The first stage of the GAPS Intro diet is definitely really rough.  You can work into it slowly, gradually cutting out foods, or just go cold turkey, but whatever approach you take, you’re basically doing the GAPS program in order to starve and replace pathogenic microorganisms in your gut.  And when they start dying, a couple things are going to happen which make you feel awful and desperately want to quit.

For one, as these microorganisms kick the bucket, they’re going to release a ton of toxins into your system as they disintegrate, get broken down, and processed out of the body.  So the symptoms that led you to want to start GAPS in the first place may actually get significantly worse at first, before they can get better.

Also, you will likely have intense cravings for foods that are not even remotely legal on GAPS, let alone on Intro.  Like cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies and all sorts of other sweets, even if you haven’t eaten these in years, like me, and, for the most part, J.  Even if in infrequent and small doses, these sweets likely fed pathogens that produced morphine-like substances that our brains had gotten addicted to.  When the pathogens stop producing these addictive compounds, the brain signals us to do what it knows will get it another “hit” — eat sugars and processed carbs.  Going on GAPS is, in effect, going into rehab.  It may hurt, a lot.  No one ever said getting off heroin was easy.  Getting off sugars also slurps big time.

That being said, there is a ton of delicious food that you can eat on GAPS Intro, even at the very beginning of Stage 1.  Now, you may not actually want to eat any of it, but it’s really, really important, especially at those moments when NOTHING sounds good to eat, to do everything you can to get nourishing foods into your body, even if only in very small quantities.  You may also find that you only want to eat very simple things, meals that would have seemed appallingly bland pre-GAPS.  And that’s ok.  The most important thing to remember is to try to get each of the five meal priorities into each meal.  They will provide the necessary tools to help you eventually start feeling better.

Below are the basic food components we started the GAPS Intro Stage 1 eating.  I pulled this lists from descriptions provided in the GAPS book, because I thought it would be a lot easier to know what basic ingredients I could build recipes out of.  The GAPS book recommends starting off Intro with soup for every. single. meal., which I knew I wasn’t going to be able to handle, so this list gave me something to work with to diversify my options.

Let me also repeat, to risk being completely redundant, that this is what we didEveryone needs to do GAPS a little differently, because everyone is different. And these are the guidelines that I came up with before we started — as we progressed through them, even we didn’t follow them all, because they weren’t always what our bodies were ready for.

Stage 1 :  Baseline foods

  • Fresh lemon juice (Dr. NC-M recommends starting every morning with a cup of hot water with fresh lemon juice.)  {I was confused about this — the book suggests this as part of the FULL GAPS diet, after you finish Intro.  That being said, J and I both did lemon juice all the way through Intro without any problems, and in fact it helped a lot with constipation issues.}
  • Broth
  • Pickle or sauerkraut juice (the raw juice that comes out of/accompanies lacto-fermented veggies;  before the introduction of dairy ferments, this is the only source of probiotics in the diet, so it’s uber-important.  This can be taken as a “shot”, or mixed into foods once they’re cool enough to hold your finger in them without stinging.)
  • Boiled veggies, possibly pureed if digestion is severely compromised
  • Boiled and braised meats and tissues (gristle!!)
  • Barely-cooked garlic (Dr. NC-M suggests adding this to soups.  However, I’ve always gotten severe digestive upset with raw/undercooked alliums, so even tho I did try it at Stage 1, I quickly realized that had been a mistake and I didn’t try it again!  I’m really ok with not ever eating raw garlic.)
  • Animal fats (possibly the ones rendered when you make your broth;  we also used lard and schmaltz bought from the Farm)
  • Coconut oil (if already tolerated — it can cause serious die-off reactions, so if you’re not used to it, introduce it gradually)
  • Mint, fresh ginger, or chamomile tisane
  • Freshly ground pepper and natural sea salt (never refined iodized salt!)

