Be prepared to personalize your list of foods to avoid. Different particles will enter the bloodstream with intestinal permeability, and so the immune system has unique codes that attack “dangerous” intruders. I was diagnosed with an allergy to corn, which comes with all kinds of hidden names and ingredient derivatives: Ascorbic acid, maltodextrin, mannitol, modified food starch, natural flavoring polenta, and much, much more. If you have food allergies, be sure to look into their hidden names as well, and keep a list if shopping for snacks, bars, or any sort of prepackaged foods.
What to Test Out:
The first step in healing leaky gut and determining your personal “okay to eat” and “avoid” list is to remove ingredients individually for two weeks, and add them back into the diet to see how your body responds. Start with the most common allergens by removing them individually, adding them back in, and then removing the next one.
Sugar is to be avoided in general, with the exception of natural sugars found in fruits and other wholesome products. If you find that you can tolerate dairy, or even gluten, eat them sparingly in your diet, and be aware of portion sizes.
Other Foods to Avoid Initially:
Avoid alcohol and caffeine when first determining irritants. Overtime, they may be consumed in small quantities. Anyone who has a history of alcohol abuse should avoid it long term, as the immune system may have logged it as toxic material in the bloodstream, and the liver becomes worn out by filtering through the toxins.
Caffeine adds stress to the body, while alcohol prevents proper nutrient absorption, and can feed candida. Chocolate and soda are two products often overlooked for caffeine, however they should initially be avoided as well.
What to Constantly Avoid:
Sugar and sweeteners: Natural sugars, such as that in fruit or dairy, may be consumed in moderation. However, sugar feeds candida, and candida overgrowth will only worsen leaky gut. Artificial sweeteners are synthetic, can cause stress and inflammation in the gut, and may be derived from ingredients your body is allergic to.
Additives and Packaged Foods: For any packaged food, or food at a restaurant (even those soup bars at grocery stores), ask to see a complete ingredient profile. Most companies have to legally put if there are sources of common allergens, such as gluten, however, many companies or food stations don’t list out all ingredients. Crazy, right? I was once excited to try some soup at a grocery store because it was low in sodium, and had thick, fresh chunks of organic veggies without corn. I was miserable the next day with diarrhea and felt like I had a really bad cold. I eventually thought to ask about that soup. Turns out, xanthan gum was used as a thickener for the soup. Know what that’s derived from? Corn.
Flavorings: Any flavorings, artificial and natural, come from unknown sources that may irritate the gut. They, along with processed foods and artificial sweeteners, should be completely avoided. Those of us with busy lifestyles, or are too fatigued to make a meal, may reach over for a snack bar. There are some great choices, but often, they contain “natural flavors.”
A note on natural flavors: Sometimes they are harmless, so call up the company and ask if there are any of derivatives such as corn, soy, or wheat. Some companies may be protective of their secret formula, in which case don’t give them business if they’re unable to help you out, but my experience has been most companies will at least let you know if there are common allergens, or in some cases, send you the complete ingredient list which outlines each fruit, spice, and other sources of flavoring. If the list fits your needs, then eat away!
Processed, or Unhealthy Oils: Vegetable, corn, soybean, and other oils usually are usually overheated, which damages the nutrients, or over-processed to a degree that makes the oil difficult to digest.
Processed or Treated Meat: Avoid deli or lunch meat, as the chemicals used for treatment can cause inflammation and irritate the intestinal lining. Meat treated with antibiotics can create immune-suppressing activity in your body.
Natural Sweetener Alternatives: Xylitol and Stevia. I would personally avoid xylitol, as it may be good for gum health, but is controversial for digestive health, especially when first introduced into a diet. Stevia, lo han, and other natural sweeteners may be okay, but hold off on trying them out and begin with small amounts to best understand how they affect your body.
Legumes: peanuts, lentils, and other legumes may contain mold. They may also be difficult to digest.
Grains: If you follow the Paleo diet, avoid all grains. Be aware that some grains, such as brown rice, have similar DNA codes as gluten, and so if you are sensitive to gluten, other grains will irritate your body as well.
Eggs: Yolks tend to be okay, but egg whites can upset the digestive track.
Nightshades: People with autoimmune diseases should consider eating nightshades sparingly, if at all. These include any fruit with seeds in it: tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, peppers (bell peppers, cayanne, paprika, etc.), and goji berries are just a few examples. While they all have beneficial nutrients, they are considered toxic because of a natural pesticide in them, glycoalkaloids. The glycoalkaloids are believed to poke holes in intestinal lining, and potentially harm red blood cells.