GAPS for Beginners Series: Modifying Your Diet for GAPS

In Friday’s post I discussed why you might consider trying the GAPS diet. If you’re interested in beginning to transition to GAPS, or even if you just want to learn more, an important first step is to familiarize yourself with what foods are allowed or avoided as part of the diet. (For short, I refer to these as GAPS-legal and GAPS-illegal foods.)

Check out the full list of legal/illegal foods here.

I know that list can be overwhelming in the beginning, so let me summarize the basic guidelines. Foods that must be avoided include: grains, starches (such as potatoes), most beans, all sweeteners except honey, unfermented dairy products, soy, and all other disaccharides and polysaccharides.

So, the foods that you can eat are: meats, fish, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, fats, nuts, fermented dairy products, coconut products and a few types of beans. Ideally at least 85% of your diet should be composed of meats, fish, eggs, fats, vegetables and fermented dairy products. Fruit and nut- or coconut-based baked goods can add variety to your diet but should not be relied on for primary nutrition.

The science underpinning the legal/illegal foods list is that foods allowed on the diet must be easy to digest. The main reason for banning certain foods is due to the type of carbohydrate they contain. GAPS patients have damaged digestive systems that cannot digest complex carbohydrates. So, the only allowed carbohydrates are monosaccharides, simple carbohydrates that only require a one-step digestion process. Polysaccharides and disaccharides, the types of carbohydrate found in foods like grains and starches, cannot be digested by GAPS patients and thus are omitted from the diet.

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the legal/illegal food list, evaluate your current diet. What foods will you need to omit if you decide to try GAPS? And, just as importantly, what new foods will you eat instead?

I highly recommend going through this exercise before you start trying to pull foods from your diet. Depending on the decisions that you make, you may need to buy a lot more perishable food than normal. Or, your new added foods may require longer or more complicated preparation time. It always pays to think ahead when on GAPS.

You have a few options when it comes to replacing GAPS-illegal foods in your diet. For meals in which the illegal is merely a side dish, such as a side of potatoes or rice with roast chicken, I recommend simply replacing with a non-starchy vegetable side, such as beets or peas. Eating more vegetables is an easy and nearly always beneficial substitution. This type of thinking also works well for tacos and stir-fry. Serve taco toppings on lettuce for a taco salad and cook additional vegetables when stir-frying to compensate for lack of rice.

When the illegal is fundamental to the heart of the meal things get more complicated. Oatmeal, pizza, and macaroni and cheese cannot easily be recreated grain-free by just subbing in a vegetable.  In early GAPS, I’d recommend just skipping these types of meals for a while. In the beginning you will likely be overwhelmed by day to day food prep and your time won’t be well spent researching and experimenting with novel recipes. Instead, keep your meals simple. At every meal include a serving of meat, fish or eggs as well as one or two vegetables and plenty of healthy fats. As long as you’re getting excellent nutrients in it doesn’t matter how basic your meals are.

Once you’ve been on GAPS awhile you may feel inspired to try to develop GAPS-legal versions of your old favorite recipes. Much can be done with coconut and almond flours and there are many, many good recipes to be found online. I recommend searching for the name of the recipe you’d like to make as well as a term such as “grain-free,” “GAPS,” or “SCD.” (SCD recipes are not always completely GAPS-legal but will get you on the right track.) Trying out these types of recipes can add some welcome variety to your diet.

If you’re thinking of trying GAPS, what changes will you need to make to your diet? If you’re already on GAPS, what are your favorite ideas for food substitutions? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!



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3 Responses to GAPS for Beginners Series: Modifying Your Diet for GAPS

  1. Mark Cohen says:
    I am currently on the GAPS diet due to GERDS and hiatus hernia. I am tolerating the diet well, however, I am losing too much weight. I am a very active, 60-year old who exercises every day and walks many miles with our dogs. Keeping my weight up has always been a problem, but now that I have eliminated almost all carbs, all grains, and whey powder for high calorie smoothies, I am slowly disappearing! The good news is that GERDS symptoms have also disappeared. So, the question is, how can I gain back my weight? Thanks, Mark
    • Meghan says:
      Hi Mark, thanks for commenting. I'm afraid I don't have any experience with keeping up my weight. Are you a member of the GAPShelp Yahoo group? If not, it's really easy to join. I'd recommend posting your question on the forum there. There are many knowledgeable forum members and I think they might have some great suggestions for you, as I know this is something that other people have encountered. That's great that your GERDS symptoms have disappeared! It must be wonderful to be feeling better.
  2. RNB says:
    Great resource and extremely helpful thanks! I have been super overwhelmed, your blog post has helped ease some concerns and validated me feeling overwhelmed. Putting words to my emotions, and answers to my questions I could not put into words.

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