What to Eat on the Leaky Gut Diet (2024)

The leaky gut diet refers to a way of eating that is intended to heal intestinal hyperpermeability, also known as leaky gut syndrome.

Leaky gut syndrome is not an official medical diagnosis. It's a term used to explain a cluster of symptoms attributed to damage in the intestinal lining that allows larger particles to leak through. This can lead to digestive problems, nutrient deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, and other health issues.

Leaky gut can be caused by gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, medications, or chemicals found in processed foods. Fortunately, research shows making dietary changes can help to heal a leaky gut.

This article discusses the leaky gut diet. It explains how different foods help to promote gut health and foods to avoid if you have a leaky gut.

What to Eat on the Leaky Gut Diet (1)

How a Leaky Gut Might Affect You

Intestinal hyperpermeability interferes with digestion and can lead to body-wide inflammation. Under normal circ*mstances, the intestines absorb water and nutrients from what you eat and provide a protective barrierto keep bacteria and byproducts from getting into your bloodstream.

This process is regulated by the size of the gaps (junctions) in the wall of your intestines. If the intestinal wall is damaged, cracks or holes can develop. These holes allow larger particles (partially digested food, bacteria, and toxins) to leak into the bloodstream. This can trigger an immune system reaction prompting systemic inflammation and illness.

Leaky gut is often thought of as a digestive health issue, but it is also linked to a wide array of conditions. Symptoms that may be related to leaky gut include:

  • Abdominal bloating and gas
  • Acne
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Autoimmune reactions
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Diarrhea
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Frequent infections
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Nonfatty liver disease
  • Obesity
  • Psoriasis
  • Type 1 diabetes

What Causes Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Leaky gut is more common in people with chronic GI conditions like celiac, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

It may also be caused by common medications, like antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), and opioids. Lifestyle factors—diet, alcohol, smoking, stress, and environmental toxins—also play a role.

Benefits of a Leaky Gut Diet

The leaky gut diet involves eating foods rich in certain nutrients while avoiding foods that irritate the digestive tract. Research shows following a leaky gut diet helps to:

  • Ease digestive symptoms
  • Relieve intestinal inflammation
  • Repair damage in the intestinal lining
  • Restore balance to the intestinal microbiome to improve gut health

The leaky gut diet may also relieve non-digestive symptoms related to intestinal hyperpermeability. Autoimmune diseases and inflammation, in particular, appear to benefit from the leaky gut diet.

Research shows nutritional compounds in the leaky gut diet help heal a leaky gut in the following ways:

  • Probiotics help to balance the intestinal microbiome and play other important roles in digestion and gut health.
  • Vitamins A and D help to repair the intestinal wall and regulate immune system responses.
  • Dietary fiber not only helps you stay regular, but it also stimulates the production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids and contains anti-inflammatory properties that protect the intestinal barrier.
  • Amino acids, like glutamine and arginine, help calm inflammation, regulate immune responses, and seal “leaky” gaps in the intestinal wall.
  • Polyphenols, plant compounds rich in antioxidants, combat oxidative stress that may contribute to intestinal permeability.

How Long to Follow a Leaky Gut Diet

The leaky gut diet may be used on a temporary or permanent basis. Some people only need to follow the diet temporarily to heal the intestinal lining and relieve short-term symptoms. If you're using a leaky gut diet to help treat a chronic health condition, following the diet long-term can help prevent symptoms flares.

What to Eat on the Leaky Gut Diet

The leaky gut diet centers around whole, unprocessed foods with a focus on foods with nutrients that promote gut health. These include:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Eggs
  • Chicken or turkey breast without the skin, lean cuts of pork
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, herring)
  • Soups, bone broth
  • Cultured dairy products and dairy alternatives
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Tofu, tempeh, meat alternatives
  • Nuts and smooth nut butter
  • Sourdough bread, gluten-free grains, and whole grains
  • Flax, chia, and other seeds
  • Probiotic-rich fermented foods (yogurt, kombucha, kefir)
  • Water, coconut water, fruit juice without sugar, hot or iced tea

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber that help to heal intestinal hyperpermeability and promote gut health.

Plant-based sources of vitamin A include leafy greens like collard greens, kale, lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard; yellow and orange fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, and apricots; red peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, summer squash, and zucchini.

Polyphenols resveratrol and quercetin are abundant in apples, blueberries, blackberries, citrus fruits, dark cherries,grapes, and onions.

Mushrooms, the only plant-based source of vitamin D, contain other compounds that promote gut health. Look for chaga, king trumpet, maitake, lion’s mane, shiitake, and turkey tail mushroom varieties, which have been shown in studies to reduce intestinal hyperpermeability.

