What Should You Eat To Heal a Leaky Gut?

We make it clear that we are in no position to expertly and thoroughly explain the science behind the Paleo Diet. So many people, though, ask us about it. In response, we went out and found a scientist for you. Meet The Paleo Mom, a scientist-turned-at-home-mom. She has written a series of posts for us on the “why” of this way of eating. We hope this will be informative and fun for you. Check out her website, an adorable place full of interesting posts and cute drawings.

Part 4 of 4 in this guest series: What Should You Eat To Heal a Leaky Gut?

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 polyunsaturated fatty 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 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 yoghurt or kefir (which can be a little harder to find in stores by 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.

About The Paleo Mom: Sarah Ballantyne is a scientist turned stay-at-home mom and a recent convert to paleolithic nutrition who is working hard to address her own health issues and to improve her family’s nutrition and health.  She blogs about her own experimentation with different implementations of the paleo diet, about her efforts to transition her family to paleolithic nutrition, and shares her successful recipes.  Sarah’s passion is to share her biology, physiology and nutrition knowledge through informative posts that distill the science behind the paleo diet into approachable explanations.  Visit her site at www.thepaleomom.com or visit her on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Suzanne H

    When you say some people will need to eliminate nightshades, egg whites, and nuts, how do you know if you need to? I’ve been off of them (plus the other foods) for three months. I tested tomatoes and couldn’t tell if I reacted. I tested almonds and had a very definite reaction (still feeling the effects over a week later, but I think that’s my adrenal fatigue). Any ideas of how long to wait until I test tomatoes again? I have a thyroid issue, so I’m off of goitrogens and feeling incredibly limited in my veggie options.

    • The Paleo Mom

       If your thyroid issue is auto-immune related, it would be better to continue to avoid nightshades and egg whites (and nuts if you’re reacting to them).  Otherwise, go ahead and try them again.  What many people do is eat them at every meal for one day and then don’t eat them again for a week or two and analyze how you feel.  Watch for rashes, acne, fatigue, headaches, stomach upset, changes in bowel habits, acid reflux, mood changes, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.  If you feel fine, then incorporate them back into your diet gradually (always being on the look-out in case you start to get symptoms once you start eating more and more).

      • Suzanne H

        Thanks so much for your reply. It is auto-immune related, I have Hashimoto’s. Do I need to keep the nightshades out permanently or just for a few more months?

        • monica hocking

          Hi, I need some advice. I’m a vegetarian that eats fish and egg. I took wheat out of my diet months ago and felt amazing. Then in December I started having stomach problems. I now have Been told I have leaky gut and my symptoms are terrible. I’m a high school teacher and its been hard for me to work. Every time I eat I have reactions immediately-fatigue adrenal fatigue, mood swings, depression, weak immune system, migraines, head fog, runny foggy eyes, teeth ache, egzima. You name it, I get it. Last week I took dairy out of my diet because I eat a lot of it. I’m still having reactions and don’t know what else to do, I also took out sugar caffeine and my one morning cigarette. My diet consists of eggs, fish, olive oil, protein shakes made of whey and egg, strawberries and blueberries, broccoli spinach squash sweet potatoe cabbage figs cashews. Am I still doing something wrong? I’m at a loss and severely deoressed. I really need to figure thus out and could use any insight. Thank you so much!

          • Brandy

            Well you are still having dairy because you are having whey in your shake. Are you eating any other grains? Some of the foods you listed were discussed in the article; eggs, whey, cashews. I would start there. Also, make sure you don’t eat fruit by itself or eat too much. The sugar in it can cause blood sugar issues and feed bad microbes which is a problem with leaky gut. Also, as you heal sometimes you feel worse for a little while. Bone broth makes me feel terrible, but I know it is helping to heal my gut, so I have it in small doses. The book, Practical Paleo, has some very helpful information on healing adrenal and gut issues with the Paleo diet. You might want to start there.

          • Amena

            You might have a yeast overgrowth.

  • Ryan Merrifield

    If you are fortunate enough to live in a state that has a medical marijuana law that you qualify for, add that to your regime to see explosive healing results!.

    • Tomas kennedy

      In my case what bothered me a lot is continuous gas. Especially when I
      am in class it was highly intimidating b/c of the noise my belly makes
      almost every time. Though I found this video

    • subo

      However it can cause psychosis of various types in some people despite being covered by the law. See Harvard study, etc.

      • Ryan

        Do more reading and you will see why. People tend to get a hold of extremely high THC stains, which yes, can lead to what you said. CBD acts as a primer for the cannabinoid THC, and allows your body to accept the THC to certain ratios of each other. In fact, CBD, when used at points of THC induced psychosis, negates the psychological effects of the THC. Cannabis is a highly misunderstood healer. And only because of its society’s misappropriation of it, have we lost sight of its true therapeutic value.

