Leaky Gut? Now What?

healthy eating healthy living healthy recipes real food resilience sugarfree Feb 05, 2023

Last week I asked you to consider How Can My Gut Be Leaking?!? 

Here’s some more info on what Leaky Gut is and a delicious way to begin to heal and feel better.

What is Leaky Gut?

The key to understanding what is meant by “leaky gut” requires some knowledge of our gastrointestinal  system (GI tract). The “tube” that is our GI tract is technically considered to be outside of our body!  Materials such as foods, pathogens, drugs or anything we ingest are processed by our digestive and intestinal system so we can absorb our nutrients and be protected from anything that is harmful before it “enters” the body, which technically means it will enter the bloodstream. Once inside the bloodstream, substances are considered inside the body.

To protect ourselves, we have a complicated set of enzymes, cells, good bacteria and hormones as part of our intestinal wall lining that are designed to protect us and only allow what we need into the body and keep elements like bad bacteria, viruses or yeast out.

Good bacteria line up against your gut lining and protect it. There are gap junctions between the cells of the intestinal lining, which can open and close. There are good reasons for this. The antibodies in a mother’s breast milk go through the open gap junctions to help protect the baby during the first three months of life. They can also open to allow fluids to flood the intestines and flush out pathogens (this can manifest as diarrhea). This is how you want your gut to function.

The term “leaky gut” refers to a more chronic condition where the gap junctions are open permanently and the intestinal wall lining has atrophied.  When there are not enough good gut bacteria, the lining becomes damaged from pathogens like bad bacteria, yeast, drugs, alcohol, and other harsh man-made and natural chemicals. This causes the gap junctions to stay open and allows pathogens and undigested food particles to get into the blood stream and force the immune system to attack them, causing inflammation and other symptoms. This is called “leaky gut.” Not everyone who has dysbiosis has leaky gut, but all people who have “leaky gut” have dysbiosis. 

A gut health strategy includes improving good bacteria levels as well as the nutrients needed for a healthy gut lining. 

One way to do this is to include fermented foods on a daily basis.

Foods For Gut Health

Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, kimchi, beet kvass, cultured vegetables, wine, apple cider vinegar, aged balsamic vinegar and unpasteurized beer all promote good gut health.

Fermentation is an ancient preservation technique that turns simple foods into superfoods. Fermented foods are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, help stabilize blood sugar and support immune function. They are loaded with good bacteria which help the gastrointestinal system function properly. The bacteria are transient but are very helpful. Most fermented foods also contain prebiotic fibre that help feed our residential bacteria.

All fermented foods have an acid pH somewhere between 3.5 and 5, depending on the type and how long it has been fermented. Vinegars that are properly fermented, like apple cider and aged balsamic, have an even lower pH, around 2.5. All fermented foods aid digestion.

Kombucha: This is a traditional beverage, often called a tea and made with a SCOBY that feeds on tea and sugar. Don't worry!  By the time it's ready to be consumed, the sugar should be fully digested.  The SCOBY is a rubbery mass that is a combination of good bacteria and yeast strains. SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. Kombucha can be flavoured and is easily found in health food and grocery stores. Be sure to purchase it from a refrigerator because anything found on a store shelf has been pasteurized.  And make sure that there is no added sweetener!  Kombucha has numerous anecdotal benefits but there is not a lot of research about it. However, there is some research regarding the phytochemicals in kombucha. It has a significant number of antioxidants, helps stabilize blood sugar and may aid wound healing. 

Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is made with cabbage and is fermented in a brine made of salt and cabbage juice and must be made without oxygen. It can be purchased from a health food or grocery store and again, should be purchased from a refrigerator case and not the store shelf. Phytochemicals in cabbage are more bioavailable and may protect against carcinogens. Enzymes found in sauerkraut may help with ulcers. Sauerkraut is also a good source of vitamin C, which is found in every cell of the body. 

Kimchi: Originating from Korea, kimchi is made from cabbage, daikon radish, onions, carrots, ginger, and garlic. Sometimes, fish powder and/or red pepper powder are added. It is made in a salt water brine without oxygen. Kimchi is the subject of a lot of research. Certain strains in kimchi have been shown to aid the detoxification of heavy metals and Bisphenol-A, found in plastic, from the gastrointestinal tract, preventing them from entering the body. It also helps protect against heart disease, aids weight loss and boosts the immune system. Kimchi is available in health food or grocery stores and again, should be from a refrigerator case and not the store shelf.

