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GAPS protocol diet

What is the GAPS diet? How healthy is it? Are the promises of the GAPS diet true?

The GAPS protocol/diet theory claims that cutting out certain foods, such as grains and sugars, can help people treat diseases that affect the brain, such as autism and dyslexia.

In this article, we will look for answers to the questions:

  • Is this assumption correct?
  • What evidence is it based on?
  • Does the GAPS diet work?
  • What are the benefits and risks of the GAPS diet?

What is the GAPS protocol/diet?

The story began in 2004 with the publication of Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride’s book ‘Gut And Psychology Syndrome. Natural Treatment Of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Depression And Schizophrenia’, which explored the link between a patient’s physical condition and brain function.

This book then became the basis of the GAPS diet (GAPS stands for Gut And Psychology Syndrome).


The basic idea is that poor diet and leaky gut syndrome (a condition in which microscopic holes form in the gut through which chemicals and bacteria from food may enter the bloodstream) cause many psychological, neurological and behavioural problems.

Natasha Campbell-McBride argues that when these alien substances enter the bloodstream, they can affect brain function and development, leading to ‘brain fog’ and diseases such as autism.

She also claims that the GAPS diet cured her first child of autism, and she now widely promotes the diet as a natural treatment for many mental and neurological conditions, including:


The GAPS diet is supposed to heal the gut and thus stop toxins from entering the bloodstream and reduce “toxicity” in the body.

It consists of 3 parts:

  1. An introductory diet that consists of 6 phases and can last from a few weeks to 1 year.
  2. The full GAPS diet, which lasts for about 18 to 24 months.
  3. The Recovery phase, or coming off GAPS. This is recommended after a minimum of 6 months of normal digestion and bowel movements. Like the other phases of this diet, it can be a long process, as the introduction of new foods is slow over several months. The diet does not prescribe the order or the exact foods that should be introduced, but it does suggest starting with new potatoes and fermented, gluten-free cereals.

The GAPS diet focuses on avoiding foods that are difficult to digest and can damage the gut flora or mucosa.

Natasha Campbell-McBride believes that these include:

  • Cereals (rice, buckwheat, couscous, quinoa, wheat, rye, oats…).
  • Pasteurised and industrially processed dairy products;
  • Starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, yams…).
  • Refined carbohydrates (syrups, sugar, white flour products…).

In other words, the GAPS diet is a VERY restrictive diet aimed (at least initially) at helping children with behavioural and mood disorders.


As is often the case, the commerce won, and now adults follow the GAPS diet, too. And not only to improve digestive problems but also as a “detoxification” method, for weight loss, etc.


Sample menu for the GAPS diet

Start your day with one of these drinks:

  • A glass of filtered lemon water and kefir.
  • A glass of freshly squeezed fruit or vegetable juice.


  • GAPS pancakes with butter or honey.
  • One glass of lemon and ginger tea.


  • Meat or fish with vegetables.
  • One glass of homemade meat broth.
  • One serving of probiotics such as kimchi, sauerkraut juice, yoghurt or kefir.


  • Homemade vegetable soup made from meat broth.
  • One serving of probiotics such as kimchi, sauerkraut juice, yoghurt or kefir.

Does the GAPS diet work?

Although current research suggests that there is a link between the brain and the gut, especially for conditions such as anxiety and depression, the results of studies on specific aspects of nutrition vary.

Although there are many reports of improvements, evidence suggesting that the GAPS diet is the cause of improvements in psychological or behavioural states is scarce.

The main components of the GAPS diet are the elimination of ‘gut-damaging’ foods, dietary supplements and ‘detoxification’.


Elimination of ‘gut-damaging’ foods

So far, there have been no studies on the effects of the GAPS diet on symptoms and behaviours associated with autism (at least, I have not been able to find any).

Therefore, it is not possible to determine whether it helps at all in treating autism or other psychiatric or neurological conditions.


Some diets possibly may help to improve some autistic behaviours (e.g. ketogenic, gluten-free and casein-free diets).


The number of studies carried out so far has been small, and there have been many cases of drop-out (diets being discontinued), so it is still unclear whether or not these diets can help treat autism or reduce its symptoms.

There is also no evidence that the GAPS diet has a beneficial effect on any of the other conditions it claims to treat.


On the other hand, there are a relatively large number of positive testimonials that might suggest that the GAPS diet does work.

