The GAPS Diet is a healing protocol based on the 100 year old, scientifically backed Specific Carbohydrate Diet, also called SCD.
It was first developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD based on her clinical experience with hundreds of patients and detailed in Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS).
The GAPS book is an eye opening read about how the microbial environment within the gut can affect a person’s neurology and physiology.
This post discusses how to use the GAPS Diet to reverse conditions that are autoimmune in nature. Examples of GAPS conditions include allergies, eczema, psoriasis, ADD/ADHD, autism, celiac disease, asthma, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, diabetes, cancer, and the list goes on and on.
These conditions all can be traced to unfavorable conditions within the gut that cause undigested bits of food as well as pathogens and toxins to spill into the blood causing an unpredictable mix of autoimmune symptoms within the body.
That’s right – all autoimmune disease is rooted in the gut!
The GAPS diet as recommended by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD limits food intake to those items that can be fully digested even within a compromised gut environment thereby allowing the gut wall to heal. When the gut wall is allowed to finally heal by removing foods that cannot be fully digested, the holes in the gut wall reseal and the toxins that are causing autoimmune symptoms stop spilling into the blood and wreaking havoc in the body.
What Foods Do People on GAPS Diet Need to Avoid
At first read, the GAPS diet can seem quite complicated. In actuality, it is really very simple.
There are primarily two types of food molecules that folks in the process of healing their guts need to avoid:
- Starches (including resistant starch)
Disaccharides, or double sugars, are present in many carbohydrates including ALL grains. The compromised gut is unable to digest double sugar molecules because the lack of beneficial gut flora compromises the function of the enterocytes.
The enterocytes are the cells that reside on the villi of the gut wall and produce the enzyme disaccharidase which breaks down the disaccharide molecule into easily absorbed monosaccharide molecules. When the enterocytes are not nourished and strengthened properly by adequate beneficial flora, they become weak and diseased and may even turn cancerous. They do not perform their duties of digesting and absorbing food properly.
The critical importance of the enterocytes to health cannot be overstated!
Weak and diseased enterocytes also have trouble digesting starch molecules which are very large with hundreds of monosugars connected in long branchlike strands. People with weak digestion due to an imbalance of gut flora and messed up enterocytes have a terrible time digesting these complex molecules leaving large amounts of it undigested- the perfect food for pathogenic yeasts, bacteria, fungi and other pathogens to thrive upon.
Even the starch that manages to get digested results in molecules of maltose, which is – you guessed it – a disaccharide! This maltose also goes undigested due to a lack of the enzyme disaccharidase and becomes additional food for gut pathogens.
The GAPS Diet Bottom Line
Therefore, all foods containing disaccharide and starch molecules must be removed from the diet of a GAPS child or adult in order to allow the enterocytes to strengthen and heal the gut wall.
Dr. Campbell-McBride MD writes that clinical practice has shown that given enough time, the gut usually will again be able to digest these foods without any ill effects (aka, autoimmune disease) to the person consuming them.
The GAPS Diet is not a forever thing. It is a temporary measure to heal the gut wall and restrengthen the enterocytes so normal life can be regained without the burden of autoimmune disease. These GAPS recipes can make implementing the protocol much easier.
Foods To Eliminate
The GAPS child or adult must avoid all grains and any food that contains them. This includes wheat, einkorn, rye, rice, corn, oats, amaranth, kamut, spelt, triticale, barley, buckwheat, millet, teff, bulgur wheat, quinoa and any others.
Starchy beans and peas must also be avoided which includes pretty much all of them with the exception of green peas and navy beans.
All sugars including the lactose in milk and cream must be avoided. Raw honey, date sugar and syrup, and very ripe fruit would be the only sweets allowed. Fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir as well as butter and ghee are permitted unless the GAPS condition is severe.
How Long to Healing on GAPS?
Dr. Campbell-McBride says that, on average, it takes a child 6-18 months on the GAPS diet for the gut to heal. For an adult, it may take longer.
Note that it will not necessarily take this long for symptoms to subside, however. It is possible for symptoms to be substantially gone within weeks of eliminating these foods from the diet. Subsiding of symptoms does not mean the person is ready to consume grains and starches again, though.
Every person is different and the severity of his/her gut imbalance will determine how long it takes for the enterocytes to become strong again, the gut wall to heal and seal, and the ability to digest disaccharide and starch molecules regained.
Probiotics Alone Will Not Heal Your Gut
I’ve had folks say to me that they don’t need to go on the GAPS diet as they take a probiotic on a daily basis and eat probiotic rich, whole foods.
Please be aware that changing to even a completely unprocessed, whole foods diet and taking a daily probiotic will not necessarily heal your gut!
This approach alone will not heal your enterocytes and heal/seal the gut wall from years of abuse by antibiotics, the pill, other drugs, and processed foods.
The reason is that the enterocytes reside on the gut wall and the balance of flora on the gut wall cannot be changed. A probiotic supplement is not able to re-colonize this area of the gut!
Dr. Campbell-McBride MD writes that probably the only time that in our entire lives where we can populate the gut wall with beneficial bacteria is at birth.
Therefore, the only way to heal the enterocytes and the gut wall is to take away the food of the pathogens (disaccharides and starches) so that they weaken and the beneficial flora consumed by a probiotic can take hold and re-establish dominance in the rest of the gut.
Then, when these foods are re-introduced at a later time, the enterocytes will be strong and able to digest and handle them properly. This simply will not ever happen unless a period of time to heal these important little cells occurs.
Also note that even after healing, the gut will require constant infusion of probiotics on a daily basis. You can either supplement your diet with probiotic rich foods like yogurt, kefir, homemade saurkraut, kombucha and others or you can continue taking a therapeutic strength probiotic such as Bio-kult, which is recommended by Dr. Campbell-McBride.
One autoimmune disease begets another, so if you or someone you love has allergies or another mild form of autoimmune disorder, more severe autoimmune disease will very likely take hold in the future unless the root of the problem (gut imbalance) is addressed.
Autoimmune disease never gets better – it only gets worse over time.
Of course, severe autoimmune disease mandates the GAPS Diet as perhaps the only viable option for reversal and healing.
For this reason, it may be worthwhile to consider the GAPS diet as a measure to fix gut dysbiosis once and for all.
More Information on the GAPS Diet
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.