Three Diets Compared and Contrasted

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I’d like to compare and contrast three poignant diets that have become popular in the last five years: the Weston A. Price traditional diet, set in motion by the research of Weston A. Price D.D.S., often based on the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell, the Paleo diet, first started by Dr. Loren Cordain, and the GAPS diet, created by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride.  I would like to do this for various reasons that can be summed up thus: 1) to introduce one or more of the diets to those of you who aren’t familiar with all three, 2) to clarify what makes each of these diets valuable for different people, and 3) to talk about what makes the diets similar and therefore, all valuable and worthy.

Although the Paleolithic time period came first, (ha, ha- by a lot!), I will discuss The Traditional Diet first, because it was the first of the three to be created as such, a modern diet recommendation.  Weston A. Price was a dentist who traveled and researched indigenous diets and wellness in the 1930’s.  Straight from the Weston A. Price foundation website we read, “When Dr. Price analyzed the foods used by isolated primitive peoples he found that they provided at least four times the calcium and other minerals, and at least TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins from animal foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish and organ meats.”  He was contrasting the primitive diets of those with excellent oral health, to the Western diet, and the patterns of pejorative jaw structure and tooth decay he was continuing to see in America.  He observed that the extreme wellness found in the primitive communities, not exposed to or eating our Western diet, was related to a ubiquitous consumption among them of fermented foods, wild-caught meat with saturated fat, and organ meats.  This research can be read about in detail in his own book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

However, fortunately for us masses, a nutritionally savvy lady came along and “broke down” his book into a very readable and enriching book of her own, the abovementioned Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.  Sally Fallon Morell first published this book in 1995, with Mary Enig Ph.D, an expert in nutrition and the role of fats in our diet.  They were going against the grain of the then nonfat food culture.  Their book “has stimulated the public health and medical communities to take a new look at the importance of traditional foods and preparation techniques, and to reexamine the many myths about saturated fats and cholesterol.”[1]

Given that this blog article is about the diet advocated for, let’s discuss the bullet points.  For optimum health the following foods are important cornerstones: fermented cod liver oil, grass-fed meat, organic raw vegetables, bone broths, fermented foods of every kind, (kefir, kombucha, kimchi, kvass etc.), and organ meats.  Unrefined sugar is allowed, but deemphasized.  Local raw honey and other natural sweeteners are emboldened, but with moderation.  Grains, even glutinous grains, as well as nuts and seeds, are soaked and sprouted for optimum digestion and nutrition.  This diet is empowering.  It gives knowledge to all its fans and makes advocates of us all.  All processed foods are eliminated in this worldview; and whole foods are exalted.  It is knowledge and research based with decades and centuries, if not millennia, of evidence.  While many diets can claim health and healing, even adding compelling testimonies, a traditional diet speaks for itself.  It is true and life-giving, with no regrets or temptations to “fall off the wagon” down the road.  It is not a fad diet, but rather a revival of ancient wisdom lost along the way.

From the traditional diet, it is the easiest and most natural to progress to the GAPS diet.   Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, its creator, is actually an Honorary Board Member of the Weston A. Price Foundation.  So her thinking and research are completely in line with a traditional diet.  But what she did when her child was suffering from autism, many years ago now, was develop a diet similar to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, that heals many and most ailments, at least in significant part, if adhered to strictly, that is based on a traditional diet, but is more limiting for specific reasons.  My family heard about the GAPS diet when we were suffering from an earful of symptoms and, after researching it online, literally jumped on board the very next day.  That’s how badly we wanted healing and how keenly we saw potential for it in her insightful guidelines.  (As a side note, I was totally addicted to sugar when my kids and I started this process and it took me two weeks to give up that food.  When I started the diet in earnest I was in bed, off and on, for two full weeks with what is called, “die-off.”)

We have now been on this diet for three years, although many “patients” are healed (completely) more quickly, within six months, or more commonly, two years.  We are total advocates for it, and experts on what to eat and how to enjoy the diet, despite its limitations.  I also have a few critiques of the diet for more serious cases, such as ours, as it turns out.

Regarding the diet’s tenets, it eliminates all grains and sugar, promotes daily consumption of bone broth and fermented vegetables, and advocates for lots of gently cooked meat, vegetables, and saturated fat.  As with a traditional diet, all meat is wild, grass-fed, or organic.  All vegetables are organic.  The idea behind the diet is that those who are suffering from brain disorders, (like ADD, dyslexia, and autism), as well as bodily disease, (such as auto-immune diseases, asthma, gut dysbiosis,  and IBS), have a “leaky gut” and pathogen overgrowth.  By eating nourishing foods that are easy to digest and healing in nature, the gut is able to rebuild its lining over time.  By eating lots of fermented foods, such as homemade fermented vegetables and kefir, as well as starving pathogens of any sugar, the pathogen imbalance comes back into balance.