Once all these foods above are well tolerated (i.e. any major digestion issues have resolved– but in my opinion, what “well tolerated” means is honestly a very personalized judgment), a few more foods can be introduced, and their effects observed to see if one’s body can tolerate them:

  • Add herbs and spices. The GAPS book says to only use fresh herbs and limited spices on Intro.  This doesn’t make any sense to me, and I went ahead and used dried herbs and as much spices as tasted good to me from pretty early on.  If it had been summer and my herb garden had been growing, I might have spent more time without dried herbs and spices, but we started intro mid-February, so that wasn’t an option.  I use almost exclusively single herbs/spices, or mix my own spice blends, and they are all high quality, organic products, so I saw no reason to restrict them in cooking — they are, after all, vegetable matter when it comes down to it.  If someone was used to using a lot of spice mixes — Mrs. Dash, seasoned salt, etc. — then I could see why this restriction would be necessary, because seasoning mixes often contain MSG and other toxic ingredients.
  • Add fermented kombucha made from raw honey (We actually ended up not being able to introduce this until a little later — J tolerated it once we were into Stage 2, and me at Stage 3 or 4, if I remember correctly, because we both reacted to it at Stage 1.)
  • Add honey, in small amounts (Obviously, if we couldn’t handle fermented honey, we definitely couldn’t handle honey straight-up at this stage as well.  It wasn’t much more than a week or so after we could tolerate the kombucha, tho, that a little bit of honey was ok.)
  • Add some fermented dairy.  Dr. NC-M has a full dairy introduction structure discussed in the book, for folks who have issues with dairy.  Luckily, we haven’t had issues.  But we still took a few days to introduce things one at a time:
    • Ghee
    • Whey (raw, from the production of fermented dairy such as soft cheese, or strained yogurt)
    • Yogurt and sour cream (This means cream that has been cultured!  And preferably from raw milk/cream.)
  • Add homemade coconut milk and/or coconut cream.  This is not actually listed anywhere in the Intro instructions in the book (although the avoid list in the book includes canned coconut milk), and we really enjoy it, so I thought when I was organizing this list, why not try it at Stage 1?  We actually never got around to introducing it until about Stage 4, tho, because we were so eager to move on past the early stages!  And I still don’t consume it in much quantity even now, as I sometimes don’t feel too great after having much of it.  It is definitely important to try to use homemade, not canned coconut milk whenever you do decide to introduce it, tho, because canned coconut milk usually contains xantham gum or guar gum, which are grain derivatives and can cause digestive issues. That being said, when we introduced it, we used canned — which may be why I didn’t feel so great!  :)

Some of the dishes and foods we really enjoyed on Stage 1 were:

  • Ground meat with onions:  Onions, garlic, ground beef, beef broth, and lots of coconut oil, all cooked together in a pot until the onions are nice and soft.  This honestly was the only thing I wanted to eat some days on Stage 1.  When it didn’t taste good to me, substituting ground chicken or turkey often was just enough change to make it interesting again.  Various steamed or boiled leftover veggies can also be added to this to diversify it.  I was especially a fan of artichoke hearts — they’re kind of a pain to prep when you’re trying to get at the heart of a fresh artichoke, but they’re a totally different flavor of veggie to add into the mix.
  • Stuffed Cabbage Soup (from the Internal Bliss cookbook, but basically just ground beef, beef broth, cabbage, and tomato sauce;  also really good with a little onion and/or sauerkraut cooked into it)
  • Chicken Soup (carrots, celery, onions, chicken meat, and chicken broth;  this can be diversified with lemon juice {if you’re doing lemon juice}, fresh ginger, lacto-fermented hot sauce, and coconut milk to make a Thai chicken soup, if all the extras are tolerated well)
  • Sausage-veggie soup (Italian sausages boiled in chicken broth — and then cut into pieces — with an assortment of veggies — zucchini, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, onions …)
  • Sausages braised in broth
  • Headcheese made from pig’s feet and a pork roast.  (Ok, well, this wasn’t really enjoyed , but it did make for a nice change of pace to have something solid to eat.  J wasn’t a fan of the texture of the stuff that came off the pigs feet, tho.)
  • Italian Beef Stew:  Beef shins cooked in the crock pot with plenty of veggies, garlic, and italian herbs (marjoram, basil, oregano)
  • Bone-in chicken thighs braised in broth with heaps of sliced fennel, leeks, and onions
  • Spaghetti Squash Bolognese, with liver!  You can (and probably should) add chopped or ground-up liver to any dish involving ground meat;  I think it works particularly well with tomato bases.  With bolognese sauce, we just threw some ground beef, minced beef liver, beef soup base, beef tallow, coconut oil, tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, and basil into a pot and boiled it for a half hour or longer;  the spaghetti squash we cooked in the oven cut in half, with cut sides down in a pan, and covered with foil with water in the bottom of the pan.  When it’s done (and cooled slightly) you just use a fork to scrape out the strands of squash into a bowl.  Top with sauce, and nom.
  • Beet Kvass (once we had introduced whey)

