The Five Most Common GAPS Diet Mistakes

by Sarah Pope MGA

An increasing number of folks that I know seem to be trying out the GAPS diet in order to solve a variety of autoimmune issues. The GAPS Diet, as it is commonly known, is a temporary way of eating (usually about 18 months) to rebalance and heal/seal the gut wall which halts the flood of toxins from pathogenic strains dominating the gut environment into the bloodstream causing an unpredictable mix of autoimmune symptoms. The diet is described in detail in Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MDs book Gut and Psychology Syndrome.

The autoimmune disorders significantly alleviated or healed by the GAPS Diet include the simply annoying, like seasonal allergies, to the more life altering such as autism, fibromyalgia, MS, lupus, and the list goes on and on and on …. 

Absolutely it does.

My husband used to be the poster boy for allergies. He was allergic to every single prick the allergist tried on him some years ago.  Today, he is allergic to nothing. Absolutely nothing.  His asthma (during respiratory illness) and eczema are also gone.

Another person I recently talked to has arrested the progression of her IBS symptoms and gotten herself off the medication using the GAPS Diet. In fact, I know many folks who have received significant relief from their autoimmune disorders from the GAPS Diet.

How empowering to know that there is an answer for autoimmune illness and that something as simple as the GAPS diet can make it happen!

The trouble is, GAPS is simple but not necessarily easy. When folks go on GAPS, a number of common mistakes seem to be made. Here is a rundown of the five most frequent mistakes I’ve encountered coaching folks at various stages in the process:

Mistake #1: Going off Grains but Not Starches

Talking to people on GAPS, I have frequently encountered those who have eliminated all disaccharides from the diet but not all the starches in the form of potatoes, sweet potatoes, arrowroot flour, potato flour, carob powder, cocoa powder, chickpea flour, all other gluten free flours and almost all beans and legumes (navy beans and lentils are ok).

While starch is not a disaccharide, it is a very complex food molecule, comprised of very long strands of hundreds of monosugars that are very difficult for an imbalanced gut to break down. Undigested starch feeds gut pathogens. Even worse, starch that does manage to get digested results in molecules of maltose, which is a disaccharide!

As a result, for success on GAPS to be achieved and long term results attained, grains and starches must be eliminated.

Mistake #2: Taking a Cheaper Probiotic or No Probiotic at All

Dr. Campbell-McBride MD warns about this in her book. She writes that most brands on the market are not strong enough or have the correct aggressive probiotic strains necessary to recolonize the gut. Moreover, many brands of probiotics do not contain the strains listed on the label or have the claimed bacterial strength.

To avoid the problem of probiotic label fudging, make sure the brand selected is reputable and can deliver the results you need.

After all, you’re going to all this trouble and inconvenience to eat GAPS, why cut corners with the probiotic and threaten the success of the process? This article explains in detail why a probiotic on GAPS is so critical to success of the protocol.

Mistake #3: Going Wild with the No Grain Flours

Our culture’s food supply is so overly dominated by grain based foods that when a person initially decides to go on GAPS, the thought “what in the world will I eat” can be rather overwhelming.

As a result, a common mistake for people on GAPS is to make a wholesale switch from grain based foods to those exact same foods made with no grain flour such as coconut or almond.

Eating bread, muffins, pancakes, waffles, pizza and cookies made with coconut or almond flour at the same rate one used to eat these same foods made with wheat can cause unintended consequences.

Coconut flour is extremely high in fiber and eating too much of it can cause gastric distress. Almond flour contains a lot of omega-6 fatty acids. While essential to health, too many omega-6 fats in the diet contributes to inflammation.

As a result, eating a moderate amount of baked goods made with alternative flours such as coconut and almond is the best way to go to ensure GAPS success.

Mistake #4: Not Making/Eating Enough Homemade Broth

A very important part of the GAPS diet is consumption of copious amounts of homemade bone broth. A small cup with every single meal is recommended. The reason is that broth contains so many easy to assimilate minerals, vitamins, and amino-acids.  It is a very soothing food to the intestinal mucosa and has been known for centuries to aid digestion due to the natural gelatin that attracts digestive juices.

Many folks I know on GAPS are not consuming nearly enough broth. Or, they are using commercial bone broth which is almost always watered down (no gelling in the fridge) and/or packaged in toxic containers like aseptic, shelf stable cartons.

A good idea before going on GAPS is to make sure your freezer is completely loaded up with any and all forms of homemade broth that you can find quality bones for: chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, fish etc. Note that the best and most nutritious bone broth is made from fish heads, so be sure to include that in the rotation.

Broth is inexpensive to make and is so very important to GAPS Diet success so be sure to include it with every meal if at all possible! Once or twice a week in soups is not often enough.

Mistake #5: Giving Up Too Soon

Success with the GAPS Diet takes time. In most cases, it took years for the gut to get in bad shape and it’s going to take months or even a year or two to get it back in shape. For a child, the average amount of time on GAPS to achieve a significant level of autoimmune remission is 18 months. For an adult, it can take longer.

I have known adults who have achieved success in only 6 months, but these were typically people who had been eating traditionally for many years already and who simply needed to go on full GAPS for a few months to complete the healing process. If you are coming to GAPS from the Standard American Diet, then plan on 2-3 years to success. While this may seem like a long time, it is really short considering living the rest of your life with an ever worsening auto-immune situation.

Don’t give up too soon! Initial subsiding of symptoms within a few weeks or months on GAPS does not mean healing.  Stick with it so that the gut wall is healed and sealed for good and you can reclaim the vitality of life you seek!

If the GAPS diet is of interest to you and you would like a complete overview of the program, please check out this article on how to heal autoimmune disease.

There are also many GAPS diet recipes on this blog to help your journey.

For even more help, check out this affordable ebook and meal plans to get some idea of what would be involved if you were to embark on the GAPS diet in your home.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist


Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.

Sarah earned a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master’s degree in Government (Financial Management) from the University of Pennsylvania.

Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.