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The Leaky Gut Diet Plan: Eating for Good Gut Health

By Fitoru | 21 December 2019
leaky gut foods

Many of us experience problems with gas and bloating from time to time. And while symptoms of digestive upset can be annoying and unpleasant, if they become chronic or are accompanied by other health issues, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food sensitivities, chronic fatigue, or even autoimmune conditions, they may point to something more insidious than simple digestive woes. They could mean you have a condition called leaky gut syndrome. So if you’re experiencing chronic digestive issues or other health problems, come with us as we take a look at the symptoms of leaky gut and how the leaky gut diet plan can help put you back on the road to perfect gut health.

What Exactly Is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

To understand leaky gut syndrome, it’s first necessary to understand a little something about the digestive system.

The digestive tract begins with the esophagus and stomach and ends with the small intestine and colon. After the foods and liquids you eat and drink travel to the stomach for initial processing, they then move on to the small intestine and colon. In this portion of the digestive system, your intestinal lining, which has a surface area of over 4,000 square feet, decides what gets absorbed into the bloodstream and what doesn’t.

Your gut lining is covered with tiny barriers comprised of epithelial cell membranes that are joined together with protein strands. These tight junctions, as they’re known, are designed to allow nutrients through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream and to keep things like microbes, toxins, and undigested food particles out.

When your gut is healthy and everything is functioning properly, this process works seamlessly. But if your intestinal lining is damaged in some way, this barrier weakens and potentially toxic substances are allowed into the bloodstream. 

This can not only trigger a response from your immune system, but it can also disrupt the balance of your gut’s microbiome. If the damage to your gut lining is healed, everything goes back to business as usual. But if the damage worsens and intestinal permeability becomes even more compromised, a vicious cycle can ensue—the immune system’s attacks on foreign materials in the bloodstream cause collateral damage to other parts of the body and chronic inflammation develops.

In the case of food sensitivities, repeated instances of undigested food particles being allowed into the bloodstream can cause the immune system to develop antibodies to that particular food. Which means that your immune system goes on alert every time that food is eaten. However, food sensitivities, unlike true food allergies, can also be much harder to pin down, as symptoms tend to be dose-dependent and may not show up until hours after the offending food has been eaten.

For years, the medical establishment dismissed the entire concept of leaky gut syndrome, leaving many to seek the guidance of natural health care practitioners instead. However, so much evidence has piled up over the years that more and more mainstream providers have begun to reconsider their initial resistance to the idea. In addition, multiple health problems have been linked in studies to compromised gut health, including:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)
  • IBS
  • Celiac disease
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Mood disorders

So What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?

As for what causes a leaky gut, many experts believe that some people have a genetic propensity for developing weakness of their tight junctions. But a growing body of evidence has begun to point to problems inherent in our modern lifestyles, including:

  • Chronic stress
  • Heavy use of alcohol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Diets low in fiber and high in sugar and saturated fat

Identifying Leaky Gut Symptoms

If you’re like a lot of people, you may not give much thought to the interconnectedness of your digestive system and the rest of your body. But it can rightfully be said that your digestive system is the foundation upon which your overall health lies. After all, every single system, organ, and cell in your body is dependent on what goes on in your digestive tract. 

This is both something that should give you pause when you consider how best to maintain your health and a fact that illustrates why leaky gut syndrome has been such a conundrum for sufferers and members of the medical community alike.

After all, if the digestive tract has tendrils in literally every process taking place in the body, then it stands to reason that the symptoms associated with this sometimes maddening condition can be as varied as the systems themselves.

For example, some of the health issues linked to problems with leaky gut include:

GasAnxiety and depression
BloatingBrain fog
ConstipationMemory loss
DiarrheaJoint pain
NauseaChronic fatigue
CongestionSkin conditions
Runny noseRecurrent infections

The Leaky Gut Diet Plan

If there’s one good thing about leaky gut syndrome and all the problems it can cause, it’s that it can be treated and even reversed by changing the way you look at food—and life. So if you’re ready to learn how to heal leaky gut, we’ve got everything you need to customize a meal plan for gut healing and renewed health.

But first, let’s talk about what you shouldn’t be eating if you’re dealing with leaky gut symptoms:

  • Simple carbohydrates: The average Western diet is packed with carbs, especially simple ones like sugar and starch. While the body can handle some simple carbohydrates, the average American eats so many of these empty calories that the body can’t process them all. Instead, they become food for bad bacteria and yeast. And this can lead to overgrowth of toxic species and symptoms of leaky gut.
  • Saturated fat: Saturated fats, which are typically found in dairy products, meat, poultry, and palm and coconut oil, have molecules that are packed so tightly together that they’re more difficult for the body to digest. Thus, among other negative consequences, they can become food for bad bacteria. Saturated fats are easy to recognize (unless they’re hidden in processed foods) by their solidity at room temperature.
  • Some grains: While whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet, some contain proteins that may irritate the gut lining and weaken tight junctions. Two proteins most likely to cause issues are lectins (also found in dairy products, nightshade vegetables, legumes, and some grains) and gluten. While both of these tend to be fine in small doses, high levels can trigger an immune response.  
  • Processed foods: It’s estimated that the average American gets more than half their daily calories from processed foods. Although some of these foods, like canned vegetables, are pretty benign, a lot are not—think blond foods like biscuits, corn dogs, pizza, and french fries. What’s more, many of these nutrient-poor excuses for food, with their emphasis on sugar, fat, salt, refined oils, additives, and GMOs, are like perfect little packages of poison, all with the potential of causing leaky gut symptoms.