I’d love to hear inventive ideas from others about what to eat at Stage 1.  I think we ended up spending about two weeks on Stage 1, and with three meals a day, the risk for tedium is very, very high.  Especially since you’re already grumpy and overwhelmed and tired in the first place!

GAPS Intro:  Overview

GAPS Intro:  Stage 2

GAPS Intro:  Stage 3

GAPS Intro:  Stage 4

GAPS Intro:  Stage 5

GAPS Intro:  Stage 6

Photo Credit:  judepics on Flickr.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

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10 Responses to GAPS Intro: Stage 1

  1. thanks for this. i start GAPS with my young sons in a few weeks so i’m still boning up on ferments and cultured dairy. i am not so excited about bone broth 3-4 x a day with young sons in the houston summer. better than gaps intro and public school mix.

    thanks for the tip on the gelatin broth. i’ve been doing bones in water in the crock all night, and need to move to the shorter cook time with meat intact. now to find soup bones with meat attached!

    did you tolerate coconut products before doing intro?

    • Megh says:

      You’re welcome! Yeah, I’m thinking the crock pot on the sun porch is going to get a lot of use boiling smaller batches of broth when it turns to 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity here in Philly! Never made much broth before during the summer, so that’s definitely going to be a learning curve.
      I didn’t notice any problems with coconut milk/cream before doing intro, but I did notice that the fiber in the flour and flakes could cause pain, so I tried to restrict those … macaroons can be very tempting!
      Good luck on the bones, it’s worth it — I just worked my way thru peeling the bits off the beef bones I boiled yesterday, I think I probably ate a third of what I peeled off, it tasted so good! :)

  2. hannah says:

    is it ok to do the gaps while exclusively breast feeding? my 3 mo old has a dairy intolerance so i would like to heal his gut by healing mine.. if that is even possible?! also where do you buy all of these meats to make broths and the fermented foods? i have such little time to make my own!

    • Megh says:

