Leaky gut, also called intestinal permeability, occurs when damage to the small intestine causes bacteria and waste to escape from the intestine and into your bloodstream. This in turn causes an autoimmune response with symptoms ranging from digestive upset, chronic headaches, fatigue and rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, leaky gut can lead to poor nutrient absorption. Because your digestive tract plays an important role in regulating your mood, avoiding leaky gut trigger foods can also give you more energy and help to manage the symptoms of depression and other related mood disorders.
What Foods to Avoid if You Have Leaky Gut
Certain foods are helpful in encouraging the gut to heal. Others exacerbate the problem and can cause symptoms to worsen. Many people develop leaky gut symptoms after repeated exposure to foods known to cause inflammatory responses. After a lifetime of eating foods your body is sensitive to, intestinal damage can occur. Fortunately, this damage can be reduced through a change in diet.
Below are seven foods that you should avoid when you have leaky gut. Cutting out these foods from your diet and allowing your body to heal from the systemic damage caused by inflammation will help you to feel healthier overall and can reduce symptoms of many chronic diseases associated with poor gut health.
One common problem in people with leaky gut is a fungal infection by candida yeast. Candida overgrowth is fed by sugar, so a diet with a lot of sweets in it can worsen your gut health. You’ll also want to avoid artificial sweeteners that have been manufactured synthetically. These are known to cause an inflammatory reaction and are common allergens for many people.
Small amounts of natural sugars may be fine if they are eaten in their raw state. An example would be raw fruit or unpasteurized honey. You may wish to try eating small quantities of these foods as a treat to see if your body will tolerate it.
2. Processed Oils
Soybean, corn, vegetable and peanut oils are all highly processed. They are manufactured through an intense heating process. This kills any nutrients and health benefits in the fat. Other fats, such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, margarine and shortening are even worse. These nutritionally vacant foods can cause gut inflammation and many other problems.
Opt instead for cold-pressed oils like high-quality olive oil. These include healthy fats and will be better for your digestive system.
Beans, lentils, peanuts and soybeans can be damaging to the digestive tract. Even if you are not allergic to them, their high quantities of fiber make them difficult to digest. This poses a lot of work to your gut and can inhibit healing. Some people are more sensitive to legumes than others, but you may wish to avoid these foods entirely when you begin your healing journey.
Gluten is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to gut health. People who do not have celiac disease may still exhibit a degree of intolerance to gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, including whole grain and white flour and any product made with these flours.
Other grains are not as damaging as gluten but may still be difficult on your system. You may wish to avoid all grains at first and slowly re-introduce them if you choose to eat them at all.
Humans are not designed to drink milk as adults. Some people have a greater degree of lactose intolerance than others, but no one’s body is designed to efficiently digest milk and milk products.
You may have an autoimmune response to milk, cream, butter, cheese or any other product derived from a dairy source. Cutting out these foods or replacing them with non-dairy alternatives can help to ease the stress on your gut.
Vegetables in the nightshade family are frequent offenders for many types of food sensitivities. Trigger foods include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and all sorts of peppers. You may be able to tolerate some of these foods better than others.
All of these plants are members of the same family and are relatives of poisonous plants like belladonna, also called deadly nightshade. All nightshades contain a natural pesticides called glycoalkaloids. This substance can have a harmful effect on your body and immune system.
Eaten whole, corn is not necessarily a bad food. It is high in fiber and difficult to digest, and it is not as nutritionally dense as many other vegetables.
The bigger problem with corn comes from its many processed iterations including corn meal. Corn, like soy, is found in many processed foods from breakfast cereals to chips and frozen dinners. The prevalence of corn makes it easy to develop an allergy or intolerance to these foods. Avoiding processed foods and especially those made with corn and soy is a good way to protect your gut health and overall wellness.
Different people may have differing levels of tolerance to these and other foods. If you are suffering from symptoms of leaky gut, you may wish to identify your specific trigger foods by going on an elimination diet and reintroducing common problem foods one at a time to see if you can tolerate it. This will help you to be more in tune with your body and find a way to keep your digestive system in balance.
Foods to Eat Instead
If you’re new to the idea of leaky gut, looking at the list of forbidden or problematic foods may seem very daunting. Fortunately, there are many foods available to you that are delicious, nutritious and easy on your gut.
Overall, the paleo or ketogenic diet is one of the best choices for gut health. This diet is based around simple whole foods like meat, vegetables and nuts. It excludes dairy, grains, legumes, sweets and processed foods. There are many ketogenic recipe books and specialty foods on the market today that can help you to transition into this method of eating.
Within the paleo lifestyle, certain foods are especially good at improving gut health and helping to reverse the effects of leaky gut:
1. Bone Broth
Made by slow cooking bones in salted water, bone broth is filled with nutrients. When bones are slow-cooked, they release natural gelatin, collagen and glutamine. These substances can help replenish your gut’s lining. Bone broth is easy to make and can be easily sipped from a thermos or used as the base of a soup or stew.
2. Steamed Vegetables
As long as you avoid nightshades, vegetables of all kinds are a nutritious and essential part of healthy eating. Steaming allows vegetables to retain their nutritional value while becoming easier to digest. The essential vitamins and nutrients in vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, can aid in gut health and regenration.
3. Probiotic Foods
Part of maintaining good gut health is replacing bad intestinal bacteria with helpful bacteria. Probiotics, or good bacteria, can be found in a variety of fermented foods. Most people are familiar with probiotics in yogurt, but other options are available for people who can’t tolerate dairy. Try kimchi, sauerkraut or kefir made with coconut milk.
Coconut oil is one of the best foods for your gut. Coconuts contain lauric acid, which has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It’s helpful in killing off candida overgrowth and other types of unwanted digestive guests. Coconut oil is a good alternative for butter and other cooking oils, and its anti-inflammatory properties help to soothe the intestine and reduce autoimmune systems throughout the body.
5. Fish Oil
Fatty fish, especially small fish like herring and anchovies, are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and other good-for-you fats that help with reducing inflammation and improving gut health. Salmon, tuna, trout and mackerel are also very good choices. You can also supplement your diet with cod liver oil or fish oil supplements.
Meat of all kinds can be a great staple of the ketogenic diet. For the highest nutritional value, choose grass-fed and free-range meats rather than those that have been fed corn and soy products in a feedlot. These foods will be more expensive, but the taste and quality of the meat is vastly superior. Avoid processed meats such as lunch meat and any meat that has been cured. Bacon, ham and sausage all frequently contain nitrates, which can be damaging to your health and may trigger digestive problems.
Thanks to a growing awareness about gut health and the importance of a diet made up of whole foods, it’s become easier than ever to find foods that will aid in digestion and easing the symptoms of leaky gut. Whether you choose to make your own simple meals or prefer to buy paleo-specific snacks and convenience foods, being mindful of the things you eat can help you to protect your health and put yourself on the path toward healing.