GAPS may indeed improve gut health because:


At the same time, the GAPS diet excludes whole food groups, which significantly increases the risk of nutrient deficiencies.


Dietary supplements

1 The GAPS diet recommends probiotics to restore the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Some studies suggest that probiotics are beneficial for children with autism or that certain strains of probiotics may improve the severity of autistic symptoms.

The beneficial effects of probiotics (fermented products such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, etc.) on the gut microflora cannot be denied, but – sour milk and other fermented products are an integral part of a healthy diet.

In other words, I do not see the added value.


2 The GAPS diet also recommends the use of the following as dietary supplements:

  • Vitamins and mineral supplements.
  • Fish or cod liver oil and a small amount of cold-pressed nut and seed oil blend with a 2:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (essential fatty acids are taken in) every day.
  • Betaine HCl (a manufactured form of hydrochloric acid) with added pepsin (a digestive enzyme that breaks down proteins) before each meal.

However, studies have found no effect of essential fatty acid intake for people with autism. Studies on the effects of digestive enzymes on autism have also shown inconclusive results.

In other words – it is not clear whether or not taking supplements improves autistic behaviour.



The GAPS diet claims that toxins are everywhere and that they increase the body’s toxic load.

It is therefore necessary to:

  • Eliminate the main source of toxicity, which in the GAPS interpretation means cleansing the digestive tract and restoring healthy microflora, using the GAPS diet.
  • Eliminate toxins and heavy metals accumulated in the body (by drinking fruit/vegetable juices and following the GAPS introductory diet).
  • Reduce the overall toxic load from the environment – do not bring anything into the home that could release chemicals – from new carpets, furniture, paints and cleaning agents to body cosmetics.

I have given my views on detox diets HERE.


Risks of the GAPS diet

The GAPS diet is very restrictive and requires you to give up many nutrient-dense foods for long periods of time.

Furthermore, there is little guidance on how to ensure that the diet contains all the necessary nutrients.

The most obvious risks are:

  • Excluding cereals, legumes, certain fruits, and vegetables can reduce the intake of vitamins and minerals, which can lead to deficiencies of nutrients needed for the body to function properly. This is especially true for children who grow rapidly and, therefore, have high nutrient requirements. In addition, children with autism refuse more food than children with normal development. In other words, they may already have a restrictive diet, and it is certainly not a good idea to restrict it further.
  • The GAPS diet restricts fibre-rich foods (whole grains, legumes, some fruit and vegetables). Fibre intake is therefore likely to be insufficient, which in turn can affect gastrointestinal health and increase the risk of constipation or other gastrointestinal problems.
  • The GAPS diet specifically emphasises the use of bone broth and probiotic-rich foods to maintain/improve gut health. Although these foods may be beneficial for some people, they may also cause digestive discomfort such as bloating, gas or diarrhoea, especially if they are introduced into the diet for the first time.
  • The GAPS diet is very restrictive and requires a lot of planning – which can make it difficult to follow in the long term (the full GAPS diet cycle is 18 to 24 months).
  • Adherence to the GAPS diet can cause social problems, for example – dining out with friends or attending social events where food is served that does not follow the GAPS guidelines. This can lead to feelings of isolation and make it difficult to follow the diet.
  • Although the GAPS diet is promoted as a diet that benefits neurological and psychological health, restrictive diets are commonly associated with conditions such as increased irritability, fatigue, decreased energy levels, hormonal imbalance and immune system dysfunction, mind fog, difficulty concentrating, etc.
  • Some people on restrictive diets such as GAPS may develop an unhealthy relationship with food or feel guilty or anxious about their food choices.

Does leaky gut syndrome cause autism?

This is the most important question, as the GAPS diet is based on the assumption that autism is caused by a leaky gut and that it can be cured by following the diet developed by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride.

Autism is a disorder that causes changes in the way the brain works, affecting the way an autistic person perceives the world.

These effects can vary greatly, but in general, autistic people have difficulties with communication and social interaction.

Autism is thought to be a complex condition caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Environmental factors meant environmental pollution – pesticides, phthalates, PCBs, solvents, air pollutants, fragrances, glyphosate, heavy metals, etc.

In other words – substances that almost all of us regularly come into contact with through perfumes, cosmetics, air fresheners, processed foods (containing flavourings, etc.), detergents, etc.


Studies have found that up to 70% of people with autism have digestive problems, which can cause symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, acid reflux and vomiting.


