Have you heard of the autoimmune protocol(AIP)? It is a diet based on managing autoimmune conditions, but just because you don’t have an autoimmune condition doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from this way of eating. Many people find relief from skin conditions, digestive issues, and other more minor health challenges from the autoimmune protocol. You can read here about my success with AIP in treating my own acne! Read on to learn how AIP works and how you can get started!
How does the autoimmune protocol help manage autoimmune conditions?
All autoimmune diseases stem from the same root cause. The immune system loses its ability to differentiate between foreign proteins (such as a virus) and proteins of its own body, which results in the body attacking its own cells. The type of cells that are attacked is what differentiates between the different types of autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Celiac’s disease, or Rheumatoid arthritis(source). While genetics do play a factor in your risk for developing an autoimmune condition, epigenetics shows that our environment (diet, lifestyle, exposure to toxins) is the most major factor to consider. This means that dietary habits play an important role in autoimmunity.
What causes the immune system to malfunction in the first place? The body has developed leaky gut which is allowing incompletely digested food, pathogens, and other foreign invaders through the intestinal wall and into the blood stream which is confusing the body. Leaky gut can develop for a number of different reasons including poor diet, chronic stress, exposure to environmental toxins, use of pharmaceutical drugs, and bacterial overgrowth such as candida and/or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). It is very possible to have a leaky gut without having a full blown autoimmune condition, which is why the autoimmune protocol can benefit people with less serious health problems such as skin conditions and digestive issues as well.
The autoimmune protocol helps manage autoimmune conditions by healing leaky gut and slowing (or stopping) the body from attacking its own cells. However, once the body has learned to attack itself it can never unlearn this; AIP is only a way of managing autoimmune conditions.
Dr. Terry Wahl’s put her Multiple Sclerosis into remission using similar guidelines
What is AIP?
AIP is a strict paleo elimination diet. While the paleo diet eliminates grains, legumes, dairy, and refined products, AIP eliminates all of these things plus eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades, NSAIDS, most food additives, and more (complete list below). It is advised to avoid ‘cheating’ on AIP as this will drastically hinder progress in managing autoimmune disease. This diet does not have to be followed forever, but you want to make sure your symptoms are completely gone before you begin experimenting with bringing more foods back in, which can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Some foods (such as refined products, many grains, and food additives) should never be reintroduced if possible. Sarah Ballantyne’s book, The Paleo Approach, is highly recommended for further reading!
What to avoid on AIP?
- Grains: including corn, quinoa, buckwheat, rice, amaranth, sorghum, millet, spelt
- Legumes: soy, peas, lentils, beans, peanuts
- Dairy: butter, cheese, ghee, milk
- Nuts: cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil
- Seeds: flax, sesame, chia, and hemp
- Nightshades including tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, white potato, bell pepper, all spicy peppers, goji berry, and ashwaghanda
- Spices that come from seeds or nightshades including chili powder, cayenne, cumin, paprika
- Food Additives including emulsifiers (soy lecithin), thickeners (carrageenan), and dyes
- Non-nutritive Sweeteners including artificial sweeteners, stevia, xylitol, and other sugar alcohols
- Pharmaceutical drugs (avoid any that aren’t absolutely necessary, especially NSAIDS)
Which foods can you eat on AIP?
- Pastured, Organic meats (including bacon!)
- Organ Meats (including Bone Broth)
- Gelatin: hydrolysate can be added to smoothies for extra protein
- Non-dairy fats such as olive oil, lard, coconut oil, and duck fat
- Probiotic Foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, and non-dairy kefir
- Coconut (if no allergies)
- Plantain: can be used for egg-free baking like plantain wraps
- Most vegetables excluding nightshades
- Fruit (avoid consuming more than 20g of fructose per day)
- Nutritional Yeast
- Herbal teas that aren’t made from nightshades or seeds or contain additives like soy lecithin
- Black and green tea, carob, coconut water in moderation
- Nutritive sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, molasses occasionally
- Dried fruit very occasionally
If you are doing AIP in the correct fashion, you should be eating a lot of vegetables. I have a page of Nutrition is Medicine dedicated to AIP compliant recipes.
Is _____ AIP compliant?
If you are asking this question, the chances are that it is probably not AIP compliant, but feel free to leave a comment asking!
Will I lose weight on this diet?
While AIP is not a weight loss diet, it can help you lose weight due to its low carb, moderate protein, and high vegetable nature. If you are underweight and worried about losing more weight on this diet, make sure you are including enough calorie dense foods such as avocado, coconut, meats, and root vegetables. If necessary, you can calculate your daily calorie requirements and plan your day accordingly. While counting calories can be helpful when combined with a healthy diet, I only recommend calorie counting for weight gain (not loss). If you are having difficulty losing weight due to thyroid issues, AIP can help as it helps balance hormones that can cause weight gain and water retention.
Should you Supplement on AIP?
Yes, but be careful; many supplements are not AIP compliant. Specifically, any supplement that stimulates the immune system such as echinacea is to be avoided. Other supplements that are not acceptable on AIP include iodine, spirulina, chlorella, wheat/barley grass, pea/hemp/brown rice protein, slippery elm, and lemon balm (source).
Supplements that are helpful on AIP include:
- Digestive enzymes: helpful for those experiencing digestive issues after meals
- Probiotics such as Prescript-Assist Broad Spectrum Probiotic: restores gut flora which can help heal the gut lining
- L-Glutamine: helps restore gut lining
- Cod Liver Oil: additional source of fat soluble vitamins (great for skin conditions and teeth that decay/experience cavities easily)
- Collagen or Gelatin: helps restore gut lining, also beneficial for skin, joints, and tissue healing
Thank you for reading! I hope you found this overview of the autoimmune protocol helpful!
What do you think of AIP? Would you consider trying it?