GAPS Diet to Heal the Leaky Gut and Improve the Microbiome
Today, I am sharing my experience about GAPS nutritional diet. GAPS is a powerful detox diet for addressing leaky gut issues. Leaky guts or intestinal permeability condition has been discussed in the medical literature for over 100 years. The intestinal epithelium houses gut microbiota, millions of microbes living in a symbiotic relationship with each other and with the human body. Intestinal epithelial cells have tight junctions and form a strong barrier separating the body from outside world. When these tight junctions and the balance of gut microbiota are compromised, they will channel the passage of toxins in the lumen of intestine to enter the blood stream creating havoc in the body and increasing the chance of developing chronic and autoimmune disorders, in children and adults such as autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, depression, schizophrenia, etc.
In 2015, my family and I started GAPS nutritional protocol aiming to fix our leaky guts and to reduce my children’s asthma/allergy symptoms, frequent eczema, and constant complaint of joint pain and tummy aches. After two intense years on this nutritional protocol, all the mentioned symptoms were diminished. Before we started GAPS, I asked our asthma/allergist about it. He discouraged me saying that it’s a waste of time and money, as diet has nothing to do with asthma. The boys allergy symptoms have reduced but not completely gone; however, their asthma is completely non-existence. I used to have to fill their costly Asthma prescription on a monthly basis.
What is GAPS Diet?
Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, a neurosurgeon and nutritionist in England developed the GAPS nutritional protocol in 1998. GAPS is a gut-healing protocol and it stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome and it evolved from Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Dr. Natasha believes that all diseases start in the gut, and by healing the gut, digestive, neurological, autoimmune disorders and many more health issues will be alleviated.
What foods are eliminated on the GAPS Diet?
All inflammatory foods such as grains, starches, processed sugar, artificial food colorings/additives, preservatives, refined vegetable oils and any processed/packaged foods are eliminated.
What foods are allowed on the GAPS Diet?
Homemade meat stock, non-starchy vegetables, grass-fed meat and wild fish/seafood, lots of healthy animal fats, organ meats, fermented dairy and fermented vegetables are the core principles of the diet. Raw honey and dried fruits can be used in small amounts as sweeteners. Dr. Natasha recommends organic non-GMO fruits and vegetables and organic grass-fed meat whenever possible, but it is not critical if it is either too difficult to find or too pricey for the family’s budget.
What stages are there to the GAPS Diet?
There are three parts to GAPS Diet: the Introduction Diet , the Full GAPS Diet, and Coming off the GAPS Diet.
The Introduction Diet has six stages and takes about 6 weeks to complete; however, it might take much longer depending on the person’s state of health.
The GAPS Diet takes two years or more depending on the condition(s) being treated.
Coming off the GAPS Diet should be gradual, introducing new foods every 3-5 days. Under no condition, the patient should ever go back to the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Where do I start?
People with severe digestive issues should start with the Introduction Diet. Otherwise, the Full GAPS Diet is a good start for most others; especially if one is overwhelmed by the diet and the amount of work involved.
Recommended Supplements on the GAPS Diet
For the first 6 months on the diet, Dr Natasha recommends taking a good strength probiotics such as Bio-Kult brand, Plant-based essential Fatty Acids such as YES brand, a good cod liver oil such as Nordic Naturals brand, and if needed digestive enzymes such as Panplex 2-phase by Integrative Therapeutics, vitamin and mineral supplements such as Thorne Basic Nutrients and Concentrace Mineral Drop from TraceMinerals.
It’s important to note that the GAPS nutritional protocol is not only a diet, but a way of life. While we change our diet and heal our guts, there are additional things we can do to support our bodies. Therefore, we recommend some of the following lifestyle changes as well.
- For a gentle detox, Epsom-salt baths three times a week and daily vegetable juicing are recommended by Dr Natasha.
- To reduce the general toxic load, household cleaning agents and personal care products should be checked carefully. Only truly natural products are allowed. A good source to find clean natural products is “wellnessmama.com” and Dr. Natasha’s website. We also love making our own products using essential oils!
