Sometimes, I find it necessary to cover even the most obscure and strange of diets. The practical purpose of this, of course, is to educate you about the many varieties of diets out there.
From the beginning, I’ll warn you: this diet has no clinical studies backing it. That’s right, there is no scientific support for it working, whatsoever.
But people love trying new and interesting methods.
Yes, the GAPS Diet is one of these fringe diets, and it is undeniably strange. But, like any good skeptic, I’ll approach it as open-mindedly as possible.
So strap yourself in, it might be a bumpy ride.
- The Diet
- The Nutritional Protocol
- The Stages
- The Supplementation
- The "Detoxification"
- Who Designed the GAPS Diet?
- Does the GAPS Diet Actually Work?
- More Interesting (and Unsubstantiated) Claims
- Should You Try The GAPS Diet?
Table of Contents
The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet is designed to only last a couple of years, with the hope that once it’s over, the patient will have fully recovered and will be able to resume normal dieting.
It is based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), an unconventional diet plan that severely limits carb intake. The only carbs you’re allowed to eat while on it are those that require the least effort to digest and are gentle on the intestines.
SCD was designed in an effort to combat gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis (UC), Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
GAPS takes a page from the book of SCD by utilizing many of the same restrictions but structuring it differently and pushing even harder on the extreme side of things. Like SCD, GAPS has a lot of questionable information in its guidelines and is not supported by most nutritionists, doctors, or most of mainstream science for that matter.
The main focus of the GAPS diet is not to fix gastrointestinal disorders, though that is part of the overall process.
Let’s dive in.
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The Nutritional Protocol
GAPS is based around a protocol called “The Nutritional Protocol” as an outline for the diet as a whole, broken into three parts “specifically designed to heal and seal the gut lining, rebalance the immune system, and restore the optimal bacterial ecosystem within the gastrointestinal tract.”
The Nutritional Protocol is:
- Diet: The diet plan for GAPS is outlined in two main phases and broken up into several stages within the phases.
- Supplementation: Because of how essential many of the nutrients found in the carbs the diet restricts are, the need for supplementation with multivitamins arises.
- Detoxification: Like many other fringe diets by questionable practitioners, GAPS underlines the importance of eliminating “toxins” from your environment, along with the ones that have accumulated in your body throughout your life.
There are two stages, or phases, to the GAPS Diet: the Introduction Diet and the Full GAPS Diet.
The Introduction Diet can be pretty off-putting to a lot of people placed on it because of how intense the changes from a regular diet can be. It’s divided into six stages of its own.
The first stage allows only room temperature water, probiotic supplements, and a seriously restricted diet.
In stage two, the patient is allowed to start adding raw organic egg yolks to the diet, along with homemade yogurt, fermented fish, and certain stews, soups, and casseroles.
Stage three incorporates avocado and pancakes made with squash. From there, as the stages progress, the diet begins to add more and more foods until the Full GAPS Diet is reached.
The Full GAPS Diet recommends that the majority of a patient’s diet should consist of meats, eggs, fermented foods, and vegetables. Baked goods should be heavily limited.
Some patients may even have to eliminate fruit, honey, and nuts altogether. If the reaction to the transition to the Full GAPS Diet is too severe, patients can move back to earlier stages of the Introduction Diet.
As the diet severely restricts so many nutrient-rich foods, patients may have to figure out – largely on their own – what they need to supplement in order to maintain their health.
The recommended supplements are:
- An effective therapeutic strength probiotic
- Essential fatty acids
- Vitamin A
- Digestive enzymes
- Vitamin and mineral supplements
The idea that the body becomes damaged by toxins that accumulate over time has long been a popular idea in alternative medicine. This is, however, entirely unsupported by any scientific research.
A lot of it is based on an ancient idea of autointoxication, where our own waste products poison us. The difference here is that the premise is based on the gut flora.
How does the diet guidelines say you should get rid of these toxins?
By keeping your house “chemical free” and avoiding bringing anything into your home that will let off chemicals. You can also juice with freshly pressed fruits, vegetables, and herbs to support the liver and help stimulate bile flow.
Coffee enemas are also encouraged. That’s right, coffee enemas, a procedure involving injecting coffee into the anus to cleanse the rectum and large intestines, considered by most medical authorities to be potentially very dangerous.
Through this detoxification process, you can slowly return your body to a healthy state (allegedly).
Who Designed the GAPS Diet?
