The GAPS diet links gut health to mental health. Get to know its principles, stages, effects and threats

The GAPS diet links gut health to mental health.  Get to know its principles, stages, effects and threats

The GAPS diet is a diet that eliminates a number of food products from the daily menu and is aimed at treating disorders related to the psychological and intestinal syndrome. Gut Psychological Syndrome (GAPS) is a condition that is related to gut health and brain function. The GAPS diet is recommended for the treatment of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression and other mental problems, but it is controversial. What are the main assumptions of the GAPS diet? Why is the GAPS diet considered a controversial nutrition model? We explain.

  • GAPS diet – basic information
  • Principles of the GAPS diet
  • GAPS diet stages
  • Risks associated with using the GAPS diet

Scientific research has confirmed the relationship between intestinal health, which is influenced by, among others, appropriate quality and quantity of intestinal microflora, as well as the overall health of the body and the functioning of the immune system. The author of the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet, also called the gut psychological syndrome diet, is Natasha Campbell-McBride, a physician. She developed and described in her book “Psychological-gut syndrome – natural methods of treating autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression and schizophrenia” a nutritional model which – according to her theory – is to be helpful in the treatment of the above diseases.

Natasha Campbell-McBride’s GAPS diet is based on the assumptions of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which was created by Dr. Sidney Haas in the 1950s. This diet was used by patients with celiac disease and ulcerative colitis.

GAPS diet – basic information

Our diet affects the condition of our intestines, contributing to the improvement of their health or the occurrence of gastrointestinal disorders. Disturbances in the intestinal microbiota have a very negative impact on our overall health, increasing the risk of developing fungal infections, weakening the body’s immunity and contributing, for example, to an increased risk of developing cancer.

The author of the GAPS diet claims that gut health is related to mental health. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, when creating the GAPS diet, based, among others, based on my own experiences working with people suffering from neurological and psychiatric diseases.

According to the author of the GAPS diet, it aims to rebuild the intestinal microbiota, seal the intestinal barrier and cleanse the body of toxins. The GAPS diet is divided into six stages that include eating specific foods. The GAPS diet is a low-fiber diet that eliminates many foods with high nutritional value from the menu.

Due to the risks associated with using the GAPS elimination diet, it should not be used without the supervision of a doctor and dietitian.. Importantly, the GAPS diet is not a nutritional model that aims to reduce body weight and improve the appearance of the figure! The GAPS diet is also not a nutritional plan that we can switch to without prior preparation. The introduction to the GAPS diet should include performing diagnostic tests and consulting a specialist.

Important! The effectiveness of the GAPS diet as a support for the treatment of psychological-intestinal syndrome has not been confirmed by scientific research! The GAPS diet can improve your health, but its use is associated with numerous risks. This nutritional model is based on a very limited amount of recommended foods. When using the GAPS diet, we exclude from the menu foods rich in dietary fiber, which is necessary for the proper functioning of the digestive tract. Fiber foods, which are also a source of complex carbohydrates, replace foods that influence the number and quality of intestinal bacteria, including: fermented milk products, pickled vegetables and homemade meat broth. An important element of the GAPS diet is properly selected supplementation.

The GAPS diet is recommended for people who suffer from various mental disorders and neurological diseases. To avoid the risk of worsening your health, do not use it without consulting your doctor. The GAPS diet will not replace appropriately selected treatment that is necessary to reduce disease symptoms!

Principles of the GAPS diet

The principles of the GAPS diet include replacing products that contain complex carbohydrates with products high in natural probiotics.

Products with a high content of dietary fiber are prohibited in the GAPS Diet (e.g. whole grain cereal products). On the GAPS diet you also can’t eat starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes) and legume seeds (e.g. beans, peas, soy products). Using the GAPS diet also includes giving up eating processed food. Despite numerous controversies regarding the assumptions of the GAPS diet, it can contribute to developing healthy eating habits because it involves giving up the consumption of sugar, sweets, salty and sweet snacks and other highly processed products, e.g. ready meals, instant products and fast food. If you want to follow the recommendations of the GAPS diet, You also need to remove alcohol, coffee, tea, cocoa, fruit juices and carbonated drinks from your daily diet..

