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Be Good to Your Gut: Nourishing Food for Better Health

Bowl of soup with mushrooms and herbs on a table

What do illnesses like autism, ADHD, asthma, celiac disease, allergies, and depression have in common?

Simple: They can all be linked to the microorganisms present in the gut. That’s according to the pioneering British MD, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride who has found that these afflictions, as well as a long list of others, are linked—a concept she defines as GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome or Gut and Physiology Syndrome).

According to Campbell-McBride, in order to cure ourselves of these illnesses, we must focus on healing our guts.

But how do we do that and where do we begin?

The following is an excerpt from The Heal Your Gut Cookbook by Hilary Boynton and Mary Brackett. It has been adapted for the web.


We live in a world of growing epidemics of mental and physical illness. These epidemics are underlined by another big epidemic, which is increasingly recognized as the cause of those illnesses. This big epidemic is abnormal gut flora or gut dysbiosis. Recent research has established that around 90 percent of all cells and genetic material in the human body is our gut flora—myriad microbes that live inside our digestive systems. In order to be healthy, a person has to have a healthy gut flora dominated by beneficial species of microbes. In our modern world where people are regularly taking antibiotics and other pharmaceutical drugs, where food is laced with chemicals alien to the human physiology, an increasing number of people have damaged, abnormal gut flora dominated by pathogenic microbes. As a result, a person’s gut is unable to nourish the body properly; instead it produces large amounts of toxins that absorb into the bloodstream, get spread around the body, and cause disease. This is GAPS.

GAPS Explained

The list of GAPS conditions is long; I divided them into two groups:

1. Gut and Psychology Syndrome 2. Gut and Physiology Syndrome

Gut and Psychology Syndrome, or GAPS, includes learning disabilities and mental disorders such as ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, addictions, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, epilepsy, eating disorders, and many other conditions, which stem from abnormal function of the brain. Many of these conditions have no established diagnostic labels and present themselves as a mixture of various so-called mental symptoms: mood alterations, memory and cognitive problems, behavioral and social problems, panic attacks, anxiety, involuntary movements, various tics and ts, sensory problems, sleep problems, and so on.

Gut and Physiology Syndrome, also known as GAPS, includes various chronic physical conditions that stem from an unhealthy gut, such as autoimmune conditions (celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes type one, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, osteoarthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autoimmune skin problems, chronic cystitis, nephropathy, neuropathy, et cetera), asthma, eczema, allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis, multiple chemical sensitivity, arthritis, PMS and other menstrual problems, endocrine disorders (thyroid, adrenal, and other), and digestive disorders (irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, colitis, and so forth). Many conditions do not fit into any diagnostic box and can present as a mixture of symptoms: digestive problems, fatigue, muscular weakness, cramps and abnormal muscle tone, pain and ache in joints and muscles, skin problems, neurological and hormonal abnormalities.

Drawings of a healthy gut and an unhealthy gut In almost every person the symptoms from both GAP Syndromes overlap: People with mental problems suffer physical symptoms (painful joints and muscles, fatigue, skin problems, asthma, hormonal problems, autoimmunity), while people with physical problems have mental symptoms (such as depression, “brain fog,” inability to concentrate, mood swings, sleep abnormalities, memory problems, anxiety, tremors, tics, fits, and more). When the digestive system is unwell, instead of being a source of nourishment it becomes a major source of toxicity in the body; nothing in the body can function well. Any organ, any system, any cell can show symptoms of distress—usually most of them respond with some symptoms. As a result GAPS patients are often the most difficult (if not impossible) for mainstream medicine to fathom and to help. The GAPS Nutritional Protocol is designed to treat all of those conditions starting from the roots.

Our digestive system holds the roots of our health. If those roots are not healthy, then the rest of the body cannot be healthy. So the treatment of any chronic disease has to start from the gut. The human gut is a long tube; what you fill that tube with has a direct effect on its well-being. Food—the person’s daily diet—is the number one treatment for any chronic disease, and the GAPS Diet is the most important part of the GAPS Nutritional Protocol.


Hilary’s Story

Looking back, it all makes perfect sense. Wow, if I had only known then what I know now. But if that were the case, I wouldn’t be writing this book. I guess things really do happen for a reason.

Starting in high school, I lived completely “fat-free” for nearly a decade. During that time, years of playing intense Division One soccer (and having way too much fun in college) ultimately taxed my body to the brink. The cumulative effect of burning so much energy and then “replenishing” with bagels, pasta, cereal, and Butter Buds really did a doozy on my gut health. Not to mention being on the birth control pill and Accutane for bad skin.

I had no idea of the damage done until I was plagued by infertility as a young newlywed, which was quite possibly the most painful thing I’d ever endured. Why, at twenty-six, was I not able to carry a baby? Well, I think I know the answer to that now: I was malnourished. After years of trying, though, I was finally abundantly blessed, with triplets! Two boys and a girl. However, these blessings came with the help of modern intervention, not due to improved heath, I’m sorry to say.

