Trying To Heal Leaky Gut? Here’s Why You Should Be Eating Clean
Leaky gut, or intestinal hyper-permeability, is thought to be the root cause of food sensitivities, autoimmune disorders and inflammation, that can affect more of your body than the digestive tract.
There are so many supplements and diets out there claiming to heal leaky gut. But a clean, real food based diet, is powerful when it comes to healing leaky gut, without the aggressive, often unnecessary, restriction other diets require. Supplements vary in quality depending on the company and can be based on loose science, though some can be truly beneficial.
Sifting through all the informational clutter when you’re trying to heal yourself can get overwhelming. That’s why I’m sharing how starting simply, with clean eating, can help you take control of your health and heal the root causes of your symptoms. Elimination diets can be helpful if symptoms persist, but they’re more powerful if you’re already eating clean.
What Is Leaky Gut?
The intestines act as a barrier between food that’s digesting and your bloodstream. Blood vessels are on one side of the barrier, and digesting food is on the other. They are not supposed to mingle unless the intestines say so, under specific conditions.
Only fully broken down food can pass through and get exclusive access to the blood. This is because it travels through the rest of your body to nourish and energize cells everywhere. If the wrong things get through, problems arise.
And that’s exactly what happens with leaky gut. No, your gut doesn’t leak, but rather things pass through into the blood that shouldn’t. These things can be food that isn’t fully broken down, bacteria and/or toxins. All of which can activate the immune system and cause inflammation anywhere in the body.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
There are many causes of leaky gut that are important to address, including stress. But I want to focus on food, because what you eat consistently comes in direct contact with your digestive system. The foods you eat can greatly impact your gut health, either helping to cause or prevent and heal leaky gut.
It’s important to know that leaky gut doesn’t cause pain or digestive discomfort. It can happen in people with digestive issues, but not always.
Leaky gut happens when there’s persistent inflammation in the intestines, which causes the barrier to be less selective. This can happen from a poor diet, frequent overeating, certain medications (like antibiotics and Advil), unhealthy gut bacteria and toxins.
A poor diet or one that consists of ‘empty calories’ and processed foods, leads to unhealthy gut bacteria, intestinal inflammation and impaired healing. Below are reasons why a processed, packaged and pre-made food diet (even if it’s organic) can lead to leaky gut.
These include pesticides (like Roundup’s glyphosate), artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, preservatives and binders (like ‘lecithins’). Typical foods, unless they’re real food based and/or cooked from scratch, contain one or more of these synthetic additives. Each can irritate the intestines and cause imbalanced gut bacteria, but in combination and eaten more often, the effect will be greater.
A major reason why sugar irritates the intestines is because it makes unhealthy gut bacteria overgrow, and reduces healthy gut bacteria. Healthy gut bacteria thrive with low sugar and high fiber diets, while unhealthy gut bacteria thrive with sugar (and simple carbs like white bread). Unhealthy bacteria cause inflammation in the intestines and create toxins that further inflammation and can leak into the blood (and cause more inflammation).
It’s not just sugar you need to be careful of, but any food that has a lot of carbs for its volume and calories. Natural, real foods, including fruit, are more balanced with sugar and complex carbs. They have less carbohydrates per calorie and volume (more fiber and water). Processed and refined foods are carb dense and much less balanced. These foods include bread, pasta, sweet beverages, candy, sweet treats, baked goods and packaged snacks (crackers, pretzels..).
Nutrients, specifically micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients, are powerful anti-inflammatory and healing substances. When you have inflammation, you need these nutrients to heal properly. A diet of processed and packaged foods is lacking these important nutrients and will prevent your body from healing quickly and well.
Fiber is one of the most important things you can eat for digestive health. It keeps things moving and helps healthy gut bacteria thrive. Fiber is best from its natural sources, not from a supplement or added to packaged foods. You can take probiotics, but if you aren’t eating a clean, high fiber diet, then they won’t be as effective. Processed and refined carbohydrates, have nutrients and fiber stripped from them, and don’t provide the fiber you’d get from their natural form (like whole grains, fruits, corn and potatoes).
Foods That Help Heal Leaky Gut
Overall a clean diet will help you heal leaky gut. Clean eating naturally removes the foods that irritate and inflame your intestines and instead, includes anti-inflammatory foods that provide you with a healing boost.
Clean eating goes a long way, but how you structure meals is important too. A more plant based diet that can include animal products and seafood is best. Evidence shows that diets like the Mediterranean Diet, which is a plant heavy diet with seafood and animal products in moderation, is powerful at reducing inflammation and preventing many chronic diseases.
Plant based foods are the most nutrient dense foods and contain lots of natural fiber and micronutrients. Seafood and animal products are the leanest sources of protein (needed for healing) and important sources of certain nutrients like iron, omega 3s and vitamin A and B12, so they’re an important part of an anti-inflammatory and healing diet too.
Plant Based Foods:
Nuts and seeds
Vegetables (both starchy and non-starchy)
Fruits (especially berries)
Oils (coconut, olive, avocado, nut oils)
Animal Based (1-3 times/day)
Shellfish and fish (fresh or canned)
Meat and poultry
Dairy (Greek yogurt, cottage cheese)
*Bone broth (contains potent healing nutrients, especially for leaky gut)
Self healing can be intimidating and overwhelming. I recommend starting with effective basics and building from there. Consistency is more important than perfection. Starting with changes you can maintain, and adding changes based on your needs will help you find success!