Fermented vegetables, like artichokes, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, and tempeh, are excellent sources of probiotics.

Grains

Grains can be beneficial or problematic, depending on the individual, and some grains are better for gut health than others.

For example, wheat may trigger gastrointestinal symptoms in people who are sensitive to gluten. For people without gluten sensitivity, sourdough bread is recommended due to its probiotics.

Whole grains, like brown rice and steel-cut oats, contain dietary fiber and other nutrients that support healthy digestion. However, large doses of fiber can also trigger GI symptoms. If you aren't already eating a lot of fiber, gradually add more to your diet.

Why a Bland Diet Helps Digestive Upset

Dairy

Yogurt and kefir containing live active probiotic cultures are considered the most beneficial foods for healing leaky gut. The only other dairy product recommended on the leaky gut diet is low-fat cheese.

Dairy is generally problematic for people with GI disorders. Experts estimate two-thirds of adults have low levels of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the sugar in dairy. Known as lactose intolerance, it causes bloating, diarrhea, and gas after consuming dairy.

Products made from almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, and hemp milk are good dairy alternatives. However, these products may contain emulsifiers, like carrageenans, gums, or lecithins, that should be avoided on the leaky gut diet.

What Are the Best Probiotics for Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Studies show probiotics can help to reduce intestinal permeability and promote gut health in a number of other ways. Five probiotic strains beneficial for leaky gut syndrome include:

  • Lactobacillus (L.) acidophilus
  • L. plantarum
  • L. rhamnosus GG
  • Bifidobacterium (B.) animalis lactis BB-12
  • B. infantis

Protein

Animal proteins contain amino acids arginine and glutamine, which are the building blocks for repairing damaged intestinal walls.

Egg yolks, liver, and fish are protein-rich sources of vitamin A, and fatty fish—trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel—are excellent sources of vitamin D. Both vitamins are recommended for healing a leaky gut.

Fermented soy products like tempeh and miso pack protein and probiotics that are beneficial for gut health. Tofu is also recommended on the leaky gut diet.

Nuts, nut butters, and seeds are also good sources of protein, amino acids, and other nutrients known to support gut health. These foods are also high in fat, though, and can be difficult for some people with GI disorders to digest.

Beverages

Hydration is essential for digestive health, so be sure to drink plenty of water. Other drinks that can promote gut health include:

  • Ginger tea
  • Licorice root tea
  • Marshmallow root tea
  • Peppermint tea
  • Probiotic-rich fermented beverages like Kombucha and kefir
  • Tea from the Camellia Sinensis plant, which includes green, black, orange, white, or oolong teas

Herbs and Spices

Many herbs and spices contain polyphenols like berberine, catechin, curcumin, quercetin, and resveratrol that are beneficial for gut health. Spices recommended on the leaky gut diet include:

  • Basil
  • Celery seed
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Cumin
  • Ginger
  • Lemon verbena
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Turmeric

When to Eat

There is no set schedule for eating on the leaky gut diet. People with GI ailments often find eating smaller meals with snacks throughout the day helps to control their symptoms without going hungry.

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Foods to Avoid with a Leaky Gut

The leaky gut diet eliminates excessive fats, sugars, additives, and ultra-processed foods. Research shows these foods contribute to intestinal hyperpermeability. The biggest offenders: sugar, salt, gluten, alcohol (and its metabolites), and emulsifiers.

Foods to avoid on the leaky gut diet include:

  • Alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and liquor
  • Beans, legumes, corn, cruciferous vegetables
  • Bran, cereal or granola with nuts/fruit, dried fruit
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Greasy, fatty, spicy, or fried foods
  • Lunchmeat, processed meat (hotdogs, sausage)
  • Pastries, cakes, cookies, candy, chocolate
  • Processed snack foods and desserts
  • Refined carbs and sugar
  • Sugar alcohols such as xylitol and sorbitol
  • Soda and energy drinks
  • Tough or fatty cuts of meat

Some people, particularly those with digestive health problems, may also want to stay off of foods that irritate their symptoms. This can include:

  • Caffeinated coffee and tea
  • Gluten, including bread, pasta, crackers
  • Brown, multigrain, or wild rice
  • Raw fruits and veggies with skin and seeds

What Are Emulsifiers?

Emulsifiers, food additives used to mix two substances that typically separate when combined, can contribute to leaky gut syndrome. They are found in many processed food products, including bread, baked goods, ice cream, margarine, and salad dressings.

