An increasing number of folks that I know seem to be trying out the GAPS diet in order to solve autoimmune issues. Many are unwittingly making mistakes that are making success more difficult and time on the diet more lengthy.
GAPS, as it is commonly known, is a short term protocol to rebalance and heal/seal the gut wall. This halts the flood of toxins from pathogenic strains dominating the gut environment from pouring into the bloodstream 24/7. It is this unpredictable mix that triggers autoimmune symptoms.
The diet is described in detail in Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MDs book Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It is based on the century-old Specific Carbohydrate Diet.
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…
Ok, let’s get real for a minute. Does the GAPS diet as outlined in the bestselling book by Dr. Campbell-McBride MD 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 resolved permanently as well.
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/starch, carob powder, cocoa powder, chickpea flour, all other gluten-free flours and almost all beans and legumes (navy beans and lentils are ok).
This can be confusing, as resistant starch is food for friendly gut flora and overall, good for the gut! Thus, don’t take this to mean starch is “bad”. It definitely isn’t! It just isn’t something to eat while on the GAPS Diet.
Why is this?
Starch is a very complex food molecule comprised of very long strands of hundreds of mono sugars that are very difficult for an imbalanced gut to break down. Undigested starch feeds gut pathogens. Even worse, the 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 on a short term basis.
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!
Unfortunately, a decent quality probiotic is expensive, as you may have noticed! Resist the temptation to settle for cheaper brands.
Dr. Campbell-McBride MD warns about this in her book. She writes that most brands on the market are not strong enough nor do they 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.
In other words, you get what you pay for.
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? This article explains in detail why a soil-based probiotic on GAPS is critical to the success of the protocol.
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. While essential to health, too many omega-6 fats in the diet contribute 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 Eating Enough Homemade Broth
A very important part of the GAPS diet is the consumption of copious amounts of homemade bone broth. A small cup (about 4 ounces) 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. Physicians have known for centuries that it aids digestion due to the natural gelatin which attracts digestive juices.
Many folks I know on GAPS are not consuming nearly enough broth. Or, they are using commercial bone broth which is almost always watered down (no gelling in the fridge) and/or packaged in toxic containers like aseptic, shelf-stable cartons.
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 including chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, fish, etc. Note that the best and most nutritious bone broth is made from fish heads, so be sure to include that in the rotation.
Broth is inexpensive to make and is so very important to GAPS success. 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. Thus, it’s going to take months or even a year or two to get it back to normal. 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. However, these were typically people who had been eating traditionally for many years already. They 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 to heal and seal the gut wall for good so you can reclaim full vitality of life!
If the GAPS diet is of interest to you and you would like a complete overview of the program, please check out this article on how to heal autoimmune disease.
There are also many GAPS diet recipes on this site to help your journey.
Heal Autoimmune Disease with GAPS Diet
How to Speed Healing and Shorten Time on GAPS
GAPS and Ulcerative Colitis
GAPS vs Autism
Chronic Stomach Pain and Bloating Gone!
Thank you for sharing this people need to know about this medical diet, I personally have been doing it well over a year but I think it’s best if people knew meat stock is the preferred choice….bone broth is for when healing has taken place …also probiotics are not highly recommended accept for those who struggle with ferments early on in the gaps journey mainly because they are weaker than the foods like kefir etc. , . if one truly does the gaps diet correctly they will get all the probiotics from foods they need . Thank you again for sharing
I believe the Gaps diet to be a lifesaver and I would like to pursue it. But for myself, and no doubt others, it is a nearly impossible undertaking. Bone broth is not inexpensive as some claim. A free range, grass fed chicken can cost in the $20-$25 range. Yes, there is all the meat, but it is still costly. Purchasing beef bones to make the broth is also very expensive, sometimes well over $7 per pound just for bones, from which one gets little meat. This is just one example. I would love to buy all grass fed meats, organic fruits and veggies and expensive supplements, but the budget just doesn’t stretch far enough, no matter how committed one may be. There is also the time factor. When someone works a full time job, cares for children or elderly parents, and a home it can be overwhelming to keep up with making broths and fermenting foods. If someone is ill from gut and other issues, the situation can be even worse. It’s wonderful for those who are able and I applaud them, but such a commitment is not always possible.
