Have you ever felt really virtuous eating a healthy snack or meal, only to feel like crap afterwards?
We've all read the gushing headlines proclaiming an "ancient" berry/seed/nut as the next "superfood." There may be some truth to these claims, but what you can measure in a lab in terms of nutritional value is not as important as answering this question:
"Is my body able to receive the value in this food, when my gut is currently stressed, malnourished, and in a state of dysbiosis?"
It may not be, when it comes to the foods listed below.
Take cashews -- a recent darling of vegan cuisine, cashews are technically high in protein but contain gut irritants on several levels. Cashews are high in lectins, a family of plant poisons that irritate your gut lining and make your blood sticky and sluggish. Raw cashews also contain urushiol, a resin that is toxic if ingested and can cause rashes or burns if it contacts the skin.
Years ago, my favorite restaurant was a beloved vegan eatery that used cashews in practically every sauce. Their dishes were delicious, but reading through their organic, gluten-free, vegan menu was a lectin and nightshade nightmare. It's not hard to understand why I always felt terrible after eating there, and so did everyone else who went with me!
When I finally got wise to lectins, I stopped eating there and stopped getting the bloat, discomfort, rashes, and food fog that went with my vegan happy meals.
"Super foods" that might be irritating your gut:
See above example. Cashews are lectin bombs, and they contain the same irritants as poison ivy.
If you see health-food-porn with several kinds of seeds on top and your tummy hurts just looking at it, you’re not alone! Seeds are wonderfully nutrient dense, but they’re really difficult to break down. They're best eaten when your gut lining has been resealed, your gut microbiome is super happy, and your digestive juices are flowing effortlessly. Since almost ⅔ of Americans have experienced digestive upset within the last 7 days, most people reading this are not seed-ready. Yet! Think positive, happy gut thoughts.
Just avoid ‘em, sweetie. Garnish your dishes with gentle seasonings and fresh herbs like parsley, mint, basil, rosemary, and cilantro instead. (Flax seeds are a potential exception and deserve their own post.) Until you've healed your gut, get your essential fatty acids directly from cold pressed oils, or easy to digest foods like avocado.
Kale, Swiss Chard, and Spinach
I know I’m going to get my health-nut hippie card revoked for this, but these leafy greens are over-hyped and tough on a lot of tummies. If you’ve got IBS, I know you’re already hip to this. High in histamine and oxalates, these greens can be tough to break down for people already in digestive distress. Stop juicing them and putting them in salads and smoothies! If you’re really attached to kale, experiment with the Lacinato or Dinosaur varieties instead of Curly Kale.
Switch to bile-boosting greens that are lectin-free and lower in histamine and oxalates, such as arugula, dandelion greens, butter lettuce, cabbage, and romaine lettuce.
Soy / Tofu / Edamame
Once a vegan and vegetarian favorite, more and more people are discovering the drawbacks of overdoing it with commercially grown soy. This “super food” is high in lectins, and the vast majority of our soy supply comes from heavily sprayed GMO crops. The concern about phytoestrogens in soy is well researched, and has been linked to distorted hormones, thyroid issues, and more.
Worried about missing soy-based cultural foods? Traditional soy preparation involved soaking and fermentation which reduced lectin exposure, making it easier to absorb the benefits in this legume. Today, we’ve been so over-exposed to commercially grown soy in processed foods that we recommend pausing soy consumption until you’ve met your health goals. Once you're happy with your digestion, hormone, and energy levels, you can experiment with reintroducing organic, fermented soy formats only.
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian working on your gut health and you’re concerned about getting enough protein, consider supplementing with fast acting, easily absorbed MAP Aminos. Meat eaters can rely on grass fed grass finished animals, pasture raised, hormone free poultry, and wild caught fish.
