What is the SCD Diet for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?


When I work with my patients who have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), I always talk about the SCD diet during the first visit, because it can help address some of the root causes of the disease.  Before I talk about what the SCD diet is, we need to understand how foods relate to the disease.

The Vicious Disease Cycle

It is not an understatement when I say that we, humans, are made of bacteria.  They live on our skin, in our airway, and in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract.  40% of circulating molecules in our blood are byproducts made by bacteria, and more than 50% of our stools are made of bacteria.  How do these bacteria live?  Our foods.  What we eat can determine which bacteria thrive or starve.  

We have noticed the effect of dietary changes on intestinal disease as far back as 300 A.D.  One theory behind the development of IBD is an imbalanced bacteria growth in the GI tract.  These bacteria release irritants when they digest foods.  These irritants damage the cells that line the GI tract, destroy digestive enzymes, and impair nutrient absorption.  The goblet cells in the GI tract produce mucus to help protect the GI tract from these irritants, but this barrier further impairs food digestion and nutrients absorption, and the undigested foods and unabsorbed nutrients further feed the bacteria and promote overgrowth.  When the goblet cells exhaust themselves from producing the mucus, the “naked” GI tract is exposed to the irritants and leads to inflammation and ulceration.   

We have seen through literature and clinical settings that most people with IBD have problems digesting carbohydrates and fibers.  When people eliminate those foods, the frequency and severity of the flare are reduced and the remission time lengthens.  

Using Diet to Break the Cycle

The goal of the SCD diet is to provide nutrients to our body and limit foods to the bacteria.  SCD stands for Simple Carbohydrates Diet.  Simple carbohydrate here refers to simple sugar, like glucose, fructose, and galactose.  They are called “simple” sugar because they are the most basic unit of sugar that requires no further digestion and can be easily absorbed by our cells.  Starch and fiber are “complex” sugars because they need a series of digestion facilitated by the digestive enzymes to be processed to the simple sugars.  The SCD diet limits starchy and high fiber foods to reduce the activity of fermentation so that fewer irritants are released to the GI tract, and the body can get the time to heal.  

The SCD diet is best practiced through stages.  The stages are matched to the severity of the disease.  The beginning stages are more restricted to reduce the activity of the bacteria.  This is particularly helpful for people with an acute flare.  The later stages open the diet to more fruits and vegetables to promote healthy bacteria and maintain people in remission.  

To learn more about the SCD diet, visit the following links:

Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall


Direction for SCD



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