What exactly is this GAPS healing stuff? (part 1)

by Andrea on December 6, 2011

in GAPS,Healing,Nutrition

Last time I was telling you how all diseases actually do start in the gut and the story of Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, the creator of the GAPS concept (a condition that establishes a connection between the functions of the digestive system and the health of the body, including the brain) and more importantly, the GAPS healing protocol.

However I haven’t said anything about the protocol yet. Lucky day! We’ll start now.

The GAPS healing protocol consist of 3 components:

  1. Diet
  2. Supplementation
  3. Detoxification

Diet is the most important part of the protocol. You could take the supplements and detox until you are blue in the face, but if you don’t follow the diet the impact in your health will be minor.

BUT if you only followed the diet rigorously… Ah! Then you would experience substantial improvement even if you didn’t take the supplements or did the detox. I’m not saying those things are not important; they are. But please understand that the life-changing power of the GAPS protocol lies in the diet.

So, what should a person with GAP syndrome eat?

The capacity to digest and assimilate food is greatly affected in people who suffer from GAPS — remember that we’re talking about a digestive condition — and therefore they are severely malnourished.

The 3 instances of a healing diet for people with GAPS are:

  1. Eat ALL the easy-to-digest, nutrient-dense food you can.
  2. Remove ALL the stuff that’s difficult to digest and adds toxicity to your body.
  3. Recuperate the population of healthy micro-flora in your gut.

Easy peasy! Well, not exactly. You know how they say the devil is in the details? Totally applies.

Today we’ll talk about the fun part…

1. Eat ALL the easy-to-digest, nutrient-dense food you can.

ALL means that, in this approach, there’s no portion control what-so-ever. We rely on the body’s innate wisdom to tell us when to stop eating. In fact, a huge percentage of “GAPSters” (that’s the cool name for people on the GAPS diet) actually struggle not because they eat too much, but because they can’t bring themselves to eat as much of the good food as they need for recovery.

What kinds of nutrient-dense foods are we exactly talking about?

First and foremost, animal foods. The effect of vegetable foods in the human body is first cleansing, and then filling, but not nourishing. The human digestive system assimilates nutrients the most effectively and effortlessly from animal foods. Of course not all animal foods bring the same level of nourishment and digestion ease. That’s why the GAPS protocol is very specific. Here are the details:

All kinds of bone and meat broths and stocks.
Water is the perfect vehicle for the minerals, proteins and fats in the bones, muscle and connective tissue of the animal to get absorbed when digestion and assimilation are weak. If we drew the GAPS food pyramid, broths and stocks would be at the base.

The most common animal to make stock is chicken, but you can use whatever is most convenient to you. The most nutrient-dense stocks are made with bone, connective tissue and some meat as well; cheaper cuts like chicken wings, backs and feet, or oxtails, or shanks are the best to make broth.

Where do you start with broths? It depends. Someone who’s really sick might only tolerate chicken broth made with pasture-raised chicken, free of soy and corn, so that’s where they need to start. Most people tolerate a wide variety of stocks, so choices depend on their own convenience and their taste buds.

This is a great blog post on broth making for GAPS:

Homemade soups with meat and vegetables
Whatchado with all that broth you’re making? Most of it will go to soup making. By adding vegetables and the same meat and connective tissue you’ve used for the broths, you can build delicious and highly nourishing soups. GAPS patients must eat soup everyday and some must do it several times a day. Soups may be blended if you prefer, thicker or thinner, more complex or very minimalistic. It really doesn’t matter much as long as you are getting those nutrients into your body.

Eggs — specifically the yolks — might be the easiest-to-digest-food in the planet. They are also highly nutrient-dense, especially if they come from pastured chickens. When doing the introduction GAPS diet, patients eat egg yolks first and once they are well tolerated, they start eating whole eggs.

What if you are allergic to eggs?
Anaphylactic reactions to eggs are quite rare and, just like any other anaphylactic reaction, they require quite a bit of work to be overcome —if they will at all. However, intolerances to eggs are fairly common. Follow the GAPS process and, trust me, you’ll be able to tolerate eggs in no time.

All kinds of meats, poultry and seafood are allowed on the GAPS diet, but again, we prefer inexpensive cuts that contain plenty of fat and connective tissue. Steaks should be a rare luxury; muscle meat is just not as nutrient-dense — or as flavorful — as the more humble cuts. We make our best effort to get the highest quality meat and seafood we can find and afford — organic, pasture-raised, wild, etc. However, lack of access to this sort of ingredients shouldn’t be an obstacle to do the diet. If you can’t find the really high quality meats, then you make do with the best you can find.

Preserved meats like sausages, bacon, or cold cuts are not allowed in the diet, simply because of the preservatives and chemicals they may contain. You can, however, make your own versions of preserved meats using only salt, pepper, spices and herbs to flavor them.

