Wardee: Please welcome Cara from the Health, Home and Happiness blog! She’s here to share with you about the GAPS diet. Ironically, she and I discussed her guest post awhile back. While she was writing her post, I read the GAPS book and was floored. Then I read her post and was amazed how she put into words my impression of its value!
Most of us here believe and experience the gut-healing benefits of transitioning from the Standard American Diet to a traditional diet. Still there are occasions when a more strict gut-healing diet would help a great deal. I’ll let Cara take over now… Be sure to comment below with any thoughts or questions!
At Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS you all are familiar with the healing, health-giving benefits of whole, traditionally prepared foods. I’m here today to talk about a solution for problems that might continue to persist, despite a diet full of sourdough bread, raw dairy, fermented vegetables, and even the daily spoonful of fermented cod liver oil!
If you have stubborn health issues that still aren’t clearing up, anything from mental health problems to persistent eczema to digestive upset, you may be interested in learning about this specific gut-healing diet.
What Is The GAPS Diet?
My daughter Hannah has been on the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet for over a year and a half for autism.
The GAPS diet is a temporary diet (3 months to years depending on how you respond) that focuses on foods that are very easy to digest. The foods allowed on GAPS are actually so easy to digest that they are digested far up in the bowel, allowing the lower portion of the gut to rest and starve off pathogens like bad bacteria and yeast overgrowth. The diet also focuses on healing foods like bone broth, fermented vegetables, and soothing yogurt, which give the body the nutrients it needs to build up a strong gut wall, all while it introduces friendly microorganisms to keep the inner ecosystem in balance.
The GAPS protocol is a very strict diet that eliminates all grains, refined sugars, and starches. It is based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, with healing cultured foods and a focus on bone broth added in. The author, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, designed the diet to heal her own son who had autism.
Why We Started GAPS
We saw great progress… and then regression… on the gluten-free, casein-free diet for autism. I had seen such hope for my 3-year-old daughter, only to have her regress back into autism despite strict adherence to the gluten-free, casein-free diet, that I knew there must be some dietary solution out there. So we started GAPS in November of 2009. Because GAPS is more restrictive, especially the Introductory portion of the GAPS diet, I elected to go on it with her to make sure I felt okay with such a limited selection of foods.
Not only did I feel okay on the GAPS diet, but it reversed my dairy allergy in just a couple months! My skin was clear, my digestion was good, and best of all, my daughter was no longer regressing further into autism but rather was starting to learn and make progress again!
Why Wouldn’t A Traditional Diet Be Good Enough?
There are many factors in modern life that can be detrimental to gut health. And when our digestive tract is leaky and/or lined with pathogenic bacteria, health problems start to surface including:
- Poor digestion. Without a good inner ecology nutrients aren’t able to be taken from foods. With a damaged gut wall, food particles are let into the blood stream before they have had a chance to digest correctly.
- Mental health issues. Pathogenic organisms that have taken over our gut actually can give off chemicals that act like drugs to our brains
- Toxicity issues. Skin rashes are often from the body trying to eliminate toxins any way possible. Another job of the gut is to detoxify the body, when the gut is damaged the detoxification process is disrupted as well.
Though antibiotics can be fantastic lifesaving drugs, they are really disruptive to the ecosystem in our bodies. Other things have disrupted this as well, including birth control pills, environmental toxins, and the lack of cultured foods in everyone’s diet. Even if a child had been raised on the Nourishing Traditions style of eating, they may have inherited poor gut flora from their mother during the trip down the birth canal. Read more about this in my post on the Gut/Brain Connection.
What Can I Eat On GAPS?
You can eat the following foods. More specifics are in the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Book.
- Bone broth
- Ripe Fruit
- Some legumes
- Nuts and Seeds
- Cultured dairy like yogurt and kefir and cheese, which has been cultured to remove nearly all the lactose
Though I found this overwhelming at first, I knew I had to continue the diet because my daughter was making such great progress on it. But coming up with grain- and starch-free foods every day was difficult for me. After a year of learning about grain-free cooking, I created the Grain-Free Meal Plan for the GAPS Diet, and I recently made an eBook for the GAPS Introduction Diet, to give meal suggestions and recipes. I know that these would have been a great help to me as I started the GAPS diet with my family, so I hope they can help others in the same situation to find healing through food!
What is your experience with the GAPS diet? Please share! How has it helped you? What particular challenges did you face implementing it? If you’re considering following it, are you facing any obstacles?
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Our family has been in the throes of researching this for the past few months. I’ve been cooking NT style for a few years, yet my youngest son started demonstrating progressively worse symptoms of a leaky gut. Come to discover my oldest son also has gut issues…and I am now convinced it is ME: the mama, who has passed on an unhealthy gut.
I believe one problem for us is that while I was preparing our grains “properly” ie soaked, we were eating too much of them AND not *enough* fermented foods. It’s easy to simply replace the SAD diet comfort/junk/convenience foods with healthified versions…when what is required is *healing* foods. Just a thought from our experience.
Cara and Wardee – y’all are two of my favorite bloggers : )
After reading this post, I am really interested in the GAPS diet, so I am going to get the book. I just have one question — Can you do it while nursing?
Yes, you can do the full diet when nursing. If nursing a little baby, it’s advised to wait until the baby is eating mostly solids to do Intro 🙂
Hi there! I was excited to see you post Cara’s article on GAPS. I, too, have implemented GAPS for our family and I just wrote a post about GAPS at my new blog; you can read it at http://radicallynatural.blogspot.com/2011/06/gaps-in-my-thinkingor-how-your-gut-is.html
I’m going to be posting in the next couple weeks about our personal experiences on Intro and the healing we’ve already seen. I have severe allergies and my kids are really sensitive, too, so I’m quite excited about the changes already taking place!
If you don’t mind, I’d love to encourage Courtney, who asked about nursing. I am still nursing my toddler and doing Intro quite successfully. I can make recommendations about nursing and GAPS and would be happy to do so if you’re interested!
Also, to Amanda, my experience and research has led me to believe that so many of us who have tried to live a real foods lifestyle can’t achieve wellness until we address the gut dysbiosis. I see GAPS as a “pre-NT” healing protocol. I’m sure there are so many people who need this and don’t even realize it! I talked about that a bit and so many other things in the article I just posted on GAPS. Don’t be discouraged…it’s so good when we realize how we can be healed! And you are right on…fermented foods need to be more a part of our diets and grains far less. I wish you well!
Wardee, I love your site and have followed it for years and recommended it to many friends. I’ve also listed your site as one of my favorites on my blog.
Keep up the good work! Blessings, Gabi
Thank you for the nursing encouragement! I’ve been looking into doing GAPS and I feel it will help my family. However I’m still nursing my 15 month old and my 3.5 year old, and they both nurse quite a bit. Some days it seems my eldest nurses more that my youngest! I’m also trying to build myself up for another pregnancy since I’ve just recently come off of veganism. Is that too much of a strain on my body to continue nursing and do GAPS?
Another question I’m going to post here so I don’t have to reply further on, how expensive is it to follow this diet? I’m used to my food budget being $100-$130/month when our family was vegan. How much would I have to increase my budget to do this? I live near Portland, OR.
Sorry for the scatter-brained-ness of this, I’m having a really hard time thinking today. Thanks for any replies!
I started GAPS last fall but by mid December fell off the wagon so to speak. I was seeing good results slowly. My time and attention was diverted to help dad take care of my mom who has severe dementia. I was no longer able to spend the time necessary in the kitchen even though I had figured out some time savers like cooking my broth overnight in the crockpot so I could wake up and quickly prepare my soup for the day.
I just would encourage those who are considering starting the diet but are thinking on holding off because of summer getaways they have planned. I was able to stay on the intro part of the diet even while our family traveled by preparing my food ahead of time. I made my broths and froze them in jars. I boiled different veggies and meats separately. It was during a really hot spell so I ate my meat and veggies cold like a salad and my broth I would warm in a small crockpot and placed it in a thermos to keep it warm (not hot) until I was ready to drink it. It did not take long to warm my broth in the morning while we got ready for the day. I was able to clean and put away the crockpot before we left our room.
My family was not on the diet so I just carried a jar of meat and veggies into delis or restaurants and ate my food. I did not feel left out because I was feeling so much better. No cravings for what they were eating because my body was finally feeling nourished and satisfied. No one gave me a hard time bringing food into eateries.
