The GAPS Diet
When you hear the word “diet” what comes to mind?
If you’re like most people, you instantly think “weight loss.”
However, the word “diet” actually means “a way of life”—and diets simply entail the foods we eat on the daily for our best health.
For some, the “diet” they follow actually means eating foods that help heal their body, if they are coming from a place of illness, disease or digestive distress.
“Therapeutic diets” can help one do just that.
Ever heard of GAPS diet? If not…read on about how food can be your medicine—especially if you struggle with anxiety, depression or digestive woes.
GAPS Diet 101
Back in the day, “paleo” used to be the only “real food” nutrition philosophy out there.
Fast forward to today, and we’re bombarded with all sorts of diet philosophies about “keto,” and “AIP” and “specific carbohydrate diet” and “GAPS”…But what’s the difference?
More than a weight loss approach, the above mentioned protocols are actually “therapeutic” or “healing diets”—designed to help treat disease, restore gut health
There’s a ton of different “healthy” and “gut-healing” diet protocols.
The “GAPS” nutrition protocol—also known as “Gut & Psychology Syndrome” protocol is a dietary strategy developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride when she was trying to find a cure and treatment for her son with autism.
After running into wall after wall with doctors who told her that her son would always be “that way,” Campbell-McBride began to turn to “food as medicine.”
She studied and observed the impact of certain foods on her son’s behavior and symptoms, and unbeknownst to herself at the time, began to become a leader in the “gut-brain” connection school of thought.
GAPS has become a leading a dietary treatment, designed to help individuals heal from their own struggles with neurological conditions, anxiety, digestive pathologies, autoimmune disease and general inflammation.
And the philosophy is quite simple:
Eat real food: Especially meat, fish, vegetables and healthy fats.
The diet progresses in stages, and eliminates a greater amount of inflammatory-causing foods in the beginning in order to support gut restoration.
The ultimate goal?
Reintroduction of a wide variety of foods, a healthier brain and a happier gut.
Win. Win. Win.
THE GAPS PROTOCOL: HOW IT WORKS
GAPS diet begins with a 6-stage “Introductory” phase that generally takes people 3-6 weeks to complete.
Each stage lasts about 5 days, and helps a person remove many common “trigger” foods (associated with poor gut health or brain function) in order to allow their body to heal their gut and mind, then slowly help them expand and reintroduce foods back in.
At the end of the “introductory” phase, you finally arrive to the “full GAPS diet”—which includes all the foods found here.
The primary foods GAPS eliminates throughout the entire course include those with the highest connections to gut and brain inflammation, digestive difficulties and poor brain power, including:
Grains (rice, breads, pasta)
Corn, Corn Syrup, Corn Starch
Other food additives (carageenan, cellulose gum, MSG)
Conventional, processed deli meats and smoked meats
Some fruits* (FOS fructooligosaccharides; Pectin—like citrus, grapes, apples, plums)—*Consume in small amounts and notice if they bother you
The diet is not meant to last “forever”, but it is a therapeutic diet with the end goal to eat “in abundance.”
(Download the GAPS food list here)
A supplemental approach is often also recommended, entailing probiotics, hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), digestive enzymes and/or anti-microbial herbs to support gut healing.
GAPS may be followed independently, but it is best guided by a skilled and knowledgeable nutrition or functional medicine practitioner, familiar with treating and supporting gut health and restoration.
Here’s an overview of what foods each of the three GAPS stages includes and eliminates:
THE GAPS DIET PROTOCOL: INTRODUCTION STAGES 1-6 PROGRESSION
Each stage is intended to last 3-5 days and allow gut and mind healing to take place.
STAGE 1: Keep it Simple
Progress to the next stage every 3-5 days, as long as your body tolerates it:
Eat in Abundance
- Homemade meat stock (beef, lamb, bison, chicken, turkey, pheasant or fish)
- Stew or soup made with well cooked meats or fish and well cooked vegetables and meat stock
- Probiotic foods (homemade fermented vegetable juices and/or homemade fermented whey, yogurt or sour cream daily—1-2 tsp daily);
- Fresh ginger tea, chamomile tea with raw honey, if desired (and not dealing with bacterial overgrowth)
- Well boiled broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, leeks
- Baked squash, winter and summer
- Boiled meats
- Sea salt
- Purified water*
*Start the day with a cup of still mineral or filtered water.
STAGE 2- Eggs & Fermented Foods
Eat in Abundance
Everything in Stage 1, plus:
Raw organic egg yolks & Soft boiled eggs if no allergy to the white is suspected
Stews and casseroles made with meats and vegetables.
