A leaky gut diet may help heal intestinal permeability that can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Here’s what to eat and what to avoid when you’re trying to heal a leaky gut.

Fresh produce, dried beans, and honey on a white surface.

What is leaky gut syndrome?

In a healthy individual, the walls of the intestines have very small openings. These are designed to allow through only the water and nutrients that our bodies need to absorb for energy, growth, and tissue repair.

With leaky gut syndrome (also known as intestinal permeability), these tiny openings in the intestinal walls become enlarged. As a result, partially digested food particles, bacteria, and other toxins are able to enter the bloodstream directly. These can then cause an imbalance in the gut flora (too much bad bacteria) and chronic inflammation, which can affect not just the digestive system but other organs in the body too.

Although some medical professionals are still reluctant to recognize it as an official, diagnosable medical condition, more and more research into leaky gut syndrome seems to support its existence.

Even prior to these studies the medical world acknowledged the fact that excessive intestinal permeability was connected to digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease. 

But research published in 2017 indicated that leaky gut syndrome might be associated with other disorders too, including autoimmune diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes, along with arthritis, allergies, asthma, acne, chronic fatigue, obesity, fibromyalgia, and mental illness. 

Woman in a white shirt holding stomach area with both hands.

Symptoms of leaky gut

Some of the signs and symptoms of intestinal permeability or leaky gut syndrome include:

The causes of leaky gut syndrome are not yet fully understood, but certain things that are known to upset the balance of bacteria in the gut are also connected to increased intestinal permeability.

Triggers of leaky gut and its symptoms can also include:

  • Stress
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Infections
  • Certain foods

Foods to avoid on a leaky gut diet

1. Milk and butter

Sensitivity to cow’s milk is very common and conventional cow’s dairy products may aggravate leaky gut syndrome

You could, however, try other types of milk, such as sheep or goat’s milk.  You might find that you can tolerate these better because the casein they contain generally causes less inflammation than the casein in cow’s milk. 

You could also try fermented cow’s milk products like yogurt and kefir, which are believed to have a healing effect on the gut. 

Instead of butter made with cow’s milk, try clarified butter or ghee, which is less likely to trigger a reaction.

Read my full article on the reasons to go dairy-free.

2. Grains and products containing gluten

Wheat, rye, barley, and spelt all contain a protein called gluten. Studies have shown that gluten can increase zonulin levels in some people. This, in turn, can increase intestinal permeability. 

It is best to totally avoid gluten if you suffer from leaky gut syndrome, which means also cutting out all the products containing it. These can include many cereals, breads, pasta, and crackers. 

Fortunately, there are lots of gluten-free products around these days to make it easier to avoid. If you are keen to continue consuming whole grains, then try soaking or sprouting them before eating, which helps break the gluten down to make it more digestible. 

See my article that goes into more detail about going gluten-free and why you might want to try it.

3. Sugar

Studies suggest that too much fructose – a fruit sugar that also makes up 50% of table sugar – can have a negative impact on intestinal permeability. 

On a leaky gut diet, it is best to cut back on the amount of refined white sugar you consume, along with other sweeteners like honey, agave, and natural sugars like maple syrup and cane juice. 

Remember, too, that sugar helps to feed the yeast and “bad” bacteria in your gut, which may be triggering your leaky gut syndrome in the first place. 

Even artificial sweeteners need to be used in moderation, as studies have shown that saccharin can upset the gut’s natural balance of bacteria.

It’s also important to limit the number of processed or junk foods that you eat, as these often contain lots of sugar and tend to be high in inflammatory ingredients that will make your symptoms worse.

See my sugar-free diet plan.

Foods to include on a leaky gut diet

Your best bet on a leaky gut diet is to include lots of whole, real foods without a lot of artificial ingredients or preservatives. You may need to cook your fruits and vegetables to help make them easier to digest. Once you have a healthy gut, you can try re-introducing more and more foods and observing how you feel.

Consider keeping a symptom journal of the foods you eat and how you feel afterwards. You should not have stomach pain or other unpleasant symptoms, otherwise you may have a sensitivity to that food.

Be sure to include lots of the gut healing foods as well as the following list.

1. Fruits and vegetables 

Fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber and also supply you with prebiotics – the type of fiber that feeds the “good” bacteria in your gut.

Be sure to include root vegetables and tubers, such as carrots and potatoes, as these also provide slow-burning carbohydrates.

Bowl of sauerkraut.

2. Fermented vegetables 

Try to eat a daily source of fermented veggies such as kimchi or sauerkraut. These are rich in probiotic bacteria and help keep your gut healthy.  

3. Gluten-free whole grains and seeds 

Consider gluten-free “pseudo grains” including quinoa, millet, rice, oats, buckwheat, amaranth, and teff. Use these in place of gluten-containing grains.

In addition to supplying you with slow-burning carbohydrates, they are also great sources of minerals and fiber.

See my list of the best gluten-free carbohydrates.

4. Cultured dairy products 

While you may need to avoid cow’s milk, you may be able to include cultured goat or sheep products. These include natural yogurt, kefir, some cheeses, and cultured buttermilk, all of which help replenish the good bacteria in your gut.

Clear glass mug of bone broth.

5. Bone broth 

Homemade or quality boxed bone broth contains collagen plus a range of useful amino acids including glutamine, which studies have shown can help heal the gut.

