SCD Diet: A Review & Guide

SCD Diet

The SCD Diet is a popular diet people with gastrointestinal issues find relief with. It was created to allow for only specific carbohydrates which don’t require as much work for your intestines to digest.

As with any diet or treatment the SCD Diet comes with both its pros and cons. It is a very healthy diet but can too restrictive for some individuals who are underweight or have a hard time with fructose malabsorption.

In this article, we will review the SCD diet, go over the SCD diet list, and even include a few sample recipes. After reading through, you will be able to decide if this diet is right for you or not!

What is the SCD Diet?

what is SCD Diet

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) was developed by a gastroenterologist and then publicized by a patient’s mother and researcher.  The patient was a five-year old child with ulcerative colitis who followed this diet and found great success. It is based upon the theory of carbohydrate fermentation which takes place in the gut.

Carbohydrates have two basic types of chemical structures- single sugar molecule carbohydrates called monosaccharides and those with more than one carbohydrate/sugar molecule called disaccharides or polysaccharides.  The simple molecule carbohydrates breakdown quicker and are absorbed better than the molecules containing more sugars.

The multiple molecules of sugar require a little more work on the body’s part for digestion and absorption. If they are not fully digested a process called fermentation may take place. Fermentation is the breakdown of carbohydrates in the digestive system by bacteria with the help of enzymes 1.  This process is beneficial in the large intestine and at the correct rate. When it takes place in other parts of the digestive system at large rates, problems can occur.  If carbohydrates are reduced, so is fermentation and bacterial growth.

Any evidence for SCD diet in digestive diseases?

SCD Diet Research

This sounds very reasonable in theory but is there any evidence that this diet actually works?  

This diet has been studied for multiple digestive disorders particularly Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.  Many studies were focused upon the pediatric population 2.  Results showed positive results such as reduced or elimination of medication use 3,4, 5.  Other studies demonstrated patients believed remission was achieved attributed to the specific carb diet 6.   On the other hand, other studies demonstrated only partial healing of the gut 7. Researches feel further study should take place.

Studies directly linked to Irritable Bowel Syndrome have also been conducted, yet they are very few in number.  In a study comparing the sufficiency of the low FODMAP diet versus the SCD, more significant clinical findings were found with the low FODMAP diet than the specific carb diet. Yet positive results did occur when using the SCD diet 8.

SCD Diet for SIBO and IBS?

SCD Diet for SIBO and IBS

This begs the question, is the specific carb diet a wise choice for individuals with SIBO and IBS?  This question might be best answered in the form of pros and cons.

The pros of this diet include the most desired outcome- a reduction of bacteria growth through the reduction of fermentation.  The typical American diet is very high in processed foods. These foods are typically low in nutritional value. The specific carb diet eliminates processed foods.  It also encourages less fast food meals and encourages more homemade meals made from fresh wholesome foods.

However, when following this diet, whole foods groups such as grains and dairy are removed.  This can be problematic. Nutrients such as iron, B vitamins, and calcium can become low if not addressed. Through supplementation or increased food intake, these nutrients can be replenished. Iron and some of the B vitamins can be found in fresh meats. Other B vitamins such as folic acid may be found in fruits and vegetables. Calcium can be found in certain vegetable such as spinach and in the allowed cheeses and homemade yogurt. Because this diet is quite restrictive, reading food labels very carefully is important. It may also cause challenges when eating out.

Pros Cons
Removal of specific carbs in the diet to reduce fermentation and bacteria growth. Whole food groups are removed which may lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Processed foods are eliminated. Possibly too restrictive for individuals with unintentional weight loss, underweight, or issues with fructose malabsorption.
Promotes foods made at home. Eating out can be quite challenging.

One question still remains.  The low FODMAP diet limits certain fruits and vegetables that typically tend to increase fermentation. The specific carb diet has fewer restrictions for these two groups. This has led researchers to further study. One such explanation is the anti-inflammatory effect of these foods. The low FODMAP diet may not decrease inflammation in the intestine but the SCD is known for this property 9,  thus leading to a favorable outcome.  

SCD Diet: Getting Started

The specific carb diet can be intimidating at first. As with any new diet, it is recommended to check with your medical professional before starting. To follow the specific carb diet, one must understand the food recommended and those not recommended.  

SCD Diet Food List

Allowed Foods Foods to Avoid
Vegetables Canned vegetables
Certain legumes: dried beans, split peas, lentils (all soaked) Chickpeas, soy, chickpeas, bean sprouts,
Fresh meat, poultry, fish, eggs Processed meats
Nuts, nut butters, peanuts & natural peanut butter All grains
Oils: coconut, oil, soy, corn Oils: canola, vegetable, safflower
Condiments: mustard, vinegar, fresh spices Condiments: (commercial) ketchup, mayo, margarine, balsamic vinegar
Dairy: natural cheeses and homemade yogurt, nut milks Dairy: milk, ice cream, whey, creams, fresh cheeses, processed cheese
Fruits & pure fruit juices All simple sugars: table sugar, molasses, candy, chocolate, corn syrup, cookies, cakes,
Honey (in moderation) Starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, parsnips
Drinks: water, weak tea and coffee, dry wine, club soda Drinks: drinks containing sugar, beer, juice with added sugar

Sample SCD Diet recipes

Recipes can also help you get started on a new diet.  Below is a quick and easy menu for one day with recipes that only include the recommended foods.

Breakfast:

  • 1 serving Garden Vegetable Omelet (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup Mixed Berries

Lunch:

  • Fruit & Nut Chicken Salad Cups
  • 1 cup cut fresh Vegetables with Olive Oil Dressing

Dinner:

  • 4 oz. Grilled Salmon
  • 1 cup fresh, steamed Green Beans
  • ½ cup Cauliflower ‘Rice’

Recipe 1: Garden Vegetable Omelet

SCD Diet recipe 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp onion
  • 1/4 c. spinach
  • 1 Tbsp tomato
  • 1/4 Tsp garlic powder
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp water

Instructions:

  1. In a skillet, heat oil.  
  2. Chop onions, spinach, and tomatoes.  Add to oil. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper.  
  3. Saute until spinach is wilted and onions are soft. Remove from skillet and set aside.
  4. Meanwhile combine egg, water, salt and pepper. Place in skillet. Allow egg mixture to cover skillet.  
  5. Once egg begins to cook and is set, add vegetables. Flip when egg is set. Cook thoroughly.

Yield: 1 serving

Recipe 2: Fruit & Nut Chicken Salad

SCD Diet Recipe 2

Ingredients:

  • 4- 3 oz. cooked chicken breast
  • 4 green onion sprigs, chopped
  • 1 apple, chopped
  • ½ c. grapes, chopped in halves
  • ¼ c. pecans, chopped
  • ½ – ¾ c. homemade plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp. wholegrain mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Bibb lettuce

Instructions:

  1. Shred chicken and combine with all ingredients except lettuce.
  2. Mix well and refrigerate for 4 hours.  Serve in lettuce cups.

Yields: 4-6 servings

Conclusion

Evidence shows that adjusting carbohydrates can be beneficial to those who suffer from SIBO.  The low FODMAP is recommended more often than the specific carb diet plus has more scientific evidence to support it.  Yet, as research has shown, the specific carb diet can be beneficial. Following the strict guidelines for the specified time, may be helpful to those with SIBO.

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