How + Why to Start the GAPS Diet
What conditions is this diet best for?
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), lists the following conditions as GAPS conditions:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive disorder
- Autoimmune disease
Dr. McBride also discusses treatment of epilepsy and seizures with the GAPS Nutritional Program.
The purpose of the GAPS Diet is to heal a condition called “leaky gut”, which underlies many conditions. Dr. Campbell-McBride, originally developed the diet and the book as a treatment for autism which, interestingly, may have an autoimmune component (Source #1). Many of her patients are children with autism. She is also the mother of child who had a diagnosis of autism and now functions normally. It was he who inspired her to first understand the origins of his autism.
Her child’s diagnosis led her down the path to discovering how to treat autism through restoring intestinal integrity and function. Along the way, she saw an overlap of autism and other gut-and immune-related conditions, such as eczema and allergies. In her practice, she also noticed that conditions such as attention deficit disorder with and without hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia (extreme clumsiness), various behavioral and learning problems, allergies, asthma and eczema were at epidemic levels.
What’s more, they tended to overlap, so that no one child had just one condition, but typically two, three or more, concurrently. These children tended to fall prey to substance abuse as teens and later become diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder and other psychological and psychiatric problems. While any combination of disorders and symptoms is possible, Dr. McBride found one common underlying factor—digestive problems to varying degrees, typically related to gut microbial imbalance.
Of these, autism, asthma, eczema and allergies are known to have an autoimmune component or are autoimmune in nature. We know from the work of Dr. Alessio Fasano, that autoimmune disease appears to require a “perfect storm” in order to occur. This includes genetic susceptibility, compromised intestinal barrier function (aka, Leaky Gut) and an environmental trigger (Source #2). Since the GAPS dietary protocol aims to restore barrier function, it is a viable choice for anyone with an autoimmune disease to try.
In the FAQ section of http://www.gapsdiet.com, Dr. McBride says, “I am convinced that autoimmunity is born in the gut and the gut wall in these people is very damaged. I recommend following the GAPS Introduction Diet slowly and patiently to heal the gut wall and rebalance the immune system. “ (Source #3)
What are the main tenants of the diet?
Foods Given Up
- All grains and grain-based foods and products, including wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, millet, teff, quinoa, buckwheat, rice, spelt, triticale, bulgur, tapioca and couscous
- All starchy vegetables and anything made of them: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, Jerusalem artichokes, taro, cassava and parsnip
- Sugar and anything that contains sugar
- Starchy peas and beans: soybeans, black beans, bean sprouts, mungbeans, garbanzo beans or chickpeas, fava beans
- Lactose and anything that contains it: fluid or dried milk of any type, commercially produced yogurt, buttermilk, kefir and sour cream, processed foods or supplements with added lactose (many digestive enzyme formulations on the marked are contaminated with lactose)
Foods Eaten Frequently
- Bone broths/meat stocks, pastured/wild red meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy (specific instructions are given regarding quality and introduction schedule), non-starchy fresh vegetables (which does include carrots and winter squashes), all fruit including berries, nuts and seeds (specific instructions given as to preparation in cases of difficult digestion), certain beans and pulses (dried white navy beans, dried and fresh lima beans, string beans, lentils and split peas), natural raw honey
- Beverages: water, freshly pressed juices and meat/fish stock are recommended. Weak tea or coffee is allowed for adults. Milk replacements such as homemade almond or coconut milk are allowed as well
- Natural fats from meats and natural sea salt or crystal salts are encouraged
- The GAPS Diet is structured in 3 major parts: Introduction Diet, The Full GAPS Diet, and Coming off of the GAPS Diet
Meal Frequency and Portion Sizes
Ad lib, although in general, 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day is advisable; the author notes that between 4 am and 10 am, the body is doing its heaviest detoxification, and so recommends that before 10 am, the diet should be limited to fresh fruit, water and freshly pressed-juices, after which a heavier breakfast can be consumed. Children may be ready for a full breakfast earlier than adults.
For children and adults with GAPS syndrome, an effective therapeutic strength probiotic, essential fatty acids, cod liver oil, digestive enzymes, vitamin and mineral supplements. The author goes into great detail regarding quality and dosing.
Will this diet require shopping at a specialty or organic grocery store, or buying the diet’s pre-packaged food (aka, is this diet going to be very expensive to sustain)?
This diet should not be expensive, although if switching from conventionally-grown foods to organic and pastured, a cost increase will be seen; however, it is important to note that all processed foods are taken out of the diet, which will offset costs. With the right attention to meal planning, food sourcing and budgeting, this diet need not be highly expensive and will be financially sustainable.
What other autoimmune diets is this diet similar to?
The GAPS Diet is based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) with some subtle but important differences.
SCD allows lactose-free dairy, whereas the GAPS approach recognizes that many people, especially those with GAPS illnesses, are not only intolerant of lactose, but the milk proteins as well. The GAPS Diet approach goes into more detail about how to approach consumption of dairy.
Questions for your health team
- Are you familiar with the GAPS Nutritional Program, or would you be willing to familiarize yourself with it?
- Will you work with me/my child on adjusting my medications, as symptoms improve?
- Can you recommend an Integrative/Functional Medicine Dietitian or Nutritionist to work with, who is experienced in supporting patients/clients through the GAPS Nutritional Program?
- Ashwood P, Van De Water J. Is autism an autoimmune disease? Autoimmunity Reviews 3 (2004) 557 – 562.
- Fasano, A. Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases. Clinic Rev Allerg Immunol (2012) 42:71–78.
About the Author
Angie King-Nosseir MS, RD is an Integrative and Functional Registered Dietitian, with a passion for walking with people along their path toward health transformation. Angie has a Master’s degree in Nutrition, is a Certified LEAP Therapist, corporate wellness health coach, freelance nutrition and wellness writer, and certified yoga instructor. She is trained in Functional Nutrition and Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine and in Food as Medicine through the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.
This blog post was originally published by AutoimmuneMom.com, written by Angie King-Nosseir, and first published on May 30, 2014.
Join our email list
Receive the latest blog articles, news, and more right to your inbox!
Related articles you might be interested in
Find more resources on autoimmunity
Learn more about autoimmunity, diagnosis tips, how to find a physician, and more.