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Our family last fall! Photo by Amy Garrett Photography

As I’ve mentioned on the blog a couple times, we’re now going grain-free/GAPS.  If you’ve been around awhile, then you know this isn’t the first time we’ve done this.  We did this a year ago, too, when Rebekah was really struggling.  I felt that the diet was the best chance for her.  And, indeed, if you’ve seen my update, then you know she started talking soon after we did it!

Last year in April, I was finally getting really into Nourishing Traditions and things like raw milk, sprouting grains, etc.  I noted that we were able to tolerate the grains when sprouted and frankly, I was tired of being “different.”  We’d been on special diets for about 9 months by that time (dairy-free, gluten-free, then grain-free, also nut-free and legume-free most of the time) and I needed a break.  Plus, when I picked up the carton of coconut milk at the store, and saw “evaporated cane juice, guar gum,” and a bunch of other non-food ingredients, I thought, “What is really better for us?  This processed stuff, or fresh raw milk?”  Ultimately I decided raw milk was the answer, and, indeed, the kids did better on it than on no dairy at all!  (Which is why the kids and I are sticking with GAPS-legal hard cheeses, butter, and cultured dairy and not giving it up entirely.)

That’s where we were.  And for the most part, it worked.  Every now and then (usually when we’d eaten out or something), I’d see the kids show minor allergy signs — a slight eczema flare, tantrums, night waking, diaper rash, etc.  But it was temporary and not enough for me to think, ‘we need a change.’  Except of course to not eat industrial food, which definitely causes problems!

Ben was struggling, though, more than any of us.  He’s had athlete’s foot for years now, and nothing (drug or natural) has touched it.  He was better when we were off grains and dairy and eating a lot of coconut oil before, but we didn’t do enough to heal it.  He has other signs of systemic yeast, too.  But we were managing even with that until right around Thanksgiving.

At that point, everything happened at once.  I got pregnant, the holidays hit, we lost our massage coverage at the chiropractor.  All of this meant that I wasn’t cooking much, I wasn’t brewing our kombucha, we were eating out more, we weren’t getting the massages anymore….  Once Ben lost all of these health habits we’d had, his situation quickly took a turn for the worse.  He was always exhausted, he was sick all the time again, his yeast flared.  Basically everything he ate made him sick.  He was sore all the time –  back, knees, shoulders.  We figured we just needed to get back on track with our usual health measures and he’d be fine.

And in early January, when I felt better and the craziness subsided, we were able to do that.  Back to more whole foods, starting to get kombucha again, etc.  And he was better.  More energy, not sick so often.  But his yeast persisted and he was still sore.  I felt at a loss, but didn’t want to attack anything.  It had been in my head since early fall that GAPS was going to be the answer for all of us but I didn’t want to do it.  It’s not easy, especially the first time.

Then we got the stomach flu last week.  It hit home then.  We are nothing if we don’t have health.  And band-aids and temporary fixes are not really what we’re looking for.  We want to fix this now so that we can enjoy life, not just hope we have a good day!  We decided to change our priorities.  We increased our grocery budget a bit (this week will be an experiment to see how much I really need to pull this off) and bought the items in our first aid kit that we needed but hadn’t had.

So here we are! 

Now, why would anyone want to go grain-free or do GAPS?  What is that going to do?

  • The sugars in the grains (all carbs break down to sugar) feed yeast/candida in the body, making it grow out of control.
  • Grains (because they break down to sugar) can cause your blood sugar to spike and drop, even whole grains.  This can eventually cause a pre-diabetic condition.  It can also cause weight gain, mood swings, depression, tax your adrenals and pancreas, and a whole lot more.
  • Grains are hard to digest; contrary to popular belief, lots of fiber is not good for your digestive system!
  • Eliminating grains allows your system a “rest”
  • It also eliminates most of the yeast’s food (I have read that since candida should occur in the body, just not to the degree it is for many people, you don’t want to starve it completely.  If it cannot find some food, it will be driven deeper into your body in search of food, and that’s the opposite of what you want.  This is why fruits and carb-heavy vegetables, like carrots, are allowed).
  • Fermented foods are added in to help the body regain the proper balance of good/bad bacteria
  • The gut can actually heal, leading to weight loss, stabilized blood sugar and mood, balanced hormones, and reversal/improvement on autism and other conditions in which gut damage is heavily involved.

