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How to Approach the GAPS Diet

A bowl of egg soup

Most of us are not mindful of the importance of gut health, or just how far we in the modern world have been distanced from it. Many of us were not breastfed; we received countless simultaneous vaccinations as children and were overprescribed antibiotics and medications from the start. Any one of these phenomena could contribute to an early imbalance of gut flora—not to mention subsequent years of consuming processed foods, artificial sweeteners, genetically modified foods, and heavily sprayed produce! Well, the notion of gut health is finally entering the mainstream and with the GAPS diet people everywhere are healing their guts.

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


The GAPS Diet occurs in two phases. The Introduction Diet lasts eighteen to thirty days (roughly three to ve days per stage) and involves removing all foods that might be gut irritants, such as dairy, from your daily intake. You then reintroduce certain foods slowly and look for adverse reactions. (This can include stomach pain, hand flapping, seizures, eczema, and the like.) If you’re already comfortable in the kitchen and currently eat a whole-foods diet, starting with the Introduction Diet may not be such an adjustment for you. However, if you tend to eat more processed foods, consider giving yourself a little time on Full GAPS first so that you can wean yourself off the sugar, salt, fillers, and stabilizers your body has come to crave. Once you begin to feel familiar and comfortable with the foods allowed during each stage of the GAPS Introduction Diet, you may feel more ready to launch into the Intro. The Full GAPS Diet is the main portion of the diet and should last at least two years for maximum restoration of gut health. It includes a wide selection of foods that can be prepared simply and are easy to digest. Enjoying Full GAPS after the restrictions of the Intro Diet is like feasting every day.

Stage 1

Soup, when properly prepared from nutrient-dense meat stock, provides an exceptionally easy-to-digest and nourishing meal that begins to heal the gut wall. The proteins in meat stock are partially broken down, giving your body a chance to rest while reaping the benefits of the stock’s healing power. Having these soups also removes most fiber from your diet, again allowing your digestive tract time to heal. Although you will have options for what kind of soup, just know that you will be eating what seems like dinner for breakfast and lunch for dinner. You will basically be throwing out all the food rules you are used to. Some days, you may even choose to have the same exact thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if menu planning feels like too much work!

On that note, always keep some soups on hand in the freezer in the event that cookin’ just ain’t gonna happen. I suggest making big batches of any three soups that are listed in this section, then simply alternating for the first several days. If you can prep them before of officially starting the diet, you’ll be psyched! My family mostly ate Basic Chicken Soup, Butternut Squash Soup, and Crock-Pot Beef Soup.

In between or after meals, we enjoyed a coconut cream as a treat, or a small spoonful of honey. (This was key in getting the kids to eat. If they knew they would get a little honey after finishing a meal, it was eaten up for sure.) Nick and I also had lots of ginger and turmeric tea with coconut oil and honey throughout the day. And try this boost with a probiotic bonus for the kids: Using a plastic, calibrated syringe, measure out 1 tablespoon of fermented pickle juice and take it orally three times a day. Eventually, you may work up to five “shots” a day per meal. All these little snacks, sips, and squirts will keep your blood sugar stable so that you’re not crashing in between meals.

When you start Stage 1, bad bacteria begins to die off right away. It’s possible that this will make you feel physically sick (nausea, exhaustion, runs to the bathroom, and so on). This, too, shall pass! For our family, it lasted only the first twenty-four hours, but every person has a different bacterial composition, and states of gut health vary as well. So the degree of die-off and discomfort will depend on the individual. No matter what, just stick with it, and keep thinking about how much better you’ll feel on the other side of withdrawal. Remember, you are starving off those pesky, sugar-addicted bugs in your gut. They are pissed and hanging on for dear life. But if you can hold out and stick with the soup, your body will inevitably purge them by whatever means necessary.Five bowls of different types of soup

Foods Allowed During Stage 1

Stage 1 is based on three components: stock and soups made with meats, fish, and vegetables; probiotic foods; and fats. When making your stock, be sure to use pastured meats and simmer only for a few hours to start out. Start every day with a glass of mineral or filtered water with fresh lemon juice.

In Stage 1, you can have:

