What is Leaky Gut?
Leaky Gut is a not-so-fancy way of talking about “increased intestinal permeability” also referred to as “intestinal hyperpermeability”. This basically means that the lining of the intestine, which is supposed to keep the contents of our digestive system separate from the rest of our body (moving food only from tongue to tail), has become compromised, leaky, and allows large particles to move across the gut membrane and into our bloodstream. Our bodies then have to mount an immune response to these particles, which could be things like chemicals or food proteins, which can then in turn lead to all sorts of health problems, including food allergies, mood disorders, chronic health challenges and autoimmune conditions.
What are the symptoms of leaky gut?
Leaky gut may result in digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea, but often presents itself as more complex symptoms like food allergies, eczema and rashes, migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, weight gain, blood sugar issues including Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroid syndrome, mood issues including depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia, infertility and a whole range of autoimmune conditions.
What can I do to heal a leaky gut?
Dietary intervention is extremely helpful in healing leaky gut and there are several gut healing protocols like the GAPS Diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), Body Ecology Diet (BED) and the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol. What all of these diets have in common is the removal of problematic foods, like gluten, hard-to-digest grains, legumes, sugars and starches, and the inclusion of healing foods like bone broths, pasture-raised meats, organically grown vegetables, healing fats and naturally cultured or fermented foods.
In our practice, we work extensively with clients who are addressing leaky gut and other gut issues (like Candida overgrowth, parasites and IBS) and in addition to a healing diet, we may recommend supplements or other measures to improve digestion, balance blood sugar handling, replenish deficient minerals and support hormonal balance. However, even if you aren’t working with a practitioner, you can begin to support your gut health today by removing the problematic foods and including gut-healing foods.
Foods to Include in Your Diet
Homemade broth, or stock, made from chicken, beef or other meat bones
Bone broth is an extremely healing food. Full of soothing gelatin, easy to digest, chock full of easily absorbable minerals, this is a gut healing (and traditional food cooking) staple. Read more about bone broths here, here and here. I have also shared this video of how to easily and inexpensively prepare broth at home.
Healthy meats, from pasture-raised animals, are nutrient-dense and can be especially healing for the gut when the cuts include bone and fat and are slow-cooked or braised, like this pot roast or braised lamb.
Healthy, Natural Fats
Healthy fats are absolutely vital to our health. Despite what you may have heard during the past misinformed, fat phobic decades, natural fats, including saturated fat, are not problematic for our health. Processed, trans fats, oxidized cholesterol and refined polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils like corn, cottonseed, canola and soybean oils) are the fats you want to avoid, but natural fats like those from organically raised and pastured animals (butter, ghee, tallow and lard), pure olive oil, avocados and non-hydrogenated coconut oil should be plentiful in your diet, especially when supporting your gut health.
Naturally Cultured or Fermented Foods
Fermented, or cultured foods, are critical for gut health and not only confer health benefits because of their probiotic content, but also because the macro- and micro- nutrient content is enhanced and these foods more easily absorbed and used by the body. We often think of cultured dairy, like yogurt, as our only option, but the variety of cultured foods spans further than that. Vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, etc), fruits (chutneys and preserved fruits), beverages (water kefir, kombucha, beet kvass, etc), grains (sourdough bread), dairy products (dairy kefir, yogurt, crème fraiche, sour cream, etc.) and condiments (homemade ketchup, fish sauce, soy sauce/tamari, fermented salsa, etc) are all examples of foods that can be naturally fermented or cultured.
Resources to Get Started
GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Starter Kit
GAPS is a gut-healing protocol focused on eliminating and then slowly reintroducing a variety of foods to the diet so as to support gut health and address issues concerning compromised gut health leading to various autoimmune responses, cognitive and neurological issues. This GAPS Starter Kit is designed to take the guess-work out of implementing the GAPS diet while providing simple, practical and actionable resources for those beginning the GAPS diet. It includes the GAPS Introduction eBook, 4 months of meal plans, a GAPS freezer cooking guide and paperback cookbook. You can check it out here.