What Should You Eat To Heal a Leaky Gut?

April 5, 2012 in Categories: , by

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(Created as a guest post for The Paleo Parents)

If you are concerned that you may have, or could develop, a leaky gut, then changing your diet to one that protects the gut is a natural next step for you.  If you are already battling health conditions related to having a leaky gut, then you will have to be more strict with your dietary choices and also address other lifestyle factors like getting good quality sleep, managing stress, finding time for low-strain exercise, and getting outside.

The first and most important thing to do to heal a leaky gut is to stop eating foods that damage and inflame the gut lining!  It can take six months or more for the gut to fully heal depending on the extent of the damage, the health of the gut microflora and your individual genetics (for people with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, recovery can take up to two years!).  Until the gut is completely healthy, it is important to abstain from all grains, all legumes, and all dairy products (some people may tolerate ghee and/or butter from grass-fed sources, but I recommend leaving it out for at least a month before trying it).  It is also important to avoid additives in processed foods (many of which irritate the gut) and refined sugars (which promote inflammation).  Some people will also need to eliminate vegetables from the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers of all kinds, and especially potatoes), eliminate egg whites (I actually rinse my egg yolks before eating them), and limit nut consumption (other than coconut and macadamias).  Changing your diet to avoid gut-irritating foods is critical.  But, it is also important to include foods that can reduce inflammation and help heal the damaged gut.

Eat foods that reduce inflammation.  It’s very important to be mindful of both your omega-6 and your omega-3 polyunsaturatedfatty acid intake.  Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, which are found in large quantities in modern vegetable oils, meat from grain-fed animals, and many nuts and seeds, increase inflammation.  Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in large quantities in wild-caught fish, pastured/free-range eggs, and meat from pastured animals, decrease inflammation.  To help reduce overall inflammation and heal the gut, aim for a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid intake in your diet.  There are several ways of doing this:  you can make sure that all of the meat in your diet is exclusively from grass-fed animals (beef, bison, goat or lamb); you can eat plenty of wild-caught seafood; and/or you can supplement with a good quality fish oil. 

Vegetables are rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals which help control inflammation (and help with just about every other normal function of the body!).  Eating a variety of differently colored vegetables, a variety of dark green leafy vegetables, and a variety cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc.) every day will provide all of the essential vitamins and minerals in a way that is easy for the body to absorb (no more need for a multivitamin!).  Fruits, especially berries, are also a good source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  However, most people will need to exercise some portion control with fruits due to the high sugar content.  I recommend eating vegetables at every meal (it can be a bit strange getting used to eating vegetables at breakfast, but it’s amazing what a difference it makes to how you feel for the whole rest of the day!).

It is also important to make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D.  You can achieve this by simply spending some time outside in the sun every day, or from eating liver once or twice per week, or from supplementing with Cod Liver Oil or Vitamin D3 supplements.

Eat foods that restore gut microflora.  If you have a leaky and inflamed gut, chances are very good that your resident good bacteria are having trouble too.  To help restore their numbers and their diversity, eat as many different good sources of probiotics as possible.  You can do this by taking Probiotic supplements and changing brands every time you buy a bottle (the different brands all have different proprietary strains, which helps with increasing your gut microflora diversity).  Even better, you can consume probiotic rich foods, like unpasteurized Sauerkraut and other unpasteurized fermented vegetables, Kombucha Tea (my personal favorite), and coconut milk Yogurt or Kefir (which can be a little harder to find in stores but very easy to make at home).  All of these can be found at alternative grocery stores (like Whole Foods), and some can be found online, but all can also be made easily and inexpensively at home. 

Eat foods that promote healing:  As the body tries to heal itself, it’s important to provide it with plenty of good quality protein (needed to make all those new cells and connective tissues) as well as vitamins, minerals and good fats.  In this way, the best way to promote healing is to eat a paleo diet that includes wild-caught fish, meat from grass-fed sources, organ meat (preferably from pastured sources), and plenty of vegetables.  There are two other healing foods that are very important to include: coconut and bone broth.  Antimicrobial short- and medium-chain saturated fats, like those found in coconut oil and other coconut products, help to reduce overgrowth of bad yeast, fungus and bacteria in the small intestine.  Medium chain saturated fats are very gentle on the cells that line the gut since they can be passively absorbed without being broken down by digestive enzymes and used for energy without any modification.  This source of easy energy is very helpful for healing the lining of the gut.  Broth made from the bones of chicken, turkey, duck, beef, lamb pork and/or fish are anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and contain nutrients which help rebuild the integrity of the digestive tract.  Most importantly, broth is rich in the amino acids proline and glycine, which help regulate digestion, reduce inflammation, and promote healing in every part of the body.

While these dietary changes may seem overwhelming, it is important to remember that making them will keep you healthy, put many diseases into remission, and prevent dozens of other diseases from developing.  For the vast majority of people, using diet to prioritize gut health will mean a lifetime of good health.  


I have been eating AIP (with FODMAPs and SIBO too) for 6 weeks now with no benefit- if anything I have felt worse. I have just found out I have fibriods so this may be the cause of pain and bloating but it doesn’t explain everything e.g. intense fatigue, brain fog, rashes and other skin issues. I am waiting for my SIBO test so it will be a month or so before I will know.
I wondered about taking supplements to help but I am scared to take anything in case I make things worse. I am taking Ox Bile at the moment which doesn’t seem to cause a problem (but also I don’t notice any benefits). I’ve heard some probiotics can make SIBO worse, is the probiotic that’s recommended ok for those with SIBO?

Kari, I would avoid taking anything until you have a really solid idea of what you’re treating.

