What is GAPS? How does the GAPS gut-healing protocol differ from the traditional food diet? What are the similarities? What are the differences? Does my family need GAPS or will traditional foods heal? How do we make the switch from one diet to the other?
I can't tell you how often I get asked these questions. So I asked my good friend Melanie Christner, GAPS practitioner and teacher of the online GAPS Class, to fill in the blanks for us.
Melanie, take it away! –Wardee
Melanie Explains: Traditional Foods and GAPS
The Traditional Foods Movement has been an impressive agent of change in thousands of people’s lives.
No longer do we need to be helpless in the hands of industry, ignorant of what our ancestors ate, and buying what Big Ag considers “food”. We can stop being the only species on the planet that does not eat what they are genetically designed to eat.
Out of this traditional foods movement have come many heroes, and many “branches” of real food eating. WAPF, Paleo, Primal, GAPS, AIP, Grain-Free, etc.
Sometimes it can be confusing… what are the differences? And what is right for your family?
Start with real food, and continue on from there.
I focus this article on the differences and similarities between the Traditional Foods diet (I reference the WAPF for this) and the GAPS Protocol. I feel the GAPS Protocol is helpful for those who have been eating WAPF for a while, but find they need something more to undo the damage done by Western diet and medicine.
First let's outline what GAPS and WAPF diets are.
What is GAPS?
GAPS stands for the Gut And Psychology Syndrome, and it's a protocol developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. It makes a connection between the health of the digestive tract (permeability, balance of microbes, inflammation, etc.) and the health of the nervous system and the rest of the body.
It is a three part protocol which includes:
- Therapeutic diet
- Detoxification therapies
The GAPS diet focuses on healing and sealing the gut lining by removing all food stressors for an extended time, and treating with traditional foods such as therapeutic bone broths, and helping the gut microbes rebalance with fermented foods and probiotics. Supplementation is not heavy, but important. Detoxification therapies are a key part of the protocol.
Typically one who is serious about the GAPS Protocol goes through the six stage Introduction Diet first (usually 3 to 4 weeks) and then moves on to the Full GAPS Diet for 18 months to 2 years, which allows the body to gradually and safely rebalance and replenish nutrient stores while detoxifying and repairing damage.
What is WAPF?
WAPF stands for the Weston A. Price Foundation. To quote, “A foundation that is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charity founded in 1999 to disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, whose studies of isolated non-industrialized peoples established the parameters of human health and determined the optimum characteristics of human diets. Dr. Price’s research demonstrated that humans achieve perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats”.
To quote the WAPF dietary guidelines:
- Eat whole, natural foods.
- Eat only foods that will spoil, but eat them before they do.
- Eat naturally-raised meat including fish, seafood, poultry, beef, lamb, game, organ meats and eggs.
- Eat whole, naturally-produced milk products from pasture-fed cows, preferably raw and/or fermented, such as whole yogurt, cultured butter, whole cheeses and fresh and sour cream.
- Use only traditional fats and oils including butter and other animal fats, extra virgin olive oil, expeller expressed sesame and flax oil and the tropical oils—coconut and palm.
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic, in salads and soups, or lightly steamed.
- Use whole grains and nuts that have been prepared by soaking, sprouting or sour leavening to neutralize phytic acid and other anti-nutrients.
- Include enzyme-enhanced lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages and condiments in your diet on a regular basis.
- Prepare homemade meat stocks from the bones of chicken, beef, lamb or fish and use liberally in soups and sauces.
- Use herb teas and coffee substitutes in moderation.
- Use filtered water for cooking and drinking.
- Use unrefined Celtic sea salt and a variety of herbs and spices for food interest and appetite stimulation.
- Make your own salad dressing using raw vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and expeller expressed flax oil.
- Use natural sweeteners in moderation, such as raw honey, maple syrup, dehydrated cane sugar juice and stevia powder.
- Use only unpasteurized wine or beer in strict moderation with meals.
- Cook only in stainless steel, cast iron, glass or good quality enamel.
- Use only natural supplements.
- Get plenty of sleep, exercise and natural light.
- Think positive thoughts and minimize stress.
- Practice forgiveness.
There are significant overlaps between GAPS and WAPF.
- Both GAPS and WAPF incorporate bone broths.
- Both include fermented foods in daily life, preferably with each meal.
- Both put an emphasis on the source of foods: i.e. grass-fed meats and organ meats, pastured eggs, raw grass-fed dairy, organic (preferably local) fruits and vegetables.
- Both put a strong emphasis on nutrient dense and healthy fats, especially fats from grass-fed animals, traditional fish oils; cold pressed coconut oil, palm oil, virgin olive oil.
- Both emphasize fat soluble vitamins, and those that are easily absorbed — from animal sources. Special focus on Vitamins A, D, and K.
