The severed turkey feet, with their thick toenails and mud-caked pads, are the stuff of an amateur horror flick – especially for a recovering vegetarian. But I’m determined to make my first homemade foot broth from this pastured local bird. My naturopath said I need the marrow’s detoxifying minerals, collagen and chondroitin to repair my leaky gut.
After a pitiful effort to chop off the grossest parts, I throw the legs in a stock pot with onions, garlic, salt and rosemary. A 19-hour simmer later, the skin has fallen away and the water has reduced by half. Passed through a cheesecloth, the resulting broth sets into a satisfying jiggly gel.
To make space in the fridge for the stock, I reposition three glass jars of lactofermented veggies. I’ve prepped these according to my Internal Bliss cookbook, pouring brine over tightly-packed blanched peas and onions, then letting them sit in a cabinet for a week. The sour taste takes some getting used to, but a scoop a day, I’ve been told, will rebuild the colony of healthful Lactobacillus in my colon.
I later swap tips with two other broth-making, veggie-fermenting acquaintances who, I discover serendipitously, see the same naturopath and are on the same regimen. Apparently, the GAPS diet makes weird kitchen scientists of all of us.
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Beatrice Levinson of Monterey Bay Naturopathy is the only official GAPS practitioner in Monterey County, having been certified through a 2011 course taught by the mother of GAPS herself, neurologist and nutritionist Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.
GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and it’s based on the Hippocratic idea that all disease starts in the gut. “It’s a profound program that can affect many people’s health in many ways,” Levinson says. “It has changed my practice.”
Beneficial digestive flora is the key to health, she says – a primary source of immunity, vitamins, neurotransmitters and even genetic material. But antibiotics, birth control pills, poor diet, chemical abuse, pollution, stress, food intolerances and infections can disturb that flora. Without the proper defenses, toxins leak from the gut to the bloodstream, and people become vulnerable to all sorts of illnesses.
Levinson says she’s recommended the GAPS diet to about two-thirds of her patients, including me, to address a litany of conditions including digestive, autoimmune, skin, respiratory, hormonal and brain disorders.
Patients with serious conditions start with the GAPS introduction diet, designed to “heal and seal” the gut with homemade meat stocks and fermented foods. “The intro GAPS is the most gentle and efficient way to calm down inflammation and toxicity,” Levinson says.
Those who have done well on the intro diet, or who have milder conditions, move into the full GAPS diet, which adds foods like pastured meats, fish, animal fats, eggs, certain cheeses and fruits, nut flours, cold-pressed olive oil and clarified butter. Among the indulgences: occasional dry wine, vodka, fresh coffee and raw honey.
Among the forbidden foods: All refined sugar, grains, beans, potatoes, corn, rice, oats, anything processed, cooking oils, artificial sweeteners (except stevia), smoked meats and roasted nuts.
The kibosh on carbs evokes diets like Atkins, South Beach and paleo. “GAPS is not so different so far as what kinds of foods we remove,” Levinson says, “but the difference is its emphasis on repairing the gut.”
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Lisa Palombella tried every medication on the market for her baby’s epilepsy, but they didn’t stop Adriana’s seizures and infantile spasms. So Palombella began bringing her daughter to Levinson, who suggested the intro GAPS diet. The theory intuitively made sense to Palombella; Adriana had never had regular digestion.
“We always knew that there was some correlation with her stomach,” she says. “While Western medicine didn’t disagree, they didn’t agree.”
For the past two months, Adriana’s been off her medications, eating only pastured meats, broths, sauerkraut juice and homemade raw yogurt – and she hasn’t had a single seizure. The 2-year-old has developmental delays, but she’s now rolling over and standing, milestones Palombella says show remarkable progress. (The Weekly has changed Palombella’s last name and her daughter’s name, at the mother’s request, to protect their privacy.)
“When we were more consistent and started to wean off the medications, the blood work yielded really amazing results. It was the best all of her levels have ever looked since she was born,” Palombella says. “It has to be attributed to the GAPS diet.”
Another of Levinson’s patients, Liliana Potigian, has been battling ulcerative colitis for five years. The condition, which inflames the lining of the colon, left the 47-year-old in miserable pain. She was hospitalized twice, getting tranfusions and intravenous nutrition because she was defecating blood and couldn’t hold her food. Her need to constantly use the bathroom made her unable to comfortably leave the house, let alone work.
She tried all kinds of medications, but when she reacted badly to them it seemed the only option left was the removal of her entire colon. That’s when a friend referred her to Levinson, who recommended GAPS.
In early April, Potigian started the intro diet and stopped her meds. Within six weeks, she’d stopped bleeding. “Since then, I’ve been managing the condition much better,” she says. “I found more freedom.”
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Patients may be comforted by the knowledge that GAPS isn’t a lifelong diet. Most people stay on it for an average of two years, Levinson says, until they’re healed enough to re-introduce healthy grains.
In the meantime, they can find inspiration with Levinson’s monthly GAPS support group, the Cooking With GAPS DVD and the Internal Bliss cookbook, which includes recipes for honey-sweetened pumpkin pie made with a coconut crust and jalapeño-cheddar biscuits with coconut flour and ghee.
Lots of butter and lots of eggs are a theme. This is a diet that turns conventional medical knowledge on its head, embracing the mantra that the healthiest fats are saturated; GAPS believers say inflammation, not cholesterol, is the true culprit of cardiovascular disease.
But cooking the family stir-fry in bacon grease instead of olive oil – when my husband has a family history of coronary disease – feels to me like a pretty bold gamble. And most cardiologists would probably advise against it.
“All of the data show very plainly that reducing cholesterol goes right along with reducing your vascular risk,” says Dr. Stephen Brabeck of Cardio Pulmonary Associates in Monterey. “I’m a big believer in inflammation [as a contributing cause], but it’s the cart or the horse.”
A few pounds off a chunky middle, however, must have some heart-healthy benefits. And while GAPS isn’t designed for weight loss, the carb-cutting can have that effect. I lost about 10 pounds in two months on a semi-strict GAPS regiment, and I felt great – then fell off the wagon, finding the food prep too demanding for my working-mom schedule.
But I’ve managed to keep my sugar and carb intake at a fraction of what they were before trying GAPS. I’m also a more enthusiastic clean-meat-eater, bringing home the heritage-pig bacon and saving the grease.
BEATRICE LEVINSON practices at Monterey Bay Naturopathy, 1011 Cass St., Suite 107, Monterey. montereybaynaturopathy.com Her next GAPS support group meets Tuesday, Jan. 29, 6:30-8:30pm. $35 with reservations. 642-0202, email@example.com