- Indoor plants such as Aloe Vera are recommended in the house to reduce the air toxic load.
- We developed a “no shoe” policy inside the house, as this is a major culprit in bringing in outside toxins indoor.
- We also air the inside of the house everyday by leaving all windows open during the day. People don’t realize that indoor air quality is much worse than outdoor air quality! A good air purifier such as Honeywell is a great addition to any house.
- To reduce the toxic load, do not buy new furniture while on GAPS diet and do not remodel your house.
- To reduce the toxicity of the electromagnetic field radiation, we replaced our cordless phone with a corded one, turned off the Wi-Fi box at night, and used Ethernet hard wires when possible during the day. We also changed all of our energy-efficient light bulbs with the traditional LED ones. There is a lot more that can be done to protect yourself from the dangerous effects of EMF radiation. For more information on this subject, please visit ww.theelectricsense.com.
Can you be a vegetarian on GAPS? How do you deal with food cravings?
GAPS recommends a list of food that can be tailored to each individual’s taste and preference. A vegetarian individual can easily do GAPS diet. I, myself, prefer a vegetarian diet to meat diet and I have been able to successfully stay on the GAPS Diet for almost two years. So, the GAPS Diet is not necessarily a high protein, a high fat, or low carbohydrate diet. Dr. Natasha believes that a person’s body will dictate which food to consume on a daily basis and at a given time, so there is no limit in the amount of food to eat and the individual is free to choose among GAPS-allowed items for whatever their body craves to eat on each day. For example, one can choose to eat salad every day for as long as he/she wishes for.
Who will benefit from the GAPS Diet?
Anyone with digestive, autoimmune, and neurological disorders will benefit from the GAPS Diet along with those who have weight issues, asthma/allergies, diabetes, thyroid disorders and skin disorders (e.g., eczema, acne). However, keep in mind that GAPS is only a piece of the puzzle in solving the chronic disorders and is not the answer to everything. It’s a good starting point, but you do need many other interventions to get full recovery.
How do you do GAPS on a budget?
While Dr. Natasha recommends organic food whenever possible, this is not an absolute “must”. If you are struggling with finances, buy your groceries from wherever your budget allows. You will still benefit from the healing power of GAPS Diet that way. Alternatively, Farmer’s Markets are great places to find non-certified organic fruits and vegetables at cheaper prices with higher nutrient contents.
When we started the GAPS diet, our grocery bill went through the roof, so we had to start looking into more affordable alternatives. Here are a few farms that we visited where we liked their practices and their prices were reasonable. We usually rotate among our farmers to ensure we get a variety of nutrients based on the animal feed and the health of the soil.
- Chickens, ducks, eggs from La Bahn Ranch, Temecula, CA
- Beef meat, Sugar-free organ meat sausages, bones/feet from 5BarBeef, Silverado, CA
- Bison, yak, goat, rabbit and lamb from BuyRanchDirect, Greenville, CA
- Pork, goose, turkey, and other birds and eggs from Da-Le Ranch, Perris, CA
- Sugar-free sausages from Primal Pasture, Murrieta, CA
- Organic vegetables from Menos Farms, Riverside, CA
- Organic fruits from www.fruitlady.com
Trader Joe’s and Sprouts are also great stores for clean foods at reasonable prices. Thrive Market sells a lot of the same foods as Mother’s, Sprouts and Whole Foods online at a fraction of the price. Vitacost.com is a good place to buy your nutritional supplements at a discounted price.
How we started our GAPS journey
Before we started on the GAPS Diet, I decided that we were going to start on a particular day. We started ours on Valentine’s Day 2015 in the name of love. Even though the end date of GAPS Diet is very individualized depending on the person and his/her state of health, I also decided to give my family an end date. Dr. Natasha recommends staying on the diet for at least one and half year to two years after the start of Full GAPS diet. Our finish date was set two years from the start of the Introductory GAPS Diet. I figured that even if we had to continue GAPS beyond that point, we could continue keeping our home GAPS-legal while allowing the kids to participate in social aspect of eating with friends so they did not feel left out.