Life is finally settling down a little again so I have been really eager to get back on track. I have been eating mostly GAPS legal foods lately but it is not the same deep healing as going through the intro. part properly again since so much time has lapsed for me. Hopefully, as my family sees the changes in my health they will want to jump on board too. We all have issues that need to be addressed and some are more eager than others to tackle them.
Thank you for posting this as it was just the nudge I needed. I have carrots and cabbage just waiting to be lacto-fermented ~ I am off to go get shredding……
Kelly Smith via Facebook says
wonderful post! Cara is an amazing and inspiring woman! 🙂
Thank you for this informative article Cara. I’ve ordered the book and am doing as much reading as I can about the GAPS Diet as it’s captured my attention. There’s so much to think about as I began my transition to a traditional foods diet almost 3 years ago now. Now I make my own yogurt, Kefir, am brewing my first batch of kombucha now, and am harvesting cabbage from the garden today and am going to ferment it in a crock. As with anything this life changing transition takes baby steps and it’s so helpful to read articles like yours to encourage me. Thank you for the information and the inspiration. I’ll look at your other articles and the e-book as well 🙂
Emily McLeran says
Interesting article. I’ve had yeast/candida problems for 4 years at least. I have a baby who is 6 months old and when I was pregnant with her I thought I was going to go crazy, it got so bad. My midwife didn’t think I should do any major eating changes because of being pregnant. After she was born my yeast got so bad it was coming out in huge red patches under my arms. It was really awful. So now reading this article I guess I started on the GAPS diet without knowing it. I was doing the diet Jordon Rubin recommends in “The Makers Diet.” Kind of same thing. By doing that and drinking 1-2 quarts of kefir a day it’s a lot better. I quit it though, because I don’t like the food so just eat barely enough to keep going and then would have nothing for my baby who is still nursing. Also another problem I encountered that I’d like to know how you other GAPS dieters deal with is the hunger. Not cravings. Just hungry, hungry, hungry all the time. Vegetables and meat just don’t fill me up! Maybe if I wasn’t nursing I wouldn’t be so hungry all the time? I don’t know. Lost about 10 lbs. too. Didn’t think I had 10 lbs. to loose!
Wardee, love your site! So exciting when I see GNOWFGLINS in my inbox!
Emily, my daughter and I were SO hungry the first 2 months on the GAPS diet! I had done The Maker’s Diet after my son was born as well, and I found it really hard to be low carb while hard-core breastfeeding (my babies both didn’t really eat solids until a year old) – the first stage of the Maker’s diet is pretty low carb as is the GAPS intro. (I get yeast coming out my armpits on Intro too- but for me it’s temporary and only lasts about a week)
Hello. I have been suffering with candida and Leakey gut for years. Just wondering how your doing and your experience with GAPS.
After 14 years of digestive problems and tons of medical bills and drugs to control the symptoms of IBS/SIBO, I had decided to begin GAPS to hopefully heal my very damaged gut lining.
I had set a start date for after our vacation in July, but my health deteriorated so rapidly over the past few days that I made the decision to plunge into Intro yesterday. I didn’t feel prepared; there were lots of things on my “get-ready-for-GAPS” to do list that were not done, but I had been on the full GAPS diet for about 11 days to get a feel for what this would be like and so I started.
Cara, your article couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m sitting here feeling very tired and bloated, and I actually dreamed about bread last night. If there were any doubts about whether this is what I should be doing, your words were just what I needed to confirm my decision.
I’m chronicling my GAPS journey on my blog. Perhaps someone else dealing with chronic digestive issues will read it one day and find the same hope that I found when I read yours.
I’m so glad to encourage you! And I love that you’re a RN and doing GAPS 🙂
This is the diet that everyone should consider, because like Cara said, “it introduces friendly microorganisms to keep the inner ecosystem in balance,” which is very beneficial for optimal health!
Progressive Pioneer via Facebook says
Perfect timing for us:) Thanks!
Carrie Smyth says
Thank you so much for sharing this. It was an answer to prayer for me, as our family has been trying to follow GAPS as closely as possible for almost two months, but with many modifications due to financial and time constraints. I am encouraged to press on and work to keep our diet as close to full GAPS as possible. Already, my husband’s chronic sinus issues that he has dealt with for most of his life have almost gone away.