My only critique of the GAPS diet is that it does not go far enough for people with extreme leaky gut and extreme pathogen overgrowth, like myself!  I have transitioned our GAPS diet to an Anti-Candida diet over the last six months.  The GAPS diet still allows a few foods that invasive pathogens consume: honey, high-sugar fruits, peanut butter, and mushrooms.  It’s true that to have given up all of these foods in the beginning would have been heart-rendering, especially for a women who LOVES food, loves dairy, loves peanut butter, loves sweets.  So in a way it’s worked out great to have given up most pathogen-feeding foods early on, sugar, maple syrup, non-fermented dairy, but to have waited till we were comfortable with our current sacrifices before giving up more.  And Dr. Campbell-McBride does mention that some “patients” will be more sensitive than others, and to introduce many of these foods cautiously.  However, I think greater warning and caution should be placed on all of them, or a blatant not allowing them at all on the full GAPS diet, simply transitioning back in to them when she has patients reintroduce gluten-free grains and new potatoes, for instance.

In the past two years I have learned to bake really well without grains or sugar.  This is one example of how trials can breed goodness.  I do not regret the path we have taken.  Hopefully we’ll get this cookbook of mine[2] published in the next six months so I can share all these lovely baked goods with you!  The insights in these recipes have made our last year the easiest of any of them!  We never bore of a beautiful bowl of bone broth soup or stew, especially when it’s framed by a freshly baked muffin or scone!

But lastly, regarding deficiencies in the GAPS diet, I will add that to kill invasive pathogens, that have woven their root systems into your gut lining, you need also to call in a powerful arsenal of herbs, and rotate them.[3]  (And, although it is counter-intuitive, and not an obvious message in Dr. Campbell-McBride’s book, I have found that with extreme leaky guts, excess probiotic consumption before the gut is “sealed up” can lead to allergies to the probiotics![4]  Once the gut is sealed, bring in the fermented foods, slowly at first, and then en masse!  But until that time, exercise caution with these teeny healers so your body doesn’t misinterpret their presence and treat them like an enemy.  Find a gifted health care practitioner who can help you get on L-Glutamine, mucins, and other healing gut products.)  For those of you fated to this path, it is a long one.  I am a young 40 years with three kids and a husband that I adore.  So to me, the walk is worth it.  I know many who would rather not take such an intense course of healing dietetically, rather to deal with symptoms as they arise and to enjoy a more moderately restricted diet, possibly with medical supplements.  Our health journeys are very personal.  All three of the diets I highlight in this article are worthy.  But, in my opinion, for extreme health problems, the GAPS diet, or for some, combining it with the more extreme Anti-Candida diet, is the way to go, especially with several anti-pathogenic herbs and gut-healing ingredients added to the diet.[5]

By the way, in case you’re wondering, we have seen real healing so far, or we wouldn’t have stayed the course.  But I am nothing, if not thorough.  We embarked on this journey to heal my son’s dyslexia, my auto-immune diseases, interstitial cystitis and arthritis, and most importantly, my daughter’s asthma.  To speak to the GAPS diet’s effectiveness, my arthritis, my boys’ stomach aches, my baby’s extreme constipation, and some of our various rashes were healed instantly.  My daughter’s asthma has improved. (And she does not have the kind that individuals grow out of; we were told by her pediatrician that she would be on steroids her entire life.) Also, I just listened to my son read the Code of Ethics out loud in front of 75 parents before his 4th grade basketball game commenced.  (My mama’s heart was saying, “That’s my son.  Does everyone know that he is dyslexic, home-schooled, and just how far he’s come?”  Nope, he just seemed like a normal reading kid.)  My interstitial cystitis is mostly healed; it only flares up if I accidentally stray from the diet.  I will update this post when we are all healed completely!