Yogurt: It is traditionally found anywhere animals are raised for their milk and can be made from cow, goat or sheep milk. It is important to make sure that the yogurt you eat is natural. It should contain only milk ingredients and bacteria culture. There should be no gums, emulsifiers or added sugar. Commercial yogurts may only be fermented for an hour, whereas natural yogurt is fermented for about six hours. This means it has more good bacteria and is far more digestible. Organic yogurts are always traditionally made and natural.  When yogurt is made, good bacteria break down lactose as part of the fermentation process. Many people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate yogurt. It also contains the prebiotic GOS to feed our good bacteria. Yogurt contains 2-4 strains of good bacteria. It aids the immune system, helps with ulcers and supports the detoxification of cancer-causing substances.

Sourdough: Sourdough starter is a way to naturally ferment grain to produce yeast to leaven a bread. By fermenting the grain, the protein and the carbohydrates are partially broken down, making it much more digestible. Many people who have issues with wheat have no trouble digesting sourdough. Most sourdough breads do not have fully fermented flour. When the flour is fully fermented, the gluten in wheat is fully broken down and studies show that people with celiac disease can digest it.  Sourdough, even when it is made with white flour, lowers insulin release and does not spike blood sugar. Once the sourdough is baked, it still helps support immune system response even though the bacteria and yeast are dead. Many bakeries make traditional sourdough bread in urban areas. 

Beer and Wine: Both are traditional fermented beverages. Beer must be unpasteurized to have the benefits of the good bacteria and yeast. It is known to be an anti-inflammatory and can help cognitive function. Although red wine is more well-known for its health properties, studies are finding that white wine has positive benefits as well. Wine may protect against heart disease and cancer and is high in antioxidants. Both wine and beer were designed to be consumed in small amounts with a meal to aid digestion. When purchasing wine, avoid wine with sulfites. Organic wine will have the most phytonutrients and is always sulfite-free.

Apple Cider Vinegar:  Apples can be fermented into vinegar but it is important to buy real apple cider vinegar. It should have a brown sediment at the bottom of the bottle which is the remnants of the fermented apple. This is known as the “mother,” which is often stated on the label. Apple cider vinegar aids digestion, especially protein and fat. It also contains malic acid, which can help stimulate hydrochloric acid production in the stomach.  

Aged-Balsamic Vinegar: It is made from specific types of grapes and can be aged for 3 to 25 years. The longer it is aged, the more expensive it is. So, as you probably guessed, a three-year old vinegar is the most economical. If it does not state that it was aged for at least three years, then it is not a properly fermented product and will not have the same health benefits. Aged balsamic vinegar is high in antioxidants and aids digestion.    

Beet Kvass: This is a beverage made from beets fermented in a salt water brine in the same process as kimchi. Fermenting beets converts naturally occurring nitrates and nitrites to nitric oxide, which is very beneficial for blood vessels and cognitive function. The phytonutrients in the beets are also made more bioavailable and have numerous benefits including aiding liver and kidney function. Beets also contain tryptophan, which converts to serotonin which is our anti-depression neurotransmitter. A recipe can be found below.

Cultured Vegetables: Any vegetable can be fermented with the same salt brine process as kimchi, even legumes. This means that they can all be more digestible and as always, fermenting makes all the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients more bioavailable and potent.

Home Practice This Week ~ Add Fermented Foods To Your Diet!

  • Pick one - start with a small amount and work up to a level that works for you.
  • Add them to recipes that you like – don’t heat if you want the live good bacteria. But, you can add them to a warm dish when serving.
  • Try to eat three different types per week for a total of five servings.
  • You may find one or two a day works well for you.
  • Fermented foods work well in smoothies, especially cultured vegetables, kefir, yogurt and sauerkraut.
  • Enjoy!


Recipe ~ How To Make Beet Kvass

  • 1-2 medium beets, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp sea salt*
  • 2-3 cups spring water
  • 1-quart or 1-litre mason jar with lid

​​Mix the water and sea salt in a measuring cup to make the brine. Chop the beets into small cubes. Do not grate. Fill 1/3 of the jar with beets. Pour in the brine water, leaving one inch of space from the top of the jar. Place the lid on top and screw it on tightly. Let it ferment for 7-14 days. Turn the jar upside down every day to keep the beets covered until the gas builds up inside of the jar. This takes about 4-5 days.

*To Use Less Salt: Use only 1 tsp sea salt and 1/4 cup whey drained from yogurt or sauerkraut juice.

Optional: Add citrus peels, vegetables like cabbage, carrots or onions, herbs and spices like ginger root. Use your imagination and create the kvass you like best.

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