An increasing number of folks that I know seem to be trying out the GAPS diet in order to solve a variety of autoimmune issues. The “GAPS Diet“, as it is commonly known, is a temporary way of eating (usually about 18 months) to rebalance and heal/seal the gut wall which halts the flood of toxins from pathogenic strains dominating the gut environment into the bloodstream causing an unpredictable mix of autoimmune symptoms. The diet is described in detail in Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MDs book Gut and Psychology Syndrome.
The autoimmune disorders significantly alleviated or healed by the GAPS Diet include the simply annoying, like seasonal allergies, to the more life altering such as autism, fibromyalgia, MS, lupus, and the list goes on and on and on ….
Ok, let’s get real for a minute. Does the GAPS diet really work for alleviating allergies and other autoimmune disorders?
Absolutely it does. My husband used to be the poster boy for allergies. He was allergic to every single prick the allergist tried on him some years ago. Today, he is allergic to nothing. Absolutely nothing. His asthma (during respiratory illness) and eczema are also gone.
Another person I recently talked to has arrested the progression of her IBS symptoms and gotten herself off the medication using the GAPS Diet. In fact, I know many folks who have received significant relief from their autoimmune disorders from the GAPS Diet.
How empowering to know that there is an answer for autoimmune illness and that something as simple as the GAPS diet can make it happen!
The trouble is, GAPS is simple but not necessarily easy. When folks go on GAPS, a number of common mistakes seem to be made. Here is a rundown of the five most frequent mistakes I’ve encountered coaching folks at various stages in the process:
Mistake #1: Going off Grains but Not Starches
The most important premise of GAPS is to eliminate all sources of disaccharide containing foods from the diet until the gut wall can heal and reseal. Most sugars and all grains, even those not containing gluten, are disaccharides and hence must not be consumed while on GAPS as a compromised gut wall is unable to digest them. Undigested food in any form provides the perfect environment for pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and fungi to thrive.
Talking to people on GAPS, I have frequently encountered those who have eliminated all disaccharides from the diet but not all the starches in the form of potatoes, sweet potatoes, arrowroot flour, potato flour, carob powder, cocoa powder, chickpea flour, and almost all beans and legumes (navy beans and lentils are ok).
While starch is not a disaccharide, it is a very complex food molecule, comprised of very long strands of hundreds of monosugars that are very difficult for an imabalanced gut to break down. Undigested starch feeds gut pathogens. Even worse, starch that does manage to get digested results in molecules of maltose, which is a disaccharide!
As a result, for success on GAPS to be achieved and long term results attained, grains and starches must be eliminated.
Mistake #2: Taking a Cheaper Probiotic or No Probiotic at All
GAPS success requires an infusion of strong, therapeutic strength probiotics to reseed the gut with dominant, beneficial flora at the same time the GAPS Diet is starving out the pathogens. Unfortunately, a number of folks I’ve talked to who claim to be on GAPS are not taking a probiotic at all.
This is a mistake – taking a probiotic on GAPS is not an option, it is a must!
In addition, a decent quality probiotic is expensive and some on GAPS may be enticed by some of the cheaper brands available at the healthfood store.
Dr. Campbell-McBride MD warns about this in her book. She writes that most brands on the market are not strong enough or have the correct aggressive probiotic strains necessary to recolonize the gut. Moreover, many brands of probiotics do not contain the strains listed on the label or have the claimed bacterial strength.
To avoid the problem of probiotic label fudging, make sure the brand selected is reputable and can deliver the results you need.
After all, you’re going to all this trouble and inconvenience to eat GAPS, why cut corners with the probiotic and threaten the success of the process?
Mistake #3: Going Wild with the No Grain Flours
Our culture’s food supply is so overly dominated by grain based foods that when a person initially decides to go on GAPS, the thought “what in the world will I eat” can be rather overwhelming.
As a result, a common mistake for people on GAPS is to make a wholesale switch from grain based foods to those exact same foods made with no grain flour such as coconut or almond.
Eating bread, muffins, pancakes, waffles, pizza and cookies made with coconut or almond flour at the same rate one used to eat these same foods made with wheat can cause unintended consequences.
Coconut flour is extremely high in fiber and eating too much of it can cause gastric distress. Almond flour contains a lot of omega 6 fatty acids, and while essential to health, too many omega 6 fats in the diet contributes to inflammation.
As a result, eating a moderate amount of baked goods made with alternative flours such as coconut and almond is the best way to go to ensure GAPS success.
Mistake #4: Not Making/Eating Enough Homemade Broth
A very important part of the GAPS diet is consumption of copious amounts homemade broth. A small cup with every single meal is recommended. The reason is that broth contains so many easy to assimilate minerals, vitamins, and amino-acids. It is a very soothing food to the intestinal mucosa and has been known for centuries to aid digestion due to the natural gelatin that attracts digestive juices.
Many folks I know on GAPS are not consuming nearly enough broth. A good idea before going on GAPS is to make sure your freezer is completely loaded up with any and all forms of homemade broth that you can find quality bones for: chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, fish etc.
Broth is inexpensive to make and is so very important to GAPS Diet success so be sure to include it with every meal if at all possible! Once or twice a week in soups is not often enough.
Mistake #5: Giving Up Too Soon
Success with the GAPS Diet takes time. In most cases, it took years for the gut to get in bad shape and it’s going to take months or even a year or two to get it back in shape. For a child, the average amount of time on GAPS to achieve a significant level of autoimmune remission is 18 months. For an adult, it can take longer.
I have known adults who have achieved success in only 6 months, but these were typically people who had been eating traditionally for many years already and who simply needed to go on full GAPS for a few months to complete the healing process. If you are coming to GAPS from the Standard American Diet, then plan on 2-3 years to success. While this may seem like a long time, it is really short considering living the rest of your life with an ever worsening auto-immune situation.
Don’t give up too soon! Initial subsiding of symptoms within a few weeks or months on GAPS does not mean healing. Stick with it so that the gut wall is healed and sealed for good and you can reclaim the vitality of life you seek!
If the GAPS diet is of interest to you and you would like a complete overview of the program, please check out a post I wrote some months back on this topic.
More Information on the GAPS Diet
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist