What Is Leaky Gut? Why You Need to Heal Your Gut 9 Ways to Start Immediately!

It houses 80% of your immune system, the food you eat, and your poop. The gut is the clearinghouse for your bodys health. When things arent running smoothly down there the answer is often to heal the leaky gut. But what is leaky gut?

When gut health is in order healthy foods impact us more, bad things impact us less, and our body can stop fighting gut inflammation and move on to more important things. It seems like almost any health problem we have from skin rashes, to stomach pain, and mental fog, the answer is heal your gut.

Simple strategies to help with gut healing.

But what does heal the gut actually mean??

You may know how to heal a cold, a headache, or a skinned knee, but how do you heal the gut?

Someone asked me that after shed seen the advice without enough explanation a few too many times. Its an important question to address head-on!

The basic answer is this:

Give your gut a rest!

When youre sick with a horrible cold, fever, or stomach bug, what do you do? If you want to heal as fast as possible you take a break and rest.

You may take immune-boosting herbs or try to knock out the nasty bugs with essential oils or homeopathy (and you definitely want to hydrate), but if you dont slow down and rest first, recovery will be slow.

When you skin your knee a bandage helps keep dirt out and prevent your pants from re-scratching the tender skin. The gut is the same.

When the gut is bombarded with processed foods, harmful pathogens, and foods youre sensitive or allergic to gluten, dairy, whatever it needs a break. It needs a rest from not just those foods, but anything else that will scratch it and prevent healing.

Its like watching paint dry.

If you want the paint to dry give it a rest before you touch it.

If you want the gut lining to heal dont scratch it.

What is Leaky Gut?

Our guts are lined with tiny, hair-like things called villi. These villi stand up so the small intestine can absorb nutrients from food, then pass them on to the bloodstream. Imagine your intestinal wall with little, jelly-fish like fingers standing tall. Like a forest of sea anemones waving in the flow of a tide pool.

intestinal villi - heal the gut

These little dudes are like the gateway from gut to blood. When villi work right, they allow the right amounts and types of nutrients to enter the bloodstream. Villi also trap less than fully digested food and attack it with enzymes so the body can finish digesting them. (source)

They should act like Weeble Wobbles as food passes by and never fall down.

If your gut is damaged you can have leaky gut symptoms like these:

  • Abdominal bloating 1-2 hours after eating
  • Less than one bowel movement a day
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Yeast and candida infections
  • Bad breath
  • Strong body odor
  • Increased pulse after eating
  • Sensitivity to certain foods

When that happens, the villi have been damaged and the line of defense between food and your body are lying down on the job.

The gateway is open.

Partially digested food, pathogens, and the wrong kinds of particles sneak in the backdoor to the bloodstream where they can wreak havoc on your immune system and cause inflammation.

leaky gut

Give it a Rest with a Diet for Leaky Gut

To get villi healthy again we need to stop damaging them. Stop sending foods through the gaps that will scratch up your paint job so to speak.

This doesnt mean you have to go on a water only diet. However it does mean you have to cut out certain foods and emphasize others. Just like youd put a bandage over a scraped knee and dont crawl around the floor for awhile.

Rather than experiment one by one to see which foods are your triggers, its easier to cut them all out, heal your gut, then reintroduce foods one at a time to see if there any sensitivities remain. Different leaky gut healing diets, like AIP and GAPS, have specific instructions for how to reintroduce certain foods.

Simple Steps to Help Heal Your Gut

Sometimes it feels like there are 100 things you have to do to get healthy.

And in reality, there are like 100 little baby steps. Lets focus on the big picture, and break everything you can do down to nine different big-picture categories.

#1 Gut Damaging Foods to Stop Eating Right Now

The scratchy foods that bother your gut might be a little different than what bother someone else, but here are some common culprits.

Gluten This includes wheat, oats (which are often contaminated with gluten), rye, barley, and others. (source)

All grains Including corn. Some leaky gut healing protocols also nix pseudograins, which include amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa.

Dairy Milk, soft cheeses and other unfermented dairy products. Some leaky gut healing diets allow butter, while others dont. Some plans encourage fermented dairy, like yogurt, while others say stay away. This will depend on if youre sensitive/allergic to all dairy, even fermented.

Sugar White processed sugar, maple syrup, source)

Nightshades This class of foods includes peppers (including cayenne and paprika seasoning), tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes (not sweet potatoes though), tomatillos, goji berry, and pimentos. (source)

Beans and legumes These are high in starches, carbs, and other things hard for the gut to digest, especially for those with candida issues. The GAPS diet allows only green beans and fermented navy beans, while AIP recommends no beans at all. And peanuts are technically a legume, so theyre out too (at least at first).

Cookies, beans, bread, almonds, and cashews are all difficult to digest.

Nuts and seeds The main gut healing diets eliminate all nuts and seeds at first, but some can be reintroduced later.

Fruit Fruit is packed with fiber and can be a good source of nutrition, but its also high in sugar. For a leaky gut healing diet and especially for those who have candida, its best to skip most fruits for now.

Vegetable oil Canola, soy, corn and other processed, refined oils are big sources of inflammation in the body. Studies have shown the high Omega-6 content in unsaturated vegetable oils have lead to serious health issues, like cancer and obesity. Sources: 1, 2

Processed junk food If your great-great-grandma wouldnt recognize it as food, chances are your gut wont either. This includes processed meats like lunch meat and salami, which have been linked with damage and increased cancer risk.

Alcohol Even moderate amounts of alcohol can cause significant gut damage. Researchers also found it feeds bad bacteria in the gut, so theres more of it to slip through the damaged gut lining. While a glass of wine does have some health benefits, gut health experts recommend to skip it for now.

Caffeine Caffeine messes with our adrenal glands and cortisol levels, which can then effect the endocrine system, the gut, and worsen autoimmune disease. This includes coffee, chocolate, tea, and energy drinks. While caffeine is generally considered anti-inflammatory (yay!) coffee is more complicated.

Our genes may play a role in who benefits from coffee, and who sees damage and inflammation. Bottom line: skip (or greatly reduce) caffeine on a leaky gut healing diet.

#2 Got Candida?

Sugar cravings, digestive issues, fungal infections these are all signs candida may be the culprit. Candida is naturally found in our gut, but when things get out of balance it can take over and cause problems. You can do a quick saliva candida test to see.

Heal Your Gut, one of my sources, demonstrates:

Simple saliva candida yeast test find out what gut healing you need

If you have candida overgrowth, it can help to nix fungus-promoting foods like cheese, mushrooms, vinegar, and more and add more raw garlic to your diet. You can also add in probiotic strains specifically for candida overgrowth.

#3 Does Histamine Not Play Nice With You?

If you have candida issues many leaky gut health gurus recommend low carb diets and maybe stay away from fermented food and vinegar. This is also true for people who have problems with histamine. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, sneezing, congestion, and fatigue are some signs of a histamine intolerance.

Still not sure? Dr. Amy Myers details how to know if you have histamine issues and what to avoid here. These foods are some of the top culprits.

  • Anything fermented: Alcohol, sauerkraut, vinegar, yogurt, kombucha, etc.
  • Cured or smoked meats
  • Tomatoes, avocado, eggplant and spinach.
  • Dried fruit
  • Cow milk
  • Nuts
I cant tell you how many doctors have told me skin issues like eczema likely arent related to food. Dr Shiela Kilbane is convinced otherwise. In this interview I talked to her about how she became convinced, and how eliminating one food can make a HUGE difference for eczema.

Katie Kimball with Sheila Kilbane, MD

Dr. Kilbanes amazing course will help you do root cause detective work with your kids and figure out how to systematically get them through common childhood illnesses like constipation, asthma, bedwetting, recurrent ear infections, eczema and other skin rashes. Find out more here.

#4 Gut Damaging Toxins to Avoid

Theres more to this gut healing thing than food. Toxins hide in household cleaners and skincare products and can wreck havoc on the gut. Endocrine disruptors from plastics and certain chemicals change whats in our gut and how well our gut works. Scientists now even point to light at night as a strong endocrine disruptor! Sources: 1, 2

Here are some non-food things to avoid.

  • Food that comes wrapped in plastic. This is easier when we avoid processed foods!
  • Conventional cleaning products
  • Toxic personal care products, like toothpaste, soap, deodorant, etc.
  • Drugs and antibiotics which have a major impact on gut health.
  • Avoid blue light at night from screens
PRINT ME - Heal Your Gut Checklist

Want to be able to easily refer back to this list of gut-healing steps so you dont forget any of the actionable tips?

I made a printable checklist of what to seek out and what to avoid to promote gut healing, and Id love to send it to you!

#5 Gut Healing Foods to Focus On

Step one is take away the scratchy, irritating foods. Step two is add in nourishing, gut healing foods to repair the damage. Heres what you need to focus on to heal leaky gut syndrome.

Fermented Foods

Yes, I know I just got done talking about candida and histamine, but fermented foods can also be great for healing leaky gut. Theyre a cheap, natural source of probiotics the gut needs. Some good options are sauerkraut, fermented veggies, and fermented dairy.

If you have issues with candida or histamine then its recommended to skip these though. Different healing diets allow fermented dairy, others skip it in the beginning stages, while others say to skip it altogether.

Lots of Liquids

Our kidneys need enough water to do their job and eliminate toxins in the body. Not enough water and constipation can become an issue too, which is another key way the body gets rid of toxins. Water, herbal tea, and bone broth are all excellent options.

mug of bone broth

Try to stay away from anything sugary (like soda or juice), alcohol, and caffeine. Homemade bone broth (not chicken flavored water in a box from the store) is fabulous for healing the gut. Broth is high in minerals, gelatin (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!), and nutrients for leaky gut repair.

Healthy Fats

Fat was good, then it was bad, now its good again? Certain vegetable oils, like hydrogenated ones, are inflammatory and hard on the body. However, good fats are important for healing the gut.

Saturated animal fats from pastured or grass-fed animals are high in anti-inflammatory Omega 3 and have been the backbone of traditional eating for centuries. Minimally processed vegetable oils are also excellent choices.

The GAPS diet allows butter if tolerated, and both GAPS and AIP encourage ghee or clarified butter.

Here are some healthy fats to focus on.

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • Ghee or clarified butter
  • Lard and tallow from pasture-raised animals
  • Butter (maybe, see above)


Vegetables seem to be the backbone of any healthy eating plan and a gut healing diet is no exception. Green vegetables and seaweeds are high in chlorophyll to help the body cleanse toxins. And sulphur rich vegetables, like garlic, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage, help our body make glutathione, our main detox antioxidant.

Its best to stay away from starchy veggies which feed candida and are hard on a healing gut though, like potatoes, beets, and parsnips.


While fruit does have health benefits, its also high in sugar, which spells trouble for healing leaky gut. Low sugar citrus fruits like lemons and limes are helpful though since theyre high in the antioxidant vitamin C and cleansing. Low sugar, antioxidant rich berries are another good option in moderation and include raspberries and blueberries.

Start Fresh

Healing the gut is a lot like reverting to being a baby you hardly eat anything and then add gentle, soft things one food at a time. Except most babies eat grains firstunless they follow a more traditional baby diet. My last babys first foods were bone broth, soft-cooked eggs, and avocados perfect gut-healing foods.

It allows your gut to start over.

#6 Supplements and Herbs for Leaky Gut

You dont need all of these supplements by any means, but they all can offer some leaky gut healing benefits. The digestive system starts long before our colon begins, so addressing issues further up the line (like heartburn from low stomach acid), is a necessary piece of the puzzle.

Supplements to Increase Glutathione:

Herbs for Cooking and Supplements

These herbs are a nutritious addition when used in culinary amounts in food and great for a healthy, happy gut. Its easy to throw together a list of helpful herbs, but everyone is different and not every medicinal herb is the best fit for everyone. Its important to do your research and/or talk with a natural health practitioner before you take any herb in large, therapeutic doses.

spices and herbs for gut healing include cloves, parsley, paprika, turmeric, black pepper

Some Quality Probiotics

Some of these Ive used, some Im planning to use, and some have been recommended by friends and professionals alike. Its good to remember a few things about probiotics: 1. People should get different colonies of probiotics, so switching brands/strains every so often (6 weeks?) is good practice. 2. What works great for one persons needs doesnt always work for another. These can be very different! A one-day trial to Probiotic Advisor might help you get up on current research quickly if youre really digging in; otherwise, here are some to narrow down the thousands of brands out there.

