7 Reasons That Whole30 Helps Heal Leaky Gut
If there’s one diet that can transform your health in just one month, it’s Whole30. However, the Whole30 Program isn’t so much of a diet as it is returning back to the way we once ate— before processed foods, sugar, vegetable oils, legumes, grains, and dairy made up the bulk of our diets. The premise of Whole30 is simple: ‘eat real food.’
The regular consumption of the pro-inflammatory foods that make up the Western Diet have coincided with a dramatic rise in several health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, allergies, inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and eczema, depression, anxiety, and chronic digestive conditions— especially leaky gut syndrome (1)(2).
By removing all of the pro-inflammatory foods that are most problematic to health, Whole30 takes us ‘back to the basics’ with a 30 day meal plan comprised of only the whole, unprocessed foods found in nature.
The reason Whole30 provides transformational results is because consuming unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods provides our bodies with the ‘nutritional groundwork’ for healing (from vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and phytonutrients) which helps physical symptoms clear up naturally— leaving you with more energy, clearer skin, fewer sugar cravings, and for many, a lighter body.
How Whole30 Heals Leaky Gut Syndrome
Hippocrates said ‘all disease begins in the gut,’ which explains why leaky gut syndrome is the underlying cause of many illnesses and autoimmune conditions (3). But there’s good news: if all disease begins in the gut, all health must begin in the gut, too.
Let’s look closer at why the Whole30 diet is the best place to begin healing your gut, so you can experience greater results in your overall health, and feel vibrant and energized on a daily basis.
1.Whole30 Removes Grains and Gluten
We’ve been lead to believe that whole grains are a health food, but they can be extremely damaging to your gut.
Grains contain a nutrient called phytic acid, which acts as a protective coating on the outer layer of the grain. Phytates can also bind to essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and calcium, and interfere with protein and fat digestion— which means the regular consumption of grains can also promote nutrient deficiencies (4). Grains have also been shown to promote intestinal permeability (leaky gut), which causes inflammation in the GI tract (5).
To elaborate further on how grains contribute to leaky gut, many grains such as wheat, rye, and barley also contain a protein called gluten. When gluten is ingested, it increases production of zonulin, which is a protein that regulates the openings or ‘tight junctions’ of your intestinal wall (6).
Zonulin acts like a gatekeeper by moderating these tight junctions to allow certain nutrients to pass through. However, when zonulin is being overproduced, it can enlarge the openings between the tight junctions (in other words, the gatekeeper fell asleep and left the gate wide open for anything to pass through)(7). This allows undigested food particles, bacteria and other substances that aren’t supposed to be in your bloodstream to pass through— in other words, your gut has become ‘leaky’.
Since grains undergo processing in order for us to eat them, they’re not technically a whole food, either. Removing them from your diet can help reduce inflammation and give your digestive tract the ‘break’ it needs to begin healing leaky gut.
All grains, gluten-free or otherwise, including wheat, rye, oats, barley, corn, millet, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, rice, and the bran, germ, and starch we may find in cereals and other grain recipes are off limits on the Whole30 diet. Sprouted, soaked and fermented grains are also off-limits, as well as quinoa. Although quinoa is related to the seed family, it still contains phytic acid and should be avoided in the early stages of healing leaky gut.
2. Whole30 Eliminates All Sources of Refined Sugar and Natural Sweeteners
You likely know that refined sugar is one of the worst foods you can consume for your overall health. Processed sugar is particularly damaging to the gut because it feeds the ‘unfriendly’ gut bacteria, such as yeast, which can overpopulate your digestive system and wipe out all of the good gut bacteria in your gut (also known as probiotics) (8).
Since probiotics are the foundation of a healthy digestive system, a lack of good bacteria can make it impossible to heal leaky gut, and overcome chronic digestive conditions (8).
Whole30 eliminates processed sugar, which is the largest offender to gut health, as well as sugar from natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, agave, coconut nectar, and honey.
Although they’re ‘natural,’ these sweeteners still contain fructose, which feeds the yeast and other ‘bad’ bacteria. Furthermore, while greenleaf stevia is plant-derived and fructose-free, it’s still removed from its natural state for human consumption, so it’s off-limits on a 100% whole foods diet.
3. Whole30 Increases Healthy fats and Removes Unhealthy Fats
Some fats can heal your gut, and others can destroy it.
Vegetable oils may sound healthy, but they can wreak havoc on your gut. You see, high oleic vegetable oils, such as peanut, corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oil, are commonly used in fast foods, restaurant foods, and boxed and packaged foods— which are heavily consumed on the Western diet.