Sarah Pope MGA
Please just use organic rotisserie chickens from the healthfood store to make broth! I get them for $7.99 each when on sale each week. I make 2 gallons of broth a week from 2 chickens for our family of 5. It is not expensive to do the GAPS diet folks.
I apologize if you have already answered this question but what is the difference between spore-based and soil-based probiotics? Are they the same? I re-read the soil based probiotic article after reading this one. I seem to have remembered reading you once recommended spore-based because they can survive the stomach acid? Thanks for the clarification.-Cheryl
I thought broth was not allowed in gaps and instead they recommend meat stock which is short cooked?
Sarah Pope MGA
Meat stock is for GAPS Intro. Regular GAPS permits bone broth.
Regarding the different flours, I have discovered a butternut squash flour because my son cannot have the nut flours we would use to make bread on stage four of the Intro Diet. I’m not sure if this would be legal for this stage of GAPS? The nice part about it is it requires significantly less (replace a cup of almond with 1/4 butternut).
My husband has a kidney disease that at its core is an autoimmune issue. Also, chemo meds are causing bowel issues and he’s immunocompromised. I would have to check with his nephrologist regarding the safety of probiotics for him, but this GAPS diet sounds fairly similar to my own way of eating (well-formulated nutritional keto diet) so it would be easy enough for us to try.
My question is this: IF he is unable to use probiotics, would the GAPS diet still likely help him?
Sarah Pope MGA
It is best to consult with a GAPS practitioner if you have specific questions about the GAPS Diet and an individual medical condition. biodynamicwellness.com has an excellent, qualified staff in this regard.
Hello Sara. My son is 11 years autistic. He’s been on gaps intro.for 5 1/2 months ready to start Full gaps. When i look at the foods he is supposed to eat on full gaps its still the same foods almost as on the intro. QN when is my son supposed to eat the rest of other foods that are on the least for gaps eg. Beans, ripe bananas etc. Does it mean that my son is still going to continue eating meat,chicken, fish for the next 15 months?
Sarah Pope MGA
I would recommend that you reach out to a certified GAPS practitioner if you have specific questions concerning your son’s situation. biodynamicwellness.com is a great clinic.
Hi Sarah, Monica Corrado here. I need to correct an error in your article. The GAPS Diet does not use Bone Broth. It only uses Meat Stock. Here’s the book–Part I of a 4 part series: Cooking Techniques for the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet: part I: Meat Stock and Bone Broth.
I wrote this book in 2015 to correct the rampant misunderstanding of GAPS. I also teach GAPS diet cooking and teach the Certified GAPS Practitioner training with Dr. Natasha.
Happy to answer any questions.
Hope you are well!
Sarah Pope MGA
Hi Monica … when I did GAPS years ago there was no Intro Diet and no meat stock .. just bone broth. I understand things have changed. Thanks for clarifying!
My son is 17 and has autism and I did the full gaps diet for a month. It was extremely hard. Will I see results if I stick with the GAPS diet (not full) because it is a lot easier. I hope this makes sense. Thanks!!
Sarah Pope MGA
I would suggest consulting with a GAPS Practitioner about your son’s situation. It takes 18 months to three years on average on the GAPS diet before transitioning off.
The user comments are one of the main reasons that people will have come to the site, yet NONE of these questions have been answered – FAIL! It shows that the authors wanted to get in with a good article ONCE and then rake-in profits on autopilot. I’d say don’t buy through product links on this site – make them feel the loss of revenue. They probably won’t publish this article, but they will know that the random visitor might now be aware that they are being used for profit – I am spreading this, because it really annoys me that genuine help on important topics is being withheld in lieu of profits.
Some input on your comment which you may not be aware of … there are HUNDREDS of comments posted to this site every single day whether its the weekend, a holiday, I’m sick or on vacation. I work VERY HARD to keep up with them. I NEVER post anything here for “pure profit”. I post things I hope will help people and have never wavered from this mission for the nearly 9 years I’ve been blogging.
Unfortunately, due to the limit of 24 hours in a day and the fact that I have a family to care for and it’s a good idea to get sleep once in awhile, I cannot answer all the comments! I most definitely do not answer questions that seek medical advice per the user agreement on this site as I am not a medical professional.
Which comment(s) in particular are you referring to? I answer the vast majority of the comments that I can legitimately and legally answer. Otherwise, best to seek the advice of a qualified GAPS Practitioner to seek input for your individual medical situation.