The GAPS Diet: How To Balance Your Gut and Mind For Harmonious Health

The relationship between the gut and the brain has been well-highlighted in recent years, with many health professionals appreciating that our digestion can significantly influence our brain health. The GAPS diet is an intervention that claims to improve digestion and heal ‘leaky gut’ syndrome, which has upstream benefits on the brain and mental health. This article explores the core tenets of the GAPS Diet, specifics of the protocol, benefits, and some GAPS diet-friendly recipes to promote better health.

Origins and Principles of the GAPS Diet

Created by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride in the early 2000s, the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet (GAPS) diet came to life to tackle a range of autoimmune and neurological conditions like autism, ADHD, depression, and IBS. Dr. Campbell-McBride saw the connection between these issues and imbalances in people's gut microbiome and developed a dietary intervention to help.

At its core, the GAPS diet is designed to heal and maintain a healthy gut lining, thereby preventing toxins from entering the bloodstream and triggering immune responses. The idea with this dietary approach is that these neurological and behavioural (neurodivergent) disorders could be caused by inflammatory substances, leading to intestinal permeability or what is commonly known as a 'leaky gut'.

By removing these various inflammatory foods and substances, the gut lining has a chance to heal, which should, therefore, improve or eliminate these conditions. Equally, this diet places a considerable emphasis on nutrient-dense foods that are easily digestible, anti-inflammatory, and beneficial to gut flora, all of which help to promote better health.

The Details of Digestion

Understanding what happens in the intestinal tract can help explain why the GAPS diet is useful in healing the gut, improving brain function and boosting overall health.

The digestive system develops throughout childhood and continues to mature and strengthen with age. The intestinal lining comprises a mucous layer and a semi-permeable membrane that acts both as a protective barrier and a site for nutrient and water absorption. This is where vitamins, minerals and other small substances are transferred from the digestive tract into the bloodstream.

If this protective layer is damaged, the intestinal membrane becomes more permeable, and the junctions between each cell wall become more prominent. This increases the risk of undigested foods, harmful chemicals, and other potential pathogens getting into the bloodstream, causing inflammation and general havoc in the body. In the medical literature, this is known as intestinal permeability or, colloquially, 'leaky gut' syndrome.

3 Phases of the GAPS Diet

The GAPS diet has three phases:

  1. The Introduction Phase
  2. The Full GAPS Diet
  3. The Reintroduction Phase

Let's look at these three phases in greater detail below:

The Introduction Phase 

This initial phase of the GAPS diet includes six steps and aims to radically repair the gut lining before the full GAPS diet phase begins. The following functional foods that help achieve this include:

Participants can stay in each phase from a few days to six weeks. Ideally, waiting until all the serious digestive symptoms have subsided will be a cue to continue to the next steps.

The six steps in the introduction phase include:

  1. Homemade stocks and broths, dairy (if tolerated), vegetable-based fermented foods and ginger tea.
  2. Add in raw organic egg yolks, stews, nourishing casseroles, homemade yoghurt and kefir, sauerkraut juice and ghee.
  3. Continue and add ripe avocado, whole eggs, sauerkraut and pickled vegetables if desired.
  4. Add in roasted meat, cold-pressed olive oil, fresh juice, and long-fermented breads such as sourdough, activated nuts or seeds.
  5. Then, add cooked apples and raw vegetables if desired.
  6. Finally, introduce peeled raw apples, other raw fruit and honey.
Bone broth in a bowl for someone doing the gaps diet

The Full GAPS Diet

Once the introduction phase has been completed, the full GAPS diet can commence. This phase introduces more foods designed to heal the gut lining and is recommended as a longer-term intervention for up to two years. Here, around 85% of the foods you enjoy should be from meat, eggs, fish, broth, fermented foods and vegetables.

The Reintroduction Phase

If six months have passed without any disruptive digestive symptoms, you're ready to begin the reintroduction phase. Gradually, you can add other foods back into your diet, one item at a time and monitor for symptoms.

Foods of the GAPS Diet

Following the GAPS diet requires dedication and preparation. It can feel daunting at first, and it can also sometimes take a while to yield lasting results. However, if addressing neurological conditions and brain health is the goal, pursuing the GAPS diet protocol is worth it.

For a more comprehensive list of permitted foods, check out the GAPS diet website. To get started, here's a general guide to what you can and can't eat while on the GAPS journey.

Foods to Embrace on the GAPS Diet

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Fresh (not canned) vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Garlic
  • Meat
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Seeds
  • Shellfish
  • Stock

Foods to Avoid on the GAPS Diet

  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Coffee
  • Corn
  • Cottage cheese
  • Dairy Milk
  • Grains
  • Oats
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Processed and canned foods
  • Rice
  • Soy and soy products
  • Sugar

Final Thoughts on the GAPS Diet Protocol

Including whole, natural foods and fermented products gives the GAPS diet a healthy advantage as far as interventions are concerned. A recent article published in the journal Molecules outlined the different elements that help restore the integrity of the intestinal cell wall and, therefore, improve ‘leaky gut’ symptoms. Specifically, fermentable fruit and vegetable fibres, probiotics, plant polyphenols, and glutamine are essential in healing the gut lining. These compounds and foods are core components of the GAPS diet protocol.

