Grain-free diets are getting more and more attention these days. Many people rave about their benefits for autism, allergies, autoimmune diseases and various digestive disorders. Here is a brief explanation of three of the most popular grain-free healing diets.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet was explained in Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet, published by the late Elaine Gottschall, the mother of an eight year old daughter with “incurable” ulcerative colitis. Her daughter’s condition was continuing to deteriorate after years of conventional treatment when her new doctors shared the details of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet with Elaine. Elaine’s daughter was symptom free within 2 years and returned to eating normally a few years after that. The basic idea behind this diet is to starve out microbes so that the gut can heal by eliminating disaccharides and polysaccharides. This means that only very specific carbohydrates that are easy to digest are consumed along with proteins and fats. This diet forbids grains, starches and refined sugars and allows many healthy proteins and vegetables, most fruits and nuts, honey, certain beans, and certain forms of dairy. This diet is known to treat irritable bowel, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, chronic diarrhea, ADHD, autism and schizophrenia.
The GAPS diet was designed by Natasha Campbell-McBride and explained in her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It was based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, but as a Neurologist and the parent of a child that is now recovered from autism, Dr. Campbell-McBride focuses in her book more on the physiology and the psychology and the connections between the brain and the body. This diet allows and excludes almost exactly the same foods as SCD. One very notable exception is that on GAPS cocoa powder is allowed (once digestive symptoms have subsided and as tolerated). The GAPS diet emphasizes Weston A. Price/Nourishing Traditions principals such as homemade bone broths and fermented foods. This diet is recommended for all forms of autoimmunity and inflammatory diseases and conditions. GAPS is a little more liberal with supplementation, allowing probiotics containing bifidobacteria and other strains of bacteria that are forbidden on SCD.
Paleo or Primal Diets are big in health and fitness communities these days. This diet is also known as the caveman diet, the stone age diet and the hunter-gatherer diet. The basic idea is to eat the way Paleolithic man ate. They eat fish, pasture-raised animals, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. They exclude grains, legumes, sugar, processed oils, and (usually) dairy. There are disputes over whether certain foods, such as butter and potatoes are truly “paleo” within the community. This is a good option for clients that want to remove the harder to digest grains but keep some starchy vegetables as well as some wiggle room (as this tends to be a more flexible lifestyle without the strict rules of SCD and GAPS). Keep in mind that SCD and GAPS tend to be better accepted as effective within the IBD and autism communities for starving pathogens, but Paleo might be a better fit for your family. There are variations on this diet referred to as “autoimmune paleo” that many people use and report great results.
All diets have their potential problems and grain-free is no exception. Excessive protein could result in ammonia problems in susceptible people. Long-cooked broths and fermented foods contain glutamates which some predisposed people may react to. There is also the potential to overdo high oxalate foods, usually by trying to recreate typical SAD (Standard American Diet) baked goods with a lot of nut flour. Like any other diet, there is also the potential for salicylate or phenol reactions. A grain-free diet can be a wonderful tool but it is worth mentioning from the beginning that it is important to consume as wide a variety of foods as possible and not to overdo any one food in order to avoid these issues. As explained in my post Diets that Heal, any diet as written in a book may allow foods that are not suitable for all. Careful observation of physical and behavioral symptoms and food detective skills can go a long way toward personalizing the diet to achieve the results you want.
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