        • Ryan

          Just wanted to add, using THCA sublingual in tincture form, prevents the psychoactive nature of the THC from ever occurring. Basically what THCA is, is a non psychoactive, acid form of THC. When it gets heated to a certain degree, it becomes psychoactive, which is why it’s been most popularized by smoking it. So you can in fact, get all the benefits of the plant without the high, if you are using THCA that is.

  • I have been on a Paleo diet for about six weeks. I have psorisis and arthritis. Since I have been eating more nuts I have been  very itchy. After reading this post I’m pretty sure I need to pay attention to healing my gut. Is it possible that the nuts have been causing the itching?

    • Yes. I get that too!! Itching is an inflammatory reaction. I bet if you took an analytical step back, you might realize you’re also making more mucus on the days you feel itchy. (Sinus pressure? Runny nose? I get runny ears, which is weird, and a “lump” in my throat that is excess mucus). Definitely try and balance omega’s at an ideal of 1:1.

      • oboe

        Yes it is most definitely the nuts… I used to have the same problem. Spinach is also an issue for me. Most people do not limit the nuts that they consume on Paleo, although I feel as if this is very important due to the oxalic acid within the nuts.

    • anialmap

      This is an old post but in case you read it…….the itching is from oxalic acid from nuts!!!! it is because in case of leaky gut oxalic acid foods get thru the gut! Stay away from high oxalic acid foods such as nuts, spinach etc. you would be surprised what foods have oxalates in them! I have Crohns and I get itchy after eating anything with oxalic acid!!!

  • Emma

    Why are macadamia nuts okay to eat if one is eliminating nuts from their diet?  Are they not truly a nut?  I love macadamia nuts, but have eliminated them along with all nuts.  I’m trying to figure out which nuts bother me, through an elimination diet routine, after noticing that I react negatively to almonds.  BTW, as I begin to test various nuts on myself, can you suggest which ones to start with, which ones tend to be the least problematic?  Thanks.

    • @ Emma, it has to do w/ the ratio of Omega 6 to 3. Macadamias are supremely low in Omega 6, making them less inflammatory than other nuts. If you’re testing this for yourself, remember that 1) peanuts arent nuts, theyre legumes, 2) some people aren’t reacting to the nuts, they react to aflatoxin from mold spores that sometimes affect ground nuts 3) go in order of omega ratio if you’re curious to see how the Omega 6 is affecting you. Stay off all nuts for 3-4 weeks, then add one back and eat a LOT of it for 1-2 days, then stop for another 4-6 days to see if you develop any reaction. Source on nut info: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/nuts-omega-6-fats/#axzz1rM9bCiq2

      • Emma

        Thanks for the suggestion.  I did know that peanuts were a legume so I won’t go there.  I do like your idea of testing nuts according to their fat ratios.  Macadamia nuts are one of my favorite nuts, so I’ll definitely start there, especially knowing their are higher in Omega 3.  

        I know that non-grass fed meats are not as high in Omega 3, but we can’t always buy grass fed meats.  Do you have any suggestions, other than nuts, for ways to increase my Omega 3 ratio?  I do take a fish oil supplement.  It just seems so difficult to increase the ratio of Omega 3 in the diet without the grass fed meats.

  • Laura

    For anyone who has been told they have adrenal or thyroid issues you might think of going to a doctor/chiro/natural of some sort that does “functional medicine”. I had “adrenal exhaustion” and they thought I had thyroid disease. Hashomotos (sp?) but when she got the blood work back I did not…but my pituitary was in trouble. The pituitary sends out the hormones and that was the culprit. So, go to someone that does your blood work comparing you to healthy people not sick people as well.

    Also, I was just told I had leaky gut. The diet is really strict. It’s by a company that puts out supplements. One that they want me to take is called RepairVite by “Apex Energetics Nutritional Complexes”…Have you heard of it? along with a good non-dairy probiotic. The diet is intense. Absolutely NO grains except “brown shirataki yam noodles. The only fruits are low glycemic organic fruits, apples, apricots, avocados, berries, cherries, grapefruit grapes, lemons, oranges, peaches, pears, and plums. They highly recommend fermented foods, saurkruat, kimchi, kombucha, pickled ginger, and unsweetened coconut yogurt.

    • Cor

      I just visited an NP and she gave me the same supplements it sounds like. I took the repairvite for two weeks and then she said i could start adding foods back in. So far eggs are a trigger and i think almonds are too. Im wondering if you did the diet and supplements and how you are feeling. I hated being sold a powder that Im not sure really did anything, but I was up for anything. Its been maybe 3.5 weeks since i first visited the NP and have lost some weight and my sleep is better. Letme know if repairvite helped you!

