The GAPS Diet

admin March 14, 2010

The GAPS diet.  I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but haven’t gone into any great detail about what it is, why we’re doing it, or anything else.  A LOT of bloggers are now doing it, hoping to do it, or have previously done it, including Donielle at Naturally Knocked Up, Stephanie at Keeper of the Home, and Kelly at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.  You can visit all their blogs for their perspectives on the diet, and some good GAPS-friendly recipes.

What is the GAPS Diet?

The GAPS diet stands for “Gut and Psychology Syndrome,” and is so named because there is a gut-brain connection.  That is, if the gut (intestines) is not working right, it can cause all kinds of symptoms in the brain and other parts of the body.  The GAPS diet was created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who used it to heal her son from autism.  While this is controversial, the diet has done miracles for MANY kids on the spectrum.  It is supposed to cure or help ADD, ADHD, autism, allergies, and many other conditions children suffer from (and adults!).  The diet is based on one created in the mid-1900s called “SCD,” or “Specific Carbohydrate Diet.”  The only difference is that GAPS removes casein from the diet too, while SCD doesn’t.

We’re doing this diet because of Bekah’s allergies.  We have seen many, many different doctors and tried many different things and so far, nothing has really helped her.  The biggest help has been what I’ve done at home, in figuring out what she’s allergic to and helping her avoid it.  I also believe it’s best to try to heal through food/nutrition whenever possible, and not through any unusual therapies (which can be anything from standard drugs to homeopathy to accupuncture, all of which we’ve tried to some extent!).  The body is meant to heal itself; we just have to provide it with the optimal environment to heal.

In reading Dr. Campbell-McBride’s book, I’ve learned why people have allergies and other issues.  They have so-called “leaky gut” syndrome, where their bodies are populated with the wrong type of bacteria.  We all have approximately 2 lbs. of gut flora.  We should have S. Boulardii, Lactobaccillus, E. Coli (yes really), and others; but most people’s gut flora has shifted so there is too few of these and too much candida, streptoccocus, and other “opportunistic” gut flora.

These ‘bad’ bacteria make us sick in many different ways.  They make us vulnerable to acute infections like colds, flu, etc., but they also affect the way our food is digested and absorbed.  The gut walls can be missing patches of bacteria because the good guys are so reduced, and partially digested food can be absorbed through the gut into the bloodstream too soon, where the body doesn’t recognize it and produces an allergic reaction to it.  The bad bacteria also produce their own symptoms — fatigue, anemia, thyroid issues, vitamin deficiencies, etc.  B12 deficiency (which Bekah has) is common.  It all has to do with the fact that the gut flora are not digesting and absorbing the nutrients from the food properly.

So, the goal is to fix the gut flora.  There are many diets out there that are “supposed” to fix this, like the yeast-free diet.  But the problem is it only temporarily corrects the problem, and as soon as you go off the diet, the yeasts start growing again and symptoms get worse.  (In the book, Dr. Campbell-McBride goes through several popular diets and why they don’t quite work.)

How Do You Do GAPS?

In GAPS (if you looked at the website, it probably seems overwhelming to you — and it is, at first.  I had to read it several times over a period of months before I felt I got the gist and could really pull it off), the idea is to remove all the foods that are hard on the gut, and eat a lot of the foods that will heal the gut.  The foods that will hurt the gut are: all disaccharides (any form of sugar except honey, all grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes), and dairy products (except ghee, which is pure milk fat and does not contain any lactose or casein).

The foods that will heal the gut are: homemade meat stock, raw egg yolks, meat, marrow (from stock bones), animal fats.  Most fruits and vegetables are permissible (there are a few vegetables that need to be avoided because they are mucus-producing, like okra).

The diet focuses on animal products: lots of fresh, homemade meat stock (made by simmering bones with a little meat in water and adding some sea salt and other plain spices if desired), soups made with well-cooked veggies, meats, and the stock; raw egg yolks; probiotic foods (fermented pickles or other veggies, kombucha, kefir, etc.); and meat/veggie dishes.  Fruit and honey can be eaten as snacks or with tea.  Later, ground nuts are introduced to make breads and pancakes.

There are MANY great recipe blogs out there, and with a few substitutions, one doesn’t have to be deprived at all.  Coconut milk can be used instead of regular milk, coconut flour and nut flours can be used in baking, honey instead of sugar.  The diet does really require home cooking but that’s not a horrible sacrifice.  Most people are already cooking at home anyway because of their various dietary restrictions.  You can get several great recipes in my cookbook, Against the Grain.

What Do You Eat?

What do we eat everyday?  Soup for one or two meals, eggs with bacon (you can cook the eggs however you like, even though the egg yolks are best raw or soft-boiled; we scramble them), apples and carrot sticks for snacks.  I make a “salad” with chicken cooked in coconut oil, various greens, and fresh salsa for snacks too.  Soups are the biggest thing, though.  We try to drink broth with every meal if we don’t have soup.  (We mix a little freshly pressed juice into Bekah’s to get her to drink it.)

