Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) for Autism

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) is the second most applied diet for autism next to gluten-free casein-free (GFCF). The GAPS diet is a version of the diet we will describe later on.

While most begin with GFCF, some begin with SCD (for reasons particular to their child’s circumstance). Others, who began with GFCF will evolve to SCD to see what further gains can be made, often when digestive problems persist and greater attention is required.

According to ARI, 71% of parents say SCD is beneficial for their child. In addition to helping alleviate many of the traditional symptoms of autism, this diet is very helpful for those who have inflammatory bowel conditions and chronic diarrhea. It can also help to alleviate constipation.

This diet involves the removal of all starches and complex sugars, and only allows honey and fruit sugar for sugars (monosaccharides).  When putting this diet strategy into place, parents remove maple syrup, cane sugar, agave nectar, brown rice syrup and other sources of sugars from snacks and meals. Foods containing these ingredients often include baked goods, candy, jelly fruit snacks, granola bars, juices, fruit punch style drinks, ice cream, ketchup, soda, chocolate milk, salad dressings and sauces, cereal and other pre-packaged and freezer foods that contain sugar in their ingredient list. SCD also removes all starches and all grains, including potatoes and sweet potatoes – so quinoa pasta, rice milk, french fries are out.

The goal of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is to reduce gut inflammation and aid healing by “starving out” bad gut bugs and avoiding foods that require carbohydrate digesting enzymes. Children with autism frequently lack these enzymes and have digestive systems that are attacked by pathogenic organisms such as clostridia and yeast; they often need specific nutrition and diet support. By eliminating problematic foods, the yeast and bacteria cannot continue to feed, and they die out. As these infections are eliminated from the body and intestinal enzyme function improves, children with autism experience healing. They feel better, sleep better, learn better, and autism symptoms are alleviated.

SCD Implementation

As parents implement the SCD, they cook meals for their children and family that are centered around meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, certain beans, all non-starchy vegetables, and fruit. They introduce honey and fruit sugar to their recipes and meal preparation. Many parents find it beneficial to start with the “intro diet” as described on PecanBread.com.

This diet is not a low carbohydrate diet but a specific carbohydrate diet that focuses on non-starchy vegetables, fruit, honey, and certain beans for carbohydrates and avoids other sugars and starches. An autism nutritionist might also suggest that a parent implement SCD without casein in case the child is sensitive to it.

Because SCD is more restrictive than the GFCF Diet, parents don’t usually begin their dietary intervention journey with SCD. However, if there is a significant inflammatory gut condition diagnosed by an autism pediatrician, some parents will go straight to SCD. There is no reason not to begin with SCD; it’s an excellent diet for autism. Many parents begin with the GFCF Diet with its fewer restrictions and then advance to SCD if needed.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet for Autism

A variation of SCD is the GAPS Diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome), created by Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D. It includes the essentials of SCD, plus the addition of wonderful healing and nutritious principles, as well as lifestyle and detoxification recommendations.

The diet is largely based on SCD plus the addition of such as fermented foods and homemade broths. The GAPS diet recommends everyone begin the diet casein-free.  GAPS has it’s own introductory diet, different from SCD.

GAPS includes supplements such as cod liver oil and other essential fatty acids, potent probiotics (stronger than those allowed by SCD), digestive enzymes, vitamin and mineral supplements.  The GAPS diet places more emphasize on supplements; however, allows some supplement ingredients (starches and sugars) that are “illegal” on SCD.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome GAPS and SCD are both wonderful diets for many children with autism, particularly when the gut and digestion are inflamed or weak.