      • Never heard of repairvite but I take supplements to aid digestion and it has tremendously helped in the healing of my gut, among many other things!

  • I don’t seem to get what a leaky gut exactly means. But I am really troubled with bloating and discomfort in th abdomen. I found it hard to attend class – abdominal noise. I will see if changing food will help me. I also found this website http://dess.me/Lkygt and intend to try it. Good luck for myself.

  • Alice Fulton-Osborne

    We KNOW the diet you recommend is the best way to feed the body. But I find it extremely frustrating that whole healthy food is so expensive. “What’s your health worth?” is always the response to any comment about the expense of healthy, organic, grass-fed, free-range, whole foods. While we know the answer to this question, it still doesn’t address the issue that a very large percentage of our population simply cannot afford to eat this way–seniors living on social security is just one example. That said, do you think we’ll ever see the day when the organic, whole foods industry will take steps to make the right way to eat more affordable?

    • Ulie

      Local weekend vegetable & fruit markets will have discounted food a few hours before close. Cheap fruit& veggie shops sometimes sell boxes of discounted food around midday. Health stores will have products that are overpriced and not always so healthy or fresh, so I tend to buy through the Internet and local producers now which works out cheaper, especially when buying in bulk with friends etc. Permaculture organizations also have weekend markets where you can buy food fresh from the garden.

  • Thanks for this wonderful article. I have suffered from leaky gut for such a long time. I am now on paleo diet and it’s been a couple of weeks and I can already see some changes. Hope things improve going forward. I am going to apply some of the advice you have shared here.

  • Graceie Romayne Bodo

    In regard to bone broth, would deer bone also be a good source for making it? Planning to eat a lot of wild venison and would be happy if the bones could be good for the bone broth. So ready to get healthy and I’m happy I finally am getting to the root of my sickness. From my leaky gut I’ve suffered these past 10 years form asthma. I finally got better 2 years ago when I gave up dairy and got off the steroids and was amazingly healthy for 9 months. From then on however I just kept developing new allergies and my breathing would worsen until I discovered the new food allergy and stopped eating it. And would be good until I developed another one and not be able to breathe all over again, barely at all, I’ve been in just about every ER in Europe and North Africa being rushed there after severe attacks. But anyhow, obviously just eliminating foods that make me sick is not enough, I need to take a lot of time heal (and this diet is a lot of work, it will be a lot of work just to get enough calories with the food limitations) but I am so ready to be really vibrantly healthy and be able to breathe! Breathing is number one. 😀 Thanks so much, I’m happy to have a course for health. It’s such a pain in some ways and I can’t help but feel sorry fr myself a bit; why me, why am I sick, other people eat whatever they want and why can’t I, etc. But I realize it’s a blessing in disguise, because I get so sick I’m being forced into this amazingly healthy lifestyle and in the end I’m sure I’ll be so grateful for it.

    • Yes, any animal bones work great, especially when the animal was in their natural environment and eating pattern.

  • Cindy

    I read the problem with the nuts (not macadamia) is they are high in lectins and these are the real problem with invading the gut. Lectins and phytates. I just learned this last week and avoiding these are an incredibly good thing to do. Also strawberries and raspberries also have them so all fruit should not be lumped together. just fyi.

  • dognation

    The only way I healed the ” Leaky Gut” syndrome was going to a Plant based diet (no meat or dairy). Took me years of trying to eat different diets . This post is from two years ago when the Paleo was all the hype. Read the China Study by T. Colin Cambell . Changed my life. Living with Hashimotos and suffering from “Leaky Gut” was awful . I now feel the best I ever had because of giving up dairy and meat. I suffer no longer 🙂 .

  • some guy

    crap advice noting about fermented foods

  • ryan

    No dairy??? You said kefir is okay…Did you mean water kefir, or is kefir from dairy okay since it is fermented??

    • I recommend sticking to water kefir only for 30 days to give your gut time to heal. After that, reintroduce some fermented dairy to see how you do with it. You might be able to tolerate it well.

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  • I definitely think I have leaky gut (various food intolerances which seem to be getting worse) my only slight issue is that I don’t eat meat (white fish only) so I don’t particularly find any appeal in bone broth / I don’t wish to eat it.

    any advice?


  • Patty

    Do you have any idea how overwhelming it is to read this? TMI!!!

    • Sorry you feel that way, some have found these tips to be very helpful!

  • Rasha Mosaad

    I am on a leaky gut diet but i got a very bad reaction from drinking spinach juice? Any thoughts on that?