Unfortunately, these fats are extremely high in omega-6 essential fatty acids, which can promote systemic inflammation and damage the gut lining when consumed in excess (9).
These fats are also heavily processed with deodorizers and other toxic chemicals which can further damage intestinal health.
The Whole30 diet plan recommends avoiding all heavily processed high oleic vegetable oils, and using only coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and macadamia nut oil for their anti-inflammatory benefits. Coconut oil is especially beneficial for the gut because of a medium chain fatty acid it contains, called lauric acid, which has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties (10).
The antifungal properties of coconut oil can help prevent the growth of bad bacteria, and keep your good bacteria ratio in check (11).
4. Whole30 Removes Dairy Products
Nearly 75% of Americans are lactose intolerant, which means they’re unable to properly digest the milk sugar in dairy— and many don’t even know they’re sensitive to this ‘food group’ (12). As mentioned above, when you’re unable to properly digest and break down a food, it causes inflammation in your digestive tract and can damage your intestinal lining (13).
Dairy also contains a milk protein called A1 casein, which has been linked to gut inflammation (14).
The exception to the ‘no-dairy rule’ on the Whole30 is ghee (clarified butter) because it doesn’t contain lactose or inflammatory milk proteins found in other dairy products, and won’t damage or worsen gut health.
5. Whole30 Recommends Drinking and Cooking With Bone Broth
One of the best foods to include in your diet to heal leaky gut is bone broth because it contains proteins such as collagen and gelatin which help ‘heal and seal’ the gut lining, and repair the ‘leaks’ of leaky gut, so to speak. Bone broth is also rich in amino acids such as L-glutamine, which helps strengthen the gut lining to prevent future damage, as well as glycine, an anti-inflammatory amino acid (15)(16).
Since bone broth is simmered for long periods of time (anywhere from 18-24 hours), the proteins, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals become extremely bioavailable and easy for compromised digestive systems to absorb and assimilate. This allows bone broth’s healing nutrients to be put to use by your body right away.
You can sip on bone broth first thing in the morning and throughout the day in place of coffee (the minerals promote all-day energy), and you can also use it to cook and sauté vegetables with, in place of water. We love cooking scrambled eggs with bone broth because it gives them an extra fluffy texture and a delicious savory flavor.
You can make bone broth at home, or buy bone broth, as long as it contains only Whole30 approved ingredients. Both varieties of Kettle and Fire Bone Broth are Whole30 approved.
6. Whole30 Recommends Probiotic Foods and Supplements
Fermentation is a natural process that increases the probiotic cultures in certain foods and makes them easier to digest. Fermented foods help replenish the healthy bacteria in your gut, which makes them essential on any leaky gut healing protocol.
The fermented foods recommended on Whole30 are fermented fruit and vegetables, such as coconut yogurt, beet kvass, sauerkraut, kombucha (as long as it contains no sugar or other additives), and pickles. Fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir are still off limits.
7. Whole30 Eliminates Legumes
Sometimes there’s nothing better than a hot bowl of lentil dahl or hummus and veggies, but a protein found in beans and legumes has been linked to leaky gut syndrome.
A protein found in legumes called lectin has been shown to damage the intestinal lining, and promote intestinal permeability (17). Like grains, legumes also contain phytic acid— the protective coating we have difficulty digesting and absorbing, which also interferes with the absorption of other essential nutrients.
These two ‘antinutrients’ found in legumes can promote inflammation, and delay the leaky gut healing process. While legumes do have essential vitamins and minerals to offer, and can be beneficial to health when they’re soaked and sprouted, it’s best to avoid them in the initial stages of healing leaky gut syndrome and improving your overall digestive health.
As you can see, Whole30 is an elimination diet that removes all of the foods in our diets today that cause and worsen existing health symptoms, and damage gut health. While the Whole30 ‘forbidden’ foods can be reintroduced to your diet after 30 days, you may want to consider some of the basic principles on the Whole30 diet as a long-term lifestyle change for repairing and improving gut health. For example, keeping grains, dairy, sweeteners, and legumes out of your diet. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy having more energy and keeping off unwanted weight?
Best of all, by eliminating all problematic foods, Whole30 helps you become more in tune with your body and aware of how certain foods are affecting you on a daily basis. Having this knowledge means you hold the power of knowing which dietary changes will provide you with the most powerful, lasting results.