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Specific Carbohydrate Diet and GAPS Diet for IBS

While doing some research a while ago, I came across a couple of diets that are supposedly beneficial to patients with digestive issues. The two diets I discovered are called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) and its derivative, the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet. Because these diets are catered to those who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease, I figured I would pass on information to those who might not have known or heard about these diets or would like to do more research beyond this article and try something new for their digestive health.

What is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)?

Dr. Sidney V. Haas created the SCD back in the 1950s, but it was popularized by Elaine Gottschall, who used the diet to help treat her daughter who was suffering from severe ulcerative colitis. To make a long story short, numerous doctors told Elaine on different occasions that her daughter had two options; surgery or possible death, and Elaine couldn’t accept either of the two. She grew tired of receiving that same advice with no new and safe alternative. Eventually, she was told about Dr. Haas and his work, so she reached out to him to set up an appointment for her daughter, even though her daughter had already seen numerous doctors for her condition. However, Elaine wasn’t ready to give up yet, and Dr. Haas provided answers and advice that she never got from any of the previous doctors and was relieved that his plan didn’t call for surgery. Instead, his plan called for a change in diet – the use of the SCD. As a result, the SCD helped Elaine’s daughter become symptom-free in a matter of two years. If you would like to know more about Elaine’s inspiring story, then please click here.

What is the GAPS diet?

According to WebMD, “the SCD is a very restrictive, unconventional diet plan that severely limits most carbs.”1 Furthermore, “The SCD was clinically tested for over 50 years by Dr Haas and biochemist Elaine Gottschall with convincing results. From feedback from the various lists and other information at least 75% of those who adhere rigidly to the diet gain significant improvement.”2 Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, later on, created the GAPS diet, which was derived from the SCD and used to naturally treat a variety of neurological disorders and chronic inflammatory conditions in the digestive tract. The GAPS diet focuses on balancing the state of a patient’s gut flora (or microbiota) with brain function, as the two are known to be connected.3 However, due to the limited research available online, I couldn’t determine the difference between the actual food restrictions placed on GAPS verses the SCD. (If you find any research on the difference between GAPS and SCD, please feel free to add it in the comments below!)

How is the SCD and GAPS diet different from the low FODMAP diet?

What I did find was that the SCD/GAPS diets are not too different from the Low FODMAP diet in that they aim to eliminate carbs that are hard to digest so that the gut lining can start to repair itself without further inflammation. These diets are related based on the approach of limiting sugar-containing foods as well as foods containing lactose and grain-derived flours. The difference between the SCD and Low FODMAP diet is that it focuses mainly eliminating carbohydrates consisting of disaccharides and polysaccharides (linear or branched chains consisting of two or more sugars), while the Low FODMAP diet focuses on eliminating a variety of sugar sources (like fermented oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols). The SCD also allows for the consumption of carbohydrates with monosaccharides and almost all fruits and vegetables, which is drastically different from the list of Low FODMAP-approved foods. Overall, the SCD diet seems a lot less restrictive, which patients might enjoy sticking to more than the low FODMAP diet, however, when it comes to symptom relief, the low FODMAP diet has proven to be more effective.4

I wanted to share these diets with anyone that might be interested in trying something new and wants to learn a little about the current research on this topic. If you have any questions about a diet change, I do recommend consulting with a dietitian before trying it out. There is an introductory diet and supplements that are recommended when starting diets like this. I believe it’s important that we share whatever we know on this topic, as long as we don’t seem forceful with the information we’re trying to provide. We should allow people to make their own decisions on whether they want to try something new or not. Nonetheless, I hope at least some of you found this information helpful. If you find any new research that wasn’t shared in this article, please feel free to add it below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Zelman, K. MPH, RD, LD “Specific Carbohydrate Diet: Diet Review” WebMD Expert Column. 2011
  2. Gottschall, E. Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet, Kirkton Press, 1994.
  3. Campbell-McBride, N. “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. Vol. 23, No. 2, 2008
  4. Vincenzi M, Del Ciondolo I, Pasquini E, Gennai K, Paolini B. Effects of a Low FODMAP Diet and Specific Carbohydrate Diet on Symptoms and Nutritional Adequacy of Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Preliminary Results of a Single-blinded Randomized Trial. J Transl Int Med. 2017;5(2):120-126. Published 2017 Jun 30. doi:10.1515/jtim-2017-0004