Having not read the GAPS book (I’m waiting for her new book to be available), I was wondering if small amounts of sourdough bread would hinder the healing process very much. Nuts and coconut flour for baking are more than we can afford right now and we have so many grains just sitting in buckets that I have been including small amounts of sourdough bakes goods in our diet (and having just gone through the GNOWFGLINS e-courses, who wouldn’t be excited about sourdough!?). What are your thoughts on modifications to the GAPS diet for those with minor health issues?
Thanks again Wardee and Cara for sharing. I have learned so much from both of you.
Her new book is actually out, it came out in November I think. Unless you’re waiting for Gut and Physiology Syndrome, I’m not sure when that one will be out. Sourdough does actually interfere with the healing process quite a bit.
The GAPS and SCD diets both eliminate all complex carbohydrate because it is digested lower in the gut, which means that it is in there long enough that it ‘feeds the bad guys’. Including lots of cultured foods and bone broth and healthy fats is very beneficial though it’s missing the ‘starve the bad guys until they’re gone’ aspect of GAPS and SCD.
I hope that helps!
Carrie Smyth says
Thank you Cara! Yes, this does help.
So, if I understand it right, we want to starve the “bad guys” that live lower in the gut by consuming only things that are digested easily and quickly, all while boosting the “good guy” numbers through probiotics/probiotic foods and beverages. All complex carbohydrates, no matter how they are prepared, end up feeding the “bad guys” and prolonging complete healing.
I so look forward to reading Gut And Physiology Syndrome if I can just hold out until it’s finished. I have been tempted to get the new Gut and Psychology Syndrome, but since our family deals more with physiological issues, I’m trying hard to wait. I think I can . . . I think I can . . .
Thanks again for taking the time to answer my question.
Have a joyful day,
We have 3 children (all of which are on the autism spectrum) and when I begin to go over the last 10 years, I realize just how back and forth so many of my attempts at healing have been. I think I’ve done everything under the sun except GAPS. So, after reading this I am encouraged to attempt this as well.
The funny thing is, I have actually gained weight after attempting all these diets and I am beginning to wonder if I have issues yet resolved myself. Or it could be the obvious, kids health before mommy’s 😉
Anyway, I just wanted to let you know what an encouragement you have been for me today. After trying a new diet every 2 years, I am beginning to have hope again that this one will show results. We also have had tremendous gains with specific diets and then plateaued. Autism has definitely become my life it seems!
Have a blessed day!
Hi Michele, that is great news! What a good mama you are! I would encourage you to try the GAPS Intro, even if it’s just for a week, that’s what I have seen the most encouraging results with. It’s easier to keep with a diet when I see huge results 😉
I see you are moving to Arizona. We are in Phoenix and maybe we can meet someday! I am already a subscriber to your grain-free menu and thank you!! If you need any help with food resources when you get here let me know 🙂
I’d love to! We’re moving to Mesa. It looks like there is a good amount of WAP minded people down there, I can’t wait to meet everyone!
Olivia Oster says
Interesting! It sounds a lot like the diet I posted (reposted) about today.
Hi, I love your website! Thanks for all the lovely and inspiring blogs. I was really excited to start on the SCD or GAPS diet for my highly allergic 1.5 year old son when I first heard of it. However, I didn’t dare to when I found that it was mostly nut and bean based as my son is particularly allergic to nuts and beans! He’s also allergic to dairy (casein) and chicken. Do you think he can try the GAPsS diet given his allergies?
Appreciate your thoughts.
Since he has so many allergies, you might want to put him through the introduction diet (using beef and fish broth rather than chicken) to see if some of them clear up 🙂
What a timely post! Thank you!
My husband had his gall bladder out after a series of puzzling sicknesses that included debilitating digestive trouble. Turns out the gall bladder wasn’t causing any trouble and he misses it dearly. And he’s still having digestive troubles every day – I cant remember the last day I didn’t hear ‘I never want to eat again’. He’s finally ready to consider non-western-medication options and of course something like GAPS did occur to me, but my hesitation has been that he basically can’t eat meat right now because it makes him sick.
