Leaky Gut Diet: Best Foods and Drinks

Leaky Gut Diet: Best Foods and Drinks


“Leaky gut” is the theory that an impaired intestinal (“gut”) lining increases permeability in your gut. In other words, toxins and other unwanted substances can move from your intestines to your bloodstream. This may make you feel bloated, gassy, and prone to stomach aches.

Though not a medical diagnosis, some research suggests that leaky gut may be linked to inflammatory conditions, such as skin disorders, digestive issues, and even heart disease.

Eating foods rich in fiber can help strengthen your gut barrier, preventing harmful substances like bacteria and undigested food from entering your bloodstream.

Consuming omega-3s and other antioxidant nutrients, as well as certain vitamins and minerals, can help strengthen your gut’s lining. A stronger gut barrier contains tight junctions (TJs). TJs are molecules that act as glue and allow the beneficial substances to enter while preventing possibly harmful substances from leaking out into your bloodstream.

Foods High in Omega-3s

Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help increase the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut, such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Omega-3s can also help release short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs help lubricate the gut barrier to prevent toxins and pathogens from entering.

Foods high in omega-3s include:

  • Fish: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring, trout, anchovies
  • Nuts and seeds: Flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds
  • Certain fruits: Avocados, raspberries, jackfruit, olives

Foods Rich in Vitamins A and D

Vitamin A and Vitamin D can help with leaky gut by tightening the connections between cells in your gut. They also help promote a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut to reduce inflammation and enhance immunity.

Sources of vitamins A and D include:

  • Dairy: Cow’s milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified soymilk
  • Fortified whole grain cereals: Wheat, rice, corn
  • Fish: Herring, salmon, canned tuna, sardines

Foods Containing Probiotics

Probiotics protect your gut by increasing the variety of good bacteria, fighting off harmful bacteria, making vitamins and beneficial substances (like SCFAs), and strengthening your immune system. They can also improve your gut lining and reduce inflammation in your gut.

Probiotic-rich foods include:

  • Cultured dairy: Yogurt, kefir, labneh
  • Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, miso, kimchi
  • Sourdough bread: Some probiotics might not survive the high-heat baking process, but prebiotics in sourdough starters can sometimes increase the probiotic content.

Foods Containing Prebiotics

Prebiotics are fibers that feed good bacteria in your gut, helping them grow and become more active. They specifically promote beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, which can reduce inflammation, strengthen your gut barrier, and improve overall gut health.

Foods rich in prebiotics include:

  • Fruit: Bananas, beets
  • Vegetables: Onions, garlic, asparagus, artichoke, leek, salsify
  • Whole grains: Wheat, barley, rye, buckwheat
  • Beans and legumes: Peas, soybeans, fava beans, chickpeas, lentils, cowpeas, lupinis
  • Nuts and seeds: Sesame seeds, almonds, pistachios, walnuts

Foods High in Polyphenols

Polyphenols are plant compounds that help decrease inflammation and rid the body of damaging molecules. Foods rich in polyphenols like quercetin, curcumin, resveratrol, and catechin can help fortify your gut.

Polyphenolic compounds help keep your gut healthy by blocking a pathway called NF-κB that can trigger inflammation and weaken your gut’s lining. By doing this, polyphenols strengthen the connections between gut cells, increase mucus production, and reduce gut permeability, which boosts your gut’s overall defense system.

Foods high in polyphenols include:

  • Fruits: Fruits like plums, berries, citrus fruits, and grapes contain polyphenols like cyanidin, resveratrol, and hesperidin.
  • Vegetables and herbs: Vegetables like broccoli, lettuce, and tomatoes contain polyphenols like cyanidin and quercetin.
  • Tea: Black, white, and green tea are rich in catechins.
  • Coffee: Coffee contains one of the highest polyphenol contents of any beverage.
  • Turmeric: This spice is rich in curcumin.

Foods Containing Zinc

Zinc can influence the gut barrier by altering the connections between the cells. Zinc can also cause cell death to a certain extent, potentially widening gaps in the intestinal lining. However, when a cell dies, its neighboring cells can absorb it and keep the tight connections intact. This helps maintain the gut barrier. The key is getting adequate zinc.