Ben drinks water kefir and I drink kombucha everyday too (I tried it 6 months ago and it tastes sort of like vinegar, sort of like alcohol, bitter, strange at first.  I hated it.  Then I tried it again two weeks ago and liked it…and kept drinking it…and now I’m OBSESSED WITH IT!!  I crave it!  But it has a lot of great bacteria in it so I’m supposed to drink it, and it really just tastes like soda to me now, without the artificial aftertaste.  It is carbonated.  Yummy!).  Find out how to make it in this video!

Already, Daniel is tolerating the ghee well (through my milk, not directly).  He used to scream if I ate even a little butter.  We believe that by keeping him exclusively breastfed while I healed (we’ve been dairy-free over 7 months, gluten-free for 6, and grain-free for 2 before starting GAPS), he may just escape all these allergies.  We’ve started to give him small tastes of homemade stock and some of the veggies cooked in it, which he LOVES and seems to tolerate well.

All the recipes I’ll be posting will be either GAPS-friendly or easily modified to be GAPS-friendly in the future.  It’s so hard when you first start, but once you find some good resources it’s not so bad.  I recently discovered Grain Free Foodie and I love it!  So many awesome recipes, it’s like we’re “normal” again.  I’ve tried a couple, they were good.

Do you have questions about the GAPS diet?  Think that it could help you or your family?  Does it sound crazy?

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  1. Interesting to hear your reaction to kombucha. I plan on trying it soon and I’ll make sure to give it a second try if I don’t like it the first time!

    Looking forward to reading your posts and seeing some GAPS recipes. Good luck!


  2. I can’t see us doing this right now since we are progressing with our most recent diet changes. I will be reading up on this though and I completely agree with the benefits of eating gut-healing foods. We have been eating a lot of soup lately and it’s something Liea loves which is wonderful!

    Super baby steps… my next project will be Kefir.

    You’re amazing Kate! Keep it up!


  3. Wow – this is a great blog! I have just started the Introduction diet of the GAPS diet and I am a little (OK a lot) hungry. I am on day two of stage one and will enter stage two tomorrow. My only problem with this part of the diet is I find that I am constantly hungry. My stomach is growling all the time. I know that once I get to the part where I can have more variety including ghee, coconut oil and flour, all will be well. Any tips for getting through the introduction stage? I’d like to put my oldest daughter on the diet as she is such a picky eater. But I fear that she will never have the soup. She is that picky!


  4. I've been eyeing the GAPS diet for a while since I've been having some leaky gut issues, but have seen several places the into diet should not be done while breast feeding, and I am doing so almost exclusively w/ my 9 mo. old. Do you do anything different since you BF?
    I learned from a stool test that I have almost no good bacteria in my gut, and also am host to Ascaris roundworm parasites, which have been causing my leaky gut….so I'm dealing with several different issues, the root of which appears to be minimal good bacteria – so this diet intrigues me.


  5. Hi Sarah,

    You can do GAPS while breastfeeding, but it needs to be "full GAPS," not intro. You can go back and do intro (which will really jumpstart healing) once your baby is eating more solids. The problem is that if you detox too fast, you will dump the "junk" into your breastmilk. But, as long as you're moving slowly, your baby will actually get the good bacteria from you as you do GAPS. I'd recommend getting the GAPS book so you can read about it thoroughly.


  6. A friend of mine linked this to me, and I'm very grateful. It sounds like something that just might work for us. I have various rashes that get worse with eating processed foods, my youngest son has excema pretty near all over, and my oldest is very sensitive and very distracted (I think they are going to be tempted to test him for ADHD…. >:| ) My baby girl isn't showing any allergies, or anything yet (she's only 1) but raising her on this diet might not do her poorly. Now just to research research research until summer and see if we can pull it off….


  7. Do the grains get added back in at some point?


  8. Just the blog I was looking for! Actually,no, I was looking for ANYTHING against the GAPS diet – just to check. But I've put my whole family on GAPS for the last 3 months, we are doing well, but I need to expand my probiotic/fermented foods. Please post how you make kombucha and water kefir – how does it taste?

    Check my blog for coconut milk yogurt if you're not making it yet.


  9. What are signs of a food sensitivity? My son has trouble sleeping, but I can’t seem to figure out the problem. People have told me to consider allergies, but he has no symptoms other than difficulty sleeping. He gets exclusively breast milk and formula. I mostly assume it’s related to his brain damage and cerebral palsy, but if it is something I can control I’d like to do whatever I can. However we are mostly vegetarian and I’m not sure how we would survive without grains.


  10. So if you have a candida overgrowth problem and you start the GAPS diet which includes honey and fruit (these feed the yeast) how does that work out? Doesn’t that make the candida problem worse, or is this the first step to healing the gut and then you attack the other problem?


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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