There are a number of people across the Internet, and the world, who pour their heart and sole into helping others. In the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) community, Raman Prasad is one of those people who continually gives, despite the demands of his everyday life. Raman’s website, SCDrecipe.com, contains a wealth of information and a lot of great SCD recipes.
Raman allowed me to steal a few hours of his day to ask him about his success with SCD, and his thoughts on his own journey. He in turn shared a wealth of information that left me thinking I could talk to him for hours about health, food, medical research, and life. It was truly a pleasure and I hope we can talk again soon. And now for the interview.
Many folks who follow SCD will be familiar with your wonderful SCD cookbook, but I want to ask you about your other book, Colitis & Me: A Story of Recovery, which is your account of what you went through in discovering and coping with ulcerative colitis. Several years ago, I gave this book to my son as a gift of inspiration. Is there anything you would add to your book since you wrote it?
At that time, writing this book helped me put things in perspective. I was about 27, and had come out from years of being sick with ulcerative colitis and finally feeling good on the SCD. When I first fell sick, it was the late 80s, pre-Internet, and I had a feeling of despair and isolation. When you’re sick and in pain, it seems as if it’s impossible to escape, with many moments of not knowing how it can get better. There were limited options to turn to in terms of researching alternative methods for getting better. Re-reading the book over the years has helped me learn more about myself and how I was able to save my health with the SCD.
Of course, now there’s more information on the Internet. Back then, the turning point for me, besides writing this book, was that I read extensively. I read stories like Born on the Fourth of July as well as stories of people suffering with medical issues. Their feelings made sense to me. Another turning point was meeting a chronic pain sufferer who had recovered—his illness seemed 100 times worse than mine. At one point his leg had swelled up to elephantine proportions and a surgically implanted morphine pump gave no relief. It helped me connect to life again and try to figure out a way to get better. It also made me feel that I was not the only one out there alone. Interestingly, the chronic pain sufferer was motivated by sharing a hospital room with a former college athlete who was wheelchair bound, but had made peace with his situation.
Before falling sick, I had always considered myself pretty healthy and played soccer, and that was all gone. My sense of identity felt stripped away so fast. I was taking prednisone, which put my mind in high speed, and hard to handle. There’s an element of stress when one is recovering from illnesses such as Colitis and Crohn’s that can make the psychological aspect of eating vs. healing very difficult. (In a Swiss study of over 450 Crohn’s patients, over 19% had symptoms indicating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Was your experience trying SCD smooth from the beginning? I ask because it can be quite challenging to completely change your diet on your own, and eliminate all the foundations of the standard American diet. Did you have a support system?
Yes, my experience was fairly smooth. At that time I was living near my family, and I had a strong support system in my mom. She was willing to try whatever it took to help me get better. It was around 1996, and I had come out of yet another hospital visit desperate to try anything that would help. I was on a lot of prednisone. I had already tried a variety of other different diets that had not helped. So SCD did not seem that daunting at all. It was invaluable to have a parent make meals, bake breads, and be full-on SCD mom-chef while I was trying to get my life back in order. I was working but pre-SCD I was always tired. I was also losing weight to the point of using an awl to put extra holes in my belt to keep my pants up.
Later on, another support to me was Elaine Gottschall herself. I met her several times and assisted at a Breaking the Vicious Cycle table at the DAN (Defeat Autism Now) conferences where she had been invited to speak. This was early 2000’s and there was a great energy at those get-togethers. Lucy Rosset of Lucy’s Kitchen Shop came as well and we all got to meet and connect. Elaine was so ahead of her time and so full of energy – she was relentless and stubborn when it came to SCD and I am so glad I had the opportunity to know her. She made me feel that any work I did for the diet community, as small as it was, was well worth it.
What are your favorite SCD recipes?
I do not have any specific favorite recipes. At home we eat seasonally, so whatever is fresh at the farmer’s market or available locally. Fish, chicken, and vegetables are staples in our weekly meal setup. We do a lot of baked dishes with fish and chicken so it is easy to prepare. And also veggies – throw them on the grill or in the oven. In the winter, we try to do hearty soups every couple of weeks. Our focus recently has been preparing good-tasting SCD meals with minimum preparation as we have a 3 year old in the house. My daughter loves baking SCD and we often make Sue’s Scones (from my Adventures cookbook) or Cinnamon Cookies (from Lucy’s Cookbook) as after-dinner treats!
How is your health today, and do you still follow SCD?
My health is very good. I do follow the SCD. I find that over the years the kinds of products available, at lets say a gourmet food store like Whole Foods, are much more alternative diet and label-focused, and as a result there are possible SCD-safe off-the-shelf items that you can get fairly easily. I think that has been an improvement in the overall food culture of the US. So I would have those items even if there are some minor ingredients that are not in SCD e.g. in salad dressings or bacon. I also eat dark chocolate (unsweetened) occasionally.