As for SIBO? That appears to depend on which strains of microflora are causing the problem. Most probiotic mixes have Bifo bacteria, which actively control yeast flora such as Candida. They can be a big problem if they are among the culprits.

I reommend finsing a good naturopath you can communicate and work with. Make them your primary advice and treatment source. MD and specialists are great for testing and procedures. Just don’t let them rail road you into potentially harmful treatments. And many will!

Follow the GAPS or Selective Carbohydrate diet, take up meditation&Yoga – if only for the huge health benefits of stress reduction-, exercise and choose to perceive your life and its trials positively. Healing anything is a path to walk. Rely on yourself and learn from whatever you have to face. You’ll often find pretty incredible treasures beneath the fear.

Good luck <3

P.S. I highly recommend drinking Yerba Mate for brain fog. It is high in caffiene, but it will not keep you awake at night no matter when you drink it. I’m drinking it right now and am bout hit the light :)

There are apparently many other health benefits. They have yet to be fully explored or substantiated. Caffeic acid, which Yerba contains, seems to be anti-cancer. Colitis sufferers have found ease of remission entry increases on a YM regimen. There are a ton of other uses.

Do be aware it is a decently strong diuretic. More so than coffee in my experience. Drink a glass of water when you find yourself reaching for a then empty cup of Yerba.

Hi same here I eliminated gluten, added sugar, dairy, caffeine, soy processed foods with very little relief from my fibro pain. However once I figured out what foods I was reacting to I felt better. No tomatoes, vinegar, products with additives, and lastly meat. I did remove them one at a time. I have no more pain! I think everyone’s body can tolerate meat and some cannot. I have a severe case of leaky gut because I was reacting to a lot if foods. Try the elimination of fatty foods and acidic foods. I know it’s hard but it won’t be forever. Good health to you!

I am stumped when it comes to fermented foods and they say its better. 1. kombucha has alcohol, but alcohol can lead to leaky gut and AI disorders. 2. sour kraut, fermented foods ,etc – they make my stomach hurt and gassy. So how can it be that these things are supposed to be good but causing me issues? Also, regarding salt. I have been eating iodized sea salt and adding salt (thats it) to foods and I swear its making my stomach hurt. I have read in some places that it can cause inflammation, but I have read in more places sodium is beneficial. I understand that each persons situation is different, but how can people rave certain things but then they can make it worse? Perhaps I have other worse things going on? I literally only eat fruit and kombucha tea at this point. No vegetables , meat, nothing.

Kombucha has about 1% alcohol after you do a second ferment with fruit. You can avoid fermenting it with fruit and just do the original ferment it with the scobies then drink it like that.

Having a fruit heavy diet probably isnt helping with the gas. Cabbage is probably more likely to give you gas than any other fermented foods. Try fermenting cucumbers and beets. You can also buy fermented tofu from health food shops.

You can always make home made coconut yogurt with kefir too.

Salt really depends on you, I cut it out and I am healthier, my sister gets sick if she cuts it out. Maybe talk to your doctor about where you are at.

Why cant you eat meat and veg? if you find your in pain eating a lot of food maybe get tested for Crohns disease?

I have been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis for almost 10 years. About 3 months ago I started trying to eat pale after reading your post among others. I still have major inflammation. I also went to a functional medicine dr. She recommended I do food testing, hormone testing, and nagalase testing. On my last visit she did not go over any of my food sensitivities that I had been avoiding for the past month. She recommends I take a series of gcmaf shots to lower my nagalase and is suppose to help my immune system to kill pathogens. She also recommends I do ubi treatments to kill pathogens. I am not convinced that these treatments are effective and she also said I would need to stop taking cimzia shots. Biologics, as much as I dislike taking them are the only thing that allows me to walk and be able to work! The treatment she recommends is also very expensive. Do you have an information on either of these treatments. Should I try eleminating more foods?

People should actually aim for a significantly higher amount of omega-3’s rather than 6’s or 9’s, as they are pro-inflammatory.

I have leaky gut and an autoimmune disease. I have been looking into AIP a lot but I just can’t stomach eating all that meat. Is there anyway to heal leaky gut without eating meat?? An AIP for vegan/vegetarians? Thanks.

I don’t get how eating fermented foods can help ANYONE with leaky gut. The word has negative connotations in my mind. In fact, I consulted 3 naturopaths to determine which of them I should see and when I provided my diet to them which is simple, oats, egg whites, brown rice, skinless chicken, wild fish, sweet potatoes, fruits and veggies ( except for cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower & brussel sprouts. Can’t tolerate them) they all said it sounds like I have too much fermentation going on, then the lady at the Health food store told me to eat fermented foods. Now I’m confused. I eat alot of organic kale, lettuce, beets and turnips etc. I’m also taking 2 high quality probiotics Bio-K and HCP 70, along with a herbal supplement with sweet annie in it. I’ve never been a processed food eater. I grew up in the Caribbean where my granny grew everything organically before it became a fad. Our livestock ran free and ate grass and yet I’ve always had gut issues, bad ulcers, appendicitis, IBS. It got worse when I moved to north america. For the past 2 weeks I’ve cut out oats and brown rice and I’ve dropped 15 lbs. Yes very true. I lose weight fast. Anyway can someone explain this entire fermentation thing to me in a way that makes sense because I’ve read widely on it and found some contradicting literature. At this rate, i’m not sure what i can safely eat. Some help please.


Food fermenting in your gut is different from eating fermented foods. Fermented foods are rich in helpful probiotics. Food fermenting in your gut is maldigested and may be a sign that you are not digesting properly.

I am getting ready to hit this hard. I have a hard time sourcing grass-fed meats. What is a good fish oil to supplement with? Any probiotic brands I should use/avoid?

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