A leaky gut is as unpleasant as it sounds! Also known as increased intestinal permeability, leaky gut syndrome is a condition where gaps develop in your intestinal wall. Your intestines are the smooth, muscular tubes that carry food from your stomach to the toilet.
It’s perfectly normal for digested food to pass through the walls of your intestines and into your blood. That’s how you absorb the nutrients in your food. However, a leaky gut allows bacteria, toxins, and undigested food to make its way into your body.
Studies suggest that increased intestinal permeability is connected to several diseases including diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and celiac disease.
The symptoms of leaky gut include:
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating
- Weak immune system (frequent illnesses)
- Headaches, brain fog, or memory loss
- Skin problems such as rashes, acne, eczema, or rosacea
- Carb or sugar cravings
- Joint pain or swelling
- Anxiety, depression, or attention deficit disorder
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or Chron’s disease
- Food sensitivities
- Weight gain
Leaky gut is usually caused by diet. Modern foods are often high in anti-nutrients and substances that trigger an allergic reaction that causes inflammation and swelling. For some people, gluten is also a trigger. This inflammation results in an immune system response during which your body attacks itself or, more specifically, your intestinal wall.
Other foods kill off your healthy gut bacteria which allows unhealthy bacteria to grow and thrive inside your body. Processed sugar and trans fats are the prime suspects for this. Good gut bacteria are vital for your digestive health, and also play a crucial role in the function of your immune system.
Leaky gut can also be triggered by the overuse of certain medicines, including antibiotics, over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as steroids. Ironically, many of the symptoms of leaky gut are treated with these medicines which, instead of healing, end up making things worse.
Leaky gut is not a medically recognized condition. While some clinical nutritionists are aware of it, most doctors are not. There is no official medical diagnosis or treatment. The good news is that leaky gut can be self-treated, and in most cases, it’s just a matter of eating more intestinal healing foods and avoiding the foods that will make your condition worse.
The best foods for a leaky gut
Foods that can improve your intestinal health include:
Vegetables: Everyone knows that veggies are good for your health, but very few people eat enough. Vegetables contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and a host of additional nutrients besides. Try to “eat the rainbow” and include lots of different colored vegetables in your meals. This will ensure you get a broad range of nutrients in your diet.
The best gut-friendly vegetables include arugula, beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, chard, eggplant, ginger, mushrooms, spinach, and zucchini. Not only are these foods good for your gut, but they are also filling and low in calories, so they’ll help you lose weight too. Try to eat vegetables two or three times per day.
Fermented vegetables: Kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso are loaded with probiotics, which are substances that increase the number and health of your good gut bacteria. Fermented veggies are an acquired taste, but if you think of them as medicine, you should be able to force them down, even if you don’t enjoy them very much.
Fruit: Like vegetables, most people know how healthy fruit can be. We mean real fruit by the way, not fruit-flavored soda, fruit roll-ups, or fruit-flavored yogurt! Good fruits for leaky gut sufferers include coconut, kiwi, grapes, oranges, bananas, blueberries, limes, raspberries, strawberries, passionfruit, pomegranate, and papaya.
Gluten-free grains: Gluten is strongly linked to leaky gut syndrome. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains. Avoiding gluten can prevent many of the symptoms of leaky gut. However, not all grains contain gluten, and gluten-free grains are good for your gut health. Good choices include buckwheat, brown and white rice, gluten-free oats, quinoa, and amaranth.
Sprouted seeds: Seeds are little nutritional bombs waiting to explode! They contain all the nutrients needed for plants to grow, and those nutrients are good for you too! Sprouted seeds are the best choice because they are ready to give up their nutrient payload. Gut-friendly seeds include spouted chia seeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Spouted seed and grain bread, such as gluten-free Ezekiel bread, are also a good option.
Healthy fats: Fats are often said to be unhealthy, but some fats are quite the opposite and have either gut-friendly or anti-inflammatory properties. The best fats for healing a leaky gut are avocados and avocado oil, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil, as well as oily fish like mackerel, salmon, herring, and tuna.
Cultured dairy products: Rich in gut-friendly probiotics, cultured dairy products are one of the best things you can eat for better gut health. Often more enjoyable to eat than fermented vegetables, good choices include kefir, natural yogurt, raw milk, and traditional buttermilk.
Beverages: While what you eat will have a big impact on your gut health, so too will what you drink. Makes sure you stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of plain water, and also consider adding gut-friendly beverages such as bone broth, unsweetened teas, coconut milk, coconut water, and kombucha to your diet.
Foods to avoid
While there is a lot you can do to heal your leaky gut, there are many foods that can make it worse. Make sure you don’t just eat more of the healing foods listed above, but you also avoid the following foods too.
- Wheat-based foods such as bread, pasta, most cereals, couscous, cookies, cakes, etc.
- Gluten-rich grains including barley, bulgur wheat, and regular oats
- Artificially-sweetened foods including diet soda, sugar-free candy and gum, and sugar-free or reduced-calorie diet foods
- Alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee, and soda
- Junk food such as fast food, candy bars, most breakfast cereals, potato chips, crackers, cookies, and snack cakes
- Processed deli meats including cold cuts, bacon, hot dogs, and economy burgers
- Processed dairy products including pasteurized milk, ice cream, flavored yogurt, canned whipped cream, and flavored milk
A leaky gut is no-one’s idea of fun. It can affect how you look and feel and rob you of your confidence. Doctors might not recognize leaky gut syndrome, but it really exists and is all too common. You don’t have to let leaky gut ruin your life; build your diet around the healing foods listed in this article and cut out the foods that make your symptoms worse. In just a few short weeks, you’ll feel like a new person. Leaky gut? Just say no!