune Deficiency Foundation. Thanks again for the GREAT SCD recipe – LOVE it!

    16. alicia says:

      Diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 32..have gone gluten, dairy, grain and starchy carbohydrate free. Being 24 weeks pregnant is a challenge as there are so many things my body can’t tolerate, but as challenging as it is, it’s so nice to have fewer intestinal problems.

      Hang in there!

    17. I have a sister who had been diagnosed, after much testing as having IBS. This came upon her later in life and as she is older than I by about 5 years and I have started having similar symptoms of IBS for over a year now and am almost 55, I have done research and read many posts about IBS and Celiac. I experimented by using the elimination diet that restricted any gluten or gluten containing food or beverage for a period not more than 10 days and this because of frequent diarrhea on off and on for several months since taking an excessive amount of Doxicycline, a broad spectrum antibiotic and started not having diarrhea until the smallest amount of gluten found in a stir fry sauce I ate the day before another bout of diarrhea. I tried this experiment again a few months later thinking why not try this again and see what happens. several days went by no diarrhea, no cramping, no weight gain, and sleeping better and mood swings not so bad during this experiment going gluten-free.
      So, maybe I have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity or perhaps Celiac, but this did not appear until later on in my life, not starting as a child. One more pint to make is I have 9 nationalities in my family tree as far back as my great great grandparents on my mother’s and my father’s side and one of these specifically is German-Jew. So I read more and discovered that Jewish people often have Celiac as well as 2 other cultures from other places in the world. I forgot these at the moment.
      Mainly I am trying to get on the gluten-free, sugar-free diet, but am unsure if I should get on the dairy-free diet because I have this craving for milk and cheese and don’t know if I should try eliminating every thing all at once, but prefer to get off gluten first and work my way down to eliminating the other types of carbs and unhealthy foods like bacon, sharp cheddar cheese and burgers.

      • Linda Lachance says:

        to respond about whether you should give up dairy, if you are craving it and having a hard time even thinking about giving it up, you may be allergic to one of the proteins like I am, I can’t break down Casein at all.

    18. Pingback: The Impossible Cookbook: How to Cook for the World’s Most Difficult Dietary Restrictions

    19. Darlene Taber says:

      I was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 1977. I have had 2 bowel resections – the last one in 2007. I have no signs or symptoms or Crohn’s and haven’t for many years. Would the SCD diet help as a preventative for Crohn’s returning? Not sure if I need to try this since I am symptom free and have been for years.

    20. Michele says:

      One website excludes mayo from the diet.

      Also, if your son has chronic diarrhea, is he taking plant enzymes? Until I did, with rheumatoid arthritis, I had pain every time I ate. Since I’ve started, no pain. I mean it. And while I have to stay on top of digestive processes, basically in good shape with the anti-candida regimen since I started taking the digestive enzymes. Am thinking of trying this diet to see if it really heals permanently.

    21. Laura says:

      In case someone is interested, my daughter has been med free and symptom free for several years. After much testing we developed a combination of SCD (low oxalate version) and a elemental formula for nutrition. She was diagnosed at 10 with Crohn’s and is 17 now. She travels and studies and does very well. Doctors still ask us to coach others on this protocol, would be happy to help. (Thanks for this blog…. We will be trying the coconut flour waffles tomorrow!)

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