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Like any parent, when my son was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in October 2014 I was in shock and denial (you can read this post and this post for our story.) After slowly accepting the devastating news, I dedicated myself to research and studying various forms of treatment. This is when I discovered the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall, a biochemist and cellular biologist.
The book discusses in great detail how to conquer the inflammation in the intestines through diet and which foods help the healing process and which foods cause harm. It made perfect sense to me! Time and time again numerous doctors told us diet has nothing to do with Crohn’s Disease, but common sense told me that diet has everything to do with an inflammatory bowel disease.
After thoroughly reading Elaine’s book, our son started the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, SCD for short, in the fall of 2014. The concept of the diet is actually simple; complex carbohydrates, which are not easily digested, feed the harmful bacteria in our intestines causing overgrowth, which in turn leads to inflammation in the intestines. But if you can eliminate the bad bacteria by “starving” them out then you can obtain a healthy and balanced gut flora, which means no inflammation or symptoms of the disease.
I cleaned out my pantry, stocked up on organic, fresh produce and began to fight our battle with food.
I am asked almost daily, “What do you eat?”
We eat a clean, well balanced diet that focuses on organic meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts and low-sugar fruits. We DO NOT eat starches, grains, pastas, complex sugars, preservatives or processed foods. That’s right, no sugar and no preservatives! It is difficult? You bet! I’m not kidding when I say that I literally live in the kitchen. The majority of my day is spent cooking, baking, preparing foods or cleaning up after my whirlwind through the kitchen.
But I wouldn’t change a thing. A month after he started the SCD diet his symptoms slowly subsided. It has now been almost two years and we are symptom free and his Crohn's disease is in remission. While he is still on medication, Imuran (Azathioprine), our goal is to eventually be med-free and use diet alone as treatment.
SO HOW DO I GET STARTED ON THE SCD DIET?
Chances are if you are reading this, you have an Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) or someone you know does and you may be interested in seeking alternative treatment in addition to what you are already doing. Here are a few steps to get started:
1. UNDERSTAND THE DIET.
The first step is to purchase and read Breaking the Viscous Cycle. Read it front to back, I encourage you to read it twice. I've read it so many times my copy is held together with a rubber band. It is imperative that you understand the diet before you begin.
In addition to the book, these are some great resources to to use as references and guidelines:
Breaking the Viscous Cycle Website
No More Crohn's For Me
2. GIVE YOUR PANTRY A MAKEOVER.
I suggest getting a few large boxes before you get to work. You'll want to get rid of all cereals, oatmeal, pancake mixes, grains, processed foods, canned foods, flour, sugar, pop, juice with added sugar, candy, starches, granola bars, cereal bars and anything else that is not SCD legal. For a full list of legal and illegal items visit this page. But keep in mind, if it's packaged and pre-made it's probably not legal.
Once those items are gone, you'll want to stock your refrigerator with tons of fruits and veggies (preferably organic when possible), meats that are organic, free-range and grass-fed, fresh fish, aged cheeses (note that not all cheese is legal, please see this list for info) Welch's bottled grape juice, Knudsen "Just Juice" drinks, organic milk for making yogurt, a yogurt starter, dry curd cottage cheese, ghee or butter and eggs.
For your pantry make sure you get almond flour (this is my favorite), coconut flour, honey, pure vanilla extract (no additives), gelatin for jello and fruit snacks, baking soda (baking powder is illegal due to starch), unsweetened coconut flakes, cocoa butter and coconut oil. As you dive into more complex recipes, you'll notice this list will grow, but in the beginning go slow.
3. BEGIN WITH THE INTRO DIET.
Please note that you will not be able to consume all SCD legal foods in the beginning. You will need to start with the INTRO DIET and gradually add easily digestible foods. The intro diet is fully outlined in the book but I have included some great resources below that I encourage you check out. As you begin to introduce foods go slowly and proceed with caution. After our son completed a few days on the intro diet, we slowly added in additional COOKED vegetables and fruits. In the beginning, all vegetables and fruits should be COOKED and PEELED so they are easy to digest. When you introduce a new food give it 3-4 days before introducing something else. We spent the first six months on the diet gradually adding cooked fruits and vegetables, bakes breads made with almond flour, eventually coconut milk and homemade almond milk and, after a year and a half, we are into the advanced stages of the diet and our son can tolerate raw nuts, raw foods and fruits and veggies with their peels on (although I limit the peels).
