Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), is a condition that establishes a connection between the digestive system and the brain. This term was created by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, in 2004. After working with hundreds of children and adults with neurological and psychiatric conditions, she created the GAPS diet to help reverse these conditions.
In clinical practice, Dr. McBride, noticed that modern psychological patients aren't fitting into one neat little diagnosis. More often then not, patients were diagnosed with multiple psychological disorders. For example, a child with autism often is hyperactive and dyspraxic or a young adult with schizophrenia would often suffer from dyslexia, dyspraxia or/and ADHD/ADD in childhood.
In addition to the diagnosis of multiple psychological disorders, the patients were also physically ill. For these patients, digestive disorders, undernourishment, allergies, asthma, eczema, chronic cystitis, thrush and fussy eating habits are a consistent occurrence.
Dr McBride's continued research found a connection between abnormal gut flora and these psychological and physical illnesses. If a child does not acquire normal balanced gut flora from his/her mother, then the child will not digest and absorb foods properly. Of course if food is not being absorbed it will lead to multiple nutritional deficiencies. Malnutrition is something that is commonly seen in children and adults with learning disabilities, psychiatric problems and allergies.
Another important job of the beneficial bacteria found in the gut is to defend the body against pathogens and to detoxify the body. People who have abnormal gut flora have digestive systems that are not a source of nourishment but actually a source of toxicity. Based on all of her findings, Dr. McBride created a diet, called the GAPS diet, with the purpose of building a healthy gut flora to heal the psychological and physical illnesses in these patients.
The GAPS Diet Basics
The diet starts with an introduction phase and once it is completed the full GAPS diet can be followed. Dr. McBride stresses the importance of the introduction phase, even though it is tempting to skip it, she advises against that. The introduction phase will take longer for people with severe digestive problems but for others it can go rather quickly.
Food Sensitivity Test
She encourages a food sensitivity test in the beginning phases of the diet to see if there are any suspected food allergies or sensitivities. This is the detailed test on Dr. McBride's website:
“Take a drop of the food in question (if the food is solid, mash and mix with a bit of water) and place it on the inside of the wrist of the patient. Do it at bedtime. Let the drop dry on the skin, then let your patient go to sleep. In the morning check the spot: if there is an angry red reaction, then avoid that food for a few weeks, and then try again. If there is no reaction, then go ahead and introduce it gradually starting from a small amount.”
Here is a simplified outline of the phases of the Introduction GAPS Diet:
Phase 1 – Begin with these foods:
- Meat and fish stocks
- Homemade soups made with stock, adding juice from fermented vegetables
- Probiotic foods (juice from sauerkraut, kefir, juice from fermented veggies, etc.)
- Ginger, mint, or chamomile tea with honey
Phase 2 – Continue with foods from phase one and add:
- Raw organic egg yolks added to the soups (If you have any concerns about egg allergy, do the sensitivity test first)
- Add stews and casseroles made with meats and vegetables
- Increase the amount of juice from sauerkraut, fermented vegetables or vegetable medley.
- Introduce fermented fish, starting from one piece a day and gradually increasing.
- Introduce homemade ghee, starting from 1 teaspoon a day and gradually increasing.
Phase 3 – Continue with previous foods and add:
- Avocado. mashed into the soups
- Scrambled eggs
- Sauerkraut and fermented veggies
Phase 4 – Continue with previous foods and add:
Phase 5 – Continue with previous foods and add:
- Cooked apple
- Raw vegetables
- Add apple, pineapple and mango to the fresh juices
Phase 6 – Continue with previous foods and add:
- Peeled raw apple
- Graudally introduce baking cakes allowed on the diet using dried fruit to sweeten
After the six stages of the introduction diet is completed and stools are normal the full GAPS Diet can be followed.
Foods to Avoid on the Full GAPS Diet
- Processed foods
- Molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, any other syrup.
- Aspartame in any form, it is a potent neurotoxin (brain toxin).
- Sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolates, ice creams.
- All alcoholic beverages. An adult can have good quality wine with meals occasionally but not beer or spirits.
- Grains. After about 1 – 1.5 years you may be able to slowly re-introduce buckwheat, millet and quinoa (fermented to start with), but not wheat, rye or rice.
- Starchy vegetables and anything made out of them: potato, parsnips, yams, Jerusalem artichoke and sweet potato. In about 1 – 1.5 years you may be able to introduce new potatoes.
- Milk. In about 1.5 -2.5 years and when all fermented dairy products are introduced, you may be able to drink raw unpasteurized organic milk.
- Beans and pulses are generally hard to digest. The two varieties that your patient can have are white (navy) beans also called haricot beans, fermented and cooked at home, and fresh green beans.
- Soft drinks
- Artificial colors, preservatives, flavorings and other chemicals.
Although the GAPS Diet can take some planning and effort to implement and follow for a period of time, it has been an amazing success for many people with these psychological and digestive disorders. Diets like this amaze me and really reinforce the healing power of food. If a diet like the GAPS diet can reverse and heal disorders like autism and ADHD, it shows how powerful food can be!!
Before I attended school at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I never would have imagined the power of food. It was an experience that changed my life forever. Learning about healing foods and diets from the experts who created them was an extremely moving experience. With each lecture and class I attended I fully immersed myself in each diet and actually experimented with my own body – an experience I think everyone should have. Learning to heal yourself with food is an amazing experience and then allows you to help others to do the same.
I invite you to download a free sample class from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and see for yourself what it's all about.