I am certain that this diet works. Actually I find it hard to see how it wouldn’t work because it’s essentially a way of re-programming the body to heal itself. Oh and of course then there is the science behind the diet. This wasn’t dreamed up by someone who thought it might work, it was developed by a doctor, Dr. Sidney Haas and then popularised by a biochemist, Elaine Gottschall who used the diet to treat her daughter’s Ulcerative Colitis. If you want to read more about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) you can click here. All of that said, my firm belief at this stage is that diet alone is not enough and that regular excercise and finding a way to manage stress also play an important role in healing from inflammatory bowel disease. There is no cure for inflammatory bowel disease but I firmly believe that the SCD can greatly reduce symptoms and for some lucky ones: make them disappear altogether. Below is a list of the common pitfalls of SCD which have made so many believe that it doesn’t work, inspired by my own mistakes and struggles. Hopefully you will have a smoother journey than I did!
Just because something is legal doesn’t mean you can tolerate it
One of the first bread recipes I tried when I began the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) was a nut butter loaf. I used peanut butter as I assumed like a lot of people that peanuts were nuts. I couldn’t understand why I felt really, really unwell the next few days until I read a little about peanuts. It turns out they are legumes, not nuts and are considered an advanced food for SCD-ers. To be precise they are to be tried cautiously after six months on the diet. In fact, PecanBread a great online SCD resource say that “peanut butter seems to be one of the major failure reasons for failure with SCD”.
Broccoli, Cauliflower, Fennel, Celery
All of the above vegetables are SCD-legal and packed full of nutrients but are also very fibrous and difficult to digest, especially if they are not cooked well. When I started SCD first, I really thought that if anything was on the legal list I could eat it in abundance. I learned the hard way-after a flare which I attributed to eating some broccoli which hadn’t been well cooked-that many foods have to be slowly transitioned into the diet.
Lactose-free dairy is allowed on SCD but it doesn’t agree with everybody. I have always been able to tolerate good quality butter and cheese but it took some time before I could eat SCD 24 hour yoghurt. Even though these dairy products are allowed on the diet, I try not to overdo them as I know I may not feel great if I do.
Take your time with new foods but not too long!
The first time I started the diet, I began eating raw foods way too quickly. The second time around, I took a more balanced approach, staying off nuts and dairy for at least a month and introducing raw and fibrous foods very slowly. It’s important to say though that a variety of foods is needed to maintain a healthy gut. I’ve heard about people saying they are doing great on SCD and all they eat is carrots and butternut squash. It’s important that you introduce new foods and as many of them as you can, when your body is ready.
Natural sugar is still sugar
Fruit is really good for you and an important source of daily nutrients but it is also high in fructose. Natural sugar, although a million times better than eating refined sugar, is still sugar that should be eaten in moderation. I know myself that I don’t feel great when I eat a lot of dates or oranges in one day. My system just can’t handle that.
Don’t try to replace all of your carbs
SCD is not intended to be a nut diet and it’s not ideal for you to try to replace all of your carbs with nut products. For example if you start the diet thinking, I’ll just have nut bread in the morning, nut crackers for my snack and a pizza with a nut base for dinner, you will unlikely see any progress. The focus when you are on SCD should be to eat more vegetables, eggs, fish, meat, fruit and other whole foods. In other words, to eat more foods that are naturally gluten and grain free. SCD is a whole new way of eating and shouldn’t be adapted to our old eating habits. You’ll learn quickly that you can snack on vegetables when you’re hungry e.g. beetroot crisps, butternut squash fries, grilled asparagus and many more. When I embraced this new way of eating, I know my health really began to improve.
Don’t go nuts on nuts!
I remember my first time tasting almond flour blueberry muffins. I thought they were so amazing and tasty and then I thought “this is fine, I’ll just live on them so”. The snacks and desserts that can be made with nut flour and naturally sweetened are as good if not better than regular treats. The first time you make a batch of almond flour cookies, it can be so difficult not to eat the whole lot in one sitting. Believe me, I’ve been there. I had just given up all the foods I loved and knew, then found something which tasted amazing and gorged myself on that. Many of my bad days early on were ones where I had over-indulged on nut products.
Corn is not a vegetable
Am I the only person who didn’t know this? I blame advertisers for promoting sweetcorn as one of our five a day! Corn is actually a useless grain and 100% illegal on SCD.
We all make mistakes starting out. Beginning and sticking to the SCD is not easy but so worth it. I remember being totally overwhelmed when I began as I used to dwell on all the foods I couldn’t eat. Now, my diet is more varied than ever before and I have tried more new foods in the past year than in the previous 20! Eating whole foods is far from boring or bland. I have never before been so inspired by food and so driven to constantly create new recipes. If I had to give any advice for success on SCD I would say what someone said to me when I started: balance is key, eat everything in moderation. The reason I feel better than ever before is down to following this. I am conscious that if I have a fruit smoothie in the morning, I won’t eat much more fruit. If I have almond flour cookies as a snack, I won’t have many more nut products that day. If I overdid the cheese in my lunchtime salad, then I’ll go easy on the dairy for the rest of the day. Maybe the only food group that this doesn’t apply to is vegetables: the more the better, and the more variety the better too!
I hope this helps you in some way as I had many struggles when I started the diet first. Now it has become such a part of me that I couldn’t imagine eating any other way. Not only am I healthier, but my whole family is and long may it continue! If you have any comments or want to share your story, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you!