Recover Your Health with the GAPS Diet
Have you heard? GAPS diet is finally starting to get the credit it deserves for its ability to help people recover their health, and even help parents recover their kids from autism. That’s how I learned about it. My son, Aaron, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old, and after a failed year of mainstream intervention methods like GFCF diet and state provided therapies, his autism had gone from bad to worse. We started with GAPS and never looked back. Today, Aaron is a thriving and we thank Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride for her work and research in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome in helping us recover our son.
So here you go–how to get started with the GAPS Diet.
Getting Started with GAPS
Once you figure GAPS out, it’s so simple that you’ll laugh at yourself for being afraid to dive in a do it. But, you know what they say, getting started is the hardest part. GAPS is no exception to that rule. The learning curve is pretty steep, because interpreting the steps of the diet requires you to gain a full understanding of what qualifies for GAPS quality food. You’re not just going to be able to stop in to the local market, rush through the healthy living isle, and start this diet. GAPS quality foods are excellence without compromise. They are grown and/or raised in appropriate and humane conditions that both protect their nutrient value of the food, and also ensure that there are no unwanted chemicals or GMO residues present.
GAPS Food Standards
- You cook everything at home from scratch. Food that comes in boxes or cans is not allowed (no canned broth!)
- The produce ingredients you buy to make your homemade food must be organic and low starch (no potatoes, corn, or rice)
- The poultry and dairy foods you buy must come from pastured animals, fed non-GMO supplements and no soy.
- The meat you buy must come from grass-fed, pastured cows, with non-GMO and no soy supplementation during winter months.
- The daily meals in a GAPS person’s diet consist of gelatin-rich broth bases, proteins, and vegetables
- Fermented food is eaten at every meal – without fail.
- Refined sugar or any sugar substitute is not allowed. Only raw local honey and fruit can be used in moderation.
Ingredients to Get Started with GAPS Diet
Getting started on GAPS will vary from person to person based on the current quality of their lifestyle and environment. You will need the access to the following ingredients and items to get started right.
- Filtered water (we installed a reverse osmosis system in our kitchen.)
- Quality Cookware (no non-stick coating or aluminum)
- Quality probiotics ( Bio-kult is generally recommended)
- One whole chicken that meets GAPS food standards
- Organic vegetables like carrots, onion, and celery
- Homemade saurekraut (see my recipe here)
- Fresh ginger root
- Local raw honey
- Fresh organic lemon
- Reduced stress environment
The GAPS Introductory Diet
We do the Introductory Diet to calm the stomach. The Introductory Diet stops the attack on the gut lining and allows inflammation to go down which is necessary for healing to occur. The goal is to heal and seal the gut lining. It does this in three ways.
- It provides copious amounts amino acids, gelatin, vitamins, minerals and fats in the form of broth. The body can use these immediately begin to rebuild the gut lining. The cells in the gut lining are the fastest regenerating cells in the human body, giving new life every 3 days. So the body has a real chance to fix the gut and fix it quickly if the right sort of nutrients are provided.
- It removes all fibrous and potentially irritating substances from the diet. Inflammation and ulcers interfere with the healing process, so anything that is difficult to digest, like fiber, or any food that a person is sensitive to has to go. The funny thing here is that a lot of people don’t even know that their gut lining is sore or sensitive because this condition doesn’t always cause painful symptoms. The bottom line is that on the GAPS diet all fibrous and starchy food are removed from the diet for everyone, no matter what and with no exceptions.
- It provides probiotics in food and supplement form right from the start. The GAPS book teaches us that cell regeneration in the gut is a process directly reliant upon the presence of beneficial bacteria within the gut. So in the Introductory Diet, probiotics are added immediately to help move this process along.
The Introductory Diet has 6 Stages
GAPS Stage One
This is ground zero. Start the day off with a cup of warm mineral water or filtered water and a supplemental probiotic. Eliminate all foods that require work on the digestive system and at the same time we introduce a steady stream of nutrition in the form of homemade, gelatin-rich bone broth. This broth requires no digestion and even a seriously inflamed and compromised gut will be able to absorb nutrients from the broth without any effort.
Broth is the heart of GAPS. It’s interesting to note that even by removing what seems to be all food, the person finally begins to be nourished because, much like an IV, the substances being given are instantly absorbed.
Soups made with the meats from the broth and non-fibrous vegetables is what you eat in Stage One. We are also supposed to add probiotic foods right away starting small with 1-2 teaspoons of juice from fermented vegetables or whey from homemade yogurt. Note that the recommendation is juice only, as Dr. Natasha warns that the vegetables are too fibrous to be consumed in Stage One.
The rule here is that if constipation is the issue, use sauerkraut but if diarrhea is the issue, use whey. Since whey is a dairy derivative, a sensitivity test should be done first before using it.
The sensitivity test is pretty simple. The hardest part is having patience to wait. Basically, you take a sample of the food in question and puree it with a bit of water. You have to use the food in the same form you want to ingest it in. For example, if you want to introduce raw egg yolks then you test raw egg yolks.
Then you put a drop of the mixture on the inside of the wrist and let it dry. Doing this at night before bed is ideal. Then you check the spot for any signs of redness or irritation. If there are signs of allergy, then you avoid that food for 2 or 3 weeks and then do the test again.
The premise here is that many food allergies and sensitivities will actually disappear as the gut lining heals. Aaron’s allergy to eggs disappeared two weeks into GAPS diet. Here I had been avoiding eggs for almost a year when all he needed was two weeks of appropriate diet and attention.
GAPS Stage Two
For Stage Two of the Introductory Diet, you build on the meal basics of eating lots of soup and drinking ginger tea. Remember that each cup of soup now contains juice from sauerkraut or whey.
Next start making stews and casseroles out of meats and vegetables. Continue to increase consumption of juices from fermented foods like sauerkraut, and we eat or drink whey, yogurt, and kefir at every meal. GAPS diet recommends adding fermented fish into the diet. Ghee is also introduced in this stage.
The final addition of stage two is to add raw egg yolks into the broth. This is recommended to be increased gradually until every cup of soup contains a yolk. After the yolks are well incorporated into the diet, you can begin adding mashed soft boiled eggs to soups.
GAPS Stage Three
With stage three, we introduce ripe avocado, nut butter pancakes, and the vegetables from the fermented foods. Note that these foods are very high in natural fats and protein. Avocados themselves are a superfood in terms of nutrient content. What makes them appropriate here that they can be digested with minimal effort. They also increase the nutrient absorption of other things they paired with up to 400%.
Nuts are notoriously difficult to digest. When they are properly prepared and ground, however, they are not. The body does not have to work hard to receive the protein and fat that they offer. In this stage we also begin to eat the actual fermented vegetables, not just the juice. When introducing these foods we watch for the green light to move forward. If there is no sign of pain, irritation, or difficulty with digestion then we can go to stage four.
GAPS Stage Four
Stage four adds roasted and grilled meats. Nothing barbecued, nothing burned. It also adds cold-pressed oils like high quality extra virgin olive oil and flax oils (for example) starting with a few drops per meal and increasing to 1 – 2 tablespoons per meal.
We also add freshly pressed juices on an empty stomach. The juices need to be filtered of all fiber, so we’re not talking about vitamix here. It should be clear and possibly diluted in water to ensure digestibility. We start with just a few tablespoons of carrot juice, and we encourage it to be consumed slowly for optimal absorption. We gradually increase juice to one cup per day, and then we start to add celery, cabbage, lettuce, and mint.
Also, in stage four you can introduce breads made of nut and seed flours, squash, and fats. I want to reiterate here that proper preparation of nuts and seeds is crucial.
GAPS Stage Five
We get to add our first fruit in stage five, which is a very big event. An apple puree made of stewed apples with lots of ghee. Honey is allowed as a sweetener. We start with just a few spoonfuls a day and watch for reactions. If there are no reactions, then we can eat more.
We also get to add the first two raw vegetables. Note that everything up to now has been well-cooked. Here we add soft lettuces and peeled cucumbers. If the there is no reaction, we can begin to add other raw vegetables watching carefully that each is tolerated well.
Here we also can add apples, pineapples, and mangos to the fresh juices only. No raw fruit is allowed. No citrus fruits are allowed yet, either.
GAPS Stage Six
In stage six, we get to add raw, ripe apples and the addition of baked cakes and desserts. We use only honey and dried fruit as sweeteners here.
These initial stages of the Introductory Diet are very important in determining how fast a person can heal. You don’t want to skip them. It’s just a matter of introducing the right foods in the right order to make sure that nothing is aggravating the gut wall and that everything being consumed is super nutritious. Remember that although the stages are strict, you don’t stay in them for very long. You only stay there to make sure that bad symptoms subside so that healing can occur.
All physical signs of discomfort like gas, constipation, bloating, stomachaches and headaches need to subside. This can take anywhere from 1 to 14 days per stage, depending on the person. Then we introduce foods from the GAPS legal list, slowly, one at a time, making sure there are no adverse reactions. If there is an adverse reaction you go backwards for two weeks, and then you try again. You keep going with this process until the person is able to eat all or a majority of what is on the full GAPS diet approved foods list.
Once making it into the full GAPS diet, though, people can expect to stay there for about 2 years for fast healers and longer for those who heal more slowly or have much more extensive damage to repair.
Thank you for reading! Have you struggled to start the GAPS diet? Do you have any recommendations I missed?