Ever wondered why all of a sudden your body doesn’t seem to tolerate your favourite foods well? How unfair is it that some of your favourite foods can make you feel so terrible? Why is that? Well if your gut is leaking, this might be why your favourite foods are starting to irritate you more than satisfy you! Leaky gut is also known as increased intestinal permeability. It’s when the cells lining our intestines (our gut) separate leaving large holes. These cells are supposed to be tightly connected to make sure only appropriate nutrients can get into the bloodstream and to keep other not so friendly things out.
When the intestinal cells weaken ad begin to separate, this allows the gut lining to “leak” allowing damaged proteins, undigested food particles, toxins, bacteria and other waste products into the bloodstream where they don’t belong. When substances that shouldn’t be there get into our bloodstream through the leaks in our gut, our immune system goes into overdrive. This is because these particles that leaked out look very similar to other foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria so our immune system is simply doing its job…..to attack with an inflammatory response which is our body’s primary healing mechanism. This inflammatory response is what causes painful stomach flare ups and other symptoms associated with a food allergy or a food intolerance/sensitivity.
Leaky gut has been linked with a number of health issues including food allergies, celiac disease, autoimmune diseases (e.g., Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Hashimoto’s, asthma, type 1 diabetes, acne, eczema), joint pain, and neurological problems (e.g., multiple sclerosis). Some research shows that leaky gut might contribute to or worsen these conditions. While some of our gut permeability may have a genetic factor, there are lifestyle habits that contribute as well. Too much sugar or alcohol, and not enough fibre can make things worse. Even certain compounds in foods (e.g., gluten, lectins, casein, fructose) and food additives (e.g., MSG) can weaken tight junctions.
Now the good news is a leaky gut can be fixed! All we need to do is follow a 3-phase methodology I call the ERASER method:
Phase 1: Elimination & Rest
Phase 2: Add in and Soothe
Phase 3: Elimination (Secondary) and Reintroduce
(Spoiler Alert! This is the exact same methodology I teach in The Gut Recovery Programme!
Let’s take a closer look at this methodology:
Phase 1. Elimination & Rest:
There are certain foods that irritate the gut or can cause those loosened junctions to get even looser. These foods need to be eliminated from the diet for several weeks in order to allow the digestive organs to take a load off, rest and start to recover. Some of these irritants include:
- Foods that you know you’re allergic to
- Foods with added sugar
- Foods containing MSG, soy and other artificial additives/preservatives
- Foods with sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners (e.g., sorbitol)
- Gluten-containing grains (e.g., wheat, rye)
- White, refined foods (white flour, white bread, white pasta, white rice)
- Dairy (which contains casein & lactose)
- Excessive alcohol
- Yeast/fungus (ie; mushrooms)
It’s a good idea to reduce these foods and if leaky gut is a confirmed issue for you, avoid them until the leaky gut has been addressed.
Phase 2. Add back in and Soothe:
There are also a lot of foods that support gut health, including the intestinal cells themselves, and our friendly gut microbes. Many of these also reduce inflammation which helps to soothe and heal the intestinal lining as it recovers from month, potentially even years of constant irritation. These types of foods include:
- Probiotic-rich fermented foods (e.g., sauerkraut, kimchi)
- Prebiotic fibre-rich foods which help our gut microbes produce butyrate (e.g., leafy greens, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds)
- Glutamine-rich foods (e.g., bone broth, chicken, fish)
- Zinc-rich foods (e.g., shellfish, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans)
- Quercetin-rich foods (e.g., lemons, limes, oranges, apples, onions)
- Indole-rich foods (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard greens)
In addition, there are certain food supplements and herbs that can help to further heal and re-balance the gut which will help to improve digestion overall. These foods include:
- Curcumin-rich Turmeric
- Slippery Elm
- Marshmallow Root
- DGL (deglycyrrhised licorice)
- Aloe vera gel
Phase 3. Elimination (Secondary) and Reintroduction:
The final stage may not always be necessary for everyone but is certainly worth consideration. After several weeks of removing the most common irritants and allowing the gut to heal and re-balance, most people tend to feel a lot better. But for some, their uncomfortable, sometimes even painful symptoms may persist. This is when you need to dive deeper! It might be that your body is struggling to digest even some healthy foods that in most people don’t cause a problem. Foods like fruit, beans, legumes, multi-grains, fish, nuts, seeds, etc.
Remember no two bodies are the same and we all have different levels and variety of enzymes, bacteria and stomach acid. All of which are essential for optimum digestion and absorption. Significant imbalances in any of these elements could be the reason why you are still struggling with some foods….even the healthy ones! If this is the case, secondary elimination is your best approach. This is where you now take the time to eliminate and then re-introduce one food at a time from your diet to help you identify the trigger food. Using a journal to track what you are eating and how you feel is a key strategy that will help you a lot!
Now, unfortunately it’s not just what you eat that can affect your gut. Other lifestyle habits can have an impact too. Try:
- Eating slower and chewing better to help break down food more efficiently
- Eating when hungry, and stopping when satisfied
- Going to the bathroom when you need to (don’t hold it for longer than necessary)
- Getting more high-quality sleep
- Better stress management
So in conclusion, to help keep our guts (and our bodies) in optimal condition, there are a lot of foods we should eat (and lots we should reduce). Sticking with nutrient-dense unprocessed foods is always a good plan, whether you have gut issues, other concerns, or feel completely healthy. And, don’t forget the importance of a healthy lifestyle like good eating habits, sleep, and stress management.
Take a look at this yummy, powerhouse side dish you will want to serve up for dinner this week!
Recipe: Turmeric Greens (Serves 4)
2 bunches leafy greens (kale, chard, collards), washed and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp turmeric
2 dashes salt and pepper Instructions:
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the greens and a splash of water.
- Sauté until the greens start to wilt.
- Remove from heat and sprinkle with lemon juice, turmeric, salt and pepper.
- Serve & enjoy!