When you’re new to buying food locally or direct from farms, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s a bit like learning a new language when you begin sourcing food for the GAPS Diet. I’m here to help clear up the confusion about descriptive terms, what animals eat naturally, and what questions to ask when you’re choosing high quality animal products for the GAPS Protocol.
Standards vary and farmers and ranchers have different ways of describing their methods. Everyone will highlight their best qualities and it’s up to us as consumers with special dietary needs to ask probing questions to be sure we’re getting what works best for us.
Establishing a relationship with your local farm is your best bet. You will always get the highest nutrition (and usually the best prices) from local farms. They will love having a customer they can count on selling to. They may even offer you special perks like extra bones, fat, or organs for a discount when other folks don’t want them.
Ask your questions and explain that you’re sourcing food for the GAPS Diet. If they haven’t heard of it yet, that’s great! You can explain to them it’s a therapeutic diet to heal the gut and body and you’re looking for only the highest nutrition, lowest contamination, foods.
Before we get to the specific questions you can ask, let’s review some of the confusing terms and what foods animals eat naturally.
Descriptive terms that ranchers and farms use
The terms “natural” and “naturally raised” have no legal definition in the US. When a farmer is using that term, ask them to define what it means to them.
Non-GMO Corn & Soy Free
This option is coming up frequently with poultry now. This almost always means they are using a commercial feed that contains legumes or grains, which may be heavily sprayed with pesticides. This is not organic.
This is the most confusing term when dealing with local farms. It means that the animals were grazing or living outdoors for at least 120 days a year, rather than in an indoor confined feeding operation. It does not mean the animals are exclusively eating wild foods. Most animals on pasture are given supplemental feed, and pastured does not mean the feed is organic, GMO-free, or biologically appropriate.
Regenerative farming practices refer to the practices used to rehabilitate the land to increase topsoil, better sequester water, increase biodiversity, and enhance the ecosystem. The land and animals are approached as a whole system that’s used to better the land. This term doesn’t mean no pesticides are used or that the animals are exclusively eating wild foods, but that is often the aim. Regenerative refers to the land, not any qualities of the food produced.
An organic label in the US means the animals were raised on certified organic land, which is defined as land that hasn’t been subject to any prohibited substances, such as most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, sewage sludge, or genetic engineering, for at least three years. (Note that certain synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are allowed under organic regulations.)
To earn the USDA organic seal, the animals must also have year-round access to the outdoors, be fed an all-organic diet (which could include grains, as long as they’re organic), and may not be given antibiotics or hormones. They also need to be raised in a way that “accommodates their health and natural behavior”—that is, with access to sunny areas, shady spots, clean water, and shelter.
Organic certification comes with an annual fee and some farms choose not to spend this money, even while their practices meet or exceed the USDA organic standards.
What do our meat animals eat?
Let’s review what animals eat naturally so you’ll be prepared to compare that to what your local farms are feeding when you’re sourcing food for the GAPS Diet.
Chickens (and other poultry including turkey and ducks)
Naturally forage through grass for bugs, grubs, etc. They eat wheat and other small grain/grass seeds. They do not eat corn or soy in the wild. Organic chickens are most often fed organic corn and soy.
When you or your child are very sensitive (autism, PANDAS, FPIES, neurological issues, chronic fatigue, Lyme Disease) it’s likely that you won’t do well with the meat or eggs from chickens fed corn and soy. Corn and soy are not properly digested by the birds and the proteins finish up in their meat and aggravate sensitivities in the humans that consume them. This is especially true if you have a known allergy (IgE) to corn or soy. Choose corn and soy-free for your best results.
Non-organic GMO-free chickens are usually fed peas that are heavily sprayed with pesticides. On farms in temperate climates, hens may be fed scraps from the household and forage for the rest of their needs, but most chickens and hens receive some type of supplemental feed.
If you don’t come across a local producer of corn and soy free chicken or eggs, ask farmers if they’d be willing to produce this for you. They might have a minimum they’ll raise and you may need to stock your freezer at harvest time, or join with friends to come up with the minimum. Farmers raise the foods that consumers want – and that we are willing to pay for. That’s how they make a sustainable living. We are part of a movement that demands the best and most natural animal products, which brings more interest from farmers to raise them.
Beef and bison
Naturally eat grass. That’s it. Grassfed is a term regulated by the USDA and is designated to mean that an animal ate only grasses and forages after mother’s milk. Unfortunately, grassfed is often a misleading term now because it’s not enforced and some “grassfed” producers feed their cattle corn for the last few months of their life to fatten them up, while still labeling them grassfed. This has led to a separate term being used – grass-finished. Ask if the beef is grassfed and grass finished. Grassfed also has nothing to do with whether the animal was given hormones or antibiotics.
