Can eating certain foods cause leaky gut?
The short answer is yes.
But the long answer is a bit more complex.
That’s because without the help of a professional naturopath or functional medicine practitioner, it can be hard to pinpoint the definitive causes of your leaky gut.
If your diet is loaded with processed foods, it’s certainly not doing you any favors. However, other factors like medication and underlying digestive issues may also play a large part.
What causes leaky gut?
Leaky gut is pretty much just what it sounds like-
In a healthy gut with a balanced microbiome, your intestines have a protective wall that guards both the intestines and the outside blood from leakage and damage.
Symptoms of leaky gut appear when this intestinal barrier has been compromised in some way, usually due to poor gut health.
Poor gut health signals that the microbiome, the complex ecosystem of different bacteria that live in the gut, is imbalanced –
Something is off down there that’s allowing more harmful bacteria to flourish while more beneficial bacteria may be down to smaller populations or even destroyed altogether.
An imbalance microbiome or poor gut health can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Dietary choices
- Antibiotics/overuse of antibiotics
- Underlying conditions like autoimmune disease
- And more
The best way to get your gut health in check right now is to alter your dietary choices. While you may not be able to control the stress in your life or forego certain medications, you can immediately decide what you choose to put in your body.
And what not to.
Possible culprits: foods that cause leaky gut
We all know the obvious things to avoid in order to feel better and stay healthier, regardless of how well we follow what we know…
And while I'm not at all opposed to the odd (mindful) cheat day to treat yourself, you should be conscious of avoiding altogether the things that are going to exacerbate issues you might be experiencing.
If you’ve been diagnosed with leaky gut or you even suspect it could be the culprit, eliminating or reducing the following foods in your daily diet will give your gut health a boost and help to protect your gut lining from further deterioration.
And as mentioned earlier, limiting these foods to avoid with leaky gut will be a boon to your overall wellness anyway.
Bottom line- It’s a win-win to steer clear of the following list! Not to make any promises, but your brain and your body will probably thank you…
Processed red meat
One of the most acidic – aka LEAST alkaline – things you can put in your body is processed red meat.
And for leaky gut sufferers, the last thing you want is more acidic content in your diet. If you’re craving beef, opt for a grass-fed filet or a buffalo burger. Keep the red meat to a minimum though, as it’s known to be unkind on the gut lining.
This group of foods includes wheat products pasta, bread, wheat flour, etc.
Gluten can be a hard category for some to accept, but the truth is that wheat-based products like pastas and breads don’t do the digestive system any favors. For people with leaky gut, gluten can perpetuate damage to your intestines, so try to limit these foods as much as you can.
The good news is that the world has gone crazy to manufacture gluten-free options. You can opt for a cauliflower pizza crust, gluten-free bagels, and more to satisfy your craving for carbs. Just a quick word of caution –
Careful with the mass-produced, gluten-free stuff. It can sometimes be loaded with preservatives or non-organic soy, so check your ingredient labels when buying the next gluten-free food fad.
Stellar example- pork rinds.
From the cheaper brands to the certified-organic with black pepper drizzle (that’s a fictional flavor, but you get the idea, especially if you’re familiar with hipster culture), the pork rinds people have made full use of the fact that their food is gluten-free with the corresponding craze. It seems now somewhere like 7/10 of the bags of pork rinds in the world have the words gluten-free somewhere on their packaging.
If you think you have leaky gut, please avoid pork rinds…
…And just take a look next time you’re at the grocery store; you’ll see what I’m talking about.
OK, so maybe this isn’t a food, technically speaking, but unnecessary antibiotics simply have to be included on this list of foods to avoid with leaky gut. Why?
Antibiotics don’t just kill the ‘bad’ bacteria that’s contributing to whatever illness or infection they’re prescribed for. They also decimate populations of beneficial gut flora, which can throw your entire system off balance (this is partly why so many prescriptions cause stomach problems).
How can you avoid unnecessary antibiotics? Your diet!
The American population ingests an insane amount of antibiotics every single year, most without knowing or caring.
This happens on such a large scale because antibiotics are commonly used in the factory farming system to ‘protect’ animals like cattle and chickens used in meat and dairy production from a laundry list of supposedly threatening illnesses.
Big Pharma makes MAJOR money on agriculture – fancy that, it accounts for 80% of their annual sales.
So in short, most of the meat and dairy out there today is pumped up with antibiotics.
To avoid them (and for people with leaky gut this is crucial) you’ll need to adopt a more plant-based diet with proteins and fats from sources like avocados, nut butters, and seeds.
Speaking of antibiotics, want to know what’s loaded with them? Dairy products!
This startling revelation aside, toxins in dairy are also known to damage the intestinal walls and upset the gut microbiome in general.
Fortunately, there’s also some good news on the no-dairy front: LOTS of people are waking up to the pitfalls of dairy in their diets and switching to plant-based options. From milks and butters to ice cream and yogurts, there’s a world of delicious options out there without the scary dairy.
Other culprits: substances and habits
Prolonged alcohol abuse
There’s some serious science to support that alcohol is without-a-doubt one of the ‘foods’ to avoid with leaky gut. For example, listen to what this study says:
The mucosal damage caused by alcohol increases the permeability of the gut to macromolecules. This facilitates the translocation of endotoxin and other bacterial toxins from the gut lumen to the portal blood, thereby increasing the liver's exposure to these toxins and, consequently, the risk of liver injury.
From a purely health perspective, drinking alcohol excessively is just bad news and causes a crapload (pun intended) of digestive issues like diarrhea and more.
Ipso facto, a great way to repopulate your healthy gut flora and get your leaky gut under control is to go easy on the sauce or ditch it altogether.
Prolonged medication use, especially heartburn medications
Certain OTC and prescription medications taken over long periods of time can damage the gut lining, causing leaky gut and overall dismal wellness in general. Heartburn medications especially can contribute to poor gut health, since they affect the release of certain digestive acids which over time can damage your organs.
Turns out, a sedentary lifestyle is linked with poor gut health and leaky gut. If you’re not getting adequate exercise, learning the leaky gut foods to avoid probably won’t be enough to get your microbiome on track. You’ll have to exercise too!
In this really cool paper based on microbiome studies in animals, the animals with imbalance guts displayed:
- Accelerated aging
- Increased BMI (Body Mass Index)
- Metabolic morbidity
In short, they were aging faster and getting fatter.
The animals with balanced guts on the other hand displayed the inverse of those results, with normal ageing, normal BMI levels, and normal metabolisms.
Take a tip from our animal friends and get moving!
The good news? You have lots of options! You don't have to slog. Get outside and get moving in a way that moves you.
Next Steps You can Take
If you think you have leaky gut or poor gut health in general, try limiting the dietary and lifestyle choices we’ve discussed here to balance your microbiome. To close, let’s reinforce that making these choices will have beneficial effects on your health in general, so they’re definitely worth a shot!
Want to speak to a functional medicine professional about foods to avoid with leaky gut? Other ways we can improve your health with functional medicine?
Book a free 15-minute consultation with Dr. Daniel!