Sounds awesome, huh?

I thought I’d bring a couple quick issues to light, in case you’re just researching this diet, and other anti-candida or healing diets out there, and have some questions about this one.

Why are some carb-heavy foods eliminated, but not others?  Why is fruit allowed?

Fruit is a “simple sugar,” while grains are complex.  That means grains need extra digestion to be broken down into a form the body can use.  Fruit doesn’t, so it’s easier on the system.  That’s the main reason why it’s allowed.  Also, fruit comes with lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.  Plus, as mentioned above, we don’t want to completely starve the yeast, because it should be there, just in its proper proportion.  That said, people who react poorly to fruit may choose to cut it out for awhile, or limit themselves to only low-sugar fruits, like lemons, berries, and certain melons.

Why does this diet not eliminate mushrooms, fermented foods, etc. like many candida diets?

These foods do not feed yeast.  They are types of fungus or bacteria/yeast (a different type of yeast) and in certain cases, people who react poorly to candida could react poorly to these.  But this is estimated at occurring at 1 in 1000 people.  For most, having sources of good bacteria are absolutely necessary to bring the candida back into proper balance.  Go slow when you start these foods, though, because they can cause lots of unpleasant side effects (gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, mood swings).  Just a teaspoon or so a day is enough at first, build up your tolerance slowly!

Why does this diet eliminate most dairy, while SCD and other diets don’t?

Casein is a complex protein that can cause problems in a lot of sensitive individuals.  It’s best eliminated at first to allow the body to rest.

Can I be a vegetarian/vegan and do this diet?

No.  There is no way to do that.  Animal fats and bone broth are the keys to healing the gut.  The gelatin in the bone broth is very soothing and the animal fats also help to soothe the gut, as well as replace lost vitamins and minerals.  While it’s possible to choose coconut oil frequently, it is not possible to avoid animal products.  Vitamins A, B, D, E, K and others are all missing from plant foods, and are not absorbed without fat (except B, which is water-soluble, but still found heavily in animal foods)!

What if I don’t really have any specific symptoms?  What if I am just struggling to lose weight, have mood swings, etc. but no food allergies or anything?  Can this diet help me?

Yes!  Almost everyone in this country has some problems with yeast, and often food sensitivities they don’t even know about.  It will improve your health.  In fact, I was sure my son didn’t have any issues, but taking him off grains has helped him.

Isn’t this diet really hard, and really expensive?

Okay, it’s not easy and it’s not cheap.  I won’t lie.  But it’s easier than living on dozens of prescription medication and feeling terrible all the time.  There is still a lot you can eat, especially on full GAPS.  You’ll also discover new foods that you like!  Recently I sauteed mushrooms, onions, and some chicken breast and topped it with some tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.  Totally GAPS-legal, yummy, and satisfying.  And not too expensive, either (and easy!).

As for cost, it depends.  You can do it a lot cheaper than you think.  Lots of cheap bone broth and soups and less actual meat, for example.  Fermenting foods at home instead of buying them.  Skipping probiotic supplements (as we are) in favor of fermented foods.  Sticking to chicken/beef instead of fish or other more expensive foods.  Choosing cheap produce (apples, carrots, lettuce, etc.).  It can be done!

Do you have any other questions about GAPS, either in general or about our experience?  Please ask!


This is the writings of:

Kate is wife to Ben and mommy to Bekah (5), Daniel (4), Jacob (2), and Nathan (born March 2013). She is passionate about God, health, and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and a book entitled A Practical Guide to Children's Health. When she's not blogging, she's in the kitchen, sewing, or homeschooling her children. You can also find her as a contributor at Keeper of the Home.

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26 Comments

  1. Do you use coconut flour to make grain free breads? Or any other substitutes?

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  2. Thanks so much for your posting on GAPS. I've been doing Full GAPS for about two weeks now and find that I'm eating a lot of fruit and eggs. Also noticing a weird skin rash on my daughter (she had this before I took wheat out of my diet)…..wondering if it is die of symptoms or another food allergy for her. Do you find you guys eat a lot of fruit? Any thoughts on how much one should consume? The GAPS book doesn't really put limits, but i'm afraid I might be over doing it. Thanks and hope you guys are back to feeling normal soon!