So if just about everything in the average diet is a potential trigger for leaky gut syndrome, what does the leaky gut diet plan look like?

The Leaky Gut Diet Plan: Dos and Don'ts

Whole Foods and Supplements

Regardless of whether you suffer from leaky gut syndrome, the healthiest diet is one that focuses on whole foods. But if you are dealing with the symptoms of a leaky gut, a whole foods diet is absolutely essential if you want to restore and, more importantly, maintain gut health.

What’s great about a whole foods diet for leaky gut is that it can not only rebuild your digestive tract, but it has other health benefits as well. From preventing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease to treating all these health problems and more, study after study has shown that a diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats is the best way to create and maintain overall health.

Vegetables

Think plenty of leafy greens and non-starchy veggies like:

Kale Cauliflower
SpinachZucchini
Collard greensCabbage
Swiss chardAsparagus
BroccoliArtichokes

But try to limit your consumption of plants in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant, because they contain chemicals, like lectins, that can negatively affect the digestion of people dealing with food sensitivities.

Fruits

Think fruits are off the menu because they’re full of sugar? Think again. But keep in mind that some fruits are better than others because they’re higher in fiber than they are in sugar. These include:

  • Grapefruit
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Cranberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Pineapple
  • Papaya

Whole Grains

As mentioned, certain grains contain types of proteins that may lead to food sensitivities in some individuals. But whole grains are still an important part of a healthy diet. Thankfully, there are a number of gluten-free grains and pseudograins that can make a great addition to your leaky gut diet plan. These include:

  • Quinoa (though higher in lectins)
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Teff

Lean Meats and Poultry

Conventionally raised meats and poultry are similar to processed foods in that they’re high in saturated fat and low in nutrition. This is because animals raised using conventional agricultural practices are fed chemically treated and GMO feed they wouldn’t eat in nature, and they’re housed in unhealthy, stressful, and cramped conditions. All of this also means they receive excessive treatment with antibiotics to ward off infections.

However, organic, free-range, and grass-fed meat and poultry come from animals that eat a more natural diet and are kept in conditions closer to what they would have seen on the family farms of several centuries ago.

Healthy Fats

Although saturated and trans fats contribute to unhealthy levels of inflammation, other fats, such as polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats like the omega-3 fatty acids, act as anti-inflammatory agents. 

So when planning your leaky gut meal plan, try cooking with avocado and olive oils and be sure to eat more nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, including:

FlaxseedsCashews
Chia seedsMacadamia nuts
Hemp seedsSalmon
WalnutsMackerel
AlmondsSardines

In addition, like their meat and poultry counterparts, organic, free-range, and grass-fed dairy products contain a healthier composition of fats and are less likely to cause leaky gut symptoms.

Digestive Enzymes

Our digestive system is designed to easily break down the foods we eat. However, if your intestinal lining is compromised, you’re going to have trouble absorbing nutrients from food. The addition of supplemental digestive enzymes can give you the extra help you need to absorb the nutrients your gut requires to heal itself.

While digestive enzymes can be found just about anywhere, from online merchants to local health food stores, there’s a wide variety to choose from, and some are more effective—and safer—than others. So look for a brand that contains an array of plant-based enzymes and avoid those that get their ingredients from animal sources, as these can actually make leaky gut symptoms worse.

Fermented Foods and Probiotics

As stated earlier, damage to your gut lining can throw off the balance of your microbiome, so it’s important that you restore the balance of bad vs. good bacteria.

Although eating a whole foods diet is the best way to keep your gut bacteria in balance, anyone with leaky gut syndrome is first going to need some additional help getting back to equilibrium.

So, to build up your healthy gut flora, try adding more fermented foods to your diet. Foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha are great natural sources of probiotics and can also be good sources of prebiotics—soluble fiber that our bodies can’t digest but that act as a food source for healthy gut bacteria.

If you’re just starting out on the leaky gut diet plan, try not to overwhelm your system by adding large portions of these foods at one time. Instead, incorporate them slowly, adding more as tolerated. And while you’re getting used to these new foods, you might think about taking a high-potency probiotic supplement as well.

Amino Acids

Remember those building blocks of protein you learned about in high school science class? Amino acids are so important to life that they’re involved in almost every biological process. And four particular amino acids—arginine, glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline—are also known to play a crucial role in gut health. In fact, they can even help protect the gut lining by keeping tight junctions strong. 

One of the best ways to get more of these important building blocks in your diet is by supplementing with hydrolyzed collagen protein, which is a great source of all four of these amino acids.

Additional Steps to a Healthy Gut

Changing your diet and adding gut-specific supplements are the cornerstones of healing leaky gut, but there are also additional steps you can take to support your overall health and well-being:

  • Address stress: Like poor diet, stress can also affect gut health. So take some time each day to unwind. Simple steps like exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, practicing mindfulness techniques and deep breathing, and meditating can help you take control of your stress and your gut.
  • Avoid toxins: Like the toxins in the foods we eat, toxins in the world around us can affect our digestive health too. And even though it’s not possible to avoid every toxin, there are steps we can take to keep them out of our homes. Switching to natural cleaning products, using only natural fragrances and personal care products, choosing natural paints, avoiding cooking or storing food in plastic containers, and filtering tap water can all help take the strain off your digestive tract.

It may take a while, but leaky gut syndrome doesn’t have to ruin your life. With a little patience and perseverance—and by following the advice in this article—you can restore health to your gut and your life.

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