GAPS Diet was first described in 2004 in my book Gut And Psychology Syndrome. Since then it has become known all over the world, helping children and adults to recover from very serious health problems. During those years the diet has been evolving to suite more and more complex patients, and the full spectrum of the GAPS Diet has emerged. Some people do well with following the Full GAPS Diet, which is the easiest to implement and is very suitable for following as a permanent lifestyle. Many people have to go through the GAPS Introduction Diet, which is more difficult to follow, but it achieves deeper healing of the gut and the rest of the body. People with severe digestive problems, severe mental illness and physical conditions found great help following the No-Plant GAPS Diet for a while. At the most severe end patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease and other very serious health problems found GAPS Ketogenic Diet to be the most appropriate approach. Then there are people who need to eat more plant matter to feel well; these people enjoy the More-Plant GAPS Diet.
The full spectrum of the GAPS Diet:
- GAPS Introduction Diet
- The Full GAPS Diet
- The No-Plant GAPS Diet
- GAPS Ketogenic Diet
- More-Plant GAPS Diet
Now we will have a more detailed look at each approach.
GAPS INTRODUCTION DIET
The Introduction Diet is designed to heal and seal the gut lining quickly. It achieves this aim by providing three factors:
1. Large amounts of nourishing substances for the gut lining: amino acids, gelatine, glucosamine, collagen, fats, vitamins, minerals, etc. – all the substances, which your gut lining is made from. Your gut wall renews itself all the time by shedding off old and worn out cells and giving birth to new cells. In order to produce healthy new cells, your gut lining needs very special nourishment, which this diet will provide in abundance. As a result you will build a new healthy gut wall for yourself, made out of quality materials.
2. Many GAPS people have inflammation and ulcerations in their gut lining, which they may not be aware of. Your gut lining may be sore and very sensitive. GAPS Introduction Diet is very gentle; it removes fibre and any other substances, which may irritate or damage your gut and interfere with the healing process.
3. The cell regeneration process in the gut lining is ruled and orchestrated by the beneficial microbes, which normally live on its surface. Without their presence there can be no healing! GAPS Introduction Diet provides probiotic microbes in the food form right from the start.
The very name Introduction Diet implies that we begin with this diet. It is helpful for most GAPS patients to go through the Introduction Diet at some stage in their healing, because it gives them the best chance to optimise the healing process in the gut and the rest of the body. However, not everybody has to start from the Introduction Diet. This diet is very demanding and can be difficult to follow. Depending on your life style and circumstances you may want to start from the Full GAPS Diet and do the Introduction Diet later. If you are a good cook, your kitchen is set up well and you have found a supply of all the necessary ingredients, you may be ready to do the Introduction Diet from the beginning. Unfortunately, many people are not in this group: they need to organise their lives and their kitchen to start doing a lot of cooking, find suppliers of the right food, take a break from a busy job, take their child out of school (or wait for a long school holiday), etc., etc.
Here are the usual situations when it is sensible to start from the Full GAPS Diet and plan to do the GAPS Introduction Diet later.
• If you are travelling and working away and are not set up to cook, it is easier to start from the Full GAPS Diet. You can eat out on the Full GAPS Diet and the choice of allowed foods is much wider. Later on, in about six months or a year, you may be able to get organised to follow the GAPS Introduction Diet.
• When we are trying to heal a person where compliance may be an issue, it is sensible to start from the Full GAPS Diet. About a year down the road a lot of healing will be achieved, and the person may be ready to go through the rigors of the GAPS Introduction Diet and comply with it.
• People with chronic constipation do better starting from the Full GAPS Diet. This group of people usually rely on fibre supplementation to pass any stool at all. On the Introduction Diet we remove fibre, which is likely to make this person even more constipated. When constipation is resolved on the Full GAPS Diet, you can then attempt the GAPS Introduction Diet to achieve deeper healing.
• People without serious digestive symptoms can start from the Full GAPS Diet and, in some cases, they recover from their illnesses without having to go through the GAPS Introduction Diet at all. I had such patients with depression, ADHD and autoimmune disease. However, this group is fairly small. Majority of people have to go through the GAPS Introduction Diet at some stage in their healing, and often not once.
