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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.
If you’re unsure, here’s How to Know When a Diet Is No Longer Right for You: Understanding Intuitive Eating & Your Body’s Needs.
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!
Discussion (57 Comments)
My daughter suffers from severe eczema and we just found out she has allergies to certain foods. She is 13 and I can’t help but think some of this is due to repeated damage to her body from eating the wrong foods. I also have an 11 yr old and a 4 yr old. I would like to try the GAPS for us all. However, now I wonder about some of these other intolerances showing up in the comments. It seems almost a little overwhelming. Then this week we go to the dentist and my 4 yr old has a cavity. So I look up how to heal it naturally on this blog. I know I shouldn’t expect immediate results and I don’t. We are on a pretty tight budget right now and the thought of natural foods including raw milks and such plus supplements seems a little overwhelming. Do you have any suggestions? I would really like to start a new path of eating in order to begin the healing process for us all. Thanks so much!
Hi Kim- I agree- it can all be overwhelming, especially at first and especially if you are trying to address multiple things. To keep it budget friendly, I’d try to make small changes at first like consuming homemade broth and fermented foods like sauerkraut (both of these are inexpensive if you make your own). In the winter especially it is easier to focus on soups and nutrient rich warm foods. I personally also always focus on the food first and only add in supplements if they fit the budget.
I struggle with some food allergies as well. Is Stevia allowed? I am already trying to reduce my intake of most unhealthy foods and get off sugar. Altough I have MTHFR as well, so I don’t know how much harder the diet would be. Definitely going to look into it though!
I’m a vegan. Aren’t there any vegan alternatives to the animal products in the GAPS diet?
I did GAPS for 6 months, starting with intro, and I paid a GAPS practitioner to guide me through it, so I know I did it right. It made me worse bc i didn’t know I have MTHFR, and that means I struggle to digest fats. GAPS is 40% fats. My list of safe foods got smaller and smaller until I could only eat poultry and veggies. The GAPS diet isn’t for everyone. I’m now being treated for MTHFR, and I can eat more and more foods.
I had a similar problem. I did GAPS for a year and didn’t see significant improvement until I discovered AIP a few years later. GAPS was actually high in foods I was sensitive to. Healing is a process, and can take a long time just to discover what works for your particular body. Good luck in your journey!
April how did you find out you MTHFR and how were you “treated”? Is there a general way to go about it hit everyone wether they have mthfr problems or not? Thanks!
I also have MTHFR. How are you being treated for it?
What type of MTHFR mutation do you have & how are you being treated for it?
I have a double mutation & have not found good information regarding treatment or how to live your best life with it.
so much info on MTHFR if looking in the right places.. discovering food sensitivities, cutting out any and all folic acid from your diet, getting levels tested for folate, active folate, by b12 and active b12, iron and homocysteine.
then treat accordingly to your body. definitely taking a mag supplement if affordable for you (malate or similar) and getting good nutrition. lots of colour.
I currently have the GAPS diet book and found it hard to follow and difficult to determine what I can eat, and when I can add new foods. Your article is helpful in this a bit but do you have a resource for finding a GAPS practioner in my area so I can get the assistance I require?
I use Real Plans meal planning. You can indicate which types of food you can/can’t eat, and it gives you a meal plan with a huge selection of recipes. It takes the guess work out of following your diet. We’ve been using this and it’s awesome (plus Wellness Mama recipes are on there also)
Thank you, I will look into this. Great tip.
CJ- google Jo Whitton from Quirky Cooking. Her GAPS resources are amazing!
Thanks Jules, I will be sure to check it out.
There are others who believe the doctor and her husband who invented the GAPS diet are quacks. They apparently do not have any documentation concerning their son’s diagnosis of autism nor his recovery except their own word. Also, from what I have read, no hard studies to back up their claims nor their multi-million dollar supplement business either. I ask because I was eager to share her GAPS book with my nephew in hopes it could help his son. Then I started reading up on her. Your thoughts?