On the leaky gut diet, avoid products that contain the following emulsifiers:

  • Carboxymethylcellulose
  • Carrageenans
  • Guar gum
  • Lecithin
  • Locust bean gum
  • Maltodextrin
  • Polysorbate 80
  • Xantham gum

Who Should Follow the Leaky Gut Diet

Leaky gut syndrome is associated with GI diseases like IBD, IBS, and celiac, as well as non-GI conditions like autoimmune diseases, heart disease, obesity, and type 1 diabetes.

The leaky gut diet is recommended for people who are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and gas. People with allergies or a diagnosed autoimmune disease may also benefit from the eating plan.

People who are experiencing unexplained symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, or recurring infections may also find the leaky gut diet helpful.

Sample Menus

The leaky gut diet is centered around whole, unprocessed foods. This may require more meal prepping than you are used to. Aim to eat a variety of different foods throughout the week.

Breakfast

Breakfast ideas for the leaky gut diet include:

  • Egg-centered dishes like omelets, scrambled eggs with vegetables, or veggie frittatas. Stick to recipes that are dairy-free or allow low-fat cheese only. Add a side of fruit, roasted potatoes, or gluten-free toast
  • Greek yogurt mixed with fruit and nuts, like blueberries and sliced almonds or sliced bananas and walnuts.
  • Smoothies made with no-sugar-added yogurt or dairy-free milk. Add a mix of fruit, like berries or cherries, and leafy-green vegetables, like spinach or kale.
  • Steel-cut oats made with water or dairy-free milk. Add in fruit, nuts, or seeds and spices like cinnamon.
  • Tofu scramble made with crumbled firm or extra firm tofu seasoned with turmeric (to give it an egg-like appearance), leafy greens, and mushrooms.

Lunch

Ideas for lunch on the leaky gut diet include:

  • Bone-broth or miso soup and salad
  • Mixed leafy greens salad with hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken breast, or salmon
  • Quinoa salad with vegetables and roasted turkey breast
  • Reheated leftovers from last night's dinner
  • Roasted beets with goat cheese and walnuts over baby greens
  • Sweet potatoes stuffed with ground turkey and vegetables
  • Steamed vegetables with fish or grilled chicken

Dinner

Dinner suggestions for the leaky gut diet include:

  • Beef and broccoli stir-fry with brown rice and kimchi
  • Grilled lemon chicken
  • Ground turkey and sautéed spinach and onions topped with mashed sweet potatoes
  • Pork chops with sauerkraut and sautéed apples or applesauce
  • Roasted chicken, vegetables, and potatoes
  • Roasted tempeh with carrots, Brussels sprouts, and quinoa
  • Steamed chicken and vegetables with brown rice
  • Zucchini ribbons topped with tomato sauce made with lean ground beef, mushrooms, onions, and peppers

Snacks

If you get hungry between meals, try these healthy snack options on the leaky gut diet:

  • Crudité: Raw vegetables like celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumbers, sliced bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus spears
  • Fruit: Apples, berries, grapes, melon, pears, or other fruit
  • Guacamole: Use sliced red peppers or baby carrots instead of tortilla chips
  • Low-fat or nonfat cheese: Try part-skim string cheese or low-fat varieties of other cheeses, like cheddar, Colby, Gouda, or pepper-jack cheese
  • Nuts: Opt for dry-roasted unsalted nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts
  • Seeds: Chia, flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower flower seeds roasted without salt
  • Yogurt: No-sugar-added varieties that contain live active probiotics

Cooking Tips

The leaky gut diet relies on unprocessed foods, which means you may need to spend more time in the kitchen.

One way to save time during the work week is to prep meals in advance on the weekend or double recipes to have leftovers. Portion meals into individual servings, store in the freezer, and reheat in the microwave when you are ready to eat.

Meals can also be made in a slow cooker (like a Crockpot), where the ingredients simmer together on a low setting over several hours, or in a pressure cooker (like an InstaPot), which uses high-pressure steam to shorten cooking time.

Fermenting is another popular way to prepare food and boost its probiotic content, which may help regulate intestinal permeability.

If you plan on eating in a restaurant or ordering takeout, look for gluten- and dairy-free dishes that are steamed, grilled, broiled, or roasted.

Avoid condiments, dressings, gravies, and sauces made with added sugar or thickened with wheat flour. Fried foods, which, in addition to being unhealthy, can be difficult to digest and should not be eaten on the leaky gut diet.

Tips for Special Health Needs

The leaky gut diet can be modified to accommodate special dietary needs and personal taste preferences. If you havefood allergies or certain health conditions or are vegetarian, work with your healthcare provider or dietitian to ensure your nutritional needs are met.

People with celiac disease need to avoid products with wheat or gluten. Avoid gluten-free products made with legume flours, such as chickpeas (garbanzo beans), fava beans, mung beans, navy beans, pinto beans, or white beans.

