Everything You Need To Know About Gut Healing Diets

How To Heal Leaky Gut, Gut Symptoms, and Calm Inflammation With the Right Diet

Your gut isn’t just for digesting. Making sure your gut is in good health can not only improve your digestive symptoms, but your mood, sleep, and skin as well. Making the right food choices for your body can allow your gut to heal. Though there are many possible gut healing diets, a few particular diets are known for their positive impact on digestive symptoms. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what makes a gut healing diet, its benefits, the best gut healing diet options, and how to follow your gut healing diet.

Gut healing diet: Woman checking out a green bell pepper in a grocery store

What Is a Gut Healing Diet?

When it comes to the digestive tract, inflammation equals symptoms. Gut inflammation and intestinal permeability are known to trigger or contribute to many health challenges [1 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 2 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 3 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 4 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 5 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

A gut healing diet is any diet you adopt to reduce digestive symptoms, inflammation, or other related symptoms, such as joint pain, skin symptoms, or insomnia, for example.

Because many common foods can inflame the gut, gut healing diets are usually elimination diets. An elimination diet removes likely trigger foods so you can evaluate what exacerbates your symptoms. Removing the problem foods also reduces inflammation, which gives the gut a chance to heal and repair. 

A gut healing elimination diet is designed to:

  • Reduce or remove foods that may irritate your gut lining or feed imbalanced gut bacteria.
  • Heal and seal intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
  • Feed your good gut bacteria
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Help you understand which foods are triggering your symptoms

Why Would You Use A Gut Healing Diet?

A gut healing diet is one of the fastest ways to relieve the worst immediate symptoms of your health challenges. Here is a list of symptoms or conditions that may benefit from a gut healing diet.

Digestive symptoms and conditions:

  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Bloating, abdominal pain, or gas
  • Food allergies or food sensitivities
  • Heartburn or reflux
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), such a Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Celiac disease

Non-digestive issues:

  • Autoimmune Diseases, such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Type 1 Diabetes
  • Skin symptoms such as acne, rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis
  • Mood symptoms, such as anxiety or depression
  • Hypothyroidism Thyroid
  • Medication malabsorption 

Leaky Gut and Gut Health

Many health conditions relate to the gut through intestinal permeability. Intestinal permeability — otherwise known as leaky gut — has been documented in a wide range of health issues, such as digestive conditions [6 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 7 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 8 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 9 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], mental health conditions [10 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 11 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 12 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 13 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 14, 15 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 16 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 17 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 18 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 19 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], fatigue [20 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 21 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 22 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source] and autoimmune diseases [23, 24 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 25 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 26 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 27 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 28 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 29 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Gut healing diet: Leaky gut illustration

Intestinal permeability is when small gaps open up the tight junctions between the cells of the gut lining in the small intestine. This allows partially digested food particles to enter the bloodstream, which can trigger an immune system response. Normally, the gut barrier prevents these food particles from entering the body until they are broken down further. 

Gut healing diets, such as the low FODMAP diet [30 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 31 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source] have been documented to improve inflammation and gastrointestinal symptoms, which likely means they improve leaky gut as well.

What’s the Best Gut Diet

The best gut healing diet for you will be highly individualized. That said, there are some basic principles of a healthy diet that apply to everyone. 

Gut healing diet: Four principles of a healthy diet infographic

This means that to maintain a healthy gut, you should generally aim to eat an anti-inflammatory diet that:

  • Is made primarily of real, whole foods
  • Is free of sweeteners and processed foods
  • Contains the right ratio of carbs, healthy fats, quality proteins, and fiber for you 
  • Avoids your unique food sensitivities and food allergies 

In addition, your best gut healing diet also needs to have a positive effect on your gut microbiome.

A few particular elimination diets meet these criteria. Let’s review which specific diets have been shown to improve digestive health and reduce inflammation and symptoms in research.

Low FODMAP Diet

FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates that naturally occur in some veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Many people with digestive symptoms and disorders are sensitive to FODMAPs, so a low FODMAP diet can help reduce symptoms. A low FODMAP diet has been shown to:

For these reasons, the low FODMAP diet is one of the diets we recommend most frequently in our clinic.

Paleo Diet

The paleo diet is a basic, low carb elimination diet that improves inflammation by minimizing your exposure to foods that may provoke an immune response [45 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 46 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. These include sugars, unhealthy fats, chemical additives, and common problem foods like dairy, gluten, and soy. 

The principles of avoiding processed foods is one of the foundations of conventional IBS diet advice. Preliminary research suggests that the paleo diet reduces digestive symptoms [47]. It’s also been documented to reduce inflammation and inflammatory conditions, including diabetes and heart disease [48 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 49 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 50 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Reducing inflammation creates a better environment for gut bacteria and can improve your gut microbiome [51 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 52 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. This can also reduce digestive symptoms, which are often linked to an overgrowth of the wrong kind of gut bacteria [53 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 54 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 55 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 56 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. 

Other Specialty Gut Healing Diets

There are many other special dietary plans that can help address digestive symptoms. But these plans should only be used if more basic plans haven’t provided the results you’re looking for. 