Following the Introduction Diet fully is absolutely essential for people with serious digestive symptoms: chronic diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating, reflux, blood or mucous in the stool, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, acute or chronic gastritis, acute or chronic enterocolitis, oesophagitis and other serious digestive disorders. This diet will reduce the symptoms quickly and initiate the healing process in the digestive system. Even for healthy people, if you or your child gets a ‘tummy bug’ or any other form of diarrhoea, following the 1 st or 2 nd stages of the GAPS Introduction Diet for a few days will clear the symptoms quickly and permanently, usually without needing any medication.
People with food allergies and intolerances should go through the GAPS Introduction Diet in order to heal and seal their gut lining. The reason for allergies and food intolerances is a so-called “leaky gut”, when the gut lining is damaged by unhealthy microbial flora. Foods do not get the chance to be digested properly before they get absorbed through this damaged gut wall and cause the immune system to react to them. Many people try to identify which foods they react to. However, with damaged gut wall they are likely to absorb most of their foods partially digested, which may cause an immediate reaction or a delayed reaction (a day, a few days or even a couple of weeks later). As these reactions overlap with each other, you can never be sure what exactly you are reacting to on any given day. Testing for food allergies is notoriously unreliable: if one had enough resources to test twice a day for two weeks, they would find that they are “allergic” to everything they eat. As long as the gut wall is damaged and stays damaged, you can be juggling your diet forever removing different foods and never getting anywhere. From my clinical experience it is best to concentrate on healing the gut wall with the GAPS Introduction Diet. Once the gut wall is healed, the foods will be digested properly before being absorbed, which will remove most food intolerances and allergies. If there is a particular food you react strongly to, it makes sense to remove it while you are working on healing your gut wall with the Introduction Diet. Once the gut heals you may be able to re-introduce that food back into your diet.
THE FULL GAPS DIET
If you have gone through the GAPS Introduction Diet before moving into the Full GAPS Diet, then you will be quite experienced already on how to use this healing protocol. Just expand your diet according to the lists of allowed and not-allowed foods.
If you have decided to start from the Full GAPS Diet, then please study carefully the GAPS Introduction Diet first, because it will give you essential information about the most important elements of this nutritional protocol – meat stock, soups and fermented foods. These foods need to be introduced on the Full GAPS Diet from the very beginning.
Many delicious recipes can be used on the Full GAPS Diet, including baking breads, cakes and desserts. However, keep in mind that, as pleasant as they are, you do not start from them. About 85% of everything you eat daily should be made from meats (including organ meats), fish, meat and fish stock, eggs, fermented dairy and vegetables (some well-cooked, some fermented and some raw). Baking and fruit should be limited to snacks between meals; they should not replace the main meals. If you are starting from the Full GAPS Diet, baking and fruit should be kept out of the diet for a few weeks, and then introduced slowly and gradually watching your symptoms: your body will let you know if you are ready for them. If you are not ready, symptoms, which started disappearing when you avoided fruit, nuts and baking, will return when you introduce them.
Everything you eat must be cooked at home from fresh ingredients. We do not consume any processed ‘foods’ on the GAPS Diet. Introduce fermented foods gradually.
It is very important for a GAPS person to have plenty of natural fats in every meal from meats (animal fats), butter, ghee, coconut and cold pressed olive oil. The fat content of the meal will regulate the blood sugar level and control cravings for carbohydrates. Cooking should be done with animal fats, which you rendered yourself from meats. They will provide you with a plethora of nutrients to heal your immunity, nervous system and your gut; the bulk of all fats you consume should be animal fats. Use generous amounts when cooking with them; the more animal fats you consume, the quicker you will recover.
It is important to balance your meals according to your body’s needs. Please read the chapter One man’s meat is another man’s poison in the second GAPS book (Gut And Physiology Syndrome) to understand this issue fully. Every one of us is a unique individual with a unique metabolism. Nobody in the world can dictate to you what proportions of animal foods (meats, fish, eggs and dairy) to vegetables you need to eat at every meal. Only your body knows that, and it will let you know through your senses how to choose your foods correctly.
Going through the GAPS Diet you will become an expert on how your body responds to food in its own individual way. This is a unique and very valuable knowledge, which can serve you well for the rest of your life. That is why it is a very good idea to keep a diary through the GAPS Introduction Diet and further, where you record the whole process of food introduction and your individual symptoms and reactions.
The Full GAPS Diet needs to be followed for about two years. Some people with milder conditions can start introducing non-allowed foods in about a year; others must adhere to the diet strictly for many years, and some for the rest of their lives. When your health problems are gone and you have been well for six months at least, you may be able to consider coming off the GAPS Diet. At that stage please look at the relevant chapter in the GAPS books. For some people the Full GAPS Diet has to become a permanent lifestyle.
