Every few years, a new diet or health sensation enters the market, promising better results. However, one of the latest and most different trends out there right now is the GAPS diet. This strict elimination diet places a lot of restrictions on users but claims to help people with a range of medical issues. In fact, certain experts recommend it as a natural remedy for individuals dealing with mental health issues. However, it also has several doubters who refuse to believe that a diet could help people with such conditions that affect the brain. What is the GAPS diet, does it work, and how does it work?
What is the GAPS Diet?
GAPS, which stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, is a very controversial therapy that follows a restrictive regimen. The meal plan was formulated by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who believes that the brain is deeply affected by the gut. In fact, she states that a lot of mental health issues arise due to a leaky gut, which increases the permeability of our gut wall. Therefore, the GAPS theory works on the belief that by preventing such leakage, we can prevent and alleviate symptoms related to mental health issues. Theorists believe that the leaky gut syndrome allows chemicals to seep from your food into your bloodstream, causing hormonal changes and other problems. The GAPS diet, therefore, heals the gut, preventing it from contaminating our blood and eventually, our brain.
What Does GAPS Work For?
Dr. Campbell-McBride states in her book that the GAPS diet helped her cure her child of autism. She also claims that the diet helps in curing the following neurological conditions:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Bipolar disorder
The GAPS diet is usually put in place for children who have one of the above-mentioned health issues. In fact, the doctor claims that her diet protocol even works for children who have a food allergy or sensitivity. The entire process takes over a year to implement, as it requires you to cut out a large number of food types. Some of the major food groups that it avoids are starchy veggies, grains, refined carbohydrates, and pasteurized dairy products.
What are the Stages of the GAPS Diet?
The introductory phase is the most intense one as it eliminates the most types of foods. It also has the name gut healing phase, as it starts the process of protecting your gut wall. The introductory phase can last anywhere from three weeks to one year, depending on how severe your symptoms are. Here’s a breakdown of this elimination phase.
- Drink adequate amounts of homemade bone broth
- Add juices mixed with probiotic foods and ginger to your diet
- Include drinks that have mint, honey, and chamomile tea to your diet and have them between meals.
- Switch to unpasteurized and homemade yogurt.
- Add raw organic egg yolks to your diet.
- Replace pasteurized butter with a more natural alternative, such as ghee
- Eat stews made using vegetables, meat, and fish.
- Add avocados and fermented vegetables to your diet
- Try to cook GAPS-approved pancakes and scrambled eggs
- Switch entirely to ghee, and animal fat, such as duck or goose fat.
- Add grilled and roasted meats to your diet
- Start using cold-pressed virgin olive oil
- You can also start drinking vegetable juice and GAPS-approved bread.
- Introduce cooked apple purée to your diet
- Eat more raw vegetables, such as lettuce and peeled cucumber
- Drink more fruit juice and eat small amounts of natural fruit, but avoid citrus fruits
Finally, add more raw fruit to your diet, including citrus fruits and those high in Vitamin C. However, make sure every food group you introduce is slowly incorporated into your diet. Add small amounts and build the quantity gradually. Move from one stage to another only after you are sure your body tolerates these food groups. The best way to know whether you tolerate a food group is to monitor your bowel movements.
Maintenance: Full GAPS Diet
You should start this phase only after being sure that your body has become okay with the introductions phase. This will require you to have regular bowel movements for 6 months straight. Every time you introduce a new food group, wait to ensure that your body can tolerate it. Only increase proportions after you are certain you don’t have any digestive issues. This phase of the diet can last around 1.5–2 years. During this phase, people must base a majority of their diet on the following:
- Fresh meat that is hormone-free and natural, such as grass-fed
- More natural animal fats, such as lard, lamb, duck or goose fat, and ghee
- Fish and Shellfish
- Organic and natural eggs
- Fermented foods that act as probiotics, like kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut
- Vegetables that are non-starchy and organic
- Nuts and seeds
- Baked goods made using nut flours and which are GAPS-approved
Rules to Follow On the GAPS Diet
- Never eat meat and fruit together or pair them together.
- Always use organic foods whenever you can, and avoid ones that are heavily processed.
- Include more animal fats and natural cooking oils, such as coconut oil and cold-pressed olive oil into your diet.
- Drink bone broth along with all your meals.
- If your body can tolerate it, add fermented foods to your diet, and consume them regularly.
- Avoid all types of packaged, canned, and heavily-processed foods.
- Avoid foods that contain refined carbs, artificial flavors, preservatives, and artificial colorings.
Final Phase: Other Food Groups
The last phase allows you to add other types of food groups into your diet very slowly. However, like with the other two phases, make sure you do this slowly, and along with constant monitoring. While there is no strict list when it comes to what foods you should introduce, you can start with potatoes and gluten-free grains. You can also begin having various supplements, such as probiotics, essential fatty acids, cod liver oil, and essential digestive enzymes.
Does the GAPS Diet Actually Work?
As of now, no studies have reinforced that this diet works. There have not been any that have worked towards examining how an elimination diet helps the prevention and treatment of autism. Therefore, there is no research backing when it comes to the claims made by the dieters. In fact, studies have shown that the keto diet and gluten-free diet do, in fact, help improve autism-related symptoms. But as these studies have a high drop-out rate, we are still unsure regarding whether these work.
All in all, the GAPS diet is very restrictive and will be one that is challenging to follow. Make sure you consult a doctor before taking a stand. Also, it might be challenging to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need when on this diet. One of the most significant risks associated with it is, therefore, malnutrition in kids. Also, children with autism may not like the constant addition of new food groups, and might not react well to this diet. If you do want to try it out, make sure you get professional help before you start so that it remains safe!