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  3. Sally,

    I will occasionally bake with coconut flour or almond flour, but my daughter isn't tolerating almond flour very well, unfortunately. I *try* not to do it more than a few times a week for one meal/day. Mostly I am going to try to do fruit, vegetables, nuts (for those who can), and jerky for snacks!

    Alison,

    It may be just that her system has not cleared the allergens yet, 2 weeks is not long enough for many. A month or two will help you to see real changes. As for fruit, if you have yeast issues, it's not a good idea to eat too much. We've chosen mostly low-sugar fruits, and are trying to vary it with lots of soups, salads, jerky (as soon as my husband gets back with our whole cow I'll be make a ton of jerky!), pickles and other fermented foods, etc. It's easy to focus too much on fruit. You could make a dip out of white beans (navy beans are legal) and dip celery or carrot sticks into it. Or, if you can, bacon-cheddar dip for veggies. Slices of cheese or crispy nuts. A lot of it requires a little extra prep, but you can do it upfront and have it around for later. I'll be exploring more about "what do you EAT?" in the upcoming weeks!

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  4. So interesting that you are posting on this…seems the GAP diet is showing up a lot recently for me personally. I have been leaning towards similar ideas for two reasons: I'm trying to reverse some tooth decay and also trying to heal from 'inflammation of the mucosa' and hemrhoids after the birth of my son. We mostly follow the Weston A. Price/Nourishing Traditions philosophy with some occasional drifting, but I'm feeling the need to get serious about healing the issues in my body. The first time I'd heard about GAPS was only a couple weeks ago, and so I'm wondering if there are rsources you would recommend.

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  5. Heidi,

    There are lots of great resources! First, I'd get the GAPS book itself. Also, you can join the Yahoo GAPS group (it is a very active list). http://www.gapsdiet.com has a lot of good info too. There are several blogs out there that have GAPS recipes, I mention a few in my 'resources' section. There's a GAPS Guide out too, but I don't have that book. Definitely get into a support group online though, you will need to ask questions and gain information as you go!

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  6. Are potatoes allowed? If so what ways do you cook them?

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  7. Do you find it necessary to have the GAPS diet book on hand? It is so expensive…

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  8. I feel that GAPS (or a similar grain-free diet) would be beneficial to our family as my two children deal with food allergies (I've gone so far as to eliminate milk, eggs, soy, and wheat from my diet for my breastfed daughter's sake- and actually found that after I eliminated wheat, I felt much better- I'd have a lot of aches/pains, and just felt a lot of inflammation all over). My son has an allergy to milk and egg whites. I'm fairly convinced that I probably have leaky gut on some level that caused both my children's food/environmental allergies. Anyway, so my challenge with this diet is two-fold: First with the allergies- it's heavy on eggs and in the full gaps it's a lot of milk/cheese, and secondly, my son is terribly picky. (My daughter will eat anything you put in front of her, but I'm not about to give her eggs or milk if she reacts to them when I eat it). So…what would you recommend for me and others that have issues like this? How do you present the GAPS diet to a picky preschooler? (And I do understand that the picky-ness can be caused by an imbalance in the gut). What do you think?

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  9. have you tried colostrum? either in raw form, or in supplement form. i started taking a colostrum/probiotic supplement for candida and it was pretty incredible. i had a seriously intense die off reaction, so start out very gradually and drink a ton of water, but that combined with a no sugar diet was all that i needed to get rid of the systemic yeast. i had recurrent yeast infections as well as AWFUL ringworm, the same fungus that causes athlete's foot.

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  10. I am so glad you posted this. We are talking about starting a grain-free diet soon. DH is overweight, dd has been having tantrums and not sleeping well, and I have depression. Is there a website with the basics of this diet or do you have to get the book? I have no idea where to even begin. I am pregnant so a little worried about the affects on pregnancy,

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  11. Hi there! I'm currently about 11 weeks pregnant and also breast feeding my youngest. Do you feel that you eat enough on the GAPS diet to support a healthy pregnancy? And healthy milk production? I've been toying with the idea of doing the diet for some time now and think it would greatly help my family's over all health but am just wondering if I could eat enough. I already struggle to gain weight as it is- and we eat a usually very healthy diet. Also, is the diet a lifelong choice or is it more of a 'clean out the gut and get it in super tip top shape- then add back in a few things' diet? I believe that the Weston A Price/Nourishing Traditions diet is healthy and nourishing, so ideally I'd like to get back to a diet like that. When I picture my family sitting down for a meal, I see a healthy, nourishing, slow food kind of meal with the aroma of home made bread filling the home. :) I definitely want to make some sort of change right now though- this first trimester has been tough (this baby with be my third in three years) and we haven't been eating the foods we normally do eat, and I'm feeling awful. I know it's not just the pregnancy hormones- I think the food is wearing on me. Thanks for a great post!!

