If you have been diagnosed with or suspect you have an autoimmune disease, your doctor might have (or should have!) recommended to change your diet.
While making dietary and lifestyle changes can be difficult, it is worth the relief from symptoms in the long run. Especially since autoimmune diseases are notoriously hard to treat!
Typically, you will start with an elimination diet so that you can figure out which foods trigger your symptoms. A popular option is to start with the autoimmune protocol diet, or AIP.
What is the AIP diet?
As with any new diet you try, the very first step is understanding what the diet is and why you follow certain rules of that diet. With the Autoimmune Protocol diet, your goal is to help reduce inflammation in your body and thereby the uncomfortable symptoms inflammation worsens. (Source)
The Autoimmune Protocol diet, or AIP, is a type of restrictive diet meant to help you use food as medicine. That is the basic principle of the AIP diet. You are gaining a new relationship with the food you eat by focusing more on what is going to heal your body and prevent inflammation naturally by healing from the inside out, as opposed to taking a bunch of medications to reduce inflammation.
When you start the Autoimmune Protocol diet, you will be given a list of foods you can eat, and some to avoid, similar to any other diet. With the AIP, the foods not allowed are specifically those known to cause inflammation and gut dysfunction in your body. (Source) You will be encouraged to increase your intake of foods that provide a lot of important nutrients to help heal your body.
Keep in mind you may not need to stick to the Autoimmune Protocol diet for the rest of your life. In many cases, your doctor will have you try it out to help with immune or gut health issues, then once your body has shown improvements, you can begin adding in other foods one by one to determine which are triggers for you.
Is the AIP Diet a Good Option for You?
The AIP diet can be a great option for those with an autoimmune disorder who haven’t found relief from symptoms even after improving stress, sleep and exercise. If you feel that some of your symptoms or physical ailments are related to certain types of food sensitivities, it is worth trying.
You might want to try the autoimmune protocol diet if you have:
- Gut or digestive issues. Since the Autoimmune Protocol reduces inflammation, it helps heal leaky gut and improve the health of your microbiome.
- Weakened immune system. Adding a variety of healthy foods to your diet helps bolster the immune system against disease.
- Lack of proper vitamins and minerals. The diet is high in whole, nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods. This helps correct any nutrient deficiencies that may be exacerbating symptoms.
What are the AIP Diet Details?
During the Autoimmune Protocol, you’ll need to follow the diet strictly for the first few weeks. After that, you can begin to introduce foods back in, keeping those that don’t trigger your symptoms.
Let’s start with what you are able to eat while on the AIP diet. Here is a list of foods to add to your diet when you do the Autoimmune Protocol:
- Fruits in limited quantities – stick to no more than 20 grams of sugar a day, looking for low-sugar fruits like berries
- Vegetables – eat most vegetables, except nightshades like tomatoes and white potatoes
- Fermented foods – kombucha, coconut kefir, fermented vegetables
- Meat, poultry and seafood – look for meat and seafood that is grass-fed and pasture-raised only, with seafood being wild-caught, not farmed
- Bone broth
- Green tea and herbal teas (no seeded teas)
- Coconut products – coconut oil, milk, shredded coconut (no coconut sugar)
- Healthy fats – olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, cultured ghee
- Natural sweeteners – in limited quantities, enjoy maple syrup and raw honey
- Vinegars – red wine vinegar, balsamic with no sugar added, apple cider vinegar
- Herbs without seeds – basil, mint, oregano, rosemary, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, tarragon
The majority of what you can eat includes foods you can forage, hunt, or grow, with some exceptions. The list above provides a well-balanced diet as long as you try to include most or all of these foods on a regular basis.
What Foods to Eliminate on the AIP Diet
Now for the part that isn’t quite as fun – learning about the foods you should not be eating while doing the AIP diet.
Before getting into the list, here is where the main difference comes in between a paleo diet and the Autoimmune Protocol diet: you can’t have nuts, seeds, eggs, or nightshade vegetables. On the paleo diet, you can have foods you are able to gather or forage, including nuts and seeds, but you should avoid them while doing the AIP diet. Now for the rest of the list:
- Eggs – avoid all use of eggs, since they don’t help with your gut health
- Dairy – don’t eat any dairy products, including nut milk
- Nightshade vegetables – most vegetables are allowed, except for nightshades like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers
- Grains – grains are not allowed, including wheat, corn, millet, rye, spelt, oats, rice, and others
- Beans and legumes – no beans or legumes on the AIP diet, like pinto, black, soy, kidney, and others
- High-sugar fruits – enjoy low-sugar fruits with just 1-2 servings a day, but avoid fruits with a high amount of fructose
- Processed foods
- Herbs from seeds – mustard, dill seed, nutmeg, fenugreek, cardamom, fennel, cumin
This list can be a little overwhelming when you first read it, but focus more on what you are allowed to have. When you cook with mainly whole and fresh foods, you feel better and help with your autoimmune disorder at the same time. And remember, the AIP is only part of a healthy lifestyle!
If you’d like some guidance on managing your autoimmune condition with diet, please reach out to me here.