Eggs are now one of the top allergens and irritants for Americans, yet most adults are unaware that eggs could be an issue for them. Food industry experts have blamed this increasingly common issue on the commercial farming practices for chickens. Filthy, cramped, over-medicated, and force fed GMO corn and soy, it's no wonder that that these hens are churning out gut irritating eggs instead of healthy, nutrient dense, superfood eggs. Sensitivity testing can help you discover if eggs are an issue for you, just remember that you may be sensitive to the soy and corn that most chickens are fed, not the eggs themselves.
Either way, it can be helpful to experiment with taking a break from eggs, and pay attention to any shifts in digestion, energy, mental clarity, and skin resilience. If you're going to continue eating eggs, choose organic, hormone free and pasture raised, not "free range." Get to know your farmer and be that extra annoying person asking if their chickens are getting organic food, or if they’ve been exposed to herbicides and pesticides that add to leaky gut. Your tummy will thank you! You are worth it, and so are the hens.
If you’re a vegetarian working on your gut health and you’re concerned about getting enough protein, consider supplementing with fast acting, easily absorbed MAP Aminos. If you’re able to consume meat, stick to grass fed, grass finished beef, pasture raised poultry, and wild caught fish.
"Ancient" Whole Grains
These sound so friendly, don’t they? Unfortunately, most ancient grain crops are heavily sprayed with chemicals that attack your gut microbiome and disrupt your gut lining. Even organic crops are harvested with glyphosate spray to speed up the dessication process, adding to your leaky gut issues. Most ancient grains are high in lectins, break down into sugar instantly, and are notorious for cross contamination with gluten during processing. For most people, it’s best to consider adding these back in after you’re already happy with your state of health. Sigh.
Cauliflower rice is about to become your bff. Widely tolerated by most gut-distressed folks, this humble staple works as a great base to most healthy dishes. Bonus: cauliflower gently nudges your liver and gallbladder to let go of old sludge, making it an easy choice during your detox!
High histamine, high lectin, high sugar, high irritant. Big no-no for most folks. Enough said.
Choose fresh or frozen organic berries instead, ideally in season. Raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries are packed with health benefits, lower in sugar than gogi berries, and much easier to digest! (*Avoid strawberries if histamine sensitive.)
High in lectins and sprayed heavily with herbicides and pesticides, most pea proteins are a gut bomb waiting to happen. This is the onlyorganic pea protein product that we’ve found to be supportive for gut-sensitive folks, due to the farmers' unique method of processing. (This discount will work on any of these 4 flavors - my fave is chocolate, Michael's is the Apple Berry.)
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian working on your gut health and you’re concerned about getting enough protein, consider supplementing with fast acting, easily absorbed MAP Aminos. If you’re able to consume meat, stick to grass fed, grass finished beef, pasture raised poultry, and wild caught fish.
Most of these products are made with cereal grasses better suited for cows than humans. Difficult to digest and heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, these overpriced products are gut bombs waiting to happen. At a bare minimum, check to make sure that your fave brand is fully organic so that you're not creating leaky gut with your "healthy" choices!
If you love your green powders and don’t have the time or energy to get your daily greens any other way, try this green powder instead. It’s made of wild crafted greens that are designed to support your digestive tract, not irritate it!
The bottom line:
No food list is one-size fits all, but the more you know, the easier it is to help your body in the healing process. Many of these foods may be easily tolerated once your gut is in tip-top shape. Focus on simplicity during the healing process, and play with widening your menu down the road when you’re feeling fabulous.
Sending high-energy, gut-healing vibes your way!
Sinclair and Michael
- Divi, R.L. and Doerge, D.R. Inhibition of thyroid peroxidase by dietary flavonoids. Chem. Res. Toxicol. 9, 16-23, 1996. Chem Res Toxicol. 1996 Jan-Feb;9(1):16-20
- Doerge DR, Sheehan DM. Goitrogenic and estrogenic activity of soy isoflavones.
- Sheehan, D.M. and Medlock, K.L. Current issues regarding phytoestrogens. Polyphenols Actualities, 13:22-24, 1995.
- Joneja, Janice. Histamine Intolerance The Comprehensive Guide for Healthcare Professionals