Dairy animals of all types (cow, goat, sheep, camel, etc.)
These are ruminant animals that should be grazing on grass or plants in their local environment. They may be supplemented with hay (dried grasses or the greens of legumes) in the winter. Heritage breeds produce a milk that is best for GAPS because the milk contains the type of proteins humans have historically ingested in milk products, based on the beta-casein gene.
There are three variations of this gene based on how the animal has been bred, A1/A1, A1/A2, and A2/A2. Cows and bison bred to produce A1 type protein produce more milk, so they’re industry standard for profitability. If you think you’re lactose intolerant or allergic to milk, the modern A1 cow may be the problem, along with pasteurization and homogenization of the milk. Most commercial dairies are using A1/A2 cows (or bison) in the US. Heritage breeds and less common milking animals carry the A2/A2 gene.
If you are very sensitive, be sure that the milk is A2/A2. Human, goat, sheep, water buffalo, and camel milk is A2/A2. It is rare to find dairy that doesn’t give corn, grain, molasses or something else sugary at milking as a “treat” to get the animal to cooperate. Ask about this. Even when they say their dairy herds are “pastured” and not given any feed, they will generally overlook this as feed. You may not find a dairy that doesn’t do this, but make sure you’re comfortable with their answer, especially if they food corn and you have a sensitivity.
When you’re sourcing food for the GAPS Diet, raw milk is always preferred and best tolerated. Find sources for raw milk in the US at realmilk.com.
Naturally eats grass, weeds, legumes and other things they find grazing on pasture. Similar to beef, lamb should eat only grasses. It can be easier to find grassfed/finished lamb because of its short lifespan. They are typically born in the spring and slaughtered in the fall, spending their entire life of freshly growing grass in many areas.
Pigs naturally eat a wide variety of foods and are omnivores, consuming both plants and animals. In the wild they eat grass, roots, fruits, mushrooms, insects, eggs, and small mammals. On farms they may not have access to all of these things and are usually given leftovers, vegetable trimmings, whole eggs, butchering scraps, whey or other milk products, grains, pumpkins, root vegetables, potatoes, nuts, and more. The local area and what else the farm raises create a lot of variation. It’s best to find pigs that are given corn and soy-free feed, but as always, ask your questions to see what might be lurking in their feed.
Fish & Seafood
Fish and seafoods naturally eat what is appropriate when wild-foraging. Farmed fish are nearly always fed corn, soy, vegetable oils, and antibiotics. They typically have added coloring and other weird additives – things fish would never encounter in nature. Choose wild fish when sourcing food for the GAPS Diet. There are a few fish farming operations that are mimicking wild environments. If you come across one of these – great! Ask them what supplemental feed they use, when they use antibiotics, any ‘treats’ the fish are given, if they use supplements, etc.
Goats, yak, alpaca, deer, elk, and less common ruminant animals
Eat only grass (hay in the winter) and foods they forage themselves.
How to ask questions when sourcing food for the GAPS Diet
When you’re sourcing food for the GAPS Diet, it’s important to ask questions and be clear about what you are getting, whether with animals or plant foods. There isn’t a correct answer to these questions – they’re designed to help you decide the best option for you and your family.
It’s ideal to visit a local farm to see their animals and how they operate.
Skip asking general questions like, “what are your practices?”, because it’s easy for people to be evasive or give you their sales pitch. When you’re sourcing food for the GAPS Diet, ask specific and targeted questions. For example, if you’re buying strawberries you could ask, “What are these sprayed with?” These kinds of questions will let them know you’re not looking for the sales pitch and are a discerning customer.
If everything sounds great, but your gut instinct feels “off” about the producer, trust it.
This requires time and investigation up front, but once you’ve gotten your trusted sources settled, you’ll buy from them for years to come and will rarely have to think about this again.
Questions to ask farms and ranches when sourcing food for the GAPS Diet
- What feed do you use? (brand or ingredients)
- What do you spray on your fields?
- When do you use antibiotics?
- When do you give other medications?
- Do you use vitamin or mineral supplements?
- Do you vaccinate your animals?
- What treats are the animals given? (Dairy animals especially)
- What is their water source?
Break out of overwhelm when sourcing food for the GAPS Diet
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of getting started on GAPS. Sourcing high quality local food is part of creating a GAPS lifestyle and it will be an ongoing process. There are many nuances you might learn about, but start wherever you can with this general hierarchy of the most nutrient-dense foods:
- Local organic (certified or not)
- Organic at the store (aka industrial organic)
- Local and sprayed, but picked fresh
If all this research is intimidating and holding you back from starting GAPS, grab what you need from the grocery store or find a farm online that will ship to you. Many people have experienced significant turnarounds in their health with grocery store options. You can always upgrade your standards later when you’re ready to take your health to the next level, and your pocketbook allows.