A primary tenet of the GAPS diet is to abstain from sugar and all processed foods containing it, but why? Isn’t the general understanding of a healthy lifestyle ‘balance in all things?’ Let’s explore sugar in all it’s forms, a couple reasons why eating sugar isn’t congruent with the goals and values of the GAPS diet, and the health benefits of using raw honey as a natural and readily available GAPS legal sweetening alternative.
Sugar we consume in food falls primarily into three categories : monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. Mono means one, and monosaccharides are simple, naturally occurring sugars that the body can easily metabolize without harm. Honey is a monosaccharide. Di means two, and disaccharides have been chemically altered and converted into the sugar form found in sodas, cakes, condiments, and almost all processed foods. Disaccharides, despite their widespread consumption and cultural wink and nod acceptance, cannot be metabolized by humans without causing harm, and these forms of sugar are never appropriate for a person on the GAPS diet. Poly means many, and polysaccharides are the complex sugars found in fruits, grains, nuts, and vegetables. Once the GAPS patient has moved beyond the Intro phase of the GAPS diet, they will reintroduce and regularly incorporate non starchy fruits, vegetables and nuts with complex sugars into their diet as a safe and natural energy source.
The rationale for completely eliminating processed sugar on the GAPS diet is as follows:
Sugar damages gut flora. GAPS patients are already contending against pathogenic overgrowth in their guts, which are creating physical or psychological symptoms, and making them sick. All humans have yeast, bacteria, protozoa, and viruses present in our biome – we are living organisms that are also hosts of living organisms, and in a healthy person with a properly functioning immune system, the ecosystem remains balanced, and the pathogens are held in check by the native ‘good’ probiotic bacteria, even with occasional sugar intake . Unfortunately, GAPS patients have damaged gut flora unable to control and moderate the pathogens, and if given a food source even occasionally, those pathogens will rise up, establish and proliferate – weakening the GAPS patient’s immune system further, and more deeply damaging the integrity of their gut, causing a cascade of physical ( and often mental and behavioral) detriment and symptoms lasting significantly beyond the moment of sugar intake.
There are two ways to control the overgrowth of pathogens ( yeast, bacteria, virus, parasites) and provide some measure of relief from the effects of their hostile takeover of the gut – long term antibiotics with toxic ingredients and unpleasant side effects ( Valtrex, Metronidazole, Difflucan among others), OR the GAPS approach, which is to weaken and ‘starve out’ the pathogens by removing the non-nutritive foods and sugars that they use as a food source, while simultaneously feeding and strengthening the good, probiotic bacteria in the GAPS patient, in order to regain ecological balance and homeostasis in their guts. The GAPS perspective on healing the gut is that it is infinitely preferable to avoid toxic medications if there is a safe, food and lifestyle based alternative, and that getting to the root of an issue is infinitely preferable to suppressing symptoms of a sickness. As a mother who has transitioned her GAPS children from off of all three of the antibiotics I mentioned above to a diet based approach – I feel that avoiding sugar and processed food is such a small price to pay to see my children flourish and be deeply well without dependence on liver damaging antibiotics! A mama would give anything for her children’s safety and best, and giving up sugar? Please. If the hipsters and cross fit bruhs can do it. So. Can. I.
Another reason sugar consumption isn’t appropriate on the GAPS diet is that eating sugar instigates magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is an essential element required for every human metabolic function and is critically important to neurological health, but GAPS patients are already almost always in a state of severe magnesium deficiency. In ‘Put Your Heart In Your Mouth’ Dr. Natasha says:
“In order to metabolize only one molecule of sugar, your body requires around 56 molecules of magnesium, dozens of molecules of vitamins, enzymes, minerals and other nutrients. When we analyze a piece of fresh sugar cane or sugar beet in their natural state in a laboratory, we find that every molecule of sugar in them is indeed equipped with 56 molecules of magnesium and the other nutrients. So, when we eat natural sugar cane and sugar beet without processing them, the sugar in these plants gets used by the body well and brings only health. But we do not eat sugar beet or cane in their natural form. We extract the sugar out of them and throw everything else away. That pure sugar comes into the body like a villain, like a highway robber pulling nutrients out of our bones, muscles, brain and other tissues in order to be metabolized. It needs those 56 molecules of magnesium! Where is all that magnesium coming from? From your organs. Consumption of sugar is a major reason for the widespread magnesium deficiency in our society, leading to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, neurological, immune and many other problems”
Not only is magnesium deficiency a precursor to disease and anxiety, but magnesium deficiency causes the body to create and release histamine from the mast cells in the body, which results in exacerbated proclivity for allergies, hay fever, asthma, eczema etc., on top of the many food intolerances the GAPS people already suffer from!
Research clearly, unequivocally establishes that sugar suppresses the immune system for days after even one consumption, and results in systemic inflammation and metabolic syndrome which has detrimental effect on optimal brain functioning – this is antithetical to the GAPS person’s objectives of reducing inflammation, restoring gut flora, rebalancing minerals and bolstering immunity so that they can recover !
Enter raw honey – the only sweetener humans had ever used prior to the 17th century. Honey is a gift from mother nature – an easily metabolized monosaccharide that not only doesn’t feed pathogenic bacteria, but has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties which work against pathogens, and live enzymes that support the rebuilding of a GAPS patient’s immunity!
Raw honey is so readily available that you can buy it in a Walmart, although it’s ideal to get to know and support your local beekeepers. You can use raw honey in tea, to bake with, and even put it on wounds to speed healing.
- Processed sugar consumption is always inappropriate for a GAPS patient, because it damages gut flora, feeds pathogens, increases inflammation, and instigates magnesium deficiency.
- ‘Balance in all things’ is an adage that doesn’t transfer to a healing protocol, because in fact the only way for a GAPS person to completely ‘regain balance’ in their guts is complete abstention from the foods that perpetuate imbalance .
- Using honey as an alternative to sugar isn’t deprivation – living in chronic physical and mental unwellness is.
- The GAPS perspective is that it’s infinitely preferable to have a natural, safe, sustainable, food based way to keep pathogens in check by eliminating sugar than to be on longterm, liver damaging antibiotics.
- Raw honey is GAPS legal; it not only doesn’t ‘feed the bad bugs’ and does no harm, it contains anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties which strengthen and support digestion and the immune system. Find clinical research on the ability of raw honey to support health and fight disease here
- Support your local farmer and find local raw honey here.
- Find a therapeutic grade manuka honey with concentrated natural healing properties here.
Hope this was helpful to you! I’ll be posting recipes about some of my kid’s favorite treats I sweeten with raw honey. Stay tuned…..
Campbell- McBride, N. Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Natural treatment for autism, dyspraxia, addd, dyslexia, adhd, depression, schizophrenia. 2010. Medinform Publishing.
Gottschall, Elaine Breaking The Vicious Cycle. Intestinal Health through diet. 2010. Kirkton Press Limited.
Campbell-McBride, N. Put Your Heart In Your Mouth. Natural treatment for angina, heart attack, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, stroke, arrhythmia, peripheral vascular disease. 2016. Medinform Publishing.