Homemade broth is preferable to the commercial variety, which can sometimes contain added ingredients that make the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome worse.

6. Healthy fats  

Try to include healthy fats with all of your meals and snacks including olive oil, coconut oil (unrefined and cold-pressed), fish oil, and avocado oil. 

These can help improve your digestion, reduce inflammation and provide food for some of the “friendly” bacteria in the gut.  

7. Turmeric 

Turmeric contains the natural anti-inflammatory compound curcumin, which has been demonstrated to reduce inflammation in the lining of the gut

You can add it to all sorts of things, from your daily smoothie to scrambled eggs. Or, try my simple Turmeric Shot that you can take daily.

Sample Leaky Gut Diet Plan

If you are new to a clean eating approach, then you might find this 3-day Leaky Gut Diet Plan helpful. Remember that the goal is to choose easy to digest foods that are made without a lot of processed ingredients, artificial flavors, or preservatives. Choose whole foods that will contribute to a healthy diet and improve your overall health.

This means that you will have to do some cooking at home! Junk food will only worsen leaky gut symptoms. But, the rewards will be more than worth it as your gut heals and you start to feel better.

This sample 3-day Leaky Gut Diet is gluten-free, dairy-free, with no added sugars. Feel free to make adaptions based on your individual needs. You should not feel hungry, so be sure to add snacks or side dishes to make sure you get enough calories.

Day One

Breakfast: Chocolate Smoothie Bowl

Lunch: Turkey Meatloaf Muffins or Instant Pot Salmon and Rice

Dinner: Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Snacks or Dessert: Vitamix Mango Sorbet

Day Two

Breakfast: Coconut Milk Pancakes or Instant Pot Buckwheat Porridge

Lunch: Keto Chicken Fajitas or Dairy-Free Potato Soup

Dinner: Chicken Meatloaf

Snacks: Whole30 Chia Pudding or Instant Pot Baked Apples

Day Three

Breakfast: Sweet Potato Apple Breakfast Hash

Lunch: Instant Pot No-Bean Turkey Chili or Slow Cooker Green Chile Chicken

Dinner: Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole

Snacks: Banana Peach Smoothie

Supplements to Heal Leaky Gut 

In addition to eating the right foods and avoiding the ones that can worsen leaky but, you may want to try some supplements which can help. As always, be sure to speak with your doctor before making any changes to your supplement routine.

1. Collagen

Better known as a supplement for the skin, collagen is rich in the amino acids glutamine and glycine, which can also help repair the gut.

Taking supplements with collagen peptides – which are designed to be easy for the body to digest and absorb – is one of the simplest ways to increase your collagen intake.

Learn more about the benefits of using collagen.

2. Fish Oil

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to improve the gut’s biodiversity. This means that they help ensure it has lots of different, “good” bacteria to aid with digestion and support the immune system. 

Most of us tend to consume too much of another type of fatty acid – omega 6 – because it is found in lots of processed foods and cooking oil. The easiest way to reverse this imbalance is to take omega-3 fatty acids in supplement form.

Fish oil is on my list of the best supplements for women over 50 and best supplements for 30 year old women.

3. Zinc

Studies on people with Crohn’s disease have shown that zinc supplementation can help tighten the enlarged intestinal openings that lead to leaky gut syndrome. Taking zinc is also a great way to give the immune system a boost. 

Small wooden spoons holding supplements in capsules.

4. L-glutamine

L-glutamine is an amino acid that can help repair the lining of the intestines.

The body produces some of its own L-glutamine, but only enough to deal with normal, everyday life. Sometimes our needs exceed the supply available – after lots of exercise, for example, or at times of stress.

An L-glutamine supplement can bridge this gap, ensuring that the gut stays healthy even when our natural stores become depleted. 

5. Probiotics

While fermented foods are a great source of probiotics, it may not be possible to consume them on a regular basis. In this case, a daily probiotic supplement would be ideal.

Probiotics have been shown to help lower zonulin levels, thereby decreasing intestinal permeability. They also help balance the bacteria in the gut.

6. Vitamin D

Vitamin D has been shown to improve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and help prevent gut problems. 

We naturally produce vitamin D in our skin when exposed to the sunlight, but not everyone gets exposure often enough. This means that vitamin D deficiencies are common and supplements are often recommended. 

Additional lifestyle changes to avoid a leaky gut

  • Exercise on a regular basis 
  • Make sure that you get enough sleep each night (ideally 7 to 9 hours)
  • Give up smoking
  • Chew your food thoroughly at mealtimes
  • Avoid taking antibiotics unnecessarily
  • Take steps to reduce stress – try calming activities like yoga, deep breathing, mindfulness, and meditation

Conclusions

Whilst the medical world may be slow to acknowledge the existence of leaky gut syndrome, it’s a very real condition for many, with some bothersome symptoms. But making some sensible changes to your diet and lifestyle may be all that’s needed to reverse the problem, by healing your gut, improving your digestive health, and increasing your overall sense of wellbeing.

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Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.

About the Author: Carrie Forrest has a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in nutrition. She is a top wellness and food blogger with more than 500,000 monthly visitors to her site. Carrie has an incredible story of recovery from chronic illness and is passionate about helping other women transform their health. Send Carrie a message through her contact form.