Fermented dairy products are important in the diet because they provide much needed health-promoting micro-flora to the body. However they must be made at home to ensure a proper fermentation cycle and introduced in very specific ways. Ghee, sour cream, kefir and yogurt are allowed, but they should be made at home from raw and grass-fed milk, cream and butter if possible, or from pasteurized organic ingredients as a second best option. Hard cheeses are introduced in later stages of the diet, followed by soft cheeses, fresh cream and eventually, raw milk without fermentation.

Just as with eggs, people usually overcome lactose intolerance when they stick to the GAPS dairy introduction tightly.

I mentioned it already, but I just want to highlight the fact that all sorts of fats from healthy animals are not only allowed in this approach, but necessary for the healing of the digestive system. Lard, tallow, chicken fat, duck fat, goose fat, butter, ghee… Bring’em all!

Honey is really the only sweetener welcome on the GAPS diet. Most other sweeteners are composed of disaccharides or more complex chains of carbohydrates and therefore too difficult to digest (more on this coming soon). Honey is made out of fructose and glucose, which are monossacharides that a weak digestive system can handle. Unheated (raw) honey, which besides sweetness adds wonderful nutrients to the diet, is always best.

OK. As you can see the GAPS diet makes use of plenty of animal foods. But wait. There are vegetables too! Let’s move on.

Non-starchy vegetables
One criteria you need to keep in mind throughout the process of healing your digestion, is the complexity of the molecules of carbohydrates you eat. As I mentioned already, a weak digestive system can’t break down disaccharides or more complex chains of carbohydrates. GAPSters become experts at discerning this (I will explain in detail soon. Promise).

For example, winter squashes are mostly made of simple carbohydrates and therefore they are allowed on the diet. However sweet potatoes, which many people associate with winter squashes, contain starch, so they are a no. Carrots and beets? Yes. Parsnips and potatoes? No.

All members of the brassica family — kale, collard greens, cabbage, broccoli, etc. — are OK, as are all onions. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, mushrooms, and all other non-starchy vegetables are welcome.

Whereas some raw vegetables might contain more nutrients than cooked, that becomes irrelevant if the digestive system is too weak to handle them. All vegetables get really well cooked in the beginning stages of the diet (remember those soups with vegetables we talked about?) and the fibrous parts get discarded. As the healing progresses and the digestion improves, the person is more able to handle raw vegetables and salads and they can be introduced gradually.

Lacto-fermented vegetables
Just like dairy, lacto-fermented vegetables are highly important in the diet. Lacto-fermentation pre-digests the vegetables and enhances their nutrient profile. More importantly, they provide the healthy kind of micro-flora that we all desperately need.

The first non-dairy, lacto-fermented food that is introduced in GAPS is sauerkraut juice. We then introduce sauerkraut, and from then on, there is a wide variety to try. Pretty much any non-starchy vegetable or its juice can be fermented.

Virtually all fruits are acceptable in GAPS, as long as they are ripe. The reason for that is, again, the complexity of the carbohydrates. For example, green bananas contain plenty of starch that breaks down into simpler and simpler carbohydrate molecules as they ripen. Therefore, unripe bananas are not GAPS-friendly, but yellow bananas with plenty of dark spots on the skin are OK.

In an ideal world, all the fruit we consume would be tree-ripened but it’s unrealistic to think we can find such luxurious foods easily. Do your best to allow time for ripening, ideally in a warm place — my fruit spot is a basked hanging in front of a window that receives morning sun.

Just like with vegetables, fruit is introduced slowly and initially, the patient might only tolerate it cooked. Avocados are an exception. Ripe avocados are full of great fats and enzymes and they are preferably introduced pretty early on in the protocol. There’s also a variety of lacto-fermented chutneys and beverages made with fruit that are great additions to the GAPS diet. Dehydrated fruit with no sugar or preservatives added is also allowed.

Nuts and seeds
Pretty much all nuts and seeds — even peanuts, which are actually a legume — are allowed on the diet. Nuts and seeds share a lot of characteristics with beans and grains — they are all seeds after all — which means that it’s best to process them with care and eat them in moderation.

Nuts contain lots of nutrients, but they also contain enzyme inhibitors and antinutrients. The diet allows raw nuts, but if you want to maximize nutrition and digestibility, get in the habit of soaking and dehydrating them. This is important especially for GAPSters, who usually rely on nuts heavily.

Tons of recipes have been adapted for the diet using nuts, dried fruit and honey to make baked goods and desserts. This will give you room to play and not feel deprived, but you need to be careful and eat these in moderation. After all, we do need to unhook from sugar consumption!

Some beans, which are low in starch, are allowed after a lot of healing has taken place. Just like nuts, they must be properly prepared and consumed in moderation.

Salt, herbs and spices
Plenty of salt, please! Salt is essential for digestive healing to happen. All natural — as in… natural, you know? — herbs and spices are allowed in the diet, so you can always make your food taste good!