    Reply

  12. While dietary changes are necessary to help control the Candida, for external fungal infections you can always turn to tea tree oil! it works wonders and quickly too! it can be used straight or with a carrier oil such as almond or olive oil. It helps with athletes foot and nail infections, or any external fungal/bacterial infection. * Not to be used internally. I Hope this helps.

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  13. Thanks for posting this! I've been considering GAPS and this information is very helpful. I have ongoing eczema and my husband has athlete's foot. We've also been battling weight gain and anxiety/ depression / mood swings for the past few months. I've noticed a definite correlation between our diet and our symptoms.

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  14. Thanks for the post. GAPS is definitely hard and requires a huge time commitment, but it's so so worth it!
    I've been on it since April 2010 and can't believe the amount of healing that's still taking place. I recently went on the intro and the die-off is immense even after 10 months on the full diet.
    I just started a blog and posted my story if you want to read it.
    @Alison- your daughter is probably experiencing die-off, which can come and go a lot in the first weeks and months. It's a good thing, keep it up! For me, it really took about two months before I started feeling really good and the die-off subsided a lot.

    Kate

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  15. Kate- thanks so much for your comment, I wasn't sure if she could experience die off too….but i guess so. its either that or i take another high allergen out of our diet (eggs or nuts) which I am clinging to….i woke up with some acne today so i'm pretty convinced its die off….glad to know it comes and goes though. If I might ask, why did you go back on intro after being on the full diet? i'm on full bc I'm nursing, hoping i won't have to go to intro after being on full for awhile! I'm enjoying the support group started on this one post! :)

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  16. Alison,
    How old is your daughter? Acne can def be die-off, I tend to get a lot of skin things going on with it.
    Since I'm breastfeeding I never did intro, just full. I'm still breastfeeding but at 19 months my DD isn't nursing as much, and I had some stubborn issues I couldn't address on full. I also figure that I've been slowly detoxing over the past year and the toxic load in my milk isn't nearly what it would have been at the beginning.
    My daughter is doing great and actually loves all the soups.

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  17. Kate, my daughter is 11 mo. old and is breastfeeding quite frequently. I've been easing into the GAPS diet over the past 4-6 months (not by choice, but forced to because of food allergies in my daughter) and have just finally put us on it since the last allergy was wheat, decided to take out all grains. I can say that the die off symptoms have increased greatly just by doing this (and took out natural sweeteners at the same time). So I'm hoping they won't last as long for us, I think I was having mild die off symptoms for awhile and they just escalated when I went to full GAPS….our systems are very out of whack, I was on TONS of antibiotics during pregnancy and way too many medications before that. Thanks so much for your help!!

    Reply

  18. DM,

    Try http://www.gapsdiet.com. That will give you a basic outline. The book is worth it if you can get it, because there's just so much more indepth information. But you will understand what is allowed/not allowed and have many questions answered from that website. I believe it is a healthy diet in pregnancy, I'll be talking about why soon!

    Jessica,

    Yes, I think grain-free is healthy in pregnancy. What nutrients are in grains that are not in other foods? Also, GAPS is actually NOT a low-carb diet, contrary to popular belief. Squash, carrots, fruits, and other vegetables are quite high in carbs. So, the source of carbs is different, but you're definitely getting them. As for all other nutrients, they are definitely present in other foods. Your only concern would be eating enough, which can be hard on GAPS. This weekend I'll be writing about some practical tips on going grain-free that will help, hopefully! Also, yes, GAPS is temporary. It is recommended to be on it 6 months – 2 years, depending on the severity of symptoms. But it is not forever. Especially after the first time, or in the absence of serious health problems (autoimmune conditions, autism, etc.), a few months may be enough. And then, yes, back to NT!