Along with the stress of new motherhood, my poor eating habits continued when—boom!—I got pregnant again. How could it be? Surely it wouldn’t stick; I had been on birth control pills again for the past three years. Well, the excitement of having conceived naturally must have worked some kind of magic, because that baby was here to stay. But shortly after his arrival, the scratching began: He was an eczema baby. Itchy, fussy, and breaking my heart. Months of sleepless nights kept me searching for answers. What had caused this? And how could it be treated? As my desperate quest for answers continued, I found myself pregnant again. What the . . . ? Had I even had sex in the past six months with four babies under three? Well, that little guy hung in there, too, and now we had five blessings under our roof. But still, my son’s eczema flared.

One day, a year later, the answer finally came. I was at the grocery store with kids in tow, trying to make good choices for my family. If the label said organic, I assumed it was okay. Crackers, yogurt, fruit snacks. When I ran into an old friend, the film director and farm advocate Kristin Canty, I told her about my now-toddler’s continuing plight. She gave me a recommendation that would change my life forever.A blender filled with nuts and water to make nut milk

“You should try giving him raw milk.”

Huh? What was raw milk? Did she mean . . . unpasteurized? Certainly that could not be good for us. But I was at my wit’s end, so I went for it. And guess what? It worked! The eczema was subdued, with real food alone! So this is where my journey began.

Overcome with gratitude and amazement, I wanted to learn more and share the information. I attended conferences: Weston A. Price, Paleo, and the Fourfold Path to Healing. I purged our pantry and fridge: out with the cereals and skim milk, in with the raw milk and pastured eggs. Life was changing, and for five years we were great. No major sicknesses, and no trips to the doctor.

However, it takes time to undo the years of poor choices I had made in the past. Various problems began cropping up: My daughter Dossie with petit mal epilepsy, three kids with speech delays, and now, enamel was not forming correctly on my eczema baby’s teeth (with seven cavities to boot). But outwardly my kids seemed healthy, so how could this be? They were never sick, and I fed them all nutrient-dense foods. Could it be related to their gut health?

When I heard Natasha Campbell-McBride speak at a Weston A. Price conference in the fall of 2012, I began to sense that it was time to take the nutrient-dense diet one step further. I read everything I could about GAPS. I scoured the web for information, inspiration, and confirmation. But I was overwhelmed and anxious. There were “stages” and restrictions. What exactly can we eat, and when? What can’t we eat, and why? How would I prepare meals that my kids and husband would actually eat? I dreaded starting the diet because I knew that it was strict, and that there would be a lot of moving pieces with such a large family. I wondered if I had the brain power to not only learn everything there was to learn about GAPS, but put the diet into practice as well. And I expected doubts, if not downright refusal, from my husband, kids, and extended family.

But I was desperately searching for a way to manage Dossie’s seizures. In March 2013, one of my clients introduced me to a medical intuitive named Laura Graye. My husband was skeptical and concerned at the amount of money I was spending as I investigated holistic therapies, so I asked Laura if she would consider meeting us to explain what she did before we invested money in yet another alternative treatment. She drove to our home, spent two hours with us at no charge, and—after looking at us and hearing our stories—said she was convinced that the GAPS Diet was our answer. She pulled out her markers and a dry erase board and proceeded to diagram a healthy gut and an unhealthy gut. My previously skeptical husband and I started the GAPS Diet the next day.

When we jumped into GAPS feet first, I started collecting, adapting, and creating recipes. I took notes about what the kids loved (and what they hated). I kept track of how everyone was doing, feeling, pooping, and sleeping and developed strategies for eating out, having sleepovers, and going to birthday parties.

I’m happy to say that we all adapted with minimal fuss, and here’s the best part: After nearly a year on the diet, we weaned Dossie completely off Depakote. She is presently weaning off Zarontin as well, her second of three seizure medications. As for our eczema baby, he is free and clear of symptoms, and there have never been any signs of the predicted allergies or asthma. Not to mention that we’ve survived two consecutive brutal New England winters without one trip to the doctor! Believe me, I don’t take for granted the blessing of having not one but five strong, healthy children who are adventurous eaters. I count each blessing every day.

The other immense gift of the GAPS Diet is that it has empowered me to “go with my gut.” I have always sought the approval of others, seeking reassurance and endorsement for everything I do. How often as a new mother did I run to the doctor’s office for absolutely every little thing? The GAPS Diet gave me the power to have a direct impact on my own healing and that of my loved ones. It has made me a stronger person because I’ve often had to stand up to naysayers and their notions of “normal.” Most important, it has taught our family to tune in to the subtle wisdom of our bodies as the ultimate authority.


Recommended Reads

Recipe: Ginger Carrots for a Healthy Gut

Homemade Bone Broth – A Healthy Diet Staple

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The Heal Your Gut Cookbook

Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet

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