Have you ever had the need for drugs while on SCD? Do you have any alternative resources or rituals you follow to take care of yourself?
Yes, two or three times, I have had to revert to medical drugs. On my wedding trip to India, I had food poisoning, which in turn set off my colitis. I came back from that trip very sick and had to get on prednisone for a month. But I was able to taper it off and get back on SCD fairly quickly. I prepare for trips with an assortment of options, such as talking to my doctor about backup medication, and starting Florastor before the trip. I also see a wonderful acupuncturist who practices the Japanese style of acupuncture.
I first started yoga about 12 years ago when I lived in New York. I was going to a class there where the instructor practiced the Iyengar style – a lot of stretching and slow poses. So it really helped me get rid of the knots and kinks and pain all over. Of course, this was before yoga became so widespread as it is now. I felt very freed physically every time I practiced it. I’ve had long stints where I didn’t do it, but felt sluggish afterwards, so it definitely helps keep me in rhythm. Now, when I roll my mat out my daughter often jumps on it, so I often cannot do my complete routine. My hope is to do that again on a daily basis.
I can fully understand you not wanting colitis and SCD to dominate your everyday-life. How do you manage that aspect while still keeping up SCDRecipe.com and following SCD?
As we all hope, I do wish there was more awareness and recognition in the mainstream medical community for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Ten years ago, when the Wall Street Journal came out with an SCD-related article, the chance of a dietary study seemed so impossible. That said, today (now) there is a bunch of exciting SCD research activity going on around the country.
Recently I’ve been collaborating with Pamela Ferro (R.N.) on a guidebook for SCD & Autism. She has a practice where she sees kids on the autism spectrum, and treats them with the SCD (but without dairy). She is involved in a study where they will be feeding SCD-prepared food to 25 children suffering from autism for 16 weeks. That is a real change from when I started the diet in 1996/97. These studies should help establish what we all have known for many years – the SCD works!
On a personal level, it is a juggling act to balance regular life, SCDRecipe, and working on this next project. I try to squeeze it all in – some weeks are more successful than others. I have a good support system in my immediate family. My partner (co-author on my last cookbook) is a strong supporter of SCD and is giving me time to get away regularly.
Would you modify anything about SCD, or do you think everything is spot on in terms of the scientific facts and food restrictions that make up the diet?
When I re-read parts of Breaking the Vicious Cycle (BTVC), it still surprises me. This ranges from eating advice to the ties between the gut and mental health. For example, a common reason for people having trouble with the diet is indulging in too many nut flour goods or eating excessive portions of meat—at the expense of other foods. But if you read back through the book, Elaine emphasizes eating these foods in moderation. Similarly, she stresses bringing up levels of certain nutrients, including vitamins D and B-12—both of which are often low in IBD sufferers. This advice has not changed.
Regarding the science, before Elaine passed away in 2005, the role of intestinal flora in IBD was still dismissed. Now, only a few years later, the CCFA brochures point to the cause of IBD as an interplay between the mucosal immune system (regulated by gut bacteria), genetics, and environmental triggers. Medical journals now refer to gut bacteria as a critical factor in IBD—and it’s beginning to be implicated in illnesses ranging from depression to eczema. Many of the connections that Elaine pointed to are now being explored and validated. For example, through the gut-brain axis, intestinal bacteria have been shown to have a direct effect on brain chemistry, and therefore mood.
Even more interesting, toward the end of Elaine’s life, many parents of children with autism had started using a modified version of the SCD. At the time, this seemed farfetched. But in 2010, a “consensus report” written by 27 researchers representing 29 institutions was published in the journal Pediatrics. The report directed doctors to pay more attention to GI issues in children with autism. The article included tables listing problem behaviors and possible underlying GI conditions. For example, tantrums may be associated with constipation and sleep problems linked to GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease.) Since then several studies have been published linking symptoms of autism with GI dysfunction. And these haven’t been surveys but DNA analysis of stool samples, even direct samples of gut bacteria. (Note: I am not saying that GI issues cause autism or having GI issues indicates autism. However, addressing GI function can strongly influence the severity and symptoms of autism.)
Scientific understanding has advanced quite a bit since Elaine wrote Breaking the Vicious Cycle (BTVC), but the basic ideas continue to be validated.
Some of the most common questions regarding the book are about starting the diet. BTVC would benefit from having more details on meals to start out with. In general, moderation is key. If a food is allowed on the diet, it doesn’t mean that it can be eaten with abandon. Also, there has been confusion in that online posts have posted “introductory” SCD diets that are too restrictive.
For some people, the GAPS diet, which is based on the SCD but stresses the mental health angle, may be useful to look at. If you have started the diet and hit a sticking point, an even better resource is calling Lucy’s Kitchen Shop*.
* I don’t receive any special treatment for saying this—in fact, Lucy may not be happy considering she’s already on the phone all day answering questions.