I’ve seen the skeptics too, and I haven’t ever had the chance to interview Dr. Natasha personally so I don’t know for sure. I do know that it helped us tremendously when my son was reacting to dairy and had extreme eczema (he doesn’t have eczema now and can eat dairy without a reaction). I also do personally know people who were able to reverse autism symptoms with GAPS.
Katie, were you giving your son dairy while he was on GAPS although he was sensitive to it?
How much dairy is he eating now? Every day or only once in a while?
I took him off dairy for almost a year on GAPS before reintroducing and now he can handle it in any amounts, though we still don’t eat it very often.
Did you start with the intro portion or go to full-gaps for your son? I have super young children and am interested in starting them on GAPS but cannot imagine starting at the intro phase. What age did you start your son at also?
We did the intro with him but started with full for the rest of the family.
Is the GAPS diet something I could do with my 2 year old and myself without being under the supervision of a trained Gaps practioner?
I did it when my son was that age. It is helpful to have some baseline testing first though, but not necessary.
I have laryngopharyngeal reflux. Mostly a lot of throat clearing and periodic hoarseness. Sometimes a sore throat sensation. I didn’t even realize it until I was at the doctor and she asked me if I have to clear my throat a lot. I was on Zantac for a short time but weaned myself off with her permission and started trying apple cider vinegar. Symptoms seem a little worse since I did this. Trying Dgl licorice now. My husband and I are mostly vegan. I’d rather not do the gaps diet but may be willing to try. I have been trying to eat smaller more frequently but I work in a busy lab 8-5 and this is difficult. I eat oatmeal for breakfast. (Not the prepackaged kind) and avoid most processes foods. I would be curious if you think I should do the intense version of the gaps diet or try something else. Thanks for any feedback. I take a probiotic but usually just buy whatever is on sale. I am limited financially in what I can do with expensive supplements.
Usually, and I stress usually, it’s not a good idea to eat frequent small meals. Your digestive system needs a break. It cannot properly function if it’s constantly busy. Constantly eating can negatively affect blood sugar levels, since you would constantly add some sugar (most meals contain at least some carbs). I would suggest to gradually work towards 3 meals a day with at most a small snack in the afternoon. No eating after dinner.
There are of course exceptions, like specific medical conditions or pregnancy. But in the latter case, you would know that it’s just a temporary problem.
I believe the GAPS diet would be beneficial for my daughter with food allergies and asthma. Her diet is already restricted and her allergies include eggs, so I am wondering how difficult it would be to follow the protocol without eggs.
The gaps diet can be done without eggs, according to Dr. Natasha Campbell Mcbride’s GAPS book.
This is a little off topic, but you mentioned the issue of casein in dairy which can be problematic and difficult to digest. This is something I’ve wondered for a while but can’t find any information-what about raw dairy, especially raw milk? Is it still an issue?
My understanding is that the protein is different in raw milk and it changes when heated.
Milk from certain breeds of cow make the difference, as they produce mostly A2 beta-casein i.e. Guernsey cows. Most commercial milk has predominately A1 beta-casein.
“The 7 amino acid segment that is separated from A1 beta casein is known as beta-casomorphin-7, often abbreviated as BCM-7. BCM-7 is the real “devil” in A1 milk for a number of reasons. It is an exogenous (doesn’t naturally occur within the human body) opioid that interacts with the human digestive system, internal organs, and brainstem. While no direct causal relationships have been demonstrated between BCM-7 and these diseases due to a wide range of contributing factors for each illness, BCM-7 has been linked to type 1 diabetes, heart disease, autism, and other serious non-communicable diseases as well.”
Above excellent explanation is from this website, where the subject is explained in wonderful detail https://keithwoodford.wordpress.com/category/a1-and-a2-milk/
The link is broken or removed:( c3nsored maybe? Anywhere else to read up on it?