Obviously you’re not a medical doctor 😉 but have you any suggestions for someone who is missing a (rather important) digestive organ and thus has trouble with fatty / rich foods? GAPS still worth a try? are there modifications available somewhere? book I should look at?
I greatly appreciate you sharing your knowledge.
I’m not sure if Dr. Natasha has said anything about people without gall bladders but I’d think it wouldn’t be possible to digest that amount of fat? The Body Ecology Diet is similar, but lower in fat and animal products and may be worth looking into.
There is an article on the WAP website that talks about people without gall bladders and digesting fat. You can still digest fat without a gall bladder as you are still producing bile, you just don’t have the gall bladder to store it anymore. If you go to http://www.westonaprice.org and search “gall bladder” you’ll find the article – sorry I don’t have the exact reference!
If you have no gallbladder you have to take bile salts with every meal. Standard Process has them and most natural foods stores do also, in the digestive enzyme section.
I’m excited to check out your book 30 days on the GAPS Intro. I’d been reading about this mysterious GAPS diet in Wise Traditions put out by WAPF and how it had helped people heal. Also, a year ago my sister-in-law began an elimination diet for low functioning adrenals (no corn, gluten, dairy, sugar, commercial vegetable oils) and her health dramatically improved.
My mom has been suffering from acid reflux, depression/bi-polar, sleep problems, and fibromyalgia for years. I bought the GAPS book and knew this was the diet for her…and then realized it’s the diet for most of my family, and this friend over here, and that friend over there… In fact, I was telling a couple of friends about what I was learning, and they encouraged me to start a class so they could learn more, and I did!
One week for the class I showed a video of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride talking about gut issues and the psychological/social/physical problems that come from an unhealthy gut flora population, and everyone who watched it was floored and said “This is me!”
My mom started the Full GAPS diet about 9 months ago and the change has been dramatic. But we still haven’t done the intro diet and it shows. If she eats one or two raisins, which are allowed on the diet, she will wake up aching the next day, so we know deeper healing is needed. We’ve been stuck on what to eat on the intro…even though we’ve read through Baden Lashkov’s book and I’ve read and re-read The Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I think you’re book is just what we’ve needed!
There’s a new billboard up in town. It’s advertising a Crohn’s Awareness Walk Benefit in memory of…and there’s a picture of a teenager. Oh I wish it was a Crohn’s Is Reversible Through Diet Awareness Walk and NO ONE NEEDS TO DIE FROM IT! I’m so passionate about the GAPS diet that I bought a box of books and have been giving them away whenever I see the need.
I’m so glad you’re able to help spread the word about GAPS. The Fundamentals eCourse has really helped me cement my learning about real food and was instrumental in being able to even contemplate doing GAPS with my mom. The emphasis on pastured meats and bone broths and ferments would have been overwhelming had I not already learned so much from your course. Thank you!
Thanks for this Cara, Wardee, and all who’ve commented. I have been thinking this is the way I need to go, even after WAPF/NT diet for 1&1/2 years. I have been fighting allergies and sinus issues all spring, & been sick since late May (cold, cough that hung on, now sinus infection/bronchial issues). I just need the “courage” to go through with getting started with it and seeing it through (not perfectly, perhaps, but as Cara mentioned, the first week gives lots of positive reinforcement, which I’m so glad to hear). This article & comments is helping me inch that much closer, and all very encouraging (defined as inspiring with courage!).
Thanks so much & God bless.
Do you think the intro diet and/or the GAPS diet is safe while pregnant? I “read” through most of the previous posts, and I don’t think I saw that question yet. Sorry if this is doubling up 🙂
Yes, you can do GAPS while pregnant. Overall the full GAPS diet is not that much different from the WAPF diet for pregnant women. Rather than grains you can get carbs from other sources to keep your energy up.
We tried the Intro diet last fall for a week and completely flopped. I know for sure we both need it (especially me) but I just haven’t had the courage to try again. I was detoxing so badly during that week (even though I was doing detox baths every night) that I just couldn’t function anymore – I was mostly bedridden and after a couple of days I just lost my appetite and couldn’t stomach anything. I wasn’t able to move past stage 1, because each time I tried introducing anything I was bedridden the next day. It took a long time after that for me to be able to even think about broth without feeling sick. I think it was just too much for my body to start with the intro, so next time I try (I’m working on it – we’re primarily grain free but cheat a lot) I think I’ll do full GAPS for a while before attempting Intro again, to let my body start healing a little bit before delving into major healing. Thanks for this article, it was very encouraging!