It is not clear whether these digestive problems are caused by leaky gut syndrome or, for example, unhealthy eating habits (autistic children refuse more foods than normal children).


Some studies have found that some children with autism have increased intestinal permeability.


Other studies have found no difference in gut permeability between children with and without autism.

There are also currently no studies showing intestinal permeability preceding the development of autism.

In other words, even if some children with autism have increased gut permeability, it is not known whether this is a cause or a symptom of autism or whether there is no link at all (e.g. if some people with autism had blue eyes, this would not mean that blue eyes cause autism).


Can I lose weight on the GAPS diet?

It is possible to lose weight on the GAPS diet, but this is not the goal of the diet. The GAPS diet aims to treat or alleviate the symptoms of various autoimmune, digestive and neurological diseases.


The GAPS diet excludes (according to the author) foods that are harmful to the gut but do not restrict portion size (the number of calories consumed per day) to any extent.


Whether you lose or gain weight on the GAPS diet depends entirely on what and how much you eat (how many calories you take in).

If your diet is currently high in sugary or processed foods – cutting these out in favour of fresh, wholesome foods can help you to lose weight and improve your overall health.


It can also be done without eliminating whole food groups and following complicated rules.

Again, I don’t see the added value 😊.

However, if you want to complicate your life and try the GAPS diet – consult a dietician or nutritionist for advice on how to avoid possible nutrient deficiencies.


Key takeaways

The hypothesis that all diseases start in the gut is not new. Hippocrates made this claim more than 2,000 years ago.

It is widely believed that genetic predisposition and response to environmental triggers are the main factors in the development of chronic inflammatory diseases. The group of chronic inflammatory diseases includes, for example, allergies, neuroinflammatory/neurodegenerative diseases and oncological processes.


Over the last 40 years, epidemiological observations have shown a significant increase in the incidence of chronic inflammatory diseases, especially in Western countries, while the incidence of infectious diseases is decreasing. These observations lead to the hypothesis that the influence of hygiene on the development of chronic inflammatory diseases is significant.

In other words, humanity deliberately has made itself too clean. This topic became particularly topical during COVID-19, when people everywhere, forced by circumstances, began to use disinfectants, wash their hands more often, etc.


Some of the GAPS diet recommendations are very good and can be supported – eat only fresh and whole foods (avoid processed foods) and eat more vegetables and fruit.

However, excluding whole food groups (cereals, soya and some dairy products) is not recommended, especially for those who have or have had eating disorders.

As the GAPS diet is high in animal products and meat, it is not suitable for vegetarians or vegans.

Pros of the GAPS diet:

  • It recommends avoiding processed foods and increasing the use of fruit and vegetables in the diet.
  • A clearly defined plan with recipes.
  • No points or calorie counting.

Cons of the GAPS diet:

  • Very restrictive – so it is likely to be difficult to follow.
  • High risk of nutrient deficiencies.
  • Lots of rules to remember.
  • Complicated planning and preparation of portions and meals.
  • Eating out is very restricted.
  • There is no evidence that this diet has a positive effect on people with autism and other psychiatric and neurological conditions that it claims to treat.

Eat a balanced diet, move and – be healthy!

Leaky gut – concept or clinical entity?

The ScanBrit randomised, controlled, single-blind study of a gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders

Metabolic Dysfunction Underlying Autism Spectrum Disorder and Potential Treatment Approaches

The role of probiotics in children with autism spectrum disorder: A prospective, open-label study

Unexpected improvement in core autism spectrum disorder symptoms after long-term treatment with probiotics

Digestive enzyme supplementation for autism spectrum disorders: a double-blind randomized controlled trial

The effect of dietary supplements on clinical aspects of autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review of the literature

A Randomized, Placebo-controlled Trial of Digestive Enzymes in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

A comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis of pharmacological and dietary supplement interventions in paediatric autism: moderators of treatment response and recommendations for future research

Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplements in children with autism spectrum disorder: a study protocol for a factorial randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial

Food Selectivity, Mealtime Behavior Problems, Spousal Stress, and Family Food Choices in Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder

The risk of lead contamination in bone broth diets

Alterations of the intestinal barrier in patients with autism spectrum disorders and in their first-degree relatives

Blood-brain barrier and intestinal epithelial barrier alterations in autism spectrum disorders

Abnormal intestinal permeability in children with autism

Blood-brain barrier and intestinal epithelial barrier alterations in autism spectrum disorders

Gut permeability in autism spectrum disorders

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