Ive personally tried:

  • Just Thrive Probiotics this one can be taken during antibiotics and not be rendered ineffective, which almost all other probiotics are! Its the top recommended probiotic overall by Paleo Mom Sarah Ballantyne. (Be sure to use the code Katie15 for 15% off; also Perfect Supplements where you can use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!)
  • Read more here. Use Subscribe and Save to save more!
  • Note: If youre struggling with digestion, especially constipation, or you feel like you really need to populate your gut with healthy probiotics, I would recommend Saccharomyces Boulardiiin addition to any other you choose (except the 2 above which include this strain).Saccharomyces Boulardii is research-proven to get through the digestive tract without being killed, which is rare.
  • Seed Daily Synbiotic the new player in the field but recommended by superstars like Chris Kresser for its unique probiotic/prebiotic synergy. Im currently testing this one out at the Kimball house but trust its background enough to recommend it heartily already!And I talked their team into giving me a code KITCHENSTEWARDSHIP to give my audience 15% off the first month of your Daily Synbiotic subscription. Score! Check out the eco-friendly packaging; Im super impressed.
  • Balance One probiotics with a unique time-release formula (watch for discounts on the site; theres almost always one there!)
  • Miessence Liquid Probiotic notes: this is the easiest for kids to take because its liquid on a spoon, no powder to hide in smoothies and no capsules to swallow. If youre on a no-sweetener diet of any kind, it does have agave so could be a no-no. Gluten-free.

For Little Ones (we use all of these):

  • Mary Ruths liquid probiotic is a soil-based, liquid probiotic that doesnt need to be refrigerated and tastes likenothing! Its my new favorite for administering to kids!
  • WellBelly by WellFuture (9 strains of probiotics in apple and banana carrier its a powder)
  • Buddies in my Belly chewable tablets

Recommended by experts I trust:

Digestive Herbs

These herbs stimulate and tone the digestive system and are considered safe for most people. Burdock and dandelion are also prebiotics that feed beneficial gut bacteria.

#7 Healthy Habits to Start (or Keep Doing!)

Regular exercise is important, but its also helpful to heal a leaky gut. Try low-intensity options like walks, yoga, or interval-style workouts for no more than 20 minutes.

Chill out

According to Harvard medical school stress can trigger and worsen gastrointestinal pain and other symptoms, and vice versa. Relaxation techniques, prayer, deep breathing, and mediation can all help calm a racing mind and relieve stress.

Heres a helpful technique from Live Pain Free:

Live Pain Free stress relieving workout example

Catch Some Zzzs

Without enough sleep our body cant make the repairs it needs to be healthy, but it also has a direct impact on our gut health. Our circadian rhythms and gut microbiome are connected and when that natural rhythm is disrupted our gut health suffers.

It works the other way around too. When our gut is out of whack, it can make it hard for us to get quality sleep.

#8 Jumpstart Gut Healing With a Detox

When your liver and digestive system are overloaded with toxins, it can be hard to heal. Here are some simple ways to help your body detox and jumpstart a gut healing plan.

Phew! Was that 100 little steps to take to work on gut healing yet? It might be getting closeand if youd like more, experts will walk you through it:

#9 Programs and Resources to Heal Your Gut

Im guessing about every adult in America (and most kids too!) would benefit from some gut-healing protocols. But you dont have to do this alone or make things up as you go along.

There are a few different diet programs formulated specifically to give guts a rest or heal them. Some are meant to be temporary until you heal and others people with chronic diseases may need to follow forever.

Gut Thrive in 5 is a program that was developed by a clinical and holistic nutritionist who used her years of experience and thousands of clients to figure out how to package up expensive one-on-one custom protocols into a program that can be successfully accomplished by people at a distance through this online course.Gut Thrive in 5 is the program my husband and I are using to improve our decent health to much more (we hope) optimal health. Its developed by a clinical and holistic nutritionist who used her years of experience and thousands of clients to figure out how to package up expensive one-on-one custom protocols into a program that can be successfully accomplished by people at a distance through this online course.

Some recommended strategies, like the GAPS diet, may take over a year to complete. Many others are only 3-4 weeksvery doable.

The main gut healing diets are:

  • GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Diet
  • SCD Diet
  • Makers Diet
  • AIP (Autoimmune Paleo)

I cover how those gut healing diets compare here.

You can check out a super interview I did with two young women who healed their guts via the Paleo diet and had incredible health transformations HERE, and if you want to feed your science geek brain, read more about the microbiome and gut health HERE.

If you want to try a grain-free or gut-healing diet, these resources might help you:

Have you ever been told you should heal your gut? Have you ever tried to clean your digestion up?

The next obvious questionHow do you know when your gut is healed?

PRINT ME - Heal Your Gut Checklist

Want to be able to easily refer back to this list of gut-healing steps so you dont forget any of the actionable tips?

I made a printable checklist of what to seek out and what to avoid to promote gut healing, and Id love to send it to you!

Simple Steps to Heal Your Gut - You Can Start Today!

Sources Used:

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