The human gut has a large area of the intestinal lining, over 350 square feet of surface area, to be exact. This lining forms a tight intestinal barrier, deciding what gets absorbed into the bloodstream and what doesn’t.
What is leaky gut syndrome?
Intestinal permeability, better known as “leaky gut,” occurs when the intestinal lining becomes damaged. Cracks or holes form in the lining, allowing for undigested food particles, toxic waste, and bugs to “leak” into the bloodstream. The leakage can cause chronic inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, other allergic reactions, and change the gut flora (normal bacteria) in the digestive tract. Changes in intestinal bacteria or gut microbiome and chronic inflammation could lead to the development of several common chronic diseases.
With intestinal permeability leaky gut, your body cannot absorb proper nutrients. As a result, following a leaky gut syndrome treatment diet is crucial, and so is knowing the right leaky gut supplements to take, including vitamins and probiotic capsules or drinkable probiotics.1
What are the causes of leaky gut?
Other than intestinal damage, here are some other reasons why leaky gut syndrome happens:
- Food allergies
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Celiac disease
- Other intestinal inflammatory conditions
- Intestinal injury
- Radiation therapies that cause the deterioration of the intestinal mucus
What foods should you limit if you have leaky gut syndrome?
If you have a leaky gut, the foods that you eat can directly affect your symptoms. Certain foods have been found to worsen leaky gut symptoms and increase inflammation. You can tailor the guidelines based on your preferences, specific trigger foods, and nutritional needs. Each individual will react differently to foods, so find what works and which foods cause leaky gut. Talk about it with your registered dietitian to limit any nutritional deficiencies. A few common foods known to worsen leaky gut symptoms include:
Refined Carbohydrates and Sugar
Refined carbohydrates and sugar should be limited to help keep inflammation down. Refined carbohydrates such as pastries and white bread can be hard on the gut. This includes:
- Anything with added sugar
Most processed snack foods and desserts have refined carbohydrates and added sugar. Added sugar in large quantities, artificial sweeteners, and any sugar substitutes such as xylitol and sorbitol should be excluded from your diet2.
A leaky gut syndrome diet high in refined sugars can also lead to an imbalance of bacteria in your gut microbiota. The imbalance can cause inflammation and increased symptoms of gut permeability or leaky gut. Refined sugar has little nutritional value.
Red Meat and Processed Meats
Red meat should be limited because of their association with higher levels of inflammatory markers. The tough, fatty cuts of meat are hard to digest and can worsen leaky gut symptoms. Processed food including meats are also hard on the digestive tract. Different types of meat including:
- Hot dogs
These also include lunch meats that are high in sodium, fat and preservatives but are low in iron and proteins.
Studies have shown that red meat can raise levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which is a byproduct of gut bacteria. The negative change in gut bacteria can occur quickly, in as little as two days. Diets high in animal protein can put people at a higher risk for leaky gut and other chronic conditions because of their inflammatory properties. Higher levels of TMAO not only affect your gut microbiota negatively but can also lead to a higher risk of heart disease5.
Researchers looked at the gut bacteria of children in Burkina Faso, Africa, and compared them to the gut bacteria of children in Italy in a 2010 study. The children in Burkina Faso consumed diets high in fiber and more pea protein, while the Italian children consumed more meat. The gut microbiome of the children in Burkina Faso was made up of more good bacteria and had lower gut inflammation than the children in Italy who had more harmful bacteria in the gut microbiome and more inflammation6.
Meat may also contain antibiotics that you are ingesting without knowing it. Antibiotics can kill off good bacteria, allowing the bad bacteria to survive and thrive.
Can't live without meat? Think about eating it less frequently and buying organic meat, confirming labels say "no hormones" and "no antibiotics."
Fried, Fatty, Spicy, and Greasy Foods
Fried food is often made in oils that are heavy with saturated fats and trans fats. Not only are they unhealthy, but foods that are fried, fatty, and full of grease can also be triggers of leaky gut symptoms because they are hard to digest and can cause inflammation. Spicy foods can also be hard on the gut and escalate symptoms3.
A leaky gut diet heavy in fat can alter the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiota and promote the growth of bad gut bacteria3.
Whether or not you are intolerant to lactose, dairy can be triggering for leaky gut symptoms. Dairy products such as full-fat milk and cheese should be limited. Margarine, shortening, and lard should be excluded as well. Dairy alternatives enriched in calcium and in vitamin D could be a good substitute.
What you drink can also play a role in a leaky gut. Sodas, energy drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages can increase inflammation. Some people have found that caffeinated coffee and tea can worsen their symptoms. Research has shown that alcohol has been linked to an increase in leaky gut and might want to be limited4.
What foods should you avoid during flare-ups?
If you’re having increased intestinal permeability symptoms, raw fruits and veggies can be triggering because they are packed with fiber and harder to digest. To help with digestibility, try cooking the vegetables or blending the fruit into a smoothie instead. Similarly, whole grain foods, like bread and pasta, can be hard to digest when having symptoms, so they might have to be limited during flare-ups.