  • Homemade stocks from fish, beef, chicken, turkey, and lamb: Make sure to reserve and utilize bone marrow and soft tissues in soups
  • Soups with well-boiled vegetables and meats
  • Meats: beef, pork, lamb, goose, pheasant, turkey, shellfish, and chicken, boiled in stock or filtered water
  • Chopped liver: Liver is a nutritional powerhouse that can be cooked into any soup
  • Well-cooked vegetables, with all fibrous stems and peels removed: beets,bok choy, broccoli (no stalks), brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower (no stalks), collard greens, eggplant, French artichokes, garlic, green beans, kale, onions, peas, peppers, pumpkin, spinach, squash (winter and summer), tomatoes, turnips, and watercress
  • Animal fats: tallow, lard, goose, chicken, duck
  • Coconut oil
  • Sea salt
  • Peppercorns: black, green, and white (whole, to flavor soups and stocks only)
  • Probiotic foods: 1 to 2 teaspoons per day of homemade fermented vegetable juices (pickle or sauerkraut) and whey, yogurt, sour cream/cultured cream, and kefir, cultured for at least twenty-four hours, if there is no dairy allergy; if you are sensitive to dairy, follow the dairy introduction protocol
  • Filtered water
  • Teas: Fresh gingerroot and turmeric tea, and loose herbal tea (chamomile is good)
  • Lemon juice mixed with warm ltered water
  • Raw honey in small amounts

Making Soups During Stage 1

Vegetables

During the early stages of GAPS Intro Diet (Stage 1 through 3), soups are made by cooking vegetables in stock. When you move to Stage 4 and beyond, you can move to sautéing vegetables in healthy fat and then adding stock to make soup.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are essential to healing the gut and must be introduced right from the start. If you can handle dairy, add whey, yogurt, or sour cream to every bowl of soup. If you cannot handle dairy, be sure to add fermented vegetable juice to every bowl of soup. When you add homemade yogurt or cultured cream, the fat will help you to absorb all the nutrients in the soup. Be sure the temperature of the soup isn’t too hot, since that will destroy the precious beneficial probiotic bacteria in the yogurt, cream, and fermented vegetable juices. Cultured cream is a wonderful addition to any soup: It provides not only a probiotic punch but also a healthy dose of fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are hard to get in modern diets, and they are essential to a healthy body. Raw cultured cream is a great source of vitamin A, and good healthy animal fats are the best way to nourish your body with the fat-soluble vitamins it needs!

Herbs and Spices

Fresh herbs are not allowed until Stage 2. However, with a “bouquet garnish,” the herbs infuse the soup and are not actually ingested, so feel free to use them to add flavor to any soup. A bouquet garnish is a bundle of herbs tied together with cooking string, or wrapped in a bundle of cheesecloth and tied up with string. They are used to flavor soups, stocks, or stews. You can really put whichever herbs you desire in the bunch, but I most often tie together parsley, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, and garlic. Fresh herbs are allowed in Stage 2 (and may be dried or fresh); spices (which should be ground) are not allowed until Stage 5. Pepper is a spice, so don’t add it until Stage 5, although peppercorns are allowed in Stage 1; use them to flavor meat stock and then discard.

Once you have reached Stage 5, be sure to add sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to all of the Intro recipes! Speaking of sea salt, buy unrefined sea salt with a tinge of color. If it is white-white, it means it has been refined and stripped of many of the beneficial trace minerals that you want! See resources for good options.

Storage

If you ever have excess greens in your fridge, blanching and freezing is the answer. To blanch your greens, first remove the stems and discard them — they are too fibrous. Chop greens into 2-inch pieces. Place these in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, then remove and put in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Pat dry and store in single servings, in ziplock bags, in the freezer. When it’s time to make soup, throw these right in your Crock-Pot or soup pot still frozen.

When we first started the GAPS Intro Diet, I remember making this soup and adding to it whatever vegetables I could find in my fridge. I was so hungry for nutrients that I could not get enough into my soups. Try cutting up zucchini and summer squash, turnips, or rutabaga. Throw in some fresh spinach. Get creative and add what you like. For my kids, I keep the basic recipe pretty simple since they each have their favorite add-ins. Some of the vegetables don’t take long to cook (like spinach), so you can put them in at the end. With the meat, use the connective tissue and dark meats pulled from the bones of your chicken carcass after making stock. They are most healing for the gut.

 

Four images: Chicken bones, celery and onion, everything in a pot, broth

Basic Chicken Soup

Serves 6 to 8

2 quarts homemade chicken stock
2–4 tablespoons animal fat, coconut oil, or ghee
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, diced (or 1 leek, sliced down the middle, washed, and sliced again into half­moons)
1–2 cups cauliflower, chopped or riced
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (Stage 2)
1–2 cups leftover roasted or poached chicken meat, chopped or shredded
1⁄4–1⁄2 pound liver, chopped finely (optional)
Sea salt
Homemade yogurt or cultured cream, if tolerated (optional)

Combine the stock, fat, and vegetables in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer the soup for at least 15 to 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. (At this stage, do not sauté vegetables before adding them. Simmering vegetables is gentler on your digestion, and when combined with good animal fats will start the healing process.) Add the chicken and liver and cook through. Season with sea salt to taste. Serve with homemade yogurt or cultured cream, if tolerated.


Recommended Reads

Homemade Bone Broth – A Healthy Diet Staple

Recipe: Ginger Carrots for a Healthy Gut

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The Heal Your Gut Cookbook

Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet

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