Are You A Caveman, GAPster or WAPFer?

Heather Dessinger

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GAPS vs. Paleo

I’m a mom of 2 who is seeking to take the best care of my family that I know how. I am currently swimming in a sea of too much head information and not enough application. Could you please help me understand the basic and simple differences between the eating styles of WAPF, GAPS, Standard Process, and Clean Eating.
~ Heather F

Great question, Heather! This is going to take some real ‘splainin, so let’s jump in, shall we? 

[The] Price Is Right – No, Really. He Is!

The Basics: Dr. Weston A. Price (1870-1948), a prominent dentist and founder of the Research Institute of the National Dental Association (which later became the American Dental Association), is pretty much the reason we’re chatting here today. Yup, the Real Food Movement was started by a . . . dentist.

What exactly was it that he discovered? Simply put, people who have never even seen a toothbrush have fewer cavities than most of us. But I am getting ahead of myself . . .

Dr. Price began to suspect that the decay he saw in his patients was the result of modern living: processed foods, sugar and highly processed oils. To prove his theory he set out on a 10 year expedition in search of isolated people groups — sequestered villages in Switzerland, Gaelic communities in the outer Hebrides, Eskimos, African tribes, Australian Aborigines, the Indians of North and South America, Melanesian and Polynesian South Sea Islanders and the Maori of New Zealand — and then  he studied them.

Wherever he went, Dr. Price found that beautiful straight teeth, freedom from decay, stalwart bodies, resistance to disease and fine characters [meaning a low incidence of mental illness] were typical of primitives on their traditional diets, rich in essential food factors. 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.

Weston A. Price, DDS

The photos above, taken by Dr. Price, compare  two New Zealand populations. The first are the Maori Indians, whose diet consisted largely of fish and shellfish. They have broad dental arches, perfectly straight teeth and a low rates of cavities.

The New Zealanders  on the right, unfortunately for them, ate modern foods such as white flour, processed sugar and refined oils. Dr. Price believed their cavities, deformed dental arches (which cause crowded, crooked teeth) and general susceptibility to disease were  a sign of physical degeneration resulting from nutritional deficiencies.

Do these photos convince you? They did me! In fact when my daughter began showing signs of tooth decay I put her on a Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) diet excluding grains and her decay reversed. Yes, you bet I took pics!

Primary Foods Emphasized: Grassfed meat (especially organ meats such as liver), Wild-Caught Seafood, Animal Based Fats (butter, ghee, tallow, lard – all from animals raised on pasture), Eggs, Raw Milk Products, Lacto-Fermented Foods, Vegetables, Soaked and Sprouted Grains,  and Fruits

Foods To Avoid: Pasteurized Dairy Products, Modern Soy Foods (Tofu, Soymilk, Isolated Soy Protein, etc.), Highly Refined Oils such as Margarine, Shortening and “Vegetable Oils”, Processed Foods

This Diet Might Be Right For You If . . .

You breathe! Although some people simply cannot tolerate grains and/or dairy and therefore would need to modify this diet, learning it’s principles is foundational to health. Personally, my fave insights are:

  1. Saturated fats are GOOD for you and do not make you fat!
  2. Cultured veggies and fruits should be eaten at least daily. We stopped using these processes when refrigeration became widely available, but these probiotic rich foods are vital to our health! (Plus culturing makes vitamins and minerals more bioavailable, yay!)

Popular Books: Nourishing Traditions (A Cookbook), Nutrition & Physical Degeneration, Eat Fat Lose Fat

Primal/Paleo ~ Nutrition So Easy All The Cavemen Did It

The primal/paleo diet is very similar to the Weston A. Price diet with a few exceptions – most notably the removal of grains from the diet.

Wait, why would anyone want to remove grains? They’re cheap and yummy!

There are several reasons, actually. First, there is nothing you can get from grains that you can’t find in a more easily digestible form somewhere else.

Second, primal eaters claim our bodies have not evolved to catch up with the relatively new invention of agriculture (vs. hunting and gathering).

Personally, I don’t buy the whole caveman thing, but  Marks Daily Apple makes some compelling points regarding lectin and gluten (and phytates, too, but those can be reduced by sprouting grains).

So, if you’re keeping track here: Weston A. Price says grains are okay as long as they’ve been traditionally prepared. Paleo types say never ever ever. What do I think? Hey, way to put me on the spot!