Lastly, let’s stroll down that path that in recent years has become more in vogue, more popular, has enjoyed a growing audience and following, The Paleo Diet.  There is some controversy regarding the compatibility of The Paleo Diet with the Weston A. Price traditional diet.  So what follows is my opinion.  I see that The Paleo Diet is evolving!  What it once was, when first introduced by Dr. Loren Cordain, is not what it has become.  It is as if the truth of The Traditional Diet has lodestone qualities; it is pulling The Paleo Diet closer and closer to itself.  The people who are drawn to The Paleo Diet are usually people who are interested in exercise and diet; and therefore it follows that they love to learn and improve over time.  So naturally The Traditional Diet has had its effect on some of these people, given what the two diets do have in common.  A current Paleo diet faction has branched off, sometimes led by well-spoken online leaders who are better known to many Paleo followers than Dr. Cordain himself, creating their own emphasis on the very things that Dr. Cordain either doesn’t emphasize or, as in the case of salt, disapproves of: fermented cod liver oil, fermented vegetables and all fermented foods, including grass-fed dairy, saturated meat fat, (bacon has become BIG), organ meats, and sea salt.

Dr. Cordain, himself, still advocates for low-fat, lean meats, such as chicken breast and lean beef.  He advocates for only grass-fed meat, but lean meat.  Yet, despite what I consider these small imperfections in his analysis of the scientific evidence of what best befits the human body, there are more components of the overall Paleo diet that I heartily applaud: eat no factory-made foods of any kind, including no refined sugar; act on the dangerous consequence of the modern grain-based diet; stay away from polyunsaturated oils; eat lots of fresh, organic produce, as well as the tenets I have already mentioned above such as eating grass-fed meat.

The only area I see The Paleo Diet going that I do not think is compatible with a Weston A. Price traditional diet is the “gourmet” attempt at making baked goods.  This, too, is one faction of The Paleo Diet, not representative of all adherents.  Perhaps because The Paleo Diet prohibits grains, while The Traditional Diet advocates for predigested grains, Paleo followers are left craving baked goods with seemingly nowhere to go.  One solution that I see cropping up a lot is understandable, but disappointing.  One of the most important tenets of The Paleo Diet is forgotten: NO FACTORY MADE FOOD OF ANY KIND.  I really like this tenet and think it must be adhered to for optimum health.  Let’s not let this be the one rule we throw out!  Dr. Cordain does advocate for an 85/15 diet, only adhering to his guidelines 85% of the time.  So maybe this is where and why it becomes permissible to Paleo followers, but incompatible with The Traditional Diet.  My problem is, then let’s not call those recipes, “Paleo.”  Specifically, I am referring to some of the ingredients I mentioned in my first blog on almonds, ingredients like almond meal and blanched almond flour, but also all kinds of starches, potato starch and tapioca starch.  Starches are on the “avoid” side of the Paleo food list.  So if Paleo recipes are going to start including these ingredients I would caution adherents to challenge just how Paleo that recipe is.  What I like about The Paleo Diet is that it emphasizes eating nutrient dense, whole, natural foods.  When you “dumb it down” with starches and rancid packaged nut meals, you are trying to make the diet appeal to the masses too much.  You are now into the 15% side of things, not Paleo at all, and I believe giving Paleo a bad name, misleading those who truly need a healing diet.  As I mention in my article entitled, Almonds, there’s nothing wrong with using almond meal; it just needs to be sprouted and dehydrated and homemade to ensure its healthfulness.

One other aspect of The Paleo Diet that I really like, and why we love serving Paleo food in our cafes, is that The Paleo Diet has reached a huge group of people who have never heard of Weston A. Price, Sally Fallon, or the GAPS diet.  It is being shared by medical doctors and naturopaths alike with their patients.  And Americans are happily giving up their packaged foods for homemade whole foods.  We, as café owners, can serve the food we believe in and in a language that is recognized and appealing.  Perhaps not everyone understands or appreciates the culture of books like Nourishing Traditions.  Or perhaps The Paleo Diet just got lucky getting into Costco.  But the fact is, a lot of people are being reached by this food movement.  And it’s bringing about great improvements, improvements that can make national and international changes.  As demand for grass-fed meat, organic vegetables, and healthy saturated fats increases, the demand for GM packaged foods decreases.  I’m not a terrible optimist; but I believe that a choice can sometimes snowball and truly make the world a better place.

There are a few other diets I haven’t mentioned, or at least not at length, that are also beneficial and healing diets: The Anti-Inflammatory Diet, The Specific Carbohydrate Diet, and The Low FODMAP Diet.  These, too, offer great benefits for specific conditions.


[1] www.westonaprice.org

[2] Grain-Free, Sugar-Free, & Loving It

[3] There are two important reasons why a person with leaky gut must rotate pathogen-killing herbs.  One, is that otherwise you may become allergic to them, a likelihood for those with leaky gut.  The second reason to rotate the herbs is that these pathogens can morph.  If they are exposed to one herb for more than four days they can “figure out” how to change and survive the herb!  So the rule for herbs is… to rotate them every four days!