Use these recipes for the intro diet:
Introductory Diet Chicken Soup
Introductory Diet Jello **I only use Great Lakes gelatin
Introductory Diet Cheesecake
4. LEARN HOW TO MAKE YOGURT & BONE BROTH.
You can make the SCD diet as complicated or as simple as you like. These days, I enjoy getting creative and developing new recipes, but in the beginning I kept it very simple. I was extremely overwhelmed with my son's diagnosis AND the concept of the diet. The last thing I wanted, or needed, was to complicate our meals. HOWEVER, yogurt and bone broth are essential to the success of this diet.
Remember, this diet is designed to control the gut bacteria. Adding homemade yogurt to your diet will aid in the process of repopulating the gut with beneficial bacteria and ridding it of harmful bacteria. Yogurt that has fermented for 24 hours allows the bacteria to consume the lactose, which is a type of sugar in milk that can be difficult to digest. Since store bought yogurt is not fermented for this long and usually contains additives, it is not complaint with this diet. Here is a recipe for SCD yogurt. I use Yogourmet yogurt starter packets.
The book doesn't go into detail about bone broth, but I know it played a key role in my son's healing process. The collagen in bone broth heals your gut lining and reduces intestinal inflammation. When he was very sick he would drink it 3-5 times a day. Now that we are in remission, I use bone broth as my base stock with all my cooking. Every soup I make begins with bone broth and I have a freezer full of it at all times. I don't use a recipe for mine, I just wing it, but here is a good recipe that is very similar to what I do.
*Please note, on the INTRO DIET you should make the chicken soup per the recipe above. Once you have moved on to the next stages, you can slowly add in bone broth. While we had no reaction to bone broth, some may not be able to tolerate it in the beginning.
5. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT.
The SCD diet and clean eating do not require special equipment, but there are a few kitchen staples you'll want to make sure you have. Click on the items below for pricing and purchase info.
Vita Mix or Blender (I recommend a Vita Mix<, it's worth the investment! I have this one)
Parchment Paper for baking
6. AVOID COMMON MISTAKES.
Yes, the SCD diet is extremely strict, but if followed correctly it could prove to be very beneficial. Common mistakes include skipping the intro diet. Don't do it! The intro diet allows the intestinal tract to begin healing while the bad bacteria dies off.
Ease into new foods, adding foods too quickly is another common mistake. Remember to avoid raw food in the beginning. While nuts, dried fruits (with no added sugar), lentils and black beans (when soaked for 24 hours)and peanut butter are legal foods, they are also difficult to digest and are considered very advanced foods. Gradually introduce these foods. We waited months before starting raw foods and didn't introduce them until labs and blood-work were normal. And don't forget, too much of one thing isn't always good. If you eat nuts all day long the chances are high you will have a difficult time digesting them. Moderation and eating a variety of foods is key.
Learn to read labels and be strict! Elaine Gottschall stated that SCD demands "fanatical adherence." By allowing the wrong foods into the diet, even just once, it could result in serious setbacks. The bad bacteria found in the gut are very resilient and can thrive on additives, preservatives, starches and sugars. Even in small amounts.
And lastly, don't cheat! If you find yourself cheating then you are not ready to fully commit to this lifestyle change, and that's ok! When you are ready, you will take it serious and adhere to the strict requirements.
7. KEEP A FOOD JOURNAL AND TRACK YOUR PROGRESS.
As soon as you start the diet start a food journal. Write down what you eat daily, but also monitor your symptoms and how you feel. As you introduce new foods write down any details; how did you feel, did you have any reactions, how did you sleep and so forth. I keep our lab and test results organized in a three-ring binder and in chronological order. I often refer back to our food journal and test results.
I tried to include as much information as possible and there is so much that I didn't even cover! With time I will be adding more articles to my site, in addition to recipes and tips. If you notice I missed something of great importance please leave me a comment or send me an email. I'm also comprising a list of FAQ about the SCD diet so feel free to leave questions below.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, researchers from Seattle Children's and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, led by Dr. David Suskind, a Seattle Children's gastroenterologist, found that diet alone can bring pediatric patients with active Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) into clinical remission.
Click HERE to read the study.
***The information provided in this article is from personal experience, it is not the intention of the author to diagnose, prescribe, or replace medical care. Please consult your doctor or a nutrionalist before making any changes to your diet.