What to eat to improve leaky gut.
- What you eat has a profound effect on inflammation, and eating the right foods can really help you address leaky gut.
- Though it may appear complicated, the best leaky gut diet plan is an anti-inflammatory diet that suits your unique body.
- You can include any healthy, whole food that you don’t react to.
- Two categories of foods to avoid if you are working to heal leaky gut are processed, artificial, or inflammatory foods, and any food that you have a reaction to.
- Four categories of foods that you may need to evaluate if you aren’t feeling better with your new diet are grains, dairy products, FODMAPs, and nightshades.
What you eat has a profound effect on digestive system inflammation, and eating the right foods can really help you address leaky gut.
Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, is when small gaps open between the tight junctions of cells that line your small intestine. These gaps allow undigested food particles through to get into your bloodstream. When these food particles get through your intestinal wall, they can cause an immune system response, and can lead to the leaky gut symptoms you may be experiencing, such as brain fog, joint pain, fatigue, food allergies, and food sensitivities.
Intestinal permeability is associated with autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease.
Let’s take a look at what should and shouldn’t be included in your diet to heal leaky gut.
What to Eat for Leaky Gut
Though it may appear complicated, the best leaky gut diet plan is an anti-inflammatory diet that suits your unique body.
Though there are many possible diet options, there are only two simple principles you need to follow:
- Eat a diet made up of real, whole foods.
- Avoid processed, artificial, and inflammatory foods.
I would add one more important principle:
- Avoid any food that you have a clear reaction to.
You may be tempted to religiously follow one of the many diets out there. But the truth is that your body and digestive tract are unique and need a custom approach. The best way to get there is to create your leaky gut food plan using basic principles, and to personalize the specifics for you.
Food List for Leaky Gut
You can include any healthy, whole food that you don’t react to.
You may have heard of diet templates such as the Paleo diet or the low FODMAP diet, which can both be helpful for leaky gut syndrome. Though there are some differences between these two diets, they are actually both quite similar. If you’re not used to eating this way, here is a list of foods that are generally supportive for leaky gut.
Fresh Veggies: Veggies like kale, peppers, and zucchini provide prebiotics (food) for your good bacteria and fiber.
Roots and Tubers: Veggies like sweet potatoes and carrots provide slow burning carbs, as well as prebiotics and fiber.
Fermented Veggies: Sauerkraut and kimchi increase your probiotic diversity and give a small boost to your probiotic community.
Fresh Fruit: Fruits such as blueberries and apples provide vitamins, minerals, and prebiotic fiber.
Gluten-Free Whole Grains: Whole grains like rice, millet, and quinoa provide fiber and minerals, and are slow burning carbs.
Healthy Fats: Foods such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado are good sources of healthy fats to keep your brain, skin, and cells happy.
Nuts and Seeds: Source of protein, healthy fats, prebiotics, and slow burning carbs.
Cultured Dairy Products (if tolerated): Dairy, such as yogurt, kefir, cultured buttermilk, and some cheeses, provides some good bacteria.
Herbs and Spices: Provides flavor and anti-inflammatory plant compounds.
Bone Broth: Long-cooked broth from meat or poultry bones is rich in collagen and gelatin, both of which help heal leaky gut .
Smoothie: Smoothies that contain fruits, veggies, and healing gut nutrients, like probiotics, L-glutamine, collagen, and DGL can both provide good nutrition, and help heal the intestinal lining.
Creating a diet that includes these ingredients, customized for your unique body, will likely decrease inflammation in your gut and body, leave you satiated, and help improve your gut health.
Foods to Avoid for Leaky Gut
There are two main categories of foods to avoid if you are working to heal leaky gut:
- Processed, artificial, or inflammatory foods, and
- Any food that you have a reaction to. (This reaction indicates the food is triggering inflammation, a cause of leaky gut.)
Here is a list of foods that are often inflammatory for the intestinal lining, and should be removed, no matter what diet you are using to heal your gut lining:
Gluten and Wheat-Based Products: One of the main foods to avoid while healing leaky gut is gluten grains. Gluten has been shown to increase zonulin in the intestines of celiac disease patients , and has been shown to increase zonulin in cell lines of celiac and non-celiac people . This includes foods such as wheat bread, pasta, tortillas, crackers, and cereals, and the grains wheat, spelt, rye, barley, and kamut.
Sugar: Sweeteners, including sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, and alcohol, are inflammatory. They also feed the bad bacteria that may be causing your leaky gut.
Processed and Snack Foods: Snack foods often contain gluten, sugar, inflammatory oils, and other additives. Includes chips, cakes, cookies, pretzels, etc.
Junk Food: The sugar infoods such as candy, cake, cookies, and treats feeds bad bacteria and may increase leaky gut.
Artificial Sweeteners: Sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin, which are included in diet sodas and other products, may cause intestinal permeability  and negatively affect the gut microbiome.
Commercial Sauces: Sauces like tomato sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, ketchup, and salad dressings may contain gluten, sugar, inflammatory oils, and other allergens.
Alcohol or Sugary Beverages: Alcohol has been shown to increase intestinal permeability , and sugar feeds bad gut bacteria, which can cause leaky gut.
Industrial Seed Oils: Oils such as canola, corn, cottonseed, soy, and safflower may increase inflammation.
Foods to Use With Caution for Leaky Gut:
Most people do quite well simply removing inflammatory and artificial foods and eating a variety of real foods. But sometimes, their symptoms continue despite these changes.
Four categories of foods that you may need to evaluate if you aren’t feeling better with your new diet are grains, dairy products, FODMAP foods, and nightshades.
Many people have an immune system response to grains, whether they are gluten-free or not. These include wheat, rice, oats, corn, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, and more. In some cases this is due to plant lectins, which are plant defense compounds.
Lectins can cause an immune response. If your health issues trend toward joint pain, brain fog, chronic fatigue, or autoimmune diseases, consider removing all grains for a few weeks to see how you feel.
Many people don’t tolerate dairy well, either due to lactose intolerance or an immune reaction. Use caution with dairy products like milk, cream, cheese, sour cream, ice cream, and half and half. Some people who react to dairy can tolerate ghee, or clarified butter. Dairy is one of the most common food sensitivities, so consider removing dairy to assess how your body responds.
FODMAPs are foods that have fermentable sugars in them that can feed your bad gut flora and may cause bloating and gas, and may make leaky gut worse. Many people with digestive health problems have a FODMAP sensitivity, and see marked symptom improvement from eating a low FODMAP diet . If you adopt this more general healing diet but continue to experience digestive symptoms, you might consider trying the low FODMAP diet.
Nightshade vegetables, which include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, and okra, cause joint pain and immune reactivity for some people. If you have a lot of joint pain, consider removing nightshades for a period of time to see how you feel.
Other Ways to Improve Leaky Gut
In addition to diet, there are other easy ways to improve your leaky gut. Include the following into your routine support a healthy gut:
- Manage stress
- Get regular exercise
- Sleep for 7-9 hours per night
- Chew your food well
- Include supplements, such as the amino acid L-glutamine, probiotic supplements, and vitamin D
- Use alternatives to or avoid NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Use alternatives to birth control pills
Eating for leaky gut doesn’t have to be complicated. Despite all the conflicting advice about diet, simply including a wide variety of healthy, whole foods, and removing processed and artificial foods will carry you far in your work to heal leaky gut. By focusing on proteins, healthy fats, and veggies and fruits, and just avoiding the foods that make you feel worse, you’ll be feeling better in no time.
For personalized help with your digestive health, schedule an appointment with our center for functional medicine.
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