[4] “I have found that many people are lacking a protective layer in their intestinal tract, which is naturally there, and which would prevent them from becoming sensitive or irritated by even their friendly, normal, natural intestinal bacteria. Without this natural protective coating or layer in their intestinal tract (even friendly bacteria which should be there to help you produce vitamins, keep harmful germs out of your system, and many other benefits) horrible reactions will occur and send someone running to the doctor.” – Michael Biamonte from his website http://www.health-truth.com/47.php

[5] Donna Gates, the founder of The Body Ecology Diet, which is in harmony with The Traditional diet says, “Candida biofilms are incredibly resistant to common antifungal drugs, like amphotericin B and fluconazole.”  In contrast,  “….essential oils like lemongrass, clove, thyme, patchouli, and cedarwood have been proven to inhibit the growth of systemic Candida.”  I have also seen the benefit of Oil of Oregano, Japanese knotweed, Pau d’arco, and several others.  Always consult a healthcare professional when choosing these herbs and their dosages.  As stated in other places on my blog, I am not a nutritionist, just a lady who loves to cook, eat, and help others on their healing journeys.  This information is in no way meant to take the place of a doctor’s role, simply to give you some leads based on where I’ve been.   I have too many examples to share with you here; but please don’t use anti-fungals.  They make matters worse, in addition to wasting time and money.  Go straight to the right-for-you, no-sugar diet and the anti-pathogenic herbs! J

Comments 17

  1. I would love to know more about the herb rotation and how to find a doctor that could help with this. My son suffered asphyxiation just prior to birth because of preeclampsia. The Traditional Diet has helped tremendously, but my heart tells me he needs a little more. I was considering GAPS. After reading this post, I would like to learn more about making sure his gut is healed before introducing fermented foods beyond the homemade yogurt. Thank you for all of the great information.

    1. You might consider rotating the yogurt. That way, he is getting some probiotics, but not so often as to develop an allergy. It is a really personal decision whether or not to include probiotics early on. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride states it as essential. But the doctor we work with in the states warns against it; and sure enough, our daughter became allergic to them. She has an asthma episode whenever she is exposed to probiotics. Asthma is just one of many auto-immune responses, the body fighting what is good for it. So he is helping us heal first, and then will circle back to repopulate the gut with good flora. The herbs and supplements that are commonly known to kill candida, and that should be rotated every 4 days, are as follows; although this is not an exhaustive list: Black Walnut, Barberry, Burdock Root, Colloidal Silver, Cat’s Claw, Clove Oil, Echinacea, Garlic, Goldenseal, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Neem Oil, Olive Leaf, Oregano Oil, Oregon Grape, Pau D’Arco, Peppermint Oil, Tea Tree Oil, Thyme (often used with Pau D’Arco), and Turmeric. Not all of them are considered same for children. Also, regarding the GAPS diet, the Introductory period is pretty hard; but I think it is also really important. So good luck and best wishes for your process. May he enjoy perfect health as a result!! 🙂

  2. This is a good, informative comparison. Thank you! I do have a question that perhaps i just overlooked; as regards the use of herbs and rotation: is there a link to the specific herbs to be used and rotated?

    1. Thanks for your question. I haven’t given a link, but instead base the information on the studying I’ve done and the doctors I’ve worked with. I do believe it’s a good idea to work with a doctor through this process; but it can also get expensive. The herbs and supplements that are commonly known to kill candida, and that should be rotated every 4 days, are as follows; although this is not an exhaustive list: Black Walnut, Barberry, Burdock Root, Colloidal Silver, Cat’s Claw, Clove Oil, Echinacea, Garlic, Goldenseal, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Neem Oil, Olive Leaf, Oregano Oil, Oregon Grape, Pau D’Arco, Peppermint Oil, Tea Tree Oil, Thyme (often used with Pau D’Arco), and Turmeric. Of course, they need not all be used; but this gives you options. 🙂 You, or your patient, may notice that some give you more “die off” symptoms and some do not. Wishing you well in your journey of healing!

  3. I agree, great post. You handled these diets well. I would be interested to read your comments on the other healing diets out there. My dd also was on GAPS for about a year. She is doing really well and healing from IBS so we are slowly increasing her list of possible foods.