The day before starting the diet, we cleaned out our cupboards and the entire house from any un-allowed GAPS items. Our refrigerator was almost completely empty when we were done. There was some meat and some vegetables and that’s all. A week before starting the GAPS Diet and throughout the time we were on the diet, we visualized succeeding and achieving our goal, which was improving or alleviating the children’s asthma symptoms and reducing the extremely high IgE levels in their blood screening test.
How we overcame obstacles
There were times when we thought that we couldn’t possibly continue. There were many times when my family got tired of it and I was exhausted from having to cook and clean constantly. Although Dr. Natasha discourages eating out during the first stages of the diet, I would say take a quick break if you need to! It is okay to go out for a meal even when you are at the beginning stages. Just remember which stage you are on your GAPS journey. Only order the allowed items. To be on the safe side, ask the server for grilled meat and steamed vegetables without any sauce and any vegetable oil.
How to succeed on the GAPS Diet
Visualization techniques are a powerful tool at your disposal for not giving up. Visualize the finish line when you have reached your goal. Talk about the foods you miss and your cravings. We would talk about how much we missed chocolate croissants, but then we would remind ourselves that we can have it after we are done with the diet. That’s why I decided to set a finish date for us; so we had a goal we could mark and see on a calendar.
How to come off the GAPS Diet
When you feel you are healed and ready to come off the GAPS Diet, it is recommended to start introducing un-allowed items one at a time and then wait 3-5 days, before introducing something new. Do not introduce more than one item at a time. Wheat and other gluten should be the last items to be introduced. We introduced Einkorn wheat first for a few months before introducing modern wheat. In both cases, sprouted grains are soaked overnight in filtered water (an inexpensive reasonable whole-house water system can be purchased from Radiant Life. It’s carbon filter and removes floride, chlorine and chloramine, and VOCs) containing one tablespoon of whey or plain yogurt to facilitated the digestion of gluten.
How does the GAPS Diet compare to SCD, AIP or Paleo?
These diets are similar in many aspects and different in others. Let’s take a quick look at them. In general, all three diets promote eating real food and recommend grass-fed meat, wild caught fish/seafood, eggs, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and healthy fat. No grains, no gluten, no potatoes, no soy, no refined sugar and no processed foods are allowed.
GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome and while it’s very similar to SCD, GAPS is more of a lifestyle change than just a diet as it includes a detox and a nutritional supplement component as well. The staple foods in GAPS include lots of healthy animal fat, homemade meat stock and fermented dairy/vegetables. No corn and no soy are allowed. GAPS is less restrictive than SCD.
SCD stands for Specific Carbohydrate Diet and was developed by Dr. Sidney Haas from New York. SCD allows monosaccharides, which are single sugars that are absorbed easily. No processed sugars, no complex carbohydrates, no grains, no soy and no gluten are allowed, but some legumes, some cheese and home-made unsweetened yogurt, and refined oils are allowed.
AIP stands for the Autoimmune Protocol and it is an elimination diet. AIP, also known as the Paleo Approach, was developed by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne. AIP heals the immune system by reducing the inflammation in the intestines. It is recommended to work with a practitioner as some functional tests are required to determine each individual’s dietary needs and items to be eliminated are determined through lab tests. AIP phase 1, which could last anywhere from one month to one year, nuts, seeds, eggs, legumes, grains, sugars, nightshade vegetables and dairy products are not allowed. You are required to keep a diary of the changes in your health as you eliminate and re-introduce different foods.
Paleo, or the caveman diet, is our ancestral diet. It’s more restrictive than SCD and AIP. Some oils such as coconut, flax seed, olive, macadamia, avocado, and walnut are allowed. No dairy, and no legumes are allowed.