Increase daily amount of homemade yogurt, kefir
Sauerkraut, fermented vegetables or vegetable medley if juice was initially introduced
Eat in Abundance
Everything in Stages 1 & 2, plus:
Ripe avocado eaten with broth, starting with 1-3 teaspoons a day
Nutbutter* pancakes mixed with squash and eggs and cooked in fat or ghee — starting judiciously with one a day
STAGE 4-“Bread” & Olive Oil
Eat in Abundance
All of the above and you may add:
Freshly made vegetable juices: start with a few tablespoons of carrot juice (made with a juicer — not pureed vegetables)
Bread* made with nut flour, eggs, squash, fat, salt
Cold pressed olive oil
STAGE 5-Raw Veggies + Grilled Meat
Eat in Abundance
All of the above, plus:
Raw legal vegetables, peeled and deseeded
Fresh applesauce from cooked and pureed apples
Raw honey, up to a couple tablespoons a day (that includes any that is in baked goods)
Boiled, roasted, or grilled meat
Juiced apple, pineapple, and mango (avoid citrus)
STAGE 6-Pumpkin Muffins + Fruits
All of the above and you may add:
Peeled, raw apple
Other raw fruits may be introduced slowly
Baked goods with dried fruit as a sweetener
GAPS PROTOCOL FOOD LIST
You’ve finally arrived!
Check out the GAPS Food download for all-you-can-eat foods, plus 3 bonus GAPS recipes .
Primal Defense Ultra
Florasport by Thorne
Fish Oil or Fermented Cod Liver Oil
When I first heard about the GAPS “diet,” the word “diet” had me completely turned off, with my fingers in my ears.
“La, la, la…I don’t want to hear it…”
However, as I have learned more about it, and implemented some of the principles myself for my own gut healing, I have discovered that the use of GAPS as “medicine” can be enormously impactful for some—especially those who have tried the whole “eating healthier” approach, only to still feel like their body is at war with them.
The thing is: GAPS diet is not intended to last a lifetime.
If you’re considering experimenting, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of GAPS is not restriction, but abundance—first “wiping the slate clean” for optimal healing of the gut and mind, then, adding more nourishing foods that (hopefully) your body tolerates better than before.
Think: Growth and abundant mindset…Not restrictive.
HOW DO I KNOW WHERE TO START?
Your initial state of health will determine if the full-on 6-stage approach is warranted.
People who may benefit from the FULL GAPS include those with:
- Moderate-high chronic anxiety
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Sensory processing disorder
- SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
- Parasites in stool
- Dysbiosis (disrupted gut flora)
- Repeat Candida overgrowth
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Chronic Diarrhea
- Those who have tried “gut healing” through supplements or “clean diet” changes with no luck
If you are generally healthy, but still experience some “digestive issues” (gas, bloating, constipation, allergies, low immunity), you can benefit from GAPS too, but you may not need to go through all 6 stages.
Instead of building up for 15-20 days to more solid foods and variety, consider a 24-hour broth and juice day, then hop into Stage 4 and finish it out from there. This will thoroughly rest a semi-functioning or lagging digestive tract.
THE BOTTOM LINE
5 Core GAPS Principles
- GAPS is a therapeutic diet to heal the body and mind. Use wisely.
- Meat broths, fermented foods, apple cider vinegar are your BFF’s
- Don’t forget to take a probiotic
- Keep it simple: Simple foods. End in mind. One day at a time.
- Eat in “abundance” (not restriction). Aim to integrate and expand your diet as your body heals).
Download your WORKSHEET here for a full GAPS food list, daily sample meal plans and ideas, and 3 exclusive recipes.
GAPS FOOD LIST
Squash (summer and winter)
FISH (Wild Caught only, NO Farm Raised)
NUTS AND LEGUMES (ideally sprouted or as nut butters)
Almonds (sprouted or as raw nut butter)
Coconut (technically a drupe)
Lima Beans (soaked)
Navy Beans (soaked)
Nut flours (in moderate amounts – no more than 1/4 cup a day)
FATS / OILS
Palm Oil (sustainable)
DAIRY (raw, aged and grass-fed)
Goat Cheese (aged 60+ days)
Kefir (Cultured Goat Milk) (fermented 24+ hours)
Raw Sheep Cheese (aged 60+ days)
Sheep Yogurt (fermented 24+ hours)
Raw Cows Cheese (aged 60+ days)
Raw Cows amasai, kefir and yogurt (fermented 24+ hours)
MEAT (Organic, Grass-fed)
Quail and other wild game
Venison and other wild game
FRUITS – in moderation
Watermelon (no seeds)
SPICES AND HERBS
Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw Vegetable Juices
Spring Water (or Filtered)
Wine, in moderation
SWEETENERS – in moderation
Dates made into paste
SAMPLE GAPS MEAL PLAN
*After Introductory Phase
After you’ve walked through the basic protocol, here are some ideas to begin to eat “in abundance” (again).