  4. Love this article Meghan – I am definitely interested in moving more towards a traditional diet or GAPS diet and away from paleo. The paleo diet has been so wonderful for me in terms of improving my mental health but I know in my heart, that I most likely have leaky gut and would like to start the process of healing that. I have also more recently found out that my thyroid is slightly inflamed/swollen so I would be curious to find out whether or not that could be related to leaky gut. Do you have any great doctors in town you can recommend? I will be seeing someone at the clinic of natural medicine in Eugene next month to look into the thyroid but if you have someone you love and recommend I might consider switching.

    Warmest,

    Charlotte

  5. Hi Charlotte! It’s been lovely seeing you at the shop lately!! And your blog continues to glow with beautiful photographs and your warm enthusiasm! Congrats on your new position!! Regarding the thyroid issue, ask the practitioner you see about supplementing with Nascent Iodine or Lugol’s Iodine. Some practitioners add to that a teeny bit of selenium, less than 150 mcg. Regarding actual practitioners, I have found that we are our own best advocates, yet we still need someone to help us along. So I tend to appreciate one natural practitioner until I see that I’ve exhausted what they can offer me. And then I keep up my own research and hit the road alone again, until I find another guide for that next stage of the journey. I haven’t yet found one person who can help me the whole way. But wouldn’t that be great! I’m finishing up my next blog article on the INTRO. GAPS Diet. And I can’t say enough good things about staying on that for a while, not even the FULL GAPS Diet, for reaping the greatest, fastest benefits of healing. We’re all thankfully here to encourage one another, as it can be a long process. Here’s to enjoying great bone broth and encouragement from each other. Blessings!

  6. Thank you for your article. I am constantly looking for ways to improve my health. I noticed that you suffer from interstitial cystitis. I was diagnosed with IC back in 2000. In 2003, I met an herbalist with a company called Nature’s Sunshine who recommended some products for me. They were Marshmallow Root (to repair the holes) and Herbal Trace Minerals (which contains dandelion, kelp, and alfalfa). I took these herbs every day and eight months later I was cured. I am so grateful for what these products have done for me, that I continue to use them and have been quite pleased with the results.

    I look forward to your cookbook. I am trying to get away from packaged foods as much as I can, but I constantly struggle with having time to make the homemade foods. I am always on the lookout for healthy recipes that are not too time consuming. Thank you again.

    Sincerely,
    Marisol Gil

    1. Hi Marisol, thanks for the healing tips; wonderful! I, too, healed myself of IC, but just with the Introduction GAPS Diet. I really like the method you used! I have found Marshmallow Root to be a soothing remedy and love hearing how powerful it was for you!

  7. I am so grateful for all this information. I have been researching my autoimmune and leaky gut issues for five years. Use Ann Borachs healing Candida and healing MS books which mirror much of what you mentioned. My MS is benign currently with diet and low stress, but still struggling with severe leaky gut and will try the herbs.I take so many supplements would love to find a naturopath I could afford to help me figure out what to add or eliminate. Added iodine for my thyroid after watching gut seminars on line. I tested low and iodine has helped. Will definitely get your book. Leaky gut and stress caused thyroid, high cholesterol, eventually M S so I can sgree to everything you are stating. Just desperate to find a doctor I can afford in Phoenix who understands all this. Will start following your blog and get back to following my candida book. Was put on probiotic so will stop now and start healing my gut again. Thank you, Cathy

    1. Thank you for sharing, Cathy. I know!~ it is SUCH a journey. We require so much perseverance, don’t we?! Blessings to you!!! Keep on! 😉

      1. Also, Cathy, I will update this post as I see that it doesn’t mention the soil bacteria probiotic called Prescript Assist. I have found this one to be safe and effective, even for those of us with SIBO and leaky gut. Having a non-problematic probiotic helps to keep down inflammation, keep bad bacteria at bay and improve your immune system. Cheers!

  8. If Paleo folks are veering off course with factory foods such as blanched almond flour and potato starch, what about Cassava flour in your bread recipe? Would assume that is made in a factory as well … ?

    1. Thanks for the fun question! I love Otto’s, a small family-owned company that keeps tight reins on their quality control. They’re the ones who process the cassava roots and make them into flour. Yes, they make lots of flour; good for them! Factory settings can mean different things based on who owns and runs the company, and, therefore, the quality of the product. I am not thrilled with the processing, quality or sourcing of blanched almond flour or potato starch in contrast. There is no regulation in regards to rancidity when it comes to the former. The nuts should be frozen; but instead they sit for months on end at all temperatures. The potatoes are heavily sprayed.

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