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  19. We have been doing GAPS on-and-off for about 9 months now. I sympathize with your journey! I think we've finally got it down now NO cheating…

    Really interesting post. I was hoping you could tell me your reference to: "(I have read that since candida should occur in the body, just not to the degree it is for many people, you don't want to starve it completely. If it cannot find some food, it will be driven deeper into your body in search of food, and that's the opposite of what you want. This is why fruits and carb-heavy vegetables, like carrots, are allowed)…"

    Did you read that in the GAPS book or guide? Mind giving a page number? I have been struggling with knowing what to do about fruit. My 4 yr. old has severe eczema and seems to not tolerate fruit – perhaps 2-3 bites every 2-3 days. I wonder what going deeper into the body would look like in her case and if this has happened.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    -Michelle

    Reply

  20. Fascinating. I've been on a grain-free, dairy free diet for a while now, and I can't tell you what a difference it's made for me. I saw an earlier post about reactions still occurring after two weeks of trying the GAPs diet, and let me reiterate, 2 weeks is definitely not long enough. I started noticing a difference after 3 weeks of being grain/dairy free, but I didn't notice completely results until almost 6 weeks of being on the diet. So stick with it, it works!

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  21. I think we may need to try this…mostly for my husband's benefit. We've discovered that he has an allergy/food sensitivity to nightshade family foods (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, etc); eliminating these has helped a ton but he still feels that something isn't right. Our budget is very tight right now and doesn't appear to be getting any better anytime soon, so I don't know if we can afford this. My husband doesn't like soup or fermented foods or cooked veggies — we eat lots of beans, eggs, whole grains, fruits and veggies now but eliminating grains would be TOUGH. Thanks for the tips and encouragement — we will probably end up trying this eventually but I don't know if we are there yet — will probably have to go full GAPS first.

    Reply

  22. Hello, first time on site and just window shopping. The first thing that stuck in my head was that you were trying to eat the way God intended and live in line with the Bible. Then I saw this page. Oh my goodness, would God’s people have ever survived without grains? So I guess, without trying to sound argumentative, I don’t get it. Having said that, I do believe we all have to eat what works for our overall health. For example, my sister is not technically allergic to gluten which was confirmed by testing and biopsy. However, her health is much improved when eating gluten free. So I am not trying to be offensive, I just wonder how you go from eating in line with God’s plan, His Word to eating grain free. And as stated, I am just looking over the site, I have not read in detail. I am sure you explain all of this somewhere, I just haven’t read it.

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    • Hi Kaye, eating grain-free is only temporary, in order to heal the gut. This is an old post and yes, we eat grains again. We recommend preparing grains properly (as described, to some extent, in Ezekial 4:9), and consuming them in moderation, as with anything else.

      Reply

  23. Hi, I recently came across this site, and find the GAPS diet interesting (and maybe a saving grace?). I have had stomach issues all my life, and my oldest child seems to be following suit. My youngest son has multiple food allergies. I am still breastfeeding him (he is 2) but he is allergic to beef, pork, soy, eggs, dairy, wheat, and nuts. So I was curious if I would be able to do the GAPS diet without being able to do the beef, or eggs, or dairy. I am currently not eating any of these items right now because he is still nursing. I seem to always have that constant stomach ache, and when I have what seem to be flare ups it is miserable. I have been to so many doctors, and GI’s and ran the tests, and they give me a pill which seems to only mask the symptoms not fix the problem. They said I have chronic inflammation of my stomach, and that it is functioning gastritis. Which I beg to differ when my stomach hurts so bad all I want to do is lay on the couch and not move. That is not functioning if you ask me. :) We also seem to catch the stomach flu way more than what is normal. We eat very healthy, I cook every meal because of the food allergies. No processed foods. I just feel so lost. I know this is an old post, but if you do read this I would love any and all input. Thanks.

    Reply

    • Hi Leslie, well — GAPS would be difficult. But it is possible. There is a group on Yahoo called “GAPS Help” and there are a number of people in that group who have severe allergies to one or more of the foods you mentioned. They do it. It just requires a lot of creativity! It would start with a lot of chicken-based bone broth and soups and you wouldn’t progress to later stages of the diet until he was able to introduce other meats or eggs without reaction. It would be very slow progress. But, it might be better than just dealing with his allergies forever! You should do a lot of probiotic foods as well — water kefir, fermented pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha — these are all free of the allergens you mention. Good luck with it!

      Reply

  24. “Vitamins A, B, D, E, K and others are all missing from plant foods”

    this statement is bogus. please do more research!

    Reply

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