NO-PLANT GAPS DIET
Many medics would agree that in recent years our patients are getting more complicated and more severe. As I was trying to help FPIES children, babies and small children with diabetes type one, children and adults with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and people with severe mental illness, I have discovered that their digestive systems were so damaged that even the first stage of the GAPS Introduction Diet was not gentle enough. Despite having very small amounts of well-cooked vegetables they continued suffering from diarrhoea, abdominal pain and vomiting. So, the logical step was to remove all plant matter out of the diet. Not a leaf, not a speck of anything from the plant kingdom was allowed. It was a difficult path to follow, but the patients tried it and we started getting results! Diarrhoea started disappearing, vomiting stopped, the patients started sleeping well, putting on weight and children started growing. Behaviour started improving and many individual symptoms started disappearing. The first group of patients that followed the No-Plant GAPS Diet were babies with FPIES (Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome). The next group were children with ulcerative colitis and adults with mental illness. One patient with severe rheumatoid arthritis tried it with very good results. Having accumulated some experience, I now recommend this approach to any person who tried the GAPS Introduction Diet and the Full GAPS Diet, and is still struggling with digestive symptoms or any other chronic symptoms. I now have patients who have been on the No-Plant GAPS Diet for four years and longer and they are thriving. This experience demonstrates the fact that it is perfectly safe and healthy for human beings to live without eating any plants at all! In other words, humans can live entirely on animal foods with excellent health; plants appear to be not essential for us. Please, read more about this in my book Vegetarianism Explained.
GAPS KETOGENIC DIET
Ketones (acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetone) are water- soluble substances produced in the body when it uses fats for making energy. In a normal healthy state our bodies can use both glucose and fats, depending on the composition of our meals, activity level and other factors. Having ketones in the blood is normal, because fat is the preferred source of energy for most organs and tissues in the human body. Every time your body burns its own fat for energy, ketones are produced, and they can also be used for energy production.
The mainstream medical profession is trained to fear ketones because of a very dangerous situation, which can happen in diabetic people, called ketoacidosis. When the body starts using mostly fat for producing energy it goes into a state of physiological ketosis, which is perfectly normal and healthy and has nothing to do with diabetic ketoacidosis.
By changing our diet we can deliberately switch the body to using fats as a source of energy instead of using glucose. Ketones are produced as a result of this type of energy production, so the diet is called a ketogenic diet. Ketogenic diets have been gaining popularity over several decades now. They are being used successfully for treating cancer, epilepsy, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity, mental illness and other severe health problems.
In my experience, for the vast majority of GAPS people there is no need to get into ketosis; just following the standard GAPS Diet will provide all the necessary tools for healing. One situation where this has been found useful is cancer. Please, read the second GAPS book (Gut And Physiology Syndrome) to get full understanding of this concept.
THE MORE-PLANT GAPS DIET
Every human being is unique with a unique constitution and metabolism. There are people who need to eat more plants to feel well. And even people, who thrive on mostly animal foods, have periods when their bodies ask for more plant matter. The chapter One Man’s Meat is Another Man’s Poison in the second GAPS book (Gut And Physiology Syndrome) goes into this subject in detail. We must learn to listen to our bodies and give them what they need, and these needs change all the time. The GAPS Diet is flexible and it is possible to eat plenty of plants when your gut is ready for it. Make sure that you do not suffer from diarrhoea or abdominal pain in order to follow this form of the GAPS Diet.
The More-Plant GAPS Diet is not vegetarian. We need to continue eating meats, fish, eggs and fermented dairy products. But on this diet one can reduce their amount and increase the amounts of plants in your meals, and some meals can even be vegetarian. Adjust the proportions of plant to animal foods in every meal according to your body’s needs.
At first glance the GAPS Diet may appear to be hard work. However, it is a very wholesome and healthy diet and will allow you to lay a strong foundation for good health for life! It means that many GAPS people do not have to adhere to a special diet for the rest of their lives: once the digestive system starts functioning normally, they can gradually introduce most wholesome foods commonly eaten around the world. Some people achieve this target in two years, some take longer. It depends on the severity of the condition and the age of the person. Once introduced, the GAPS Diet is no more difficult than any normal cooking and feeding the family. And shopping is very simple: just buy everything fresh and unprocessed.