O’righty… I think that’s it. As you can see, there’s a wide variety of foods the GAPS healing protocol allows for, so OK; it might not be easy peasy BUT it is (as my client Carolyn said) totally doable and totally worth it. Next we are going to talk about the not so fun: what you need to avoid and why.

Don’t forget to comment and ask your questions down there. ’Till next time!

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{ 3 trackbacks }

Healing with GAPS - Page 4
12.06.11 at 7:41 pm
True Nourishment | What exactly is this GAPS healing stuff? (part 2)
02.08.12 at 10:27 am
True Nourishment | What exactly is this GAPS healing stuff? (part 3)
03.21.12 at 6:01 pm

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Renee K 12.06.11 at 7:36 pm

Excellent GAPS run down!

Little favour to ask… can you add a picture to your blog posts so I can pin them in pinterest? Thanks :)


Andrea Reply:

Hi Renne,
Thank you! I’d be happy to become “pin-able” but alas, my talents don’t lie in the photo editing department . Can you send me a link to something appropriate?


2 Sam 12.08.11 at 10:14 am

Hi Andrea, I totally correlate with your “health starts in your gut” idea. Having struggled with digestive issues for a long long time and recently been diagnosed with IBS, looking fwd to learn more about the GAPS protocol. I am however a vegetarian, both by ethnicity and by choice; I do have eggs. Is it possible at all to heal one’s digestion without incorporating meat/fish into the diet while following GAPS? Thanks.


Andrea Reply:

Hi Sam,

This is such a big question that it deserves its own blog post. I’ll respond soon, OK


Tessa Reply:

I would love to know if this diet can still heal the gut whilst following it as a vegetarian (however, willing to eat fish).


Andrea Reply:

The answer to this questions has been discussed ad nauseam by followers, critics and practitioners. The short answer is: it depends! However I remind you that you should not lose your north: you’re not in to follow a diet, but to heal your body. What does that take, in YOUR case? Only conscious experimentation — hopefully with professional oversight — and time will tell.

3 Natalia 01.15.12 at 12:27 pm

My mother has serious digestive problems. She had her gallbladder removed last year after she had a severe case of acute pancreatitis. She also has very little of her intestines left after Chron’s disease 15 years ago (that was her diagnosis at that time). She is a complete mess with high blood pressure, extremely high triglycerides, some heart issues, poor blood circulation, something with the brain (haven’t figured that out yet, she had a head trauma more than 30 year ago), Am I missing anything?
She started GAPS diet a few weeks ago. She is currently in Russia so she doesn’t have an access to the book. I explained the basics, but I think she mixed up everything. She said she was feeling better, but her bowel movements vary greatly from day to day. Yesterday, she had a white stool and that scared me (I know it is not good at all). Needless to say it would be useless for her to go to a doctor in Russia.
My question is, what are the precautions that she should follow in her particular situation? And I still don’t understand how and when to transition from one stage to another. (How long one should stay on stage one, for example, before moving to stage too? What signs to look for, besides the stool?)


Andrea Reply:

Have you consider having her do a session with Dr. Natasha? I know she’s booked many months in advance, but I’m sure she could see your mother eventually. The language wouldn’t be an issue… Dr. Larissa Lempert in New York also speaks Russian. I’m not sure if she works remotely, but you can find her information here: http://gaps.me/preview/?page_id=496


Natalia Reply:

I will try to make it to the meeting on the 25th so that I can meet Dr. Lempert. Maybe I should try reaching Dr. Natasha. Could you just answer the one question about how to tell when your body is ready for the next stage on Intro diet?


Andrea Reply:

I wish there was a definite answer here, but there isn’t. The best indication a well-formed, easy to pass stool, but there are many other factors — how have the symptoms changed? Sometimes you should move along even if there is a certain food from a stage that can’t be tolerated. Sometimes, you should stay there for a few more days/weeks… Looking forward to meeting you soon!

4 Natalia 01.21.12 at 8:05 pm

Well, my mother starter Intro a few weeks ago, but I think she began to move through the stages too quickly. She ended up adding egg yolks, cheeses, a lot of kefir from the start (store bought, but made with kefir grains). She did see some improvements: stopped taking high blood pressure meds, her heart was better, she said that her head had not felt so clear in a long time. But then she developed a severe rash between her buttocks and her stool was white at some point, which scared me, that is when we decided to start from the beginning. She is on stage one now and her stool is very watery. She says she can’t call it diarrhea because the stool itself is formed but with a lot of water. She had to take some meds for the rash, but stopped as they made her sick.
Can this rash be from detox?
Now she doesn’t know how long to stay on stage one. She is eager to move on and at least add egg yolk to the diet.
Too bad there is no GAPS book in Russian.

I wish I could do Intro myself as I am suffering from constant constipation after my pregnancy. My son is 9 months old and is still nursing, so I just try to incorporated broth, some fermented foods, and GAPS milkshakes in my diet.


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