Most of us are not mindful of the importance of gut health—or just how far we’ve been distanced from it in the modern world. Many of us were not breast-fed, received countless simultaneous vaccinations as children, and/or were overprescribed antibiotics and medications from the start. Any one of these phenomena—in addition to subsequent years of consuming processed foods, artificial sweeteners, genetically modified foods, and heavily sprayed produce—could contribute to an imbalance of gut flora. The notion of gut health is finally entering the mainstream. This is ironic, considering what Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, warned us long ago: “All diseases begin in the gut.” And this process can begin with the GAPS diet.
At birth, a mother’s gut flora is passed on to her baby. Good or bad, the baby gets what it gets. Think of your great-grandmother’s flora compared to yours. She was most likely breast-fed, with no obsessive hand sanitizing, GMOs, antibiotics, or drugs. Now, simply by being members of modern society, we have unknowingly diminished the birthright of our gut flora. Throughout the past few generations, the quality and balance of our gut flora are believed to have deteriorated significantly. Today, there are diseases that did not exist 50 years ago; think of the diseases that will plague the next generation, and generations to come.
WHAT IS THE GAPS DIET?
In short, the GAPS diet is the ultimate application of “food as medicine.”
In 1985, pioneering British MD Natasha Campbell-McBride coined the phrase “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” (or GAPS) in reference to disorders which stem from, or are exacerbated by, leaky gut and dysbiosis. These include—but are not limited to—ADD/ADHD, autism, addiction, depression, and OCD. Likewise, chronic gut-related conditions, such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and Crohn’s disease, also fall under the auspices of GAPS. Even those with asthma, eczema, allergies, and thyroid disorders can benefit from this healing diet protocol. As an evolution of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, the GAPS diet also appeals to followers of the Paleo diet who might be struggling for optimum health.
The GAPS diet is based on the principle that what we consume affects the health of our gut, and in turn, which nutrients are absorbed into our bodies and which toxins stay out. In this way, gut function affects just about every function of the body. The GAPS diet is a restricted (but delicious) program that will promote the healing and sealing of a compromised gut lining so that individuals with related illnesses can improve their health.
The GAPS diet is first and foremost a whole-food diet that includes meats and meat broth, eggs, animal fats, probiotic foods, vegetables, nuts, fruits, dairy products, and honey. A crucial element of the GAPS diet is homemade meat broth and stock. As Dr. Campbell-McBride states in her book “Gut and Psychology Syndrome,” homemade bone broth is comprised of amino acids that help rebuild an ill-functioning digestive tract. The beginning portion of the diet is constructed to give your gut a break by eating easily digestible foods—namely soup. Within a month of being on the intro diet, you can expect to become an expert at making mouth-watering, delectable soup. As your body heals, you will be able to add in more fats via eggs and more fiber via vegetables. The diet continues to progress with the addition of more foods until you reach full GAPS diet, when you are able to enjoy a wide array of delicious whole foods. Enjoying full GAPS after the restrictions of the intro diet is like feasting every day.
There are a number of special preparation techniques that we outline in our new book, The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet. We really want readers to have a strong understanding of how to make as much food from scratch as possible. For example, a young Thai coconut offers many delicious culinary options. Once opened, you can make coconut milk, coconut milk yogurt, coconut milk kefir, and coconut flour. By transforming a raw ingredient, be it coconuts or raw dairy or nuts, you are ensuring that preservatives and other questionable ingredients are not being incorporated into your food. It is often those “other ingredients” that burden our digestive tract. You can rest easy knowing your food is fresh and pure.
HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO EAT SOUP?
The introduction diet lasts 18 to 30 days (roughly 3 to 5 days per stage) and involves removing all foods that might be gut irritants, such as dairy, from your daily intake. You then reintroduce certain foods slowly and look for adverse reactions—this can include stomach pain, hand flapping, seizures, eczema, and the like. If you are already comfortable in the kitchen and currently eat a whole-food diet, starting with the introduction diet may not be such an adjustment for you. However, if you tend to eat more processed foods, consider giving yourself a little time on full GAPS first so that you can wean yourself off the sugar, salt, fillers, and stabilizers your body has come to crave.
Once you begin to feel familiar and comfortable with the foods allowed during each stage of the GAPS introduction diet, you may feel more ready to launch into the intro. The full GAPS diet is the main portion of the diet and should last at least two years for maximum restoration of gut health.
There are many options for family-friendly, nourishing recipes using organic, locally sourced whole foods that fit into the GAPS diet. Try these recipes from our book to get your healing under way.
By Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett