What to Eat and If It Works

  • The GAPS (Intestinal Syndrome and Psychology) diet is a type of elimination diet.
  • Start with a liquid diet and then gradually add certain types of solid foods.
  • The GAPS diet claims to treat a large list of ailments, but some experts are skeptical.
  • Visit the Insider Health Reference Library for more tips.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome, otherwise known as GAPS, refers to the idea that your digestive health is directly related to how your brain works. Therefore, the GAPS diet was designed as a way to help treat people with stomach ailments and a wide range of psychological issues.

Proponents of the GAPS diet claim that it treats a long list of ailments — including ear infections, eczema and premenstrual syndrome — that are not backed by any scientific research. Here’s what you need to know about the GAPS diet and why many experts don’t consider it a legitimate medical treatment.

How does the GAPS diet work?

The concept of GAPS and the GAPS Diet was created by Natasha Campbell-McBride, a physician who spent her career working as a neurologist and then a nutritionist in her private practice.

According to the Campbell-McBride theory, the large growth of “bad” bacteria in the gut produces toxic substances such as acetaldehyde and clostridial neurotoxins when food is digested.

Her theory, which has not been proven, is that these toxins enter the bloodstream where they can harm the immune system, organs, and cause psychological and neurological problems.

The GAPS diet claims to prevent this by promoting “good” bacterial growth in the gut and eliminating high-fiber, anti-inflammatory foods.

What do you eat on the GAPS diet?

The GAPS diet is a type of elimination diet that consists of three phases:

  1. the introduction
  2. GAPS Complete Diet
  3. Resubmission stage

The introduction phase of the GAPS diet consists of six sub-stages, starting with severe restrictions, then gradually adding more foods. This phase can last from 4 to 6 months, depending on how gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea develop.

Here’s what to start eating and what to add as you progress through the introduction phase:

  1. Start with a homemade soup made with fish or meat broth.
  2. Add raw, organic egg yolks, meat, and vegetable stews made without seasoning.
  3. Next, add the avocado, flourless pancakes, cooked eggs, and fermented vegetables.
  4. Then you can try meat, olive oil, vegetable juice, and flourless bread.
  5. Add cooked apples and vegetables and systematically introduce more vegetables and fruits in the form of juice.
  6. Finally, you can include raw fruits, honey, and some sweet baked goods.

Once you have passed all six stages and added all permitted foods, you will have reached the full GAPS stage. This phase of the diet lasts for about 1.5 to 2 years before other foods such as potatoes and fermented grains are gradually reintroduced.

Is the GAPS diet effective?

Tamara Docker Freeman, a registered dietitian in New York and author of “The Bloated Belly Whisperer,” criticizes the extravagant claims of the GAPS diet, saying that diet alone may not be enough to treat many serious illnesses.

While diets can help reduce disease risk or treat symptoms, Freeman says, “Anyone who claims their diet cures anything—and certainly this disease laundry list—makes claims that are not supported by scientific evidence.”

In fact, the scientific evidence may conflict with the claims of the GAPS diet. Freeman says that to encourage a vital area in the gut, the current research says a varied diet rich in fiber is the best option — which is in direct conflict with the requirements of the low-fiber GAPS diet. Furthermore, severely restricted diets can have a negative effect on the gut microbiome, says Freeman.

Finally, the GAPS diet relies heavily on probiotics as a source of healing for the gut. However, researchers are still learning how exactly probiotics affect the human microbiome, and there is limited research on how effective they really are — especially when it comes to treating serious inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease.

And in some cases, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), probiotics may cause harm. Learn more about how to relieve SIBO symptoms in our article on the SIBO Diet.

Informed takeaway

“I would never, under any circumstances, recommend the GAPS diet to anyone” — especially underweight children and adults because it can lead to nutritional deficiencies, Freeman says.

For people with gastrointestinal issues, a correct exclusion regimen should stabilize symptoms within a week or two, says Freeman. But you should not continue on this similar diet for months or years, as suggested in the GAPS Diet.

Alternatively, if you have gut issues, Freuman recommends other diets such as the FODMAP diet or the Mediterranean diet, depending on the individual’s symptoms and condition. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

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