By Rachel Smith
(Published in the Summer 2020 edition of Nishei)
In the summer of 2013, our ordinary family set out on an extraordinary journey that would completely change our lives. We emptied our pantry, donated all of our food, and committed to living healthier. We were motivated to help one of our children, who was delayed at the time, and had to attend a special-ed preschool. While we thought the school was absolutely fantastic in working with our child, we recognized that in the child’s first year there, there was not much progress made. So we began to search for alternative ways to help our child, and we found the GAPS diet.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, creator of the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet, established that there is a connection between gut health and brain function. She developed the GAPS diet, which she used to recover her child from autism. People have used this diet to heal themselves or their children from ADD, dyslexia, depression, schizophrenia, OCD, eating disorders, and more. Dr. Campbell-McBride describes these and similar conditions as symptoms of the same problem – leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability allowing harmful substances, such as bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles, to pass into your bloodstream) and poor gut health.
The diet focuses on removing foods that are damaging the gut and adding foods that restore gut health. The GAPS diet is meant to be followed strictly for about two years (depending on each individual’s situation and progress) before slowly reintroducing healthy non-GAPS foods, such as potatoes and grains.
Before the GAPS diet, our family ate a typical standard American diet (SAD). We ate breakfast cereals and pancakes, yogurt and fish sticks, pasta and pizza, cookies and candy. We thought that was normal, and we didn’t realize that we were harming ourselves and destroying our gut health. I have since learned that food can be the best medicine, and food can keep us healthy so we don’t need to rely on medicine in the first place.
When we started on the GAPS diet, we ate lots of homemade soups, non-starchy vegetables (cooked, raw, and fermented), eggs, chicken, meat, fresh juiced veggies, and the occasional nuts, nut butters, and honey-sweetened treats. We learned to make our own mayonnaise, ketchup, almond milk, and raw-milk based yogurt. Over the years we’ve slowly added in other foods, and we are eating a full and varied diet consisting of real whole foods rather than laboratory produced food-like substances. We have learned to listen to our bodies and stay away from the foods that our bodies don’t appreciate (ranging from gluten to dairy to oatmeal to cholent!).
Eating healthy can certainly be a challenge at times. There were times when I personally fell off the wagon and became addicted to sugar again (mostly when I was pregnant). There were times when it was challenging for the children not to be able to participate in food-centered celebrations or school projects. My older children now pride themselves on how well they eat, and they are educated about what is in the food that they eat. They are empowered to make their own food decisions – and they choose so well!
My advice to people who would like to eat healthy is to focus on foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Read ingredients lists on food labels. If a food is full of sugar, food colors, or ingredients that you have never heard of or can’t pronounce, it is probably not good for you. Most packaged foods today are full of junk and sugar, even foods you wouldn’t expect to be unhealthy. Read the ingredients in ketchup, mayonnaise, or yogurt, for example – foods that are not generally considered “junk” – and you will see that they are full of refined sugars.
Most people don’t realize how much sugar they eat, even in non-snack foods! Ingredients lists can often be deceptive too. “Natural flavors” sounds healthy but it is actually a deceptive marketing term that includes thousands of chemicals, and a way for manufacturers to sneak in ingredients that are bad for you without disclosing them. Stick to foods where you recognize the ingredients as healthy foods themselves. Better yet, stay away from manufactured and packaged foods as much as you can!
While it can be difficult to find and afford kosher grass-fed meat and raw milk, in general I find that eating healthy rarely presents issues with keeping kosher because real whole foods, such as vegetables, are universally kosher.
I believe that G-d gave us each a body and a soul, and we are tasked with taking care of them and keeping them both as pure as we can. The job of our bodies is to serve G-d, so we need to do everything we can to keep ourselves healthy. (I often wonder why some of the most unhealthy foods are considered kosher. Perhaps the ingredients are kosher, but I imagine there are halachic issues with eating certain foods or eating a certain way that I don’t really see addressed.)
Oh, and our “delayed” child? Our child made so much progress on this diet that by the middle of the school year, the child’s teacher wanted our child to move from the special ed class to an integrated class. By the next school year our child was in a mainstream class.
Main foods on GAPS diet:
Fermented foods such as vegetables and yogurt
Good-quality, grass-fed meat and natural fats
Fresh-pressed vegetable and fruit juices
Rachel’s Creamy Zucchini Soup
2 Tablespoons oil (I prefer avocado oil)
2 onions, chopped
2-3 zucchinis, unpeeled and diced
2 yellow squash, unpeeled and diced
2-4 stalks celery, chopped
4-8 cups homemade chicken broth or water
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onions in oil on medium-high heat until translucent. Add diced zucchini, yellow squash, and celery and continue to sauté for about 5 minutes. Add chicken broth or water until vegetables are just covered. Add salt and pepper. Cook covered on medium heat for about 45 minutes. Blend until smooth (with hand blender or in batches in a blender). Enjoy!
Rachel Smith is a wife and mother of five amazing children ka”h. She works in the actuarial field for a life insurance company. She enjoys weaving, sewing, and babywearing. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida.