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Leaky gut diet

Overview, foods, sample menu, and tips

Improve your gut health with this leaky gut diet plan, which includes a sample meal plan and can help alleviate symptoms associated with leaky gut syndrome, a condition that may be linked to chronic and autoimmune diseases.

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Leaky gut diet: Overview, foods, sample menu, and tips
Last updated on February 4, 2024, and last reviewed by an expert on August 20, 2023.

Optimizing your diet for gut health can make a significant difference, especially if you’re battling conditions related to a leaky gut. Steering clear of processed foods and embracing those that foster the growth of beneficial gut bacteria can alleviate many digestive symptoms.

Leaky gut diet: Overview, foods, sample menu, and tips

The concept of “leaky gut” has risen to prominence lately.

Sometimes referred to as increased intestinal permeability, this condition signifies a weakening in the intestinal walls. This allows substances like bacteria, toxins, and undigested food to seep through the intestinal barriers and into the bloodstream.

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Research links this heightened permeability in the intestines to numerous chronic and autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes and celiac disease.

Dive deeper into understanding leaky gut, its underlying reasons, and its implications. Plus, discover a selection of foods that bolster digestive wellness and explore a curated 1-week meal guide.

In this article

What is leaky gut syndrome?

Leaky gut syndrome refers to a hypothesized condition resulting from enhanced intestinal permeability.

Our digestive system is crucial in breaking down food, absorbing essential nutrients and water, and expelling waste. The lining of your intestines functions as a protective shield, ensuring harmful substances from your food don’t make their way into your bloodstream.

It’s within these intestines that the absorption of nutrients and water primarily happens. These intestines possess what are known as tight junctions - tiny spaces that permit the passage of water and nutrients into your bloodstream.

The ease with which substances travel through the intestinal walls defines the term “intestinal permeability.”

Certain medical conditions may cause these tight junctions to widen, which could potentially let harmful elements, including bacteria, toxins, or even undigested food particles, seep into your bloodstream.

Many alternative health experts suggest that a leaky gut can induce a rise in inflammation and initiate immune responses, resulting in many health issues often referred to as leaky gut syndrome.

It’s believed that a leaky gut might contribute to various issues, from autoimmune disorders and migraines to food sensitivities, skin issues, brain fog, and persistent fatigue.

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However, substantial scientific evidence confirming the existence of leaky gut syndrome is limited, leading many traditional doctors to dismiss it as an official medical condition.

While it’s acknowledged that heightened intestinal permeability is real and can be associated with various ailments, its role remains ambiguous, whether as a mere symptom or a primary driver of chronic diseases.

Summary: Leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability, occurs when the tight junctions of your intestinal walls loosen. This may allow harmful substances like bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles to pass into your bloodstream.

What causes leaky gut?

The exact cause of leaky gut is a mystery.

However, increased intestinal permeability is well known and occurs alongside several chronic diseases, including celiac disease and type 1 diabetes.

Zonulin is a protein that regulates tight junctions. Research has shown that higher protein levels may loosen tight junctions and increase intestinal permeability.

Two factors are known to stimulate higher zonulin levels in certain individuals — bacteria and gluten.

Consistent evidence shows that gluten increases intestinal permeability in people with celiac disease.

Research shows mixed results regarding gluten’s effect on intestinal permeability. While test-tube studies suggest a correlation, human studies have not observed the same effect in healthy adults or those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Aside from zonulin, other factors can also increase intestinal permeability.

Research shows that higher levels of inflammatory mediators, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin 13 (IL-13), or the long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, may increase intestinal permeability.

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Furthermore, low levels of healthy gut bacteria may have the same effect. This is called gut dysbiosis.

Summary: The exact cause of leaky gut remains a mystery, but certain proteins like zonulin and markers of inflammation provide some clues. Other potential causes include long-term NSAID use and an imbalance of gut bacteria known as gut dysbiosis.

Foods to eat on a leaky gut diet

Leaky gut syndrome is not recognized as a medical condition, so there is no specific treatment. However, there are many ways to improve your overall digestive health.

One is to eat a diet rich in foods that aid the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. An unhealthy collection of gut bacteria has been linked to poor health outcomes, including chronic inflammation, cancers, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

The following foods are great options for improving your digestive health:

Summary: A diet that promotes digestive health should focus on fibrous vegetables, fruits, fermented vegetables, cultured dairy products, healthy fats, and lean, unprocessed meats.

Foods to avoid on a leaky gut diet

Avoiding certain foods is equally important for improving your gut health.

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Some foods have been shown to cause inflammation in your body, which may promote the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria that are linked to many chronic diseases.

The following list contains foods that may harm healthy gut bacteria, as well as some that are believed to trigger digestive symptoms, such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea:

Summary: Avoiding processed junk foods, alcohol, sugary beverages, refined oils, and artificial sweeteners may aid the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Cutting out foods containing gluten or common stimulants of digestive symptoms may also help.

1-week sample menu for the leaky gut diet

Discover a nutritious 1-week meal plan designed to boost your digestive wellness.

This plan emphasizes foods that foster the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and eliminates those known to trigger adverse digestive reactions.

Several dishes include sauerkraut, a fermented cabbage delight that’s straightforward, affordable, and quick to make.

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Summary: A healthy gut menu should be rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or cultured dairy products like Greek yogurt are also excellent additions, as they’re a great source of healthy gut bacteria.

Other ways to improve your gut health

Although diet is critical to improving gut health, you can take many other steps.

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Here are some more ways to improve your gut health:

If you think you have leaky gut syndrome, consider getting tested for celiac disease.

The two disorders can have overlapping symptoms.

Some people also find that diets like the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet may ease leaky gut symptoms. However, this diet is incredibly restrictive, and no scientific studies support its health claims.

Summary: Aside from diet, try taking a probiotic supplement, reducing stress levels, sleeping more, avoiding smoking, and limiting alcohol intake to improve your gut health.

Summary

“Intestinal permeability” is a term that describes the condition where tiny gaps appear in the intestinal walls, allowing substances like bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles to easily enter the bloodstream.

While the idea of “leaky gut syndrome” has been proposed to stem from increased intestinal permeability, it’s worth noting that many medical professionals do not recognize it as an official diagnosis. This is primarily because there’s limited evidence to suggest that this condition is a major health concern on its own.

Interestingly, heightened intestinal permeability has been observed alongside chronic ailments such as celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. Yet, it’s more probable that this occurrence is a result of these diseases rather than a precursor to them.

Regardless, maintaining optimal digestive health is crucial.

To enhance gut health, consider incorporating foods that bolster the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. This includes choices like fresh fruits, fermented dairy items, wholesome fats, lean proteins, and fiber-rich and fermented vegetables.

It’s also wise to steer clear of overly processed or refined foods.

Further measures to support your gut include consuming probiotic supplements, managing stress effectively, moderating NSAID intake, minimizing alcohol consumption, and ensuring adequate sleep.

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