The Facts on Gut Healing Diets
I get asked all the time “what is the best diet for gut healing?”
Short answer is there isn’t one diet that suits everyone and this is the same for gut healing: it is dependent on symptoms, length of duration, food sensitivities, the root cause of your gut symptoms and how your body responds to it.
This makes more sense with this example: we would not use the same diet for diarrhoea as we would for constipation as they are caused by different factors.
In a clinical setting, every client is given a very different diet based upon the way they currently eat, their symptoms, functional testing results, food intolerances, how they digest food and the severity of symptoms. I am not the biggest fan of giving prescriptive diets so many of my diet recommendations are based upon a diet with additional tweaks to suit the individual.
I am however going to go through the most common gut healing diets; where they are relevant, and also their shortcomings and some things that seem to be forgotten along the way.
1. Lower Fibre Diets
If you have been diagnosed with IBS, SIBO or IBD, then you may have problems digesting fibre and certain types of carbohydrates that are likely to be fermented by your gut bacteria.
The low-FODMAP diet is one of the most studied diets for IBS. Scientific studies have shown that a low-FODMAP diet can alleviate symptoms in up to 2/3 of participants. FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. These are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that are rapidly fermented and can be poorly absorbed.
FODMAPs when not absorbed correctly cause water to be drawn into the bowel creating symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea (as seen in IBS).
A low FODMAP diet is a helpful TEMPORARY diet used to reduce symptom flare ups before we start to work on optimising digestion and absorption. However, what I see commonly is that the low FODMAP diet is used as a NO-FODMAP diet or as a permanent diet which is not what it is intended for. Without doing the work to optimise digestion and absorption, any attempt to reintroduce higher FODMAP foods are going to cause symptoms as the cause has not been addressed. In addition, the long-term effects of a low FODMAP diet cause detrimental changes to the gut microbiome, your long-term nutrient intake and it is a challenging and socially difficult diet to follow long term leading to isolation.
Some of the other low fibre diets used include: the SIBO-Specific Diet, the Fast Tract Diet and the Bi-Phasic Diet are based on the low-FODMAP approach. While they vary in the level of restriction of higher carbohydrate foods, they are all variations on the same theme.
I strongly recommend that you do not undertake a lower fibre diet on your own and always consult a health professional to treat the cause and support you nutritionally through this process as eliminating permanently is not the solution.
2. Paleo Diet or Whole 30 Diet
A paleo diet is based upon what our ancestors ate. It reduces processed foods, dairy, sugar, and carbohydrates. This diet places an emphasis on whole foods, veggies, healthy fats such as coconut oil and avocado and healthy proteins.
The Whole 30 diet is similar as it takes the paleo diet and then also removes alcohol and sugar in all forms.
Both of these diets are considered forms of elimination diets and can be of benefit as some of the foods removed may cause digestive symptoms and inflammation across the body.
However, many people consider a paleo diet to be an animal meat dominant diet with high levels of fat and small amount of vegetables. From an ancestral perspective, there was a predominance of vegetables in the diet with a small amount of meat and fats when hunting occurred but was not a daily occurrence.
In higher amounts, animal protein can be inflammatory within the body so when a Paleo diet is done correctly, it can be of benefit however it is still not addressing the cause of the digestive symptoms but more so just reducing symptoms.
3. Gluten-Free Diet
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten is a trigger to an inflammatory protein in our small intestine, known as zonulin, which opens the close spaces (gap junctions) between our intestinal cells causing leaky gut to occur.
This occurs in everyone including those without a gluten sensitivity through the spectrum of gluten intolerance up to Coeliac disease. For those with digestive issues, reducing gluten rich products in the diet can be supportive in strengthening the gut lining and reducing inflammation.
However, going gluten free has shown to have social effects and financial impacts also as gluten free products generally have higher costs included.
4. Dairy Free Diet
Dairy for some is challenging to digest due to the proteins, casein and whey and the lactose sugar. If we are unable to digest the proteins and sugar, this can go on to cause intestinal distress and digestive symptoms.
I find for most people, that a reduction in dairy in terms of digestive concerns can be of benefit and for majority of people is something I endorse especially if continued gut symptoms are of problem.
Gut healing is something I value highly and believe the diet plays an enormous role. However there are things that we can do through the diet which can be harmful to our digestive health which is why I always recommend seeking assistance from a health professional. If you are ready to book a consult and begin your gut healing steps, click Here to get started.