Trying to decode all the special diets for autism recovery can really fry your brain. I must admit, I’ve burned quite a few brain cells due to spontaneous combustion from late night reading. But what else is a parent to do when we’ve got to find answers!?! This article dives into the Specific Carbohydrate Diet vs GAPS for Autism Recovery.
Those of you who know my story, know I used the amazing GAPS diet to recovery my son Aaron. Check out Aaron’s story about recovering with the GAPS Diet here.
But I didn’t stop studying autism diets once I started GAPS . It’s actually the opposite. Once we started GAPS, I started studying because I was finally able to understand why some diets work and other don’t. One of those BIG ONES is the GFCF (Gluten Free Casein Free) diet. I think of all the autism diets out there, this one is the most well-known. And, thanks to the advances of processed food production, it now also causes the most damage.
To learn more about the GFCF diet and how it stacks up to GAPS diet which is what I used for my son, read Autism Diets – GFCF Compared to GAPS.
In summary, just beware that GFCF diet generally refers to a method of eating which allows you to eat anything that says GFCF on the label. This dietary approach is dangerous. Mind you, if you follow a GFCF diet which also disallows processed foods, you will have yourself a very different diet. Any wise and experienced health practitioner will warn you of this GFCF food trap. So, if you do decide to go GFCF, also go processed-food-free or be prepared for big trouble down the road.
SCD vs. GAPS for Autism Recovery
The second most popular diet for autism would probably be the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, otherwise known as SCD. The SCD was made famous from the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle, written by Elaine Gottschall, biochemist and cell biologist. Her book addresses conditions such as Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Diverticulitis, Celiac Disease as well as less severe complaints like indigestion, “nervous stomach,’ chronic diarrhea, & spastic colon.
I highly recommend looking into this diet and reading Dr. Elaine’s book Breaking the Vicious Cycle. This book was written based on her experience healing her then four-year-old daughter of severe, “incurable” ulcerative colitis in order to keep her child alive and avoid an ileostomy (surgical removal of the colon and replacement with an external bag).
Similarly motivated, GAPS protocol was developed by a Russian neurosurgeon who went back to school to learn about human nutrition after her own child was diagnosed with severe autism at age 3. Even with her extensive and impressive medical background, Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride realized that she didn’t have the knowledge to help her son beat autism. She understood enough to know that their were neurological issues occurring but that they were stemming from GI malfunction. Dr. Natasha realized that she needed to know specifically about how the body makes and uses vital nutrients to solve the autism mystery.
So, this highly educated Russian neurosurgeon goes back to school to study human nutrition…and GAPS was born. Her child, who was previously diagnosed as severely autistic, fully recovered and many millions of children including my son Aaron have experienced similar results. So while I highly recommend you know what SCD is, I do not believe it to be as effective or complete as GAPS protocol for autistic children.
Can the SCD Help with Autism Symptoms?
True, Dr. Elaine’s daughter didn’t have autism, but that’s not a reason to discount SCD. The story line of GI damage and damning health consequences is right up our (parents of autistic kids) alley. And the motivation to get results is there. This is no scam, it’s a real person who went looking for real answers to solve real problems. And she succeeded. SCD was developed and made famous by a woman who was fiercely determined to help her daughter. It reminds me that there is nothing stronger than a mother’s will to protect and nurture her child.
The fact is that what makes SCD and GAPS so effective is that they are both built on the same principles of repairing GI damage and restoring health. They share a core truth that recovery starts with removing offending foods from the diet in order to stop inflammation and heal the digestive system.
So, If your child’s autism symptoms include red flags of GI distress, then SCD will certainly help improve matters. However, although SCD and GAPS are so similar there are a few things that set them apart and that make GAPS superior for autism recovery.
How Similar is SCD to GAPS?
Here’s the most important thing to note about SCD. Of all the diets out there, the SCD is probably to most similar to GAPS. In fact, aside for a few fundamental differences in approach, there are ultimately the same thing. One of the only major differences is in focus. GAPS diet not only removes gluten, casein, starches and refined sugars in the beginning, just like SCD, but GAPS puts major emphasis on adding back in probiotics, copious amounts of gelatin-rich homemade bone broths, and home fermented foods.
Some people find that SCD is easier to do than GAPS, and it is. This is because it seems to focus more on what not to eat. GAPS quickly tells you what not to eat, and then it tells you what you must eat. SCD does not require you to make all your child’s food at home, oversee consumption of broths, and ferment foods in your kitchen. Now, fermenting foods isn’t hard to do at all, but for a person who has never done it before, it truly feels like rocket science and is extremely intimidating. I know, because that’s how I felt once upon a time.
At the start of the intro diets, both diets appear to be the same in that they both focus on adding homemade broths and remove all fibrous and starchy, but the GAPS diet also insists on adding probiotics at this stage. The GAPS book teaches us that cell regeneration in the gut is a process directly reliant upon the presence of beneficial bacteria within the gut. So in the Introductory Diet, probiotics are added immediately to help move this process along.
The two diets conflict a bit on the subject of probiotics. On the SCD, probiotics come from homemade, 24 hour fermented yogurt which is introduced after wait period. Additionally, SCD is strict in that the yogurt starter is not to include the bifidus species. SCD that the Bifidus species contributes to gut flora imbalance.
However, on GAPS diet, Dr. Natasha emphasizes consuming a wide variety of probiotics which include bifidus and beneficial yeasts in the form supplements, kefir, and home fermented foods and beverages. Also in contrast to SCD, in GAPS diet supplemental probiotics containing a wide range of bacteria and yeasts are introduced immediately – NO wait period.
Note that in SCD, kefir can and should be consumed only after full healing and recovery has occurred. This is in contrast to GAPS, whereby Dr. Natasha teaches that beneficial yeasts play an important role in the keeping pathogenic yeasts under control, so kefir is recommended to tolerant individuals while following GAPS protocol.
Chocolate on the SCD vs GAPS
Chocolate is another area of discrepancy. SCD will not allow any form of cocoa or cocao while on the diet. GAPS, however, notes that many people can consume raw cacao on the full GAPS diet without adverse reaction, and so it is permitted if tolerated. Thank God, too! Because my family’s indulgence in cocao deserts would be sorely missed!
Therapeutic diet is the only way to address GI issues and it is the foundation for autism recovery. So, now you know why SCD is recommended as a therapeutic diet, but hopefully you also know why GAPS is the ultimate authority. Whether on SCD or GAPS diet, you can expect to dedicate 2 – 6 years rebuilding the GI tract. Some may even stay longer before modification is tolerated. It all depends on the person. For specific help starting GAPS, read How To Get Started With The GAPS Diet Today.
If you’ve tried SCD or GAPS, let me know your experience and results below!