When it comes to improving your gut health, there’s nothing more important than what goes on your plate. In fact, the number one cause of leaky gut is what is (and isn’t) in your diet.
While many foods in today’s SAD (Standard American Diet) have been shown to damage the intestinal lining and worsen gut health, there are several foods found in nature that can repair intestinal damage and heal the gut. True to the saying “the road to health is paved with good intestines,” eating foods that promote gut health will not only help heal leaky gut, but allow you to regain your health and happiness.
If you’re suffering from leaky gut, then your best course of action is to add foods that will heal it and remove foods that will make it worse. Take charge of your gut health by knowing exactly which foods help heal leaky gut, and which foods must be avoided for optimal digestion.
Here are the best foods to eat for healing a leaky gut.
The 6 Best Foods to Eat to Heal Leaky Gut
Bone broth contains collagen, gelatin, and glutamine which all help repair the gut lining. Collagen and gelatin help “heal and seal” the gut lining, while glutamine helps strengthen it to prevent future damage.
The benefit to drinking bone broth versus taking a nutritional supplement with these nutrients is that bone broth is much easier for a weakened system to digest. When making bone broth, the long simmer and cook time of the bones helps break down and “predigest” all of the beneficial nutrients, which allows them to be absorbed by your body right away.
You can make bone broth at home with literally any type of bone (necks, knuckles, ribs, wings, feet and tails) from any animal. Chicken and beef bone broth are the most popular varieties, but you can also use ox, bison, pork, lamb, and fish bones. We recommend choosing grass-fed bones whenever possible, which many health food stores now sell.
And if you don’t have time to make bone broth, you can always order some!
Vegetables are full of vitamins, such as B vitamins, which help you break down carbs, fats, and proteins, and vitamin D, which can help reduce inflammation in the GI tract. However, the tough fiber in raw vegetables can be tough on a weakened digestive system, which is why it’s best to steam your veggies when healing leaky gut.
Non-Dairy Fermented Foods: Unsweetened Coconut Milk Yogurt, Coconut Milk Kefir, Sauerkraut, Kimchi
The beneficial bacteria, called “probiotics,” found in fermented foods such as coconut milk yogurt and coconut milk kefir, prevent harmful pathogens and bad bacteria from accumulating in your GI tract. Probiotics keep your system “clean”, which creates a favorable environment to begin the gut healing process.
When it comes to improving gut health, stick to dairy-free fermented foods because cow’s milk is a common hidden food sensitivity for many people. Dairy products also contain a pro-inflammatory fatty acid called arachidonic acid, which can worsen existing inflammation in the GI tract (3).
One of the best fats you can eat for your gut is coconut. Although coconut contains saturated fat (a nutrient that has a bad reputation for causing inflammation in the gut), the saturated fat it contains is very different than the saturated fats found in red meat or dairy.
Unlike animal products, the saturated fat in coconut, called lauric acid, has antimicrobial and antifungal properties— which is why it’s a food recommended on many gut healing protocols. Coconut oil is also a natural anti-inflammatory, which can help soothe the intestinal lining and improve inflammatory bowel conditions (4).
You are what you eat, which can be a good or bad thing when it comes to the type of meat you’re eating. You see, when we eat meat, we’re also ingesting what the animal ate during its lifetime.
Pasture-raised animals are brought up grazing fields, eating grass and plants, which is why their meat is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids and minerals— two nutrients needed for gut health.
On the other hand, factory-farmed animals are fed a diet of corn and grains, which are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 essential fatty acids. While we do require omega-6s in our diets, we tend to over-consume them through vegetable oils found in processed foods and deep-fried foods. A diet rich in omega-6s and low in omega-3s is a major cause of the systemic inflammation that contributes to damaging the gut lining and lowering immunity (5).
It should be mentioned that factory-farmed animals are commonly injected with hormones and antibiotics, which are toxic to us when we ingest them. As mentioned above, toxins contribute to damaging the gut lining and may deplete natural stores of healthy gut bacteria.
Switching from eating factory-farmed meat to grass-fed meats, such as beef, chicken, turkey, and bison, will help increase your omega-3 intake and reduce the inflammation associated with leaky gut.
Wild Fatty Fish and/or Fish Oil
Wild fish and fish oil (especially cod liver oil) are another excellent source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids. Fish also contains vitamin D— and although it’s not entirely clear how, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to leaky gut (6).
As you can see, the ticket to optimal gut health is eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods.
Now that you know which foods to focus on, let’s take a look at the foods to avoid for leaky gut.
4 Foods to Avoid if You Have Leaky Gut
Research shows a direct link between eating gluten and the development of leaky gut. This is because gluten increases zonulin production, which is a protein that breaks apart the tight junctions in your digestive tract (7). For this reason, gluten should be avoided at all costs when it comes to improving gut health.
Gluten is found in the majority of grains such as spelt, wheat, rye, and barley, but it also hides in condiments, sauces and most packaged and boxed foods.
Not all grains contain gluten, but even gluten-free grains such as brown rice should be avoided when healing your gut. This is because grains contain phytic acid, a protective coating that’s difficult for the body to breakdown and digest, resulting in inflammation in the digestive tract.
Soaking and sprouting grains can help remove the phytic acid, so sprouted, gluten-free grains can be eaten in moderation. However, they should still be avoided in the early stages of healing leaky gut.
Refined Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners
Sugar feeds yeast, which allows it to overpopulate and outnumber the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Candida, bacterial dysbiosis and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) are linked to refined sugar consumption, and as we remember, these conditions can all promote intestinal permeability.
Candy and anything sweet are the most obvious examples, but this also includes alcohol and white flour. And artificial sweeteners are no better than refined sugar, as they’ve also been linked to depleting healthy gut bacteria (8).
While it’s recommended to limit all sugar sources when healing leaky gut, small amounts of natural sweeteners such as green leaf stevia or coconut nectar can be used in place of processed sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Refined Vegetable Oils (Sunflower, Safflower, Canola, Soybean)
As mentioned above, one of the major sources of pro-inflammatory omega-6 essential fatty acids in our diets are vegetable oils. High oleic vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, canola and soybean oils should be avoided to reduce systemic inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining. Instead, use unrefined coconut oil, grass-fed butter or ghee for cooking on medium-high heat, and extra virgin olive oil for your salad dressing recipes.
3 Steps to Start Healing Your Leaky Gut
Now that you know how your diet can be helping or hurting your leaky gut, implement these three strategies to make sure you’re on track to curing it.
1. Make a “leaky gut shopping list”
It’s difficult to stay on track with a gut health diet if you’re not prepared. Prepping your meals at home with gut-friendly foods will prevent you from reaching for convenience foods that are loaded with refined sugar and vegetable oils.
2. Begin an elimination diet
Foods that damage gut health should be avoided for at least 6 months to allow sufficient time for your gut to heal. Doing an elimination diet with the help of a licensed healthcare practitioner can be helpful for creating a gut-healing action plan that’s realistic for you to stick to.
3. Take supplements for gut health
You may want to consider taking nutritional supplements for gut health, such as pure aloe vera juice, which can help soothe the intestinal lining. Marshmallow root and licorice root are also helpful for reducing digestive discomfort, while probiotic supplements can also be taken to restore healthy gut bacteria.
Healing leaky gut is as simple as swapping out refined foods for whole, unprocessed foods rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients. If it seems daunting at first, remember, even the smallest steps can make a big difference in your gut health, such as drinking a cup of bone broth each morning, or sourcing your meat from a local farmer.