Zinc deficiency may also have a role in gastrointestinal (GI) conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease—both of which may co-exist with increased gut permeability.

Foods high in zinc include:

  • Shellfish: Lobster, oysters, mussels, shrimp
  • Nuts and seeds: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chestnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts
  • Meat: Beef, lamb, pork

Foods High in Glutamine

Glutamine is an amino acid that is necessary for several functions in the body. This includes building proteins in the body to support tissues and organs and their functions. The amino acid can enhance tissue recovery and tighten the gaps in the gut barrier to reduce permeability.

Glutamine-rich foods include:

  • Meats
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Milk

Eating too much fat, sugar, and highly processed foods can make leaky gut worse by promoting inflammation and damaging your gut’s protective lining. Excess fat increases gut permeability, a highly sugared diet causes inflammation, and certain emulsifiers (substances used in processed foods to bind ingredients) can thin the mucus layer in your gut, which harms its protective proteins.

Foods to limit or avoid include:

  • Fatty meats: Bacon, sausage, marbled steak
  • Foods high in refined sugars: Candy, ice cream, cookies, highly-sugared cereals
  • Ultra-processed food and drinks: Frozen entrees, packaged snacks, sodas
  • Alcoholic beverages: Beer, wine, liquor
  • Wheat: Gliadins (inflammatory proteins food in wheat gluten) have been shown to increase gut permeability, especially if you have celiac disease or are gluten-sensitive.

Below are some meal ideas to help with leaky gut. They contain foods rich in nutrients and beneficial compounds that can help strengthen your gut.

Breakfast

Breakfast options include:

  • Yogurt and blueberry parfait with sliced almonds
  • Broccoli and mushroom omelet served with a dollop of labneh and a side of mixed berries
  • Gluten-free avocado toast with smoked salmon and dill

Lunch

Lunch options include:

  • Lentil and carrot stew with tofu
  • Herbed shrimp with a side of quinoa “fried rice” (quinoa lightly sautėed with olive oil, garlic, onion, low sodium soy sauce or tamari, peas, and carrots)
  • Tuna salad prepared with capers in a yogurt-based mayo served over a bed of leafy greens

Dinner

Dinner options include:

  • Mussels steamed in a leek and garlic broth
  • Miso-glazed salmon with roasted asparagus
  • Kimchi and buckwheat grain bowl with marinated tempeh, radish, and avocado

A Mediterranean diet may help to prevent leaky gut. This diet focuses on vegetables, beans, legumes, fruits, and nuts—all of which contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help keep your gut healthy and strong. The nutrients in these foods also help maintain the tight junctions in your gut lining and support the mucus layer that protects it. The diet includes fish and olives, which are sources of gut-protective omega-3s.

A low-FODMAP diet may also be beneficial. This diet focuses on removing FODMAPS, a group of carbohydrates that includes fructans, fructose, and other compounds that are difficult to absorb in the small intestine. Because these are more likely to ferment in the gut, they can increase bacterial overgrowth, leading to bloating and stomach upset. A low-FODMAP diet is a gluten-free diet that includes:

  • Grains like quinoa, amaranth, brown rice
  • Fruits like avocado, citrus, and berries
  • Vegetables like broccoli, carrots, lettuce and dark leafy greens
  • Nuts and seeds

Leaky gut is the theory that damage to the intestinal barrier and its tight junctions increases permeability in your gut barrier. In other words, it allows larger particles such as toxins, harmful bacteria, and undigested foods to enter and pass into your bloodstream. This can upset the healthy balance in your gut and potentially affect other areas of your body.

Foods containing nutrients like omega-3s, vitamins A and D, zinc, polyphenols, and glutamine have properties that strengthen your gut’s lining. Probiotic and prebiotic foods can also benefit your gut and reduce permeability.

Reducing your intake of fatty foods, ultra-processed foods, excess sugars, and alcohol may help prevent and reduce symptoms of leaky gut.

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