So, let’s talk more about SCD. I still haven’t come down from the high of seeing that clinical study last week so I’m on a mission!
By the way, I should mention that at first glance, SCD looks like it’s going to be very hard. (One of my nutrition clients once told me that she held off seeing me as long as possible because she knew I was going to make her work. “People only come to see you when they’re desperate, you know.” Ouch!) I guess, in a way, the diet can be difficult at first. Facing facts, many people in the industrialized world have become very “food lazy.” It struck me daily, working as a nutritionist, how many people no longer bother to cook, instead, simply picking up pre-made foods from restaurants or the supermarket. And worse, we eat so darn much junk: sugary breakfast cereals, processed white breads, pastas, rolls, cookies, cake, candy, soda, etc. Our tastes have acclimated to processed foods, high salt contents, high sugar contents, etc. When you’re suddenly faced with having to actually cook and eat real food, many people are immediately overwhelmed.
And worse – the people who need SCD are very sick. So yeah, there I was, telling horribly sick people (or the parents of horrendously sick children) that they needed to work even harder. You can imagine then how popular I was.
On the other hand, as I always said, it’s a hell of a lot easier to bake some nut muffins than to clean up vomit or diarrhea. I was always pretty merciless when it came twisting people’s arms into doing SCD. Why? Because I did it, and I’m not that special. If I can do it, so can you, I’d tell my clients. One of my friends once called me the Diet Dominatrix and sent me this photo:
Ok, so, maybe I was a bit of a bully…but as my Dad says, “I yell because I care.” I knew if I could just get that person to listen, it would be one more person out of pain. I was (and am still) not above begging, if need be.
The concept of SCD is actually pretty simple. You can eat all proteins and fats, so you’re fine with meats, poultry, fish and nuts. It’s only the carbohydrates that are modified: you only eat specific carbohydrates – that is, foods that contain only single-molecule sugars: fruit, most vegetables (except for starchy root veggies, like potatoes), and honey. No di-saccharides (table sugar – or lactose, the sugar in dairy). No polysaccharides, so no starches, which eliminates all grains. For breakfast then, you’ll have perhaps a nut muffin and a banana. For lunch, sliced turkey and hard cheese, some fruit. Dinner – a steak, green beans, butternut squash soup. Baked treats can be made with nut or coconut flour. Ice cream can be made with eggs and SCD yogurt (which has been fermented long enough for the bacteria to eat all the lactose). My personal favorite was almond flour biscotti – delicious. Every bite of food on SCD is nutrient dense. And I promise (and was always shown to be right) that after 2 weeks, it all becomes pretty standard and run-of-the-mill. You’ll be surprised at how inspiring it is to not suffer.
Why does removing all carbs except these specific ones work? Elaine Gottshall’s hypothesis:
Bacteria eat sugar and when they do, they produce acids. The more bacteria present, the more acids they produce. Over time, this excess production of acid begins to irritate the lining of the intestine, which –to protect itself – produces more mucus. As the mucus on the intestinal wall thickens, the harder it becomes for consumed sugars to be broken down into single molecules, which are the sugars that can be absorbed through the intestinal wall to feed the body. That is, polysaccharides, which are just long strings of sugar molecules attached together, are broken down in the digestive process to di-saccharides. When they reach the small intestinal wall, enzymes on the villi (the microscopic finger-like projections in the small intestine, where food absorption takes place) break down those di-saccharides into mono-saccharides (single molecules) which are then absorbed. If the mucus layer in the intestine becomes too thick so that those di-saccharides can’t reach those enzymes, the di-saccharides are left undigested, sitting in the intestines doing nothing more than feeding bacteria, which reproduce, creating more bacteria and thus, more acids, which leads to more mucus….
And Elaine’s Vicious Cycle is born.
By eating only single molecule sugars, you take away the bacteria’s source of food. No digestion of carbohydrates is necessary. They can be immediately absorbed into the blood stream. Over the course of months, without abundant food, the level of bacteria begins to drop. The gut begins to heal.
We know it works. It’s worked for decades on millions of people. 10 years ago, Breaking the Vicious Cycle had sold way over a million copies and had been translated into 7 different languages. I can only imagine how much bigger those numbers are by now. Whether or not Elaine had the mechanism exactly right remains to be seen but – I for one am giving her the benefit of the doubt. Anyone living through the miracle of SCD knows instinctively Elaine was right.
In early 2005, Elaine and I were at an autism conference together, and hitting the bar. (Her idea!) As we sat talking and drinking, we conceived of the notion to write a book together. I wanted to write to about Elaine herself, and the remarkable life of that remarkable woman. She wanted to write about SCD and autism, and how the diet was dramatically helping children like Alex. (By 2009, when the Autism Research Institute last published its “Parent Ratings of Behavioral Effects of Biomedical Interventions,” SCD was ranked first in the diet category, with 71% of parents saying they saw improvement. In my personal experience, that number is more like 90%. I suspect that many of the parents who thought it didn’t work, or thought that their child was worsening, were ignorant of the short, periodic regressions that occur on SCD in the first few months.) Elaine and I compromised: we would include both in the book. We went home and Elaine began to write the notes for her biography portion. But only a few weeks into our project, she was diagnosed with the cancer that would end her life just a few months later. I carried on though and finished the book, including the notes and photos Elaine had shared with me. We Band of Mothers: Autism, My Son and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is available on Amazon and all proceeds go to the Autism Research Institute. If it will help you or anyone you know, make that investment. Remember – I am not above begging!
More in my next post on research supporting the use of SCD. There’s a lot out there! Prepare to be amazed.