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My Issues with The GAPS Diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet)

July 4, 2016

In the beginning of 2010, I made a radical decision: I voluntarily chose to give up all grains, all sugar except honey, and most beans for a long-term period to help fix digestive problems. I chose to follow the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet by Dr. McBride (found in a book by the same name).

Why would I go on this diet, you ask? Because I had major digestive issues, and I knew that they were related to issues with fatigue, digestive pain, bloating, intense anger, and brain fog. I had seen three Western doctors over seven years, and no one talked about gut issues like absorption, healthy gut flora, and testing for pathogenic bacteria. One told me it was just stress, which may have played a large part, but was not helpful.

One tested me for celiac, which was negative. (But the Western celiac test only tests for three out of fifty possible markers. And there is a condition called gluten intolerance, which isn’t celiac, but means a person still cannot digest gluten.)

Worst, one doctor (whom I like still) put me on Prevacid, an acid-blocker. The problem is that people with burning stomach may have many different things, including LOW stomach acid (not high!). If you have a lack, acid blockers make it less, and the person stops breaking down foods, and then the neutralizing base doesn’t get released later on. The person stops absorbing vitamins from their foods, which they need to function.

If a person has pain from bacterial overgrowth like H. pylori or other bacteria living in the stomach’s exit (instead of in the small and mainly large intestine where they belong), acid blockers can actually make it easier for bacteria to flourish in the stomach, where they never belong. If they weren’t there before, they can move in! Yikes! And their main goal is to further lower stomach acid to make it easier for them to live. Unfortunately, this  makes it harder for the person to digest their food.

And the last kicker: using acid blockers can lead to gluten sensitivity, I found out, which is where I am now. (croissant…I’m still dreaming of you!) Gluten sensitivity is not celiac (with physical ripping up of one’s villi (small hairs) in the intestine, but you still can’t digest gluten found in wheat, rye and cross-contaminated oats. Corn and sesame can react like wheat in the body, too. And then there is the possibility of grain cross-contamination between wheat and gluten-free flours. So fun!

But Back to the Special Diet to Stop Stomach Issues:
The diet plan is called GAPS, short for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It was adapted from the Specific Carbohydrate Diet plan by Dr. Hass, and publicized in Elaine Gottschall’s book Breaking the Vicious Cycle. The plan to starve out bad bacteria while nourishing the body. It avoids foods with double sugars (called disaccharides) that can feed colon bacteria. The GAPS diet emphasizes stages, meat and bone broths, yogurt and fermented foods– basically the addition of “good guys” to rebalance the gut. Other advantages are that this plan helps get you off potential allergens up front, like wheat and dairy, and they are slowly introduced. The introduction lets you see a food reaction.

If I Were Queen:
For all this good, however, I feel like I would make my own changes and additions to the GAPS Diet. At the beginning of the diet, the goal is to maximize absorption: this means eating soups with simmered meats and soft-cooked vegetables. This can be very helpful for anyone with digestive issues.

This does help people with impaired gut absorb their food, however, all cooked vegetables and fruits lack vitamin C. The GAPS diet does encourage vitamin C from sauerkraut. I feel like there should be more emphasis on eating light vegetables like young arugula and mixed greens, as well as easy to digest fruits like blueberries and cherries. And maybe taking a buffered supplement.

The GAPS Diet does not eliminate many common food allergens up front. I think this would be helpful in reaching overall health faster. For this reason, I think the auto-immune Paleo diet may be more helpful. These include:

  • Eggs: Egg yolks are a super great source of many B vitamins. However, eggs can cause issues due to the presence of enzyme inhibiters. In short, they can stop you from digesting them.
  • Nightshades that are allowed: Tomatoes, eggplant, mild peppers like orange and green, hot chilies.
  • Fibrous foods are allowed: It took me a long time to figure out that raw lettuce, cabbage and dried fruits were never going to be my friend. Even after two full, dedicated years on the GAPS diet, I was still only able to eat these three in small amounts, occasionally. Dr. McBride does cry against high fiber diets for digestive illness, and I sure agree!Turns out things that are eaten in hot weather are cold energetically. They tend to be high fiber and harder to digest for those of us who are impaired. And with digestive illness, you are probably already too cold in your insides, where one should have “digestive fire.” Cabbage and dried fruits are both super cold and fibrous.

    Other problem fibrous foods include coconut flour (yikes!), dried figs, nuts/seeds (scratchy) and seedy fruits like raspberry (tend to be moldy), and strawberries (common allergen).

  • Seeds: Sesame seed can react in the body like wheat does. Strange, huh? I kept making Asian pork with salt in place of soy sauce, and lots of sesame oil.
  • Butter: Butter still includes dairy, sometimes even the milk protein, not just the fat. Although I ate a ton of it on the diet, I had brain issues with my own yogurt. Using other animal fats in place of butter benefitted me.

Avoid all Disaccharides on GAPS Diet:

Burdock root (Arctium lappa) is not allowed due to it’s double sugars called disaccharides, which can feed bad bacteria, according to Dr. McBride. However, Burdock root only promotes good bacteria, and helps kill off bad bacteria, I learned in school for nutrition and herbal studies.  We should be using it! It’s part of a trio of root herbs used historically for colon issues. (Sick people – have you noticed that you are mostly too cold?)

Two other herbs have been very helpful to a sore digestive tract: marshmallow root and slippery elm. These two both have disaccharides in them, too, so they are technically not allowed on the GAPS diet. However, they have been my best friend after painful bouts of indiscretions (sadly, from lettuce). Marshmallow root has mild wound healing properties, and is moistening to the digestive tract.

Marshmallow root can be simmered on the stove for 40 minutes, then strained and the liquid only is drunk. It can also be prepared in cold water for 8 hours to overnight on the counter (called a cold-infusion). Refrigerate and use within 2 days.

Slippery elm (finely ground) is also very moistening and soothing to the digestive tract, as well as the lungs. A small amount (1/4 tsp) of slippery elm can be added to applesauce, and eaten. Even though it is finely ground bark, it doesn’t bother me. However, I don’t have Crohn’s disease. You could also add it to your tea after brewing, because it will clog up a French press pot like no one’s business, and won’t travel well through tea bags, either.

**One caution with marshmallow root and slippery elm is that you need to avoid taking them within thirty minutes before or after medications, as they can impair medications’ absorption.

I hope to write another post about herbal medicine on the GAPS diet, so please look for it.

So there you have it – I hope this will help you on your journey– If you would like my help, please Contact me on the top of this page. Thanks, and I wish you better health!

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