The GAPS diet (also known as the “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” diet) is a temporary, intensive, intestinal-healing diet that soothes the gut lining in order to help a variety of conditions. Those who have tried it report it helping autism, A.D.D., A.D.H.D, dyspraxia, depression, schizophrenia, and, as was the case with my son, food allergies.
If you’ve heard of GAPS before, you might be wondering what the diet really is. If you’ve browsed GAPS diet food lists at any point, you may have felt overwhelmed at the thought of how restrictive it is. That’s understandable.
The diet is, indeed restrictive. But it’s also restorative, healing, and definitely worth doing.
What Is the GAPS Diet?
The diet consists of two phases: the intro portion and the full-on GAPS diet.
During the intro, you will go through six stages, beginning with only slow-cooked meats, vegetables, meat stock, and homemade probiotic foods like sauerkraut juice and cultured dairy. As each stage progresses, you add in more foods, including eggs, ghee, fresh-pressed juices, casseroles, roasted meats, soaked nuts and seeds, raw vegetables, and, eventually, cooked fruit.
Once you have progressed through this intro portion and symptoms are relieved, you may enjoy full GAPS diet foods, which include grain-free flours, cultured dairy products, and fresh and dried fruits. It is suggested that following the intro, one adheres to the full GAPS diet for another six months to two years, depending on the severity of the symptoms.
What Are GAPS Symptoms?
There are particular symptoms that sources claim can be helped by GAPS. Those include:
- food allergies or intolerances
- behavioral or emotional conditions such as autism, A.D.H.D., depression, and anxiety
- skin disorders such as eczema
- autoimmune conditions such fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma.
While we now know more about food allergies (including solutions that can help reduce the risk of developing a food allergy), for those that already suffer from a food allergy, the GAPS diet may offer many benefits. My own son suffered from a dairy allergy and eczema, which began to reverse after just a few weeks on the diet.
Personally, I think everyone could benefit from the GAPS diet. While there are some fun foods you can enjoy by being creative on GAPS, the staples of the diet consist of meats, vegetables, eggs, and probiotic-rich foods. For the most part, these are nutrient-dense foods that we should consume anyway.
How Does Fixing the Gut Help All of These Conditions?
The gut is closely connected to all other systems of the body through intricate communication systems. When the gut is compromised, all aspects of our health suffer. It starts with leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles have contributed to leaky gut syndrome in several ways:
- Our diets are high in starches and sugars, which contribute to intestinal permeability because they are not easily digested. Instead, those types of foods sit in the gut and essentially decompose, which, in turn, can harm the gut lining.
- Many of us routinely take antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals.
- We encounter a number of chemicals on a daily basis, such as fluoride, chlorine, and glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup).
Each of these insults to the gut lining stresses its integrity.
Think of it this way: the gut lining is a barrier which keeps food particles from entering other body systems. When that lining is continuously assaulted with poor foods, antibiotics, and other toxins, it begins to break down.
When the gut lining breaks down, food particles can then pass through the gut, undigested, and land in other areas of the body. This results in the body becoming confused and attacking itself and the food particles. Leaky gut results in conditions like food allergies, arthritis, chronic pain, and malnourishment.
When food rots in the gut, something else happens as well: the gut bacteria become imbalanced. Our bodies and guts are designed with a perfect balance of healthful and opportunistic bacteria. When an imbalance occurs, opportunistic bacteria and fungus begin to take over, and gut dysbiosis occurs.
Gut dysbiosis is simply the overgrowth of pathogenic species of gut bacteria, and lack of good bacteria.
Dysbiosis reduces stomach acid and digestive enzymes and can lead to digestive problems. When we are unable to properly break down and digest food proteins, they can leak through tiny holes in the lining of the gut. Some proteins are even able to pass through the blood-brain barrier. This is the barrier which is supposed to protect the brain from such intruders.
The proteins from dairy and wheat, in particular, are problematic. Casein, and gluten, respectively, are difficult for many people’s guts to break down.
For those with severely damaged guts, these proteins do not get digested properly, and, consequently, turn into morphine-like substances, similar in structure to opiates. These undigested peptides are called gluteomorphins and casomorphins, and have been found in the urine of those with autism, A.D.H.D., schizophrenia, epilepsy, Downs syndrome, depression, and some autoimmune conditions.
Gluteomorphins and casomorphins inhibit the same areas of brain function as opiate drugs. This may explain why some children with autism are described as being “in their own world,” as well as the brain fog experienced by those with other chronic conditions.
GAPS for the Gut Win
Reading about the above underlying causes of so many health issues is a little disheartening. The truth is, most of us probably have some level of leaky gut and dysbiosis. That’s why the GAPS diet is so beneficial for everyone.
The GAPS diet eliminates those foods which contribute to leaky gut, like sugar, starches, and grains. Instead, it replaces them with gut-healing foods that promote good bacterial growth in the gut. This includes foods like sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, those that actually rebuild the gut lining like gelatin-rich meat stock and bone broth, and those that restore depleted nutritional stores like fresh-pressed juice and copious amounts of raw egg yolks.
Is GAPS Really that Hard?
The GAPS diet can be intimidating, but it is completely doable! It helps to focus on all of the nourishing foods you can still have, and not what you can’t consume. It also helps to remember that GAPS is temporary. Once you reverse the symptoms and food allergies are gone, you may be able to eat properly prepared grains and starchy foods again.
That’s great news for anyone currently suffering from food allergies, particularly if those food allergies keep you from eating foods you love.
In our own family, we’ve seen firsthand the benefits of GAPS. The GAPS diet gives many families their lives back. Stories abound of children who have recovered from autism and other developmental disorders. Many adults report relief from depression and anxiety in order to better care for their families. The whole family experiences better overall health and energy from adding such nutrient rich foods to their diets.
What Can’t You Eat on GAPS?
- grains (even gluten-free grains and psuedo-grains like buckwheat and quinoa)
- potatoes (both white and sweet)
- sugars of all kinds, including artificial sweeteners (except honey)
- okra or parsnips
- pasteurized or unfermented milk (only cultured dairy is allowed)
- beans (except white navy and lima beans)
- soft cheeses
- starches like tapioca and arrowroot
However, you may eat so many wonderful foods! With a little creativity, you can even recreate many foods you once loved.
The Holidays & GAPS: What to Eat
If you’re on the GAPS diet or considering it, you may be worried about the upcoming holiday season. Since GAPS is so restrictive, you may be tempted to put it off until after the holidays, or make compromises which can impede healing.
You don’t have to put off the healing GAPS brings, and you don’t have to abandon GAPS diet ideals just because the holidays are approaching!
I recently found a great resource that will help you get through the holidays without compromising your dietary needs or feeling deprived as you watch others celebrate with delicious foods. You can have delicious holiday foods on the GAPS diet!
It is called Nourishing Holiday features recipes like pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, honey ham, turkey gravy, dinner rolls, carrot cake, and more, all while adhering to the strict standards of the GAPS diet.
Are you Ready to Start GAPS?
Are you ready to try the GAPS diet? With all these benefits, it’s hard to find a reason not to. It’s like ripping off a bandaid: just do it and you’ll be amazed at how much you’re capable of and just how much healing can take place.
Don’t take my word for it. Grab a copy of the GAPS diet book by Dr. Natasha, get to reading and planning, and give the GAPS diet a try.
Have you tried GAPS before? Ready to give it a try? Share below!