I’m not 100% sure yet, but at this point our family does not do well on grains. This may just be because our digestive systems are gunked up by our misspent youth (i.e. Taco Bueno days). Or it may be permanent. Either way, this leads me to our next diet discussion – GAPS! But first, here are paleo’s picks:

Primary Foods Emphasized: Grassfed Meat, Wild-Caught Seafood, Raw Vegetables, Honey, Raw Fruit and Seeds (used sparingly)

Foods With Secondary Emphasis – Fermented Foods

Foods Avoided: Grains, Sugar, Refined Foods, Starchy Vegetables (potatoes, yams, beets, legumes, etc) are limited but not completely avoided

Controversial Foods: Dairy — some primal eaters say a little dairy is okay (they think hunter-gatherers most likely herded sheep and drank their milk), some say it’s not

Popular Books: The Primal Blueprint, Quick and Easy  Meals You Can Make In Under 30 Minutes

This Diet Might Be Right For You If…

You want to lose weight or don’t do well on grains. (BTW, some people who have symptoms associated with gluten intolerance may not realize it. You can check out what to watch for here).

(UPDATE: We are now incorporating some grains with no problem! And also, since this post was written there has been a lot of discussion about going too low carb on grain free diets.

GAPS ~ A Time Machine For Your Gut

Whether you think the ideal diet is best represented by aborigines or cavemen, I think we can all agree on this: We are not either of those.

Most of us have, at one time or another, committed some pretty horrendous crimes against our bodies — avalanches of MSG, GMO’s, excitotoxins, and food coloring. Chicken “flavor” instead of chicken and orange juice “flavor” instead of, ahem, juice! And heck, even when you splurged for the 100% juice it still really wasn’t.

What’s the result? Acne. Adrenal Fatigue. Allergies. Autism. ADD. Diabetes. Dyspraxia. Eczema. Fatigue. Schizophrenia. And a bunch of other stuff, too (there’s a whole list here if you want to take a look).

For many of us, returning to the foods our ancestors ate will cause a drastic improvement in health, but it may not be able to completely right the damage we have done to our internal ecosystems. GAPS is a diet focused on soothing, healing, and balancing the world within us so that one day we can properly thrive.

Primary Foods Emphasized: Bone Broths, Grassfed meat, Wild Caught Seafood, Animal-Based Fats (butter, ghee, tallow, lard), Lacto-Fermented Foods, Vegetables (cooked, fermented, and some raw) and Fruits

Foods to Avoid: Grains, Legumes, Starchy Vegetables and Lots of Other Stuff (listed here)

This Diet Might Be Right For You If . . .

You have allergies, digestive problems, chronic illness or any of the conditions listed above.  Or if you just really like my recipes and are therefore on the Accidental GAPS plan. 🙂

Popular Books: Gut & Psychology Syndrome, Internal Bliss, What Can I Eat Now?, The GAPS Guide

SP Cleanse

This is a 3 week diet and not a lifestyle diet, so I’ll just touch on it briefly. Dr. Price observed that many of the cultures he observed had designated periods of fasting for purification for body, mind and spirit. The SP Cleanse is a blend of supplements and dietary recommendations meant to help us achieve that goal.

Popular Books: Uh, mine!

Clean Eating

Okay, this one I don’t know much about, but this is how it breaks down according to the food pyramid I found here. Processed foods are out (a very good thing!) and 5-6 small meals per day are recommended (also good!**). But then things get wonky . . .

Vegetables and legumes are recommended to make up the bulk of the diet (which is very hard on the digestive system), followed by lean meats, fruits, and whole grains. Dairy and healthy fats are to be used sparingly, which is a shame. Remember how the healthy indigenous groups had 10 times more fat soluble vitamins than us? It because we’ve been trained to be afraid of fat!

Foods To Avoid: All Processed Foods, Refined Grains, Sugar, Foods Containing Saturated and Trans Fats and Alcohol.

No book recommendations here. I love that she’s anti-processed foods but saturated fats are too vital to cut out.

Well, there you have it. Within each diet there are LOTS of variations, but these are the basic principles as I understand them. Thanks for your question!!!

** At least I thought so, but now I’m not so sure. Check out Katja’s comment below to find out why!

Weston A. Price Food Pyramid courtesy of Sandrine Hahn of Nourishing Our Children

Do YOU Have A Burning Question About Real Food? Tell Us Below!

Photo credit: Imano Soriano

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world.