Vegetarians will need to make sure they are eating enough plant-based proteins while also avoiding legumes.

People with high cholesterol should limit their intake of saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories. People with hypertension need to limit their salt intake to 1,500 mg to 2,300 mg.

Those with IBS or IBD may be advised to follow the low-FODMAP diet, which can be incorporated into the leaky gut diet.

Many people with GI problems find it difficult to digest raw fruit and vegetables. Try boiling, grilling, roasting, microwaving, or steaming them instead.

Fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut can cause digestive discomfort for some people. Start with small portions and gradually increase your intake of these foods or try yogurt or a probiotic supplement instead.

If your current diet does not contain a lot of fiber, add fiber-rich foods into your diet slowly to prevent GI upset. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories of food a day. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, slowly add more fiber to your diet until you reach 28 grams of fiber a day.

Side Effectsof the Leaky Gut Diet

You might notice changes in your digestion any time you change how or what you eat. It's not unusual to have some temporary upset while your body adjusts. For example, if you alter the amount of fiber in your diet, you'll likely see a direct effect on your bowel habits.

Usually, these changes will "level out" as your body gets used to your diet. However, if they do not or they get worse, you may need to reconsider the change. If you become constipated, drinking more water or adding a fiber supplement might be enough to correct it.

Keeping a food and symptom journal can help to identify any foods that may be problematic to you.

What to Eat on the Leaky Gut Diet (2024)

FAQs

What is the fastest way to heal a leaky gut? ›

avoiding foods that commonly cause symptoms, such as sugar, gluten, and dairy. adding probiotics to repopulate healthy gut bacteria. eating fermented foods, such as pickles, yogurt, and sauerkraut, which can help heal the gut. considering supplements, such as L-glutamine, which may heal the intestinal lining.

Are bananas good for a leaky gut? ›

Bananas are considered one of the best gut healing foods for individuals with leaky gut. They are easily digestible and gentle on the gastrointestinal system. All these qualities makes banana a soothing choice for those with digestive issues.

What is the best bread for leaky gut? ›

The best bread to reduce gut inflammation is bread made from whole grains. Refined grains, such as the grains found in white bread and white pasta, are known to increase inflammation across the whole body. Sourdough bread and rye bread are both good options for an anti-inflammatory diet.

Are eggs bad for a leaky gut? ›

Eggs. These nutritional powerhouses are a source of vitamin D, which is essential for a healthy gut. Bone broth. Homemade broth (or stock) contains collagen and glutamine—proteins that are essential for healing the gut lining.

Is peanut butter good for a leaky gut? ›

If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune or thyroid disease or believe you have a leaky gut, you should avoid these inflammatory foods: Grains and pseudo-grains include wheat, barley, rye, quinoa, buckwheat, chia seeds, and more. Legumes such as lentils, peanuts, chickpeas, and soybeans.

What is the best drink for leaky gut? ›

Bone Broth

“Bone broth is easy on the stomach and can be enjoyed as a drink or in cooking,” Tamburello says. “Amino acids found in bone broth protect the gut lining, balance the body's immune response, and have anti-inflammatory effects. Collagen in bone broth also supports a healthy intestinal lining.”

Is drinking water good for leaky gut? ›

When you don't drink enough water, you might cause inflammation of the intestinal lining. This can lead to leaky gut symptoms such as bloating and cramps. If you drink a glass of water after every meal, you will help flush out toxins and help the digestion of the food you've just eaten.

Is Ezekiel bread ok for leaky gut? ›

Usually the only way to know if you can tolerate grains and wheat gluten is to notice if you experience any sort of grain-related symptoms, such as leaky gut syndrome or gluten sensitivity. If you have a gluten intolerance, you may or may not find that Ezekiel bread is a healthy bread option for you.

What foods should I avoid to reduce inflammation? ›

Foods that can be inflammatory: Highly processed foods, like corn chips, fried foods and too much red meat, sugar, wheat, rye and barley in people with gluten allergies of celiac disease.

Is coffee good for a leaky gut? ›

Many people with leaky gut, or any of the autoimmune conditions associated with leaky gut, report that coffee consumption triggers leaky gut symptoms, such as diarrhea or stomach pain. For this reason, many people with leaky gut cut out coffee as they work to heal their leaky gut.

Is drinking lots of water good for leaky gut? ›

Drink More Water and Eat More Slowly

This can lead to leaky gut symptoms such as bloating and cramps. If you drink a glass of water after every meal, you will help flush out toxins and help the digestion of the food you've just eaten. Taking time to eat regular meals is also important.

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