An elemental diet is a meal-replacement shake that contains pre-digested “elemental” nutrition, which means there is no fiber to irritate the digestive system. Elemental diets have been shown to improve IBD symptoms [57 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 58 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 59 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 60 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 61 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 62 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 63 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], SIBO [64 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], and celiac disease [65 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source] in clinical trials. An elemental diet is useful as a short-term gut reset, during a symptom flare up, or as a regular meal replacement to rest the digestion on a day-to-day basis.

The low-histamine diet decreases or removes foods high in histamine, or foods that increase the release of histamine. Histamine intolerance is one possible reason for digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, bloating, and gas. Decreasing dietary histamine has been shown to reduce histamine intolerance symptoms [66 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. FODMAPs may feed the bacteria that often trigger histamine intolerance, so be sure to diligently use the low FODMAP diet before testing a low histamine diet [67 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 68 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 69 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 70 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

The Autoimmune Paleo Diet (AIP) removes additional possible immune triggers beyond the basic paleo diet. AIP has been shown in a few early studies to improve IBD symptoms [71, 72 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 73] so may have some value as a gut healing diet if you haven’t seen improvement with these other diets. 

How To Eat a Gut Healing Diet

Gut healing diet: Group of people having a food feast

Making any kind of dietary change can be a challenge, so make it easy on yourself by following these guidelines while you make the transition: 

  • Keep it simple. Choose a few basic recipes and use them to develop a simple meal plan. Expand your repertoire once you’re comfortable with your new diet.
  • Be prepared. Shop for ingredients you need for your basic meal plan, and remove the foods you’ll be avoiding from your pantry. Batch cook your simple recipes, and load up your freezer.
  • Be as strict as possible for 2-4 weeks. If you don’t notice any positive changes in that time, try something different.
  • Use what you learn to create a sustainable, healthy diet going forward.

What To Include in a Gut Healing Diet

Now that you’ve removed inflammatory foods, it’s time to talk about what to add. No matter which gut healing diet template you choose to work with, including particular gut healing foods and supplements can increase your chances for success. Let’s review some of the options.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotic supplements have been shown in numerous studies to:

This makes them superstars of a gut healing diet.

A diversity of probiotic supplements seem to work better than single strains [94 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 95 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. For best results, choose one high quality product from each of the three categories — a Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria blend, a Saccharomyces boulardii, and a soil-based probiotic — and use them together.

3 Probiotics for gut balance infographic

Prebiotics are simply natural fibers that feed your good gut bacteria. Most people get enough prebiotics from their diet, as long as it contains sufficient fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. However, some people need supplemental prebiotics to make their gut microbes happy. In spite of this, prebiotics may increase digestive symptoms for people, so they should be tried with caution [96 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Bone Broth and Collagen

Bone broth is naturally high in gelatin and collagen, which is made primarily of the amino acids glutamic acid, proline, and glycine [97]. Collagen has been shown to improve skin elasticity and hydration [98, 99, 100]. And though the data are early, some studies have suggested that collagen directly improves intestinal permeability [101 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. And though these are lower quality data, other studies showed glutamic acid improved intestinal permeability in pigs [102 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source] and L-glycine given to rats prevented ulcers [103 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Fortunately, you don’t need to try to use these amino acids separately. Homemade or commercially prepared bone broth can provide healthy doses of these gut healing nutrients, especially if consumed regularly.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are valuable for gut health, as they are a natural source of good bacteria. Though they don’t typically have therapeutic doses of probiotics [104, 105, 106, 107], they may continue to seed your digestive system with diverse probiotics from natural fermentation when used as a small, daily supplement. Examples include sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha.

Gut Healing Supplements

Herbal capsule supplements with green leaves

Diet and probiotics should always be your first, go-to step to work on gut healing, but a number of gut healing supplements can enhance your progress once that piece is in place. 

In general, give supplements a short-term trial to see if they improve your symptoms. If so, then continue using them. If not, you can discontinue them. Here are a few that are most likely to improve your gut healing diet success.

Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are chemicals your body naturally produces to break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. A deficiency of particular enzymes can lead to digestive symptoms. 

For example, if you don’t make lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose in dairy products, you’ll experience lactose intolerance symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea. 

There is some early evidence indicating that taking digestive enzymes can help improve digestive symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal pain [108 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 109 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 110 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 111 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Stomach Acid Supplementation (Betaine HCl)

Low stomach acid is associated with a wide variety of health problems, including SIBO [112], H. pylori infection [113], autoimmune conditions [114 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 115 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 116 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 117, 118 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 119 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 120 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 121, 122 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], and anemia [123].

There isn’t yet much research into the use of betaine HCl, but two studies show it’s effective for increasing stomach acid, acts quickly, and has a short-term effect of just over an hour [124 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 125 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Including supplemental stomach acid may improve your digestion. Betaine HCl should be avoided if you have peptic ulcers.

L-Glutamine

L-glutamine is an amino acid your body naturally produces to repair your gut lining. L-glutamine has been shown in multiple studies, including meta-analyses, to improve intestinal permeability and inflammation, and reduce digestive symptoms [126 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 127, 128 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 129 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. 

Where To Go From Here

Eating a gut healing diet is mostly about common sense. Eat a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet full of nutrition, and watch how quickly your gut and other health challenges respond. Include supportive supplements if needed. 

For more support starting your gut healing diet, consider reading my book, Healthy Gut Healthy You, or meeting with a health coach or nutritionist at our newly opened Austin Center for Functional Medicine.

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