12-16 oz. Filtered Water with sea salt and lemon
Nut butter Pancakes with 1 Tbsp. Pure Maple
Pork Sausage (nitrate free)
Nut-based Crackers (homemade, or store bought, like Simple Mills)
Cold Pressed Green Juice
Herb Crusted Salmon
Roasted Rainbow Carrots
OTHER GAPS MEAL IDEAS: SIMPLIFIED
Eggs Over Easy
Coconut Yogurt with fruit
Coconut Flour Pancakes
Nutbutter Pancakes (with banana or squash)
“Hash”: Ground sausage, butternut squash, greens, mushrooms, ghee
Applegate Farms Breakfast Chicken Sausages or Turkey Sausages
Homemade Sausage Patties
Ham (sugar free, nitrate free)
Bacon (no nitrates, sugar)
Smoothies with coconut milk, vanilla beef isolate protein powder, greens, banana, nut butter
Coconut Flour Muffins
Meat, Veggies, Avocado
Grownup Lunchable: Turkey/Ham Roll-ups, Cooked Steamed Carrots, Primal Kitchen Ranch Dressing
Lettuce Wraps with Ground Meat, Avocado, Tomatoes, Sprouts
Butternut Squash or Acorn Squash, Ground Turkey, Coconut Butter, Greens
Greens with Meat, Olives, Olive Oil + Apple Cider Vinegar
Burger Patties, Guacamole, Crispy Brussels Sprouts
Tuna, Chicken or Salmon Salad
Nut/seed-crackers, Turkey/Ham, Grassfed Cheddar Cheese (occasional)
Hot Dogs—no nitrates
Baked Chicken Thighs, Summer Squash-Roasted with Avocado Oil, Greens
Nutbutter with Celery, Fermented or Coconut Yogurt
Pot Roast, Veggies
Homemade Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash
Cauliflower Shepherd’s Pie
Pulled pork with Sweet Onions & Meat Broth
Baked Salmon or Snapper with Veggies
Butternut or Acorn Squash Coconut Milk Soup
Chicken Curry over Zucchini Noodles
Roast Chicken with Roasted Beets & Asparagus
“Sloppy Joes” (meat and seasonings) over Spinach
Bacon & Eggs
Stir Fry with Coconut Aminos
Bison Beanless Chili with Coconut Flour “Cornbread”
Grass-fed Burger Patties with Carrot Fries
Fish with “Yogurt Sauce” on top (coconut yogurt) in Coconut Flour Tortillas
Grass-Fed Steak with Cauliflower Mash + Pan-fried Collard Greens
Coconut Butter + Green Apple
Cucumber Tomato Salad
Raw Sprouted Nutbutter + 1/2 Banana
Carrots with Homemade Paleo Ranch or Hummus
Handful Raw, Sprouted Nuts & Seeds
1 cup cooked & pureed squash (like butternut, cut into chunks, & simmered in broth or water until soft)
1 cup nutbutter (such as almond)
5 eggs (yolks & whites divided)
½ tsp salt
Beat the egg whites until fluffy.
With either a food processor or an immersion blender & large bowl, blend the egg yolks, squash, nutbutter & salt until smooth.
Gently fold mixture into the egg whites until blended together.
Fry in a pan (preferably a well-seasoned cast iron griddle) over low heat. Don’t burn.
1 Rotisserie Chicken (or 1-2 lbs. Chicken)
1-2 Tbsp. Avocado Oil Mayo (Primal Kitchen)
Add-ins: Grapes, Celery, Cranberries, Cucumber (you choose)
Mix all ingredients until well combined.
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Place almond flour, egg, salt, and pepper in a blender of food processor.
Pulse until dough forms
Place dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper
Roll out to 1/16 inch thick, then remove top piece of parchment paper
Transfer bottom piece of parchment paper with rolled out dough onto baking sheet
Cut into 2 inch squares using a pizza cutter or a knife
Sprinkle with extra salt and pepper if desired
Bake at 350° for 12-14 minutes
3-4 wild caught salmon fillets (6oz each)
2 tbsp. coconut flour
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (or dried, if you have on hand)
1.5 tablespoon olive oil
1.5 tbsp. dijon mustard
sea salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Place salmon fillets on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet.
Top salmon with olive oil and dijon mustard and rub into your salmon.
In a small bowl, mix together your coconut flour, parsley, and salt and pepper.
Use a spoon to sprinkle on your toppings on your salmon and then your hand to pat into your salmon.
Place in oven for 10-15 minutes or until salmon is cooked to your preference. I cooked mine more on the medium rare side at 12 minutes.