There needs to be more clinically relevant data showing improvements in neurodivergent and behavioural conditions following the GAPS diet. Truthfully, this diet can be fairly restrictive and requires a lot of planning and preparation. Nonetheless, anecdotally, it appears to yield positive benefits to those who try it. The GAPS diet also highlights the importance of the intricate connection between the diet, gut health and brain health.

Any diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats is a great foundation for optimal gut health as well as microbiome function. Longer-term dietary approaches like the Mediterranean Diet, Flexitarian Diet and even the Nordic Diet could also be considered to support overall health.

If you or your child is navigating chronic health or behavioural issues, the GAPS diet offers a path to explore. However, like any dietary change, it should be approached thoughtfully, considering one's unique health circumstances and under the guidance of a qualified nutritionist.

A GAPS Diet-Friendly Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

If you're just starting the GAPS diet, this delicious meal plan will get the ball rolling. Each recipe contains simple, whole ingredients with anti-inflammatory and gut-healing properties - perfect for you and your microbiome!


GAPS Diet Chicken & Vegetable Soup

Due to its broth base, this soup is incredibly comforting and healing. It's rich in minerals and easy to digest. It's loaded with gelatin, which is high in glutamine (the ultimate gut-healing nutrient!). Plus, it's versatile—feel free to adjust the vegetables based on what's available or preferred.


  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 squash, diced
  • 500g organic chicken breast or thigh, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1.5 L homemade chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped


  1. Wash and chop all the vegetables and cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Set them aside.
  2. In a large soup pot, heat the coconut oil or ghee over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, sautéing until they're translucent and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the carrots, celery, zucchini, and squash to the same pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes until the vegetables start to soften.
  4. Add the chicken pieces to the pot, stirring to combine with the vegetables. Cook until the chicken is sealed, about 5-7 minutes.
  5. Pour in the chicken broth, ensuring it covers the vegetables and chicken. If necessary, add more broth or water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  6. Add the sea salt, black pepper, and thyme to the pot. Stir well to combine. Allow the soup to simmer gently for about 25-30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is fully cooked.
  7. Once the soup is done, remove it from the heat and stir in the fresh parsley. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  8. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve warm.

GAPS Diet Grilled Lamb Cutlets with Roasted Aubergine and Watercress Salad

This filling yet delicate dinner is a great way to nourish your taste buds and your belly! If you want something a little bit fancier, that's not too difficult to whip up - this lamb cutlet main is your dish du jour!


For the Lamb Cutlets:

  • 8 lamb cutlets
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Roasted Aubergine:

  • 2 medium aubergines (eggplants), sliced into 2cm thick rounds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste

For the Watercress Salad:

  • 3 cups fresh watercress, washed and dried
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. In a bowl, combine olive oil, minced garlic, dried rosemary, sea salt, and black pepper. Add the lamb cutlets, ensuring they are well coated with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight for a more developed flavour.
  2. Preheat your oven to 200°C and lay the aubergine slices on a baking sheet, brush both sides with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden and soft, turning halfway through cooking.
  3. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill the lamb cutlets for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium-rare or until cooked to your liking. Rest them for a few minutes before serving.
  4. In a large bowl, toss the watercress and red onion with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, and black pepper until well mixed.
  5. Arrange the roasted aubergine slices on plates. Place the grilled lamb cutlets on top and serve with a generous side of the watercress salad.

GAPS Diet Pumpkin Spice Coconut Porridge

This breakfast is GAPS-friendly, grain-free, gluten-free, and dairy-free, making it suitable for many dietary needs. It's a gentle, nourishing way to begin your day.


  • 1 cup organic pumpkin pureé (ensure it's free of additives or preservatives)
  • 1/2 cup homemade coconut milk (or canned, but make sure it’s additive-free)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • A pinch of ground ginger
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey or to taste (optional, depending on your stage in the GAPS diet)
  • 2 tablespoons raw, activated crushed nuts or seeds of your choice (such as almonds, walnuts, or sunflower seeds) – optional, ensure they are properly soaked overnight to aid digestion


  1. In a small saucepan, mix the pumpkin puree and coconut milk over medium heat. Stir until well combined and gently warm the mixture, but do not bring it to a boil.
  2. Add the cinnamon, ginger, and pinch of sea salt to the porridge. Stir well to incorporate all the spices.
  3. If you're on a GAPS diet stage where natural sweeteners are permitted, you can add raw honey to taste.
  4. Pour the warm porridge into a bowl. If using, sprinkle the top with the crushed nuts or seeds for added texture and nutrients.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

Article References

Aleman, R. S., Moncada, M., & Aryana, K. J. (2023). Leaky Gut and the Ingredients That Help Treat It: A Review. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)28(2), 619.

Christovich, A., & Luo, X. M. (2022). Gut Microbiota, Leaky Gut, and Autoimmune Diseases. Frontiers in immunology13, 946248.

Kinashi, Y., & Hase, K. (2021). Partners in Leaky Gut Syndrome: Intestinal Dysbiosis and Autoimmunity. Frontiers in immunology12, 673708.

Obrenovich M. E. M. (2018). Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain?. Microorganisms6(4), 107.

Usuda, H., Okamoto, T., & Wada, K. (2021). Leaky Gut: Effect of Dietary Fiber and Fats on Microbiome and Intestinal Barrier. International journal of molecular sciences22(14), 7613.