What is the GAPS Diet?

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet is more than just a dietary shift; it’s an exploration of the symbiotic relationship between our gut health and overall well-being.

When it comes to navigating the complex world of nutritional healing, few diets have sparked as much intrigue and debate as the Gut and Physiology/Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet.

Designed as a natural treatment for various digestive disorders and conditions with neurological implications, the GAPS diet is a fascinating exploration into the gut-brain connection.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into how the GAPS diet can correct nutritional deficiencies, support detoxification, and how you can practically implement it in your daily life.

What is the GAPS Diet?


At its core, the GAPS diet is a nutritional program that aims to rebalance the gut microbiome and thus improve overall health. 

The GAPS diet eliminates certain foods believed to irritate the gut or have low nutrient density such as processed foods and refined carbohydrates, which contribute to a myriad of health issues. 

The diet focuses on healing the gut lining through a nourishing protocol that includes homemade meat stock and bone broths, probiotic foods, and a gradual reintroduction of nutrient-dense foods. 

The goal is to restore the integrity of the gut flora and rebuild the gut barrier, which is pivotal in overall health and immunity.

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Who Created the GAPS Diet?

The GAPS diet was conceived by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride in 2004. Dr. Campbell-McBride, a neurologist and nutritionist, developed the program after working with her own child who had been diagnosed with autism.

By addressing gut health, she witnessed remarkable improvements in her child’s condition, which propelled her to share this approach with others struggling with similar gut-related neurological and psychological conditions.

She has written extensively about the protocol in her books: Gut and Psychology Syndrome and Gut and Physiology Syndrome.

The GAPS diet incorporates elements from the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) and adds further guidance.

What is the GAPS Diet Used For ?

If you’re wrestling with symptoms associated with poor gut health, such as chronic diarrhea or constipation, food intolerances, or autoimmune issues, the GAPS diet might be worth considering.

If you’re seeking to understand what is the GAPS diet used for, it’s helpful to note that at its root, the GAPS diet seeks to address increased intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut.

Who Should Consider Going on the GAPS Diet?

The GAPS diet is specifically tailored for individuals dealing with conditions such as autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, and schizophrenia, and sensory issues. This is because of the focus on rebalancing the gut microbiome.

Moreover, this diet is pivotal for those who suffer from chronic digestive ailments like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

However, with ever increasing numbers of other chronic conditions such as Lyme Disease, recurrent viral loads, mold toxicity, chronic fatigue, diabetes, chemical sensitivities and more, the holistic approach provided in the GAPS diet can be an excellent foundation and can be pursued concurrently with other therapies.

Many people come to GAPS after trying a gluten free, caesin free and/or soy free diet, while others come after trying Paleo or vegetarian/vegan diets.

The bio-individualized approach of GAPS makes it adequate for a wide variety of clients including children. Many people do experience weight loss, however that is not a focus of this protocol.

How does the GAPS Diet work?

The GAPS diet works to support the body by increasing the level of nutrients in the body and supporting detoxification of the toxins involved in creating a “leaky gut” in the first place.

Correcting Nutrient Deficiencies

The GAPS diet isn’t merely about eliminating certain foods; it’s a strategic approach to replenishing your body’s nutritional reserves. The inclusion of homemade broths, rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, is a cornerstone of the diet.

These broths provide the body with the raw materials and amino acids necessary to repair the gut lining and optimize absorption, ensuring that the nutrients from the foods you eat are fully utilized.

Moreover, fermented foods play a pivotal role. They are teeming with probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that are crucial for nutrient synthesis, such as vitamin K and several B vitamins. 

By enhancing the gut flora, the GAPS diet ensures that your body is proficient in producing and absorbing these essential nutrients, thereby correcting deficiencies that may have arisen from a compromised gut.

Supporting Detoxification

Detoxification is a natural, ongoing process in the body, and the GAPS diet is designed to support and enhance this function. 

It advocates for the consumption of organic foods to reduce the intake of toxins and pesticides that can overload the liver. The emphasis on nutrient-dense foods provides the body with antioxidants and vital compounds necessary for Phase I and Phase II liver detoxification pathways.

The diet also encourages the consumption of plenty of fluids, particularly pure water, broth and herbal teas, to support adequate hydration and facilitate the removal of toxins through the urinary tract. 

The inclusion of healthy fats, such as those from avocados and ghee, coconut oil and olive oil, is crucial for hormone balance and the production of bile, which is integral to the digestion and elimination of fat-soluble toxins.

Furthermore, by correcting gut imbalances and the body’s drainage pathways, it supports natural detoxification through regular bowel movements.

The GAPS nutritional protocol is more than a diet, it also incorporates specific lifestyle suggestions that further support detoxification.

How do you Follow the GAPS Diet?


Now, let’s talk about how to practically integrate the GAPS diet into your life. The diet is typically divided into three stages: the Introduction Diet, the Full GAPS Diet, and the Reintroduction phase.

