What Are the Worst Foods for Leaky Gut?
You should avoid these worst foods leaky gut.
It may sound shocking, but leaky gut isn’t just caused or exacerbated by foods like Big Mac cheeseburgers, ice cream and Doritos. There are several healthy foods that are great for most people, but if you have leaky gut, they may turn into the “worst foods for leaky gut.”
Check out this list of 7 healthy foods that are actually the worst foods for leaky gut…until you heal your leak gut (The good news? Leaky gut remission is possible).
Gut inflammatory sources: Gluten is a wheat protein found in any food made with wheat (bread, pasta, cereals, bars)
What happens in your gut when you eat it: In those with celiac disease, gluten can cause the immune system to attack the lining of the gut leading to severe damage to the gut lining resulting in decreased nutrient absorption and intestinal permeability (i.e. gluten can put “holes: in the gut of those with celiac disease). For those without celiac disease, gluten intake from most processed and refined food sources in the western diet is associated with elevated LPS (lipopolysaccharide—an inflammatory compound that irritates the gut lining and increases internal stress and gut inflammation).
Special considerations: The gluten of traditional times (such as Jesus’ day) was 100% different than our bread and pasta found on our grocery store shelves—full of GMO wheat. In fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture, 93% of durum wheat, 96% of spring wheat, and 61% of winter wheat has been treated with herbicides (4). The moral of the story: gluten may not be as “big of a deal” as our culture makes it out to be, but rather pesticide use and the processing, refining of our wheat.
Alternatives: Alternatives to experiment with your body’s toleration of “gluten” may include:
- Homemade sourdough bread (the wild yeast and bacteria in a sourdough starter break down some of the carbohydrates and gluten proteins found in flour)
- Imported Italian wheat (for homemade pasta, bread)
- Steel cut, overnight oats
- Quality Gluten-free alternatives (i.e. not a long list of ingredients), including:
- Coconut Flour
- Vegetable Noodles (spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, etc.)
- Arrowroot Starch
#2. Gluten Cross Contaminating Foods
Gut inflammatory sources: instant coffee, yeast, spelt, rye, barley, milk chocolate, corn, tapioca, hemp, millet, oats, rice, potato, sesame, buckwheat, amaranth, sorghum, whey protein, casein, egg, peanut, some nuts (if manufactured in a gluten facility)
What happens in your gut when you eat it: Gluten isn’t the only “culprit” that people find they are sensitive to. A lot of people that have gluten sensitivity turn to gluten-free alternatives, like gluten-free breads or pastas, and other processed foods made with rice, corn, tapioca, quinoa, teff, barley, oats and seed/nut flours. The problem is, if they’re also producing antibodies to these foods, they still may not feel well. Gluten cross-contaminating foods contain similar proteins to those found in gluten and can be difficult to digest. Many of these foods also contain anti-nutrients such as “phytates” and “lectins” (grains, nuts, beans) that serve to protect these plants in the wild. They are good news for preventing being eaten by predators, but bad news for your gut.
Special considerations: Several of these “cross-contaminating” foods are found in many “gluten-free” products on shelves (breads, cereals, pastas). Hence, if you’ve gone “gluten free” but still don’t feel great or have health issues, there may be more to the story. If you buy gluten free products, read food labels and reach for foods with the least amount of ingredients as possible that preferably use generally well-tolerated flours including coconut flour, arrowroot starch or possibly some cassava flour.
Alternatives: You likely won’t be sensitive to all gluten cross-contaminants, but here are some approaches for making contamination less likely:
- Organic coffee (fact: instant coffee is the #1 most cross contaminated food with gluten)
- Soaked and dried rice, oats, nuts and seeds (before consuming or cooking, soak in filtered water with a splash of apple cider vinegar over night)
- Beef isolate, collagen or spirulina protein
- Dark chocolate (70%+)
- Pastured egg yolks (not the white)
- Choose “gluten free” breads and foods with coconut flour, arrowroot or cassava
Gut inflammatory sources: Milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter
What happens in your gut when you eat it: High dairy (casein) consumption has been linked to increased inflammation in the microbiome—specifically conventional (non-fermented) dairy sources—since many people, past infancy, do not have high amounts of lactase in their gut to break down the casein protein and lactose in dairy.
Special considerations: Quality, fermented (probiotic rich) dairy has a completely different effect on the gut—linked to an increase in healthy gut-loving bacteria due to the probiotic rich properties found in yogurt and kefir. In addition, the quality of your dairy matters as well as your unique ancestral diet. Grass-fed, organic, full fat (no sugar) sources of dairy are a night and day difference from conventional dairy—often from animals administered with hormones/antibiotics and fed a pesticide-laden diet. Research shows that, depending on where you are from, some cultures and ethnicities have more lactase digestive enzymes than others to digest the lactose in dairy.