      I believe that it is recommended to only do full GAPS, and not the intro stages, while breast feeding. From what I’ve read it’s definitely possible to help heal breast-feeding babies by changing the mother’s diet — I know personally of a friend whose son was having all sorts of health problems while still only on breast milk, and those problems cleared up when the mother completely eliminated gluten from her diet. I get my meats and dairy from a local farm, here in southeast Pennsylvania (Hendricks Farm); they pasture all their animals, treat them well, and do not feed them soy, which is really key for my health. Although I go to the farm myself for what we use, I also run a co-op of families who buy goods from the farm but don’t have the time to always be driving up there; they order from the farm and pick up from me when I get back. There are a lot of groups around the US who do this — some places to look might be Localharvest.org, or realmilk.com — you should be able to find farms on these sites near you that treat their animals well and sell healthy meats and dairy. If you call the farms you find, you can ask them if they have a co-op that has a pick-up near you, or a delivery site or farmers market that they attend, so it’s easier for you to get the products on a regular basis, although it’s not a bad idea to visit the farm yourself once just to see what’s happening there. Some people who don’t have regular local pick-ups available also buy 1/2 or whole animals from sustainable farms. For the fermented veggies, I try to use organic almost always; sometimes I buy from whole foods, and sometimes from our local farmer’s market, but the bulk of them now come from a friend of mine who runs an organic personal chef business. She buys a lot of organic veggies for her business and her friends, and we pay her for the ones we use. I found her through our meat and dairy co-op. There are also good values to be had through CSA (community supported agriculture) shares from local organic farms, who will provide you with a box of veggies every week for a flat fee for the season; local groups of families that coordinate buying clubs for bulk goods also sometimes collectively buy fruits and veggies. It does take time to learn how to implement it all, but eventually it doesn’t feel nearly as overwhelming. There are some good online classes to help guide you through the transition, like Cheeseslave’s Reversing Food Allergies course, and I believe Nourished Kitchen also has a good class, although I haven’t taken either of them. Good luck with it all, it can be a lot to handle but is worth it with the improvements it brings in terms of health.

    • Megh says:

      p.s. When you say your baby has a dairy intolerance, does that mean that he doesn’t do well on breast milk, or that he doesn’t do well when you eat dairy and then feed him? Just trying to figure out the whole picture here!

  3. olivia says:

    Thanks for this. We’re starting intro for the first time tommorrow so this is useful. It seems you had tomato cooked in sauce for stage 1? and other veggies I thought were only allowed from stage 2? Or have I misunderstood?

    • Megh says:

      Most veggies, as long as you haven’t had any issues with them in the past, should be ok on Stage 1 — as long as they are well-boiled and very soft, possibly even pureed if you have severely compromised digestion. I have heard of some people who even needed to cut out all veggies at Stage 1, but I think that’s a very severe case. But many veggies can be problematic; I’ve gone over a few categories of them in this post, and discussed why they can be problematic. We actually did the intro stages with pretty much any veggies we wanted, but then after intro we went back and cut out a few groups that seemed to be causing problems for us. We’ve wondered since then if we shouldn’t go back and do intro again after taking out all the problem veggies, to see if we need to pay attention to anything else. It’s so complicated sometimes! (Not to try to make it any more complicated for you! Sorry!) Basically, though, what I’m saying is that even if you find out later that some veggies aren’t ok, you’re still not going to “screw up” or anything by leaving them in intro — intro will teach you plenty of other things about your body as well. Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

  4. Brenna says:

    Hi Megh. I LOVE your blog. I’m 4 weeks into the GAPS intro diet and I’ve been scouring the internet to read other people’s experiences. My husband is not doing the diet with me, so I’ve been feeling pretty alone and deprived. I’m on GAPS to try to treat my fatigue, asthma, and digestive issues and just a general autoimmunity that seems to be present.

    I spent two weeks on Stage 1 and I’ve now been on Stage 2 for two weeks. I’m currently working with Chris Kresser and he suggested that I stay on each stage until I see significant improvement in my symptoms. I’m not seeing much improvement yet, but I’m determined to stick with this and see if it can help me feel better.

    My question for you is about spices. I’m starting to get bored with my food and I think it’s because everything has the same base of onions, garlic, carrots, and black pepper. I just picked up some fresh thyme, rosemary, oregano and mint at the market this weekend hoping that some more herbs will help make it feel like there’s variety. Did you have any problems or reactions from spices? I’m not sure where to start with introducing those and if I should just introduce one at a time to be on the safe side. I’m currently staying away from nightshades as part of this experiment, so anything with chilis is out. Thanks for your advice on this!

  5. Eren says:

    Hi, thanks for the informative post. I’m curious though, I couldn’t find anything that said coconut oil is allowed in stage one of intro. Are you sure about this? Thanks in advance.

    • Megh says:

      I believe it is encouraged in gradual moderation — as CO can cause die-off symptoms, so if you’ve never eaten much of it before, you may want to introduce it a bit at a time.

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