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« Recipe: Nourishing Bone Broth | Main | I Spy Blue! Using Food to Teach Your Child Colors »

Healing the Gut with GAPS – An Introduction

What is the GAPS diet?

The GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet is a gut-healing protocol developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride to help heal her son’s autism, and later to help hundreds of other children with multiple food allergies and many overlapping psychological and immune disorders.

She discovered the SCD Diet (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) and changed it slightly to fit the needs of her patients. It was actually her patients who coined the term “GAP Syndrome” or simply “GAPS”. The diet that she prescribed for them became known as the GAPS Diet.

More Than One Condition - Always

In her book titled “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”, Dr. Campbell-McBride describes how after years of working with children in her Cambridge clinic, she hardly ever met a child who presented with only one condition.

“Every child has two, three or more of these health problems at once. For example, a child would present with allergies; at the same time the parents would describe a couple of asthmatic episodes and eczema and then would talk about their child’s extreme clumsiness (dyspraxia) and learning problems.…many autistic children have severe allergies, asthma, eczema, dyspraxia and dyslexia.”

Gut First

She further illustrates how the underlying condition of all of these disorders lies in the digestive system. She feels that the gut must be healed if any of the symptoms are going to be fully addressed.

Here’s the thing: knowledge about the connection between gut health and brain health is still not in the mainstream. Interesting, huh?

Does Insanity Lie In the Gut?

In 1807, the Father of modern psychiatry, French psychiatrist Phillipe Pinel concluded:

“The primary seat of insanity generally is in the region of the stomach and intestines.”

Dr. Pinel had been working with mental patients for many years, yet his knowledge has been virtually ignored by modern psychiatry. Dr. Campbell-McBride refers to Pinel’s work when she discusses that digestive symptoms begin at the time of weaning and when formula is introduced at infancy. Symptoms then increase as more and more foods are introduced to the already compromised digestive system.

As a nutritionist, and as someone who has used this diet to heal her own gut, this is very interesting to me. The success of this diet shows us how much more education is needed around how to care for our own health and the health of our children. What did our ancestor’s diets look like before modern “conveniences” existed like infant formula, pasteurized dairy or refined grains? Every traditional diet contains fermented foods…what are the fermented foods that your ancestors used to maintain good health year round?

The Purpose: Heal & Seal

The purpose of the GAPS protocol is to “heal and seal” the inflamed and irritated digestive system. There is an intro phase to the GAPS protocol that can last as long as one needs in order heal the gut. Fermented foods and a probiotic supplement aid in the colonization of good bacteria in the gut; while vegetable juice is used to help the body to eliminate toxins. The second phase of the GAPS protocol is a systematic re-introduction of foods that are on the list of GAPS approved foods, which includes vegetables, fruits, legumes, gluten-free grains, and fermented dairy products. If there are symptoms present when a food is reintroduced, then you go back to the intro diet until symptoms subside and another food can be “tested”.

Six-Stage Protocol (to Follow Diligently)

There are six stages of the GAPS diet. This is not a quick-fix, by any means. The diet takes time and dedication. If you don’t follow the healing protocol carefully and diligently then you won’t get the full benefit. You must remove all starches and grains, and purchase a very high quality probiotic supplement. You must also maintain a constant supply of bone broth/soup, which is time consuming (much less time consuming if you have a pressure cooker!) but which is a key ingredient for success. It can also take a good amount of time to heal the gut, since in many cases the damage has been done over a period of many years, although immediate improvement in many symptoms may be noticed on the GAPS diet.

What You Can Eat & Why

In the GAPS intro diet meats and fish, eggs and non-starchy vegetables are allowed. Bone, meat and fish stock soups are the staple of the intro part of the diet. They are soothing and healing for the inflamed gut lining and help aid in digestion. Probiotic foods are also very important during the intro and full GAPS diet, such as raw sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables. Raw egg yolks can be added to soup if no egg allergy exists.  This provides excellent nourishment and protein.

After the intro phase of the diet, fermented dairy like homemade kefir and whey, yogurt and sour cream are gradually added if there is no adverse reaction and you are not allergic to dairy. Homemade ghee is also gradually added into the diet, again, if not allergic to dairy.  We can find alternatives for dairy allergies.

What to Avoid

  • All grains and anything made from these grains (both gluten-containing and gluten-free grains): wheat, rye, rice, oats, corn, barley, millet, spelt, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.
  • All starchy vegetables and anything made out of them: potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, parsnips, cassava, arrowroot, etc.
  • Sugar and anything that contains sugar.
  • Starchy beans and peas: soybeans, mung beans, garbanzo beans, bean sprouts, fava beans.
  • Lactose and anything that contains it: milk, dried milk of any type, commercially produced yogurt, buttermilk and sour cream, processed foods with added lactose.

There is a cookbook that goes along with the informational book that is excellent if you are going to be taking on the GAPS diet and are determined to heal your and/or you child’s gut. The intro diet is pretty straight-forward (though challenging!), but as you begin to heal the gut and are able to introduce more foods back into the diet, you may want to get the cookbook which I personally found to be a valuable resource.

Get Started with Bone Broth

If you aren’t ready to dive into the full diet, get started by changing a few habits (like giving up soda, or better, all processed sugar) and adding foods from the allowed list.

Here is my own personal recipe for a deeply nourishing bone broth, which can be used as a rich base for any soup. Bone broth is a key part of the GAPS diet. Give it a try, and enjoy!


To learn more about Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride and the GAPS diet, please visit the official GAPS website.

For a full list of foods to avoid, see the book:  Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia by Natasha Campbell-McBride


About Brooke

Brooke Kaufman is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant who creates customized meal plans for her clients with multiple food allergies and intolerances, and for those who are on the GAPS diet. She enjoys helping people eat nourishing food that is easy to prepare and tastes delicious. She believes that having food allergies and intolerances can be a positive challenge that inspires creativity, and brings a higher level of awareness when it comes to what you put in your body. Brooke believes that when we deeply nourish ourselves inside and out, we can attain optimal health…which includes healing our damaged and inflamed digestive systems.

Brooke received her nutrition education at Bauman College, and has learned through her own personal experience with food intolerances, she also works as a cleanse coach for Cleanse Organic, a 28-day, guided whole food based cleansing program.

Find her at:  Balance Within Nutrition

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