Contrary to its name, not everyone will begin with the Introduction Diet. Most people would do better to start with the Full GAPS diet, and only go through the Introduction diet at a later stage, if at all.

Here’s a quick look at Getting Started with the GAPS Diet

1.Introduction Diet

The Introduction Diet is an elimination diet. It gradually introduces foods starting with those easiest to digest and progressively adding in those that are harder on the digestive system.

This phase is the most restrictive, designed to jumpstart the healing process. It has some similarities with the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol and the Wahls Diet, in that you start with a limited number of foods, and progress to adding more.

It focuses on homemade broths, stews made with meats and vegetables, and probiotic-rich foods like fermented vegetables. 

When going through this portion of the Intro diet, it’s essential to listen to your body and only move on to the next stage when you feel ready. 

2. Full GAPS Diet

The Full GAPS Diet includes a wider variety of foods. It incorporates fresh fruit, certain dairy products, cheese, nuts, and all manner of meats and vegetables as well as specific legumes and baked goods made from allowed ingredients.

GAPS diet meals include an assortment of nourishing foods, tailored to the individual and their level of sensitivity. The key is to maintain the principles of gut healing and nutrient density.

3. Coming-Off is the Reintroduction Phase of GAPS

After a significant period, usually after around two years, you can start to reintroduce foods that were previously excluded. This should be done cautiously and one at a time to monitor for any adverse reactions

Remember, the GAPS diet is an intensive, hands-on approach to healing that requires commitment and patience. It’s not just about what you eat; it’s about nurturing your body and allowing it the time it needs to restore balance.

If you’re considering the GAPS diet, it’s imperative to consult with a healthcare professional who can guide you through the process and tailor the program to your unique needs.

Pros and Cons of the GAPS Diet


As with any dietary intervention, there are advantages and drawbacks to consider. Let’s delve into the pros and cons of the GAPS diet to better understand its potential impact on health.

Pros of the GAPS Diet

1. Focus on Whole Foods

The GAPS diet emphasizes the consumption of whole, unprocessed foods, which are inherently rich in nutrients necessary for gut repair and overall wellbeing.

Focusing on food, makes for a gentle process suitable for all ages, and reduces the cost associated with high amount of supplements on other types of protocols.
 

2. Gut Healing

By removing foods that damage the gut lining and introducing healing broths and fermented foods, the diet aims to restore the integrity of the digestive system, which can lead to improved health outcomes.

By improving the function of the gut, the body is better able to absorb nutrients and detoxify waste products, leading to a more resilient body.

3. Behavioral Improvements & Mood Support

The microbiome has been studied as having a direct effect on mood and mental wellbeing (Appleton, 2018).

Anecdotal evidence and various case studies suggest that individuals with neurological conditions may experience behavioral and cognitive improvements when following the GAPS protocol.

4. Immune System Support

A healthier gut can lead to a stronger immune system, given that a significant portion of the immune system, estimated at 70-80%, is housed in the gut (Wiertsema et al, 2021).

Cons of the GAPS Diet

1. Restrictiveness

The main reason that doctors are hesitant to direct patients to the GAPS diet is because it is viewed as highly restrictive, particularly for those going through the Introduction diet stages. This can make it challenging to adhere to and socially limiting.

Ask yourself: How long have I been sick? Is it worth changing my diet for several months in order to resolve this issue? What would my quality of life be like if my gut health was improved?

2. Complexity

The GAPS diet requires a significant commitment to food preparation and a strict adherence to the dietary guidelines, which can be overwhelming for some individuals.

If you don’t have much experience in the kitchen, there can be a learning curve.

If this is your main concer, utilizing a practitioner can simplify the process for you.

3. Length of Process

In our quick fix society, and for those coming from conventional medicine, the prospect of letting the body regenerate at its own pace can be frustrating.

Committing to GAPS usually requires several months before seeing major improvments. That said, most people will find small wins along the way, which helps to stay motivated.

Ask yourself: What percentage of my life is one year? How many more years do I want to continue having digestive distress? What other accomplishments have I made over the course of a year? Was it worth it?

Understanding the GAPS Diet, in sum

The GAPS diet is not a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a targeted intervention for those grappling with specific health challenges.

If you’re contemplating this dietary journey, it is helpful to consult with a professional experienced in the GAPS protocol to ensure it aligns with your individual needs and to help you navigate its complexities safely.

In essence, the GAPS diet is an invitation to reconnect with your body’s natural healing capabilities. It’s a pathway to digestive healing that can lead to profound changes in both physical and mental health.

As we continue to explore the intricate connection between our diet and our well-being, the GAPS diet stands out as a beacon of hope for many seeking to regain control of their health and vitality.

If you’re interested in personalized guidance for the GAPS diet, book a connection call to find out how we can support you!

References:

Appleton J. (2018). The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 17(4), 28–32.

Wiertsema, S. P., van Bergenhenegouwen, J., Garssen, J., & Knippels, L. M. J. (2021). The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies. Nutrients, 13(3), 886. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13030886

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