A woman named Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride designed the GAPS diet after receiving a postgraduate degree while living in Russia. She was a neurologist and neurosurgeon there until she moved to the UK, where she received a degree in Human Nutrition.
Her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome – Natural Treatment for Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Depression and Schizophrenia, is now in its second edition.
Like the idea of there being a “leaky gut,” a diagnosis that is very controversial in the scientific community, Campbell-McBride says that understanding the role the gut plays in overall health is of paramount importance.
Citing a 2,000 year old statement from Hippocrates that all diseases begin in the gut, something that is not true, Campbell-McBride claims that the GAPS Diet can actually cure autism because it is a result of an unhealthy gut environment.
In one interview, she stated:
“What happens in these children is, they develop very abnormal gut flora from the beginning of their lives. So as a result, their digestive system – instead of being a source of nourishment for these children – becomes a major source of toxicity.”
She goes on to say:
“So all sorts of toxins and microbes flood into the bloodstream of the child and get into the brain of the child. That usually happens in the second year of life in children who were breastfed because breastfeeding provides a protection against this abnormal gut flora.”
According to many scientific sources, none of what she said is true. While it sounds good, it is unfortunately not in the ballpark of being accurate. In fact, most research now points to autism beginning in the womb.
Does the GAPS Diet Actually Work?
Now, let me be clear: the gut environment has been proven time and time again over the past few decades to be extremely important to your overall health. It’s taken a lot of research to determine the actual role of the gut flora, the bacteria that line the inside of the intestine, and to learn how crucial it is that they be kept in a healthy balance.
But the way this diet goes about it is all wrong. And like I stated at the beginning, there is zero evidence supporting its efficacy. No trials, no research, no papers published. There is nothing even suggesting Campbell-McBride is correct other than the websites of questionable health gurus reporting on it.
The creator’s website, Doctor-Natasha.com, lists nearly 90 illnesses and diseases that can be treated or cured by her diet, and the only evidence she includes are testimonials and anecdotes.
It is yet another in a line of diets crafted by people who claim to have found the answer to all of your problems – and unfortunately, it’s just not true.
The guidelines for the diet are full of nonsensical recommendations.
For instance: For testing sensitivities to certain foods, the practitioners recommend putting a drop of the food itself onto the patient’s wrist at bedtime, and waiting until morning to see if there’s been a reaction. If the skin is red, the food should be avoided for a few weeks.
The strangest thing is that all of her hypotheses are easy to test. If it were true that breastfed babies were less likely to have autism, wouldn’t that mean that bottle fed babies would be way more likely to develop autism than their breastfeeding counterparts? It should, but that is not the case.
Breastfed babies do have a lower incidence of autism, but the effect is nowhere near as strong as it would be if Campbell-McBride’s claims were correct, and nowhere near strong enough to indicate it to be the cause of the “autism epidemic.”
There are, however, many health benefits of breastfeeding over bottle feeding that should be taken into consideration. This still does not do anything to prove the core arguments behind the GAPS Diet.
The diet, like many other low carb diets, manages to have some effect on bloating and other gastrointestinal disorders in the short term because it is completely eliminating those foods from your digestion.
But to go on to claim that not only will it stop you from feeling gassy, it can also cure your schizophrenia – that’s where it goes too far.
More Interesting (and Unsubstantiated) Claims
The website Science Based Medicine has broken down the majority of the claims made by Campbell-McBride, and some are downright bizarre.
Some of my favorites include:
- Our needs depend on our heredity. If your ancestors were Vikings or Eskimos, you will need to eat lots of fish.
- Follow your cravings, because that is the body telling you exactly what you should be eating.
- 50 percent of the fat in our diets should be saturated.
- Perfumes and scented products destroy your sense of smell.
- Our soils are no longer as effective as they once were. We would have to eat 2 kilos of apples today to provide the nutrition one apple used to give us.
- Processed foods alter your sense of smell and taste.
Should You Try The GAPS Diet?
I would not recommend you try the GAPS Diet, under any circumstances. On this site, I like to refer to the consensus of the medical community and the expertise of the scientists and researchers within their fields who come to conclusions after intensive barrages of testing.
The GAPS Diet has none of this – and the consensus is that you should not involve yourself with it. Some would go so far as to label it pseudoscience. I’m trying my hardest not to crack wise about there being “gaps” in the creator’s reasoning.
But I would not put myself into the position of telling you how to live your life and what you should do with your body, other than to advise you eat right and exercise regularly.