This diet has been a tremendously help and may have helped to save my life! My body was suffering from years of antibiotic use for constant infections(sinus, bladder, respiratory,ear…)and problems from multiple food allergies. I began having symptoms of leaky gut syndrome and new food allergies began to develop. I was so sick that I could hardly get out of bed to do the simplest of task. I was depressed and had constant abdominal cramps. I was blessed to receive information concerning foods that can be an irritate for the intestines in some people and discovered that I was consuming those foods on a daily bases. In addition to that I learned about this diet. It may seem very limiting at first but I began to feel relief from the constant abdominal pain I had previously experienced. After feeling so bad for so long this gave me all the encouragement I needed to continue following the diet. Along the way I noticed that I experienced some discomfort when drinking or eating fruits that were not cultured/fermented. I incorporated a Candida elimination diet along with this diet(no fruits, sugar, artificial sweeteners – even the healthy ones, honey). I added more cultured/fermented foods and a high potency pro biotic suggested especially for the Candida elimination diet. I also added some natural anti fungal and antibacterial oils such as extra virgin coconut oil, grapefruit seed extract and oregano oil. I rotated the use of each of the oils. I am strictly following this diet and I feel awesome! I did experience all of the detox symptoms but I was able to stick with the program. I just made adjustments to help me such as decreasing the dosage of pro biotic or sometimes I need to increase it. Same for the other products I was using. I greatly increased my intake of Spring Water to help with the detox. I also learned that getting some exposure to direct sunlight on a daily bases greatly helped me. I feel like myself again! No more depression! My thinking is clear, I use to feel like I was in fog and constantly trying to focus just to complete a thought. I have regained my energy, no more stomach cramps, and I have not had one infection or even a headache since the initial detox phase. It is amazing how the body is capable of healing itself when given the right environment to do so. I truly believe that we are all individuals and not any one diet is right for every single person. Adjustments are sometimes needed for each person. This is what has worked for me and I am so grateful!!!
Florine Hamilton says
I was depressed and had constant abdominal cramps. My mom started the Full GAPS diet about 9 months ago and the change has been dramatic. Also another problem I encountered that I’d like to know how you other GAPS dieters deal with is the hunger.
My family has been on the GAPS diet now for about 3 months and though there are ups and downs, I am very grateful for finding this protocol. As for the hunger, increasing the amount of healthy fats really helped curb the hunger. For instance, add a good tbsp of butter, ghee, or coconut oil to your cup of broth and that should hopefully help.
God bless all on this amazing journey 🙂
I am suffering from my gallbladder not working right. I can’t eat anything with fat. I have all the symptoms and my Doc has told me we can remove it but my husband and I would like to know we have tried all we can to avoid removing it. I was wondering if Gaps has info on how it can help the Gallbladder? Thanks
Wardee Harmon says
Here’s info in the GAPS FAQs for gallbladder:
Check out the sections for Gallstones and Liver.
Wardee, thanks for posting this again. I have been preparing to start GAPS Intro with my whole family, but I am terrified! I had almost talked myself out of it this morning when I ran across this post. I am so afraid that I won’t be able to stick to it and do more damage instead. Sigh, I feel better about it now. I have Cara’s 30 day Intro book, so I should be fine. I wish I liked vegetables. The kraut us almost more than I can deal with mentally.
My daughter has had diarrhea type stools for past few months. I’ve given her probiotics everyday for two weeks and it’s not working. There’s also undigested foods in her stool. She’s three years old. Would the gaps diet help her stool go back to normal? She has a genetic disorder called Hyperphe and can only have a limited protein intake everyday. Would that elimination along with gaps diet be too much for her and basicky be like starving her or would it help her?
Lisa Alexander Sanders via Facebook says
I just got my copy of the book!
If anyone is looking at GAPS during the coronavirus. It’s better to stay within the diet. Don’t sweat that you may not be able to get organic. And that you may not be able to buy soup bones just up your fermented foods