The basis of the GAPS diet are fermented milk products, pickled vegetables and homemade broth – meat stock.. Other foods that are allowed for people following the GAPS diet include:

  • starch-free vegetables (e.g. cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower,

  • fruit,

  • high-quality meat (preferably organic),

  • fishes and seafood,

  • eggs from organic farming,

  • animal fats and vegetable oils,

  • nuts,

  • seeds,

  • garlic.

The restrictive principles of the GAPS diet include the selection of high-quality food products that meet specific criteria and are properly prepared for consumption.

As already mentioned, the main principle of the GAPS diet is the elimination of complex carbohydrates and the consumption of large amounts of products that help rebuild the intestinal microbiota. Eating sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, pickled beets and other pickled foods helps replenish the deficiencies of probiotic bacteria, which are largely responsible for intestinal health. Due to the sensitivity of probiotic bacteria to high temperatures, products rich in them should be subjected to as little heat treatment as possible. However, giving up foods rich in fiber may affect the effects of a diet rich in natural probiotics, which need nourishment in the form of prebiotics. Prebiotics include: oligosaccharides and polysaccharides not digested by humans, which influence the activity of intestinal bacteria and stimulate their growth.

GAPS diet stages

The GAPS diet is divided into six stages. In each of them, specific food products are introduced into the menu. Importantly, individual stages may last for different times, which is related to the individual reaction to the products introduced into the diet.

It is very important to gradually accustom the body to the new way of eating. The individual stages of the GAPS diet include introducing various products into the menu:

  • Stage I – mainly homemade meat stock, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices and homemade yogurt and kefir (if there is no intolerance to them) – at this stage the body gets used to the new diet and is cleansed of toxins,

  • Stage II – juices from pickled vegetables, which complement the deficiencies of intestinal bacteria,

  • Stage III – eggs from organic hens,

  • Stage IV – baked meat,

  • Stage V – raw vegetables,

  • Stage VI – raw fruit.

If there are no disturbing symptoms from the digestive tract, the full GAPS diet is started and products that were eaten before switching to the GAPS diet are gradually introduced into the menu. Importantly, there is still a ban on eating highly processed products.

The full GAPS diet includes continuing to eat the foods allowed in the last stage of the diet and gradually adding new foods. The menu may include, for example, raw fruit and raw vegetables (except starchy vegetables), nuts and seeds (except legumes), honey, cocoa, coffee and tea. You should still avoid products containing gluten, lactose, starch, sugar and chemicals. This diet is to be followed for at least two years until full health is achieved.

The assumptions of the GAPS diet may help to improve your well-being, but a very poor menu is potentially harmful to your health.

Risks associated with using the GAPS diet

Nutrition experts point out many potential side effects of using the GAPS diet, including:

  • nutritional deficiencies – people following the GAPS diet are at risk of, among others: for deficiency of B vitamins and minerals found in food products eliminated from the menu;

  • increased risk of constipation, which is caused by a lack of dietary fiber in the diet;

  • increased cholesterol levels caused by eating animal fats;

  • decreased exercise capacity and impaired concentration, which are related to the lack of carbohydrates in the daily menu.

The GAPS diet is a controversial nutritional model that requires giving up eating many foods. The advantage of using it is a menu based on unprocessed products and the elimination of food that is a source of empty calories, chemical additives and other harmful compounds.

It is worth remembering that the GAPS diet should not be used without consulting a doctor or dietitian. There is no reliable research evidence that this diet is effective in treating autism or other mental disorders.

Although many people confirm the effectiveness of the GAPS diet, you should not completely trust the opinions you can read, among others: online. Each elimination diet should be started with specific indications and after consultation with a doctor.


  • SJ Shepherd, PR Gibson, Nutritional inadequacies of the gluten-free diet in both recently-diagnosed and long-term patients with coeliac disease, DOI: 10.1111/jhn.12018

  • Natasha Campbell-McBride, GAPS Psychological-Gut Syndrome, Stenka Publishing House, 2013

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