- Grass-fed butter/ghee (clarified butter; both with low amounts of casein)
- Grass-fed fermented yogurt and kefir
- Grass-fed hard cheese (cheddar; lower amounts of casein)
- Dairy-free milks (unsweetened, chemical-free almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk)
- Coconut yogurt
#4. Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners
Gut inflammatory sources: Don’t be fooled. Sugar has more than 60 names. Some of the top sources include:
- Barley malt
- Brown rice syrup
- Brown sugar
- Cane juice/syrup
- Corn Syrup/corn syrup solids
- Evaporated cane juice
- Glucose/Glucose Syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
The artificial sweetener market has grown as well. These sugar alcohols combine traits of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules to stimulate the taste receptors for sweetness on your tongue. Some of the most used sugar alcohols including:
- Acesulfame potassium
- Saccharin (Sweet’N Low)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
What happens in your gut when you eat it: Many unhealthy gut bacteria and yeasts feast on sugar as a food source when present, whereas healthy bacteria thrive upon balance (fermented foods, prebiotic fibers, amino acids and some healthy fats). High intakes of sugar or certain carbohydrates can disrupt a balanced gut microbiome.To put this in context, the average American consumes 3 to 4 times the recommended daily amount of added sugar every day—perhaps explaining the big connection between the gut microbiota, sugar and modern inflammatory diseases often “blamed” on sugar (like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s). Articifical sweeteners are also linked to gut bacteria disruption. Many sugar alcohols have a high fermentation potential—meaning gut bacteria like to feast on them as well, often producing symptoms like gas and bloating (5). Sugar and sugar alcohols also come with GMO concerns, with many derivatives from corn, which is almost always GMO (i.e. “not gut friendly”).
Special considerations: Within the context of a real, whole-food, nutrient-dense diet, a little “dirt” never hurt (sugar included). The “max” limit of recommended added sugar each day is 25 grams—not including fruits, veggies and prebiotic fibers. Most people on a real food diet or restrictive dieting past consume nowhere near that. In other words: The occasional dark chocolate square, scoop of real ice cream, chicken sausage or pickles with some real sugar in it won’t hurt you. Similarly for sugar alcohols, small doses of natural sweeteners (xylitol, stevia, monk fruit) may be tolerated; however if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bacterial overgrowth or an intolerance to FODMAPs, even “natural” sugar alcohols can cause GI distress. Consider avoiding them altogether.
Reach for natural sweeteners as much as possible and read labels to keep (hidden) added sugar content at bay. Some alternatives include:
- Raw Honey
- Pure Maple Syrup
- (More) Natural Sweeteners: Organic Green Leaf Stevia, Monk Fruit (lo han guo), Erythritol
- Coconut Sugar (minimal amounts)
- Real Fruit (in recipes)
#5. Peanuts, Nuts & Nutbutter
Gut inflammatory sources: Peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans), peanut butter, almond butter
What happens in your gut when you eat it: Nuts are a super healthy food, but when we eat too many nuts, we can run into constipation, bloating and indigestion problems—they are complex and, similar to many gluten cross-contaminating foods, difficult to break down—especially in large amounts—due to the phytate and lectin anti-nutrients on their outer shell.
Special considerations: Moderation is key with nuts. They are easily “addicting” since they are highly dense and easy to eat in bulk. If you do incorporate nuts, experiment with a closed fistful—just the amount of nuts in one closed hand. A little goes a long way. In addition, “properly prepared nuts” include soaking and drying raw organic nuts before consuming.
- Soaked and dried nuts
- Pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
- Sun-butter or pumpkin butter
- Coconut butter
Gut inflammatory sources: Eggs—scrambled, over easy, hard boiled—any way
What happens in your gut when you eat it: ”Egg belly” is a coined term for the nausea, indigestion or bloating some experience when they eat eggs. Eggs-Specifically egg whites—contain a protein called albumin, known for its histamine-releasing (i.e. inflammatory) response properties in the gut (especially for those with a leaky gut or autoimmune issues). Upon digestion, the Albumin protein in the egg white can often slip past the intestinal wall and get in your body… and if it gets in your body it can cause a reaction.
Special considerations: Many people with “egg belly” issues find they tolerate eggs cooked into recipes much differently. You can also experiment with eating just the yolks from pastured eggs, trying duck eggs instead of chicken eggs, or eating eggs in small, occasional doses (1 to 2 per week, as opposed to every day).
- Turkey or chicken sausage
- Dinner for breakfast
- Pastured egg yolks (scrambled)
#7. FODMAP Foods
Gut inflammatory sources: FODMAP stands for fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. Basically, FODMAPS are sugars, starches and fibers that unhealthy gut bacteria thrive on. These may include:
Vegetables: artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, leek, onion, shallot, snow peas, tomato, sweet potato (more than 1/2 cup)
Fruits: apple, apricot, cherry, mango, peach, pear, plum, watermelon
Beans: legumes (lentils, beans, peanuts) and soy
Fats: vegetable oils and inflammatory omega-6 fats like canola, soybean and peanut oil
Nuts and seeds: pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts
What happens in your gut when you eat it: The most common symptoms include irritable bowel syndrome, bloating or constipation. Since FODMAPS contain sugars that can feed dysbiotic bacteria, if we have an underlying gut condition already, FODMAPS perpetuate the condition even more.
Special considerations: Most people do not need to eliminate all the FODMAPS, but mindfully experimenting is the first step by greatly reducing them, then slowly introducing them one at a time—or limiting your daily intake to one or two servings per day. It’s also important t be aware that low FODMAP is NOT forever and should only be used therapeutically to relieve symptoms until you identify your root gut cause. Once you begin treating an underlying gut condition with antimicrobials or other herbs, then FODMAP foods are actually encouraged in small doses to help bring out pathogenic bacteria to kill off.
- Low FODMAP veggies and fruits such as summer squash, dark leafy greens, fingerling potatos, parsnips, boy choy, carrots, green beans, cucumber, celery, tomatoes, turnip, bell peppers, blueberries, banana, lemons/limes, citrus, kiwi, melon, grapes, coconut, etc.
- Limiting FODMAP foods to 1 to 2 small servings per day while testing and assessing for your underlying root cause.