What foods should you eat while following a leaky gut diet?
While healing leaky gut, it's best to prioritize foods that have anti-inflammatory properties to them. Anti-inflammatory foods should be eaten in abundance because reducing the inflammation in your gut could help rebuild a healthy gut lining and stop further leakage.
Examples of anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Green, leafy vegetables - such as spinach, kale, and collards
- Fruits - such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges
- Olive oil - and foods containing healthy fats
- Nuts - such as almonds and walnuts
- Fatty fish - such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines 7.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet incorporates a lot of anti-inflammatory foods. The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy oils, nuts, and fish. The World Health Organization recognizes the Mediterranean diet as a sustainable and healthy diet8. This way of eating is based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
If eating the Mediterranean way, you should focus on the daily consumption of healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fish, poultry, and eggs should be consumed a couple of times a week. Eat dairy products in moderation and limit your intake of red meat (beef, lamb, and pork). Make sure to spice it up! Adding spices and herbs reduces the need for salt.
Some other foods that can be eaten to help with leaky gut are poultry (such as chicken or turkey breast), soups, low fat cheese, tofu and other meat alternatives, yogurts, flax, chia, and other seeds, and fermented food that is rich in beneficial bacteria (such as yogurt, kombucha, and kefir).
Studies say that probiotics can help with leaky gut and its symptoms. Probiotics, also popular with a SIBO diet plan, are “good bacteria” that we eat for our digestive health. They are made up of different strains or a combination of strains. Probiotics can help alter and equalize the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiota. The gut microbiota is made up of over 2,500 different species of bacteria, both “bad” and “good.” A leaky gut can be persistent when the balance of beneficial gut bacteria is off.
Probiotics can help improve your digestive health by remedying the symptoms of leaky gut, strengthening the tissue of the bowel wall, regulating the response of your immune system, and decreasing inflammation. Probiotics may be useful in remedying leaky gut syndrome, but their effectiveness might differ based on the already existing strains in your gut and the ones that you ingest9.
Probiotics can also help form an intestinal barrier and improve the intestinal lining block undigested food particles, toxic waste, and bugs from entering into the bloodstream10. Product research is very important when selecting a probiotic to add to your leaky gut diet plan and finding the one that works best for you. Consider using an evidence-based supplement from Bio K+ probiotics, a unique probiotic formula that helps keep bad bacteria in check and maximizes the intake of beneficial bacteria, and balances the intestinal microbiota.
What are some meal ideas for a leaky gut diet?
A leaky gut diet can be flexible and personalized based on an individual’s nutritional needs and trigger foods. It may take some time to figure out what foods your body can tolerate and which ones it can’t. Consult a registered dietitian to ensure the compliance with your food intolerances and limit any nutritional deficiencies.
Need some fun meal ideas? Here are a couple of meal plans to get you started.
- Breakfast: Omelet packed with your favorite veggies, a fruit smoothie with chia seeds, or Greek yogurt with fruit and granola on top.
- Lunch: A chopped salad with salmon, a veggie burger or turkey burger, or chicken lettuce wraps
- Dinner: Chicken with roasted Brussel sprouts and brown rice, salmon with baked kale chips and oat groats, and spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and chicken meatballs.
De Filippo, C., Cavalieri, D., Di Paola, M., Ramazzotti, M., Poullet, J. B., Massart, S., … Lionetti, P. (2010, August 17). Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2930426/.
How Much Is Too Much? SugarScience.UCSF.edu. (2018, December 8). https://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption.html#.YIq_PrVKhPY.
Leech, A. J. (2020, May 6). Best Probiotics For Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Explained. Diet vs Disease. http://www.dietvsdisease.org/probiotics-ibs/.
Marcelo Campos, M. D. (2019, October 24). Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you? Harvard Health Blog. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451.
Matijašić, M., Meštrović, T., Perić, M., Čipčić Paljetak, H., Panek, M., Vranešić Bender, D., … Verbanac, D. (2016, April 19). Modulating Composition and Metabolic Activity of the Gut Microbiota in IBD Patients. International journal of molecular sciences. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4849034/.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019, June 21). Mediterranean diet for heart health. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801.
OUP Academic. (2018, December 10). Impact of Chronic Dietary Red Meat, White Meat, or Non-Meat Protein on Trimethylamine N-Oxide Metabolism and Renal Excretion in Healthy Men and Women. https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/40/7/583/5232723.
Publishing, H. H. (n.d.). Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Health. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation.
SP;, G. K. R. H. (n.d.). Intestinal barrier function: molecular regulation and disease pathogenesis. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19560575/.
Zhang, M., & Yang, X.-J. (2016, October 28). Effects of a high fat diet on intestinal microbiota and gastrointestinal diseases. World journal of gastroenterology. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5083795/.