If you are living with autoimmune conditions, you are probably familiar with the symptoms and challenges it can present. One tool that is helping many people better face the hurdles is the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP.
Is the AIP for you? Which foods does it include and which ones should you avoid? What autoimmune conditions can best benefit from the AIP diet? Let’s look at these and other questions here.
What is an autoimmune disease?
An autoimmune disease is one in which the immune system produces antibodies that attack healthy cells. These attacks can cause a variety of symptoms, including joint pain, abdominal pain, diarrhea, brain fog, fatigue, and tissue and nerve damage. In the latter category, it often results in damage to the lining of the small intestine, which results in a leaky gut. This condition means food and waste materials get into the bloodstream and cause inflammation throughout the body.
Examples of autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, and Hashimoto’s, among others. These conditions can affect individuals of any age or gender, although they are more common in women, and some of them run in families.
What is the autoimmune protocol diet?
This way of eating was developed to help individuals who live with an autoimmune disease. It focuses on healing the gut by focusing on foods that don’t cause inflammation and eliminating those that do. It is similar to the Paleo diet, yet it is even more restrictive. Therefore, it can be especially challenging to follow, although the rewards—a significant improvement in symptoms and a better quality of life—are appealing for those who have success staying on the diet plan.
Not everyone who has an autoimmune disease may need to follow this dietary plan. Sometimes symptoms can be managed by practicing stress management techniques, getting adequate sleep, avoiding or significantly reducing the use of caffeine and alcohol, and following a whole food natural diet.
However, these lifestyle changes are not always enough. In fact, more rigid dietary changes can be very instrumental in improving the quality of life when living with an autoimmune disease. The AIP diet may be such a plan for you.
The AIP diet eliminates many common foods that are known to promote inflammation. However, it includes many nutrient-dense foods as well as those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation.
How does the AIP diet work?
The diet involves two phases. You will need to be patient, as it often takes months to do it effectively.
The first phase is an elimination phase during which you stop eating all foods that contribute to inflammation. These foods are found in the foods to avoid list. You also should stop the use of certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, during this phase (please consult with your doctor before discontinuing medications). In this phase, you switch your diet to include fresh, nutrient-dense foods found in the list of foods to eat.
The initial phase can take about 30 to 90 days. You should follow the elimination phase until you notice a significant reduction in symptoms.
The second phase is the reintroduction phase. Here’s a quick review of how it works:
- Choose one food to reintroduce into your diet. Eat the food several times a day on test day. Eat only a small amount; say, one teaspoon of ice cream, and wait 15 minutes to see if you react to it.
- If you experience any symptoms after the one bite, stop the test and avoid that food. If you don’t have a reaction, consume a slightly larger portion of the same food and note how you feel for the next two to three hours.
- If you experience any symptoms during the two to three hours, avoid the food. If no symptoms occur, eat a normal portion of the food and avoid it for the next five to six days. Do not reintroduce any other foods during that time.
- If you don’t experience any symptoms for five to six days, you may reincorporate the tested food into your diet.
- Repeat this entire process with each new food.
What does the AIP list of foods to avoid look like?
If you are familiar with the Paleo diet, you’ll find that the AIP is even more restrictive. While the Paleo diet eliminates beans and legumes, dairy, grains, and soy, the AIP diet adds more foods to avoid, including nuts, eggs, seeds, and nightshade vegetables.
Here’s a more comprehensive list of foods to avoid on the AIP diet:
- Legumes (lentils, beans, peanuts, and foods derived from them such as tofu, mock meats, and peanut butter).
- Grains, such as wheat, rye, rice, barley, and foods made from them such as pasta, bread, breakfast cereals.
- Nuts and seeds and foods derived from them such as flours, butter, and oils
- Dairy foods and eggs and foods that contain them.
- Processed foods, which contain ingredients such as artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, emulsifiers (e.g., carrageenan), gums, trans fats, corn syrup, beet sugar, and other additives.
- Refined sugars, including corn syrup, barley malt syrup, beet sugar, and cane sugar.
- Oils from seeds, such as canola and vegetable oils.
- Herbs and spices from seeds, such as cumin, coriander, nutmeg.
- Nightshade vegetables, such as eggplant, okra, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes.
- Dried fruit
- Alternative sweeteners, such as mannitol, xylitol, stevia.
What does the AIP list of foods to eat on AIP look like?
The AIP diet focuses on the following foods:
- Vegetables (9 servings per day; no nightshade veggies or algae).
- Meat, poultry, and seafood (minimally processed; pasture-fed, grass-fed, wild-caught recommended).
- Fruit (up to 2 servings daily, although some experts recommend avoiding fruit)
- Healthy fats, minimally processed (coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, palm oil).
- Coconut products.
- Herbs and spices (non-seed, such as basil, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, parsley, sage, thyme, turmeric).
- Green and black teas, 3 to 4 cups daily,
- Fermented foods (non-dairy), such as sauerkraut, kombucha, coconut kefir; probiotic supplements are also suggested.
- Bone broth
- Honey, maple syrup (limited amount)
- Gelatin from grass-fed beef
- Vinegars, such as balsamic apple cider, red wine but free of added sugars
- Flours from vegetables and fruits, such as apple, banana, beets, carob, cassava, coconut, kale, and tapioca. Hearthy Foods has an entire line of AIP friendly flours.
What are the benefits of the AIP diet?
- This diet focuses on reducing inflammation and the symptoms that accompany it. One important benefit is that it helps prevent leaky gut as well as restore and heal the gut. Because the diet eliminates foods that cause inflammation, it allows the gut to regain its integrity and prevents food, toxins, and bacteria from leaking out of the intestinal tract.
- The foods in the diet enhance the health of the bacterial flora in the gut. A more balanced gut means better overall health and improved symptom severity.
- Following the AIP diet helps you identify exactly which foods trigger your symptoms. Although it takes some time to discover each food item that you need to eliminate from your diet, the reward is finally having a dietary plan that allows you to plan your meals easier and know how to avoid symptoms as much as possible.
- The AIP diet revolves around unprocessed, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods. Once you make the switch, you may be amazed by the amount of energy you have, and your immune system will thank you for the boost.
Is the AIP diet for you?
This diet requires lots of discipline and patience because of the very strict food lists and the protocol you need to follow in order to hope for success. In addition, shopping for the right foods can be time-consuming because you need to carefully check labels for ingredients that may be on the avoid list.
You should also be aware that while the AIP diet can help you get symptomatic relief, it’s still important for you to continue with other lifestyle changes, such as adequate sleep, regular exercise, stress management, and not smoking.
Research into the effectiveness of the AIP diet has been limited thus far. In a 2017 study, individuals with inflammatory bowel disease followed the AIP diet for 11 weeks. At the end of the trial, levels of intestinal inflammation had declined significantly in the participants, which translated into an improvement in symptoms and quality of life.
Talk with your healthcare professional and discuss the pros and cons of the AIP to determine whether it is for you. Some of the many factors to consider are the severity of your symptoms and their impact on your quality of life, the commitment it takes to follow the diet, and the importance of having support from family and friends.
The AIP diet was designed to relieve the inflammation that accompanies autoimmune diseases. It requires significant commitment, but it also can help provide life-changing benefits for those who have an autoimmune disease. You should follow other healthy lifestyle habits to achieve the best results.