- Both encourage the consumption of cholesterol rich foods (like caviar, cod liver oil, egg yolks, butter, and fish)
- Both include dairy, as tolerated, but GAPS handles dairy in a specific way (see below in differences)
- Both put an emphasis on how food is prepared: for WAPF this is properly prepared nuts, seeds, legumes and grains, as well as not eating foods and oils that have been processed by industrial means. For GAPS this means different cooking methods for the Introduction phase, how nuts and certain legumes are prepared, and not eating foods and oils processed by industrial means.
- Both exclude refined sugars, and refined vegetable oils.
- Both exclude or very carefully limit soy (WAPF only allows for properly fermented miso, tempeh, natto, etc. while GAPS excludes entirely)
- Both are full of nourishing, real foods.
As there are overlaps, so there are some key differences.
GAPS is meant to end after a certain length of time (generally 18 to 24 months), returning to a full WAPF style diet (or Paleo, or Primal).
WAPF is a lifestyle choice, so its meant to be long term.
Broth and meat stock:
GAPS includes therapeutic doses of bone broth, as well as a gentle low-histamine and low-glutamine “meat stock” for a 30 day period during the Introduction Diet. At least 1 to 2 cups a day.
WAPF includes bone broth, and encourages its regular consumption, but not a particular therapeutic amount. For those with a compromised gut (and likely a compromised blood-brain barrier), long cooked bone broth can pose a glutamic acid issue until healing has taken place.
GAPS includes a specific supplemental protocol as well as a detoxification component.
WAPF is diet only, with an emphasis on natural supplements, if taken.
GAPS is specific to more intensive help with issues such as digestive issues, autism, ADD, eczema, headaches and migraines, skin issues, autoimmune conditions, allergies, etc. (More info: gaps.me)
WAPF does not specifically head and seal the digestive tract, which is vitally important for nutrient absorption and stopping the flow of toxins to the bloodstream and the rest of the body. Many people begin to feel better, though!
Adaptability for a family:
GAPS has a slightly steeper learning curve, with an intensive Introduction Diet component, followed by the Full GAPS diet. It’s not quite as simple as saying you are “gluten free”, but is generally adaptable to normal family life and social situations.
WAPF can include a learning curve, but once cooking skills are in place, can be adaptable to normal family life and social situations.
GAPS aligns more closely to Paleo/Primal with its exclusion of hard to digest grains.
WAPF includes grains, with proper preparation.
Problematic food groups:
GAPS is a digestive and nervous system healing protocol, excluding food groups for a time that are problematic for the digestive system and nervous system. Some of the problematic food groups are difficult to digest sugars and fibers and starches.
WAPF is foods in their real forms, properly prepared, not necessarily excluding any problematic food groups.
Savory vs. sweet:
GAPS emphasizes savory foods as being 85% of the diet — meats, broths, eggs, vegetables, fats and only 15% of the diet being fruit, honey and GAPS baked goods.
WAPF doesn’t make a particular distinction for savory vs. sweet.
How to Move from WAPF to GAPS
If you feel your health would benefit from the more targeted healing aspects of the GAPS diet, here's a quick summary of how to move from Traditional Foods to GAPS.
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips
- Legumes, except for: soaked/fermented lentils, Navy beans, lima beans, and split peas
- Thickeners and emulsifiers (like carrageenan, guar gum, arrowroot, etc.)
- Sweeteners, except for honey and fruit
- Certain dairy (see this helpful article)
- Meats w/ additives
- Chocolate (cocoa is okay when some healing has taken place)
- Therapeutic amounts of meat stock or bone broth, 1 to 2 cups a day minimum.
- Fermented foods to every meal.
- Lots of vegetables, in easily digested forms such as boiled and juiced.
- Lots of animal fats. The more, the faster the healing.
- Nut and coconut flours for baking (as tolerated).
- Supplements: Fermented cod liver oil, essential fatty acid/fish oil, therapeutic strength probiotics, HCl and digestive enzymes as needed.
- Detoxification therapies: Detox baths, juicing, sauna, skin brushing, and enemas (if needed).
It's Up to Us
Many of us (unknowingly) have neglected time honored traditions for several generations, and we’re experiencing the negative effects of poor gut health. It is up to us to take our healing and our genetic inheritance back into our own hands, and leave it better for the next generation.
If you are interested in taking your health to the next step and have considered GAPS, I invite you to check out the GAPS Class. GAPS Class is a place to walk through the GAPS Protocol with 10 step-by-step modules (plus 2 bonus modules), family friendly worksheets, and weekly support from both a GAPS Practitioner and the GAPS Class community.
Thanks, Melanie! I'm thankful each time you open up your class because I know you're helping so many make that oh-so-important transition that much easier. —Wardee
Everyone, please share in the comments your experiences with GAPS and/or Traditional Foods. If you switched from one to the other (or back again), how did you know it was time to make the switch? What has either diet done for your family? What tips would you give others?
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