The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is a Paleo-based elimination diet that has been specifically designed to help those suffering from autoimmunity determine their food allergies and sensitivities. The AIP calls for removing foods that are most likely to be problematic for people with autoimmune disease like grains, beans, legumes, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades, as well as food chemicals and additives. In addition, nutrient-dense foods are added to restore nutrient status. These include bone broth, high-quality meat and wild-caught fish, organ meats, fermented foods and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
The AIP removes inflammatory foods, gut irritants, and immune stimulants for a minimum of 30 days. After the elimination period, foods are reintroduced one by one to see if the body has healed and can tolerate them again.
Over the course of the elimination phase (which can last from a month to a year), changes in health and quality of life are monitored. When it comes time to slowly and methodically reintroduce foods, the information from any and all reactions to the reintroduced foods provide the foundations for constructing a diet supportive of personal healing needs.
Many continue to follow an AIP template even after their autoimmune symptoms have reduced. This can be a preventative measure to stop symptoms from flaring again, or it may just be that one feels better eating more of an AIP template.
What Is Autoimmunity
Autoimmune diseases cause the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack healthy cells. Under normal circumstances, the immune system only attacks foreign bodies, like harmful bacteria that could make you sick. When struggling with an autoimmune disease, the immune system gets confused and identifies healthy tissue as harmful to the body.
The immune system sends out antibodies that fight the healthy tissue. As the immune system damages cells, individuals may experience fatigue, inflammation, pain, swelling, fever, and other symptoms. It has been discovered that certain foods could trigger inflammation and make some symptoms worse. While AIP cannot cure an autoimmune disease, it could help ease the symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
One of the most frustrating factors surrounding autoimmune conditions is that they have no curative treatment. Current therapies are often aimed at managing the symptoms alone. By using food as medicine, AIP followers are able to reduce troublesome symptoms and heal underlying imbalances by decreasing inflammation and healing gut dysfunction. The diet focuses on a nutrient-dense intake and eliminates inflammatory and allergenic foods to support the body in cooling down the immune system.
If you struggle with an autoimmune issue, you most likely have a poorly functioning digestive tract. The by-products of the matter passing through your intestines are leaking through your gut barrier into your bloodstream, causing your immune system to respond. This concept is fundamental to understanding why the AIP works in decreasing inflammation and lowering immune system stimulation.
The AIP is designed for individuals with autoimmune conditions, including but not limited to the following:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Adrenal fatigue
- PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome)
- Multiple sclerosis
Note: Not everyone with an autoimmune disease should try the AIP diet. Autoimmune diseases are often very complex, and it is important to talk to your health professional before trying any new diet.
There are very specific rules to the Autoimmune Protocol. The list of foods that need to be eliminated can feel overwhelming. It helps to begin with your basic Paleo principles.
Avoid Gluten, Grains, Legumes, Dairy, Sugar, And Alcohol.
If you are already following a Paleo diet, you have already done this step. Gluten is inflammatory to the digestive tract and should be removed from any food plan. Grains and legumes are eliminated to avoid anti-nutrients like phytic acid and inflammatory lectins. Sugar and alcohol are removed because they are highly inflammatory and do not bring any nutritional value or healing properties to the table.
Avoid Nightshade Vegetables
Vegetables such as peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes have been found to be particularly inflammatory, causing joint pain, skin irritation, and gut discomfort.
Eggs are eliminated because the proteins and enzymes in eggs, the albumin in the white in particular, are able to work their way through the gut lining during the digestion process. Although this may occur in anyone, for those struggling with autoimmune conditions, the egg particulate matter gets through the barrier of the gut lining easily and infiltrates the bloodstream, causing immune system stimulation and reactivity.
Avoid Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are high in anti-nutrients such as lectins and phytates. They are one of the most allergenic types of foods and can cause sensitivities in people struggling with autoimmunity. Additionally, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is suboptimal in most nuts and seeds. In fact, nuts contain a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory.
Try to keep fruit to one to two servings per day. This keeps blood sugar levels stable and also helps you avoid taking in too much fructose, which can be irritating to the gut.
Avoid Food Additives
Guar gum and carrageenan along with other food additives bring no health benefits and contribute to leaky gut. Other additives like nitrites are inflammatory for the body and can also be allergenic.
Avoid Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications
NSAIDs are detrimental and inflammatory to the gut lining, whose integrity is critical in managing autoimmune disorders. This can be challenging because many pharmaceutical strategies for autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain syndromes, and acute bouts of thyroiditis use NSAIDs. Please consult with your health care professional before removing these medications from your regimen.
A Few Extra Cautions
Specific carbohydrates high in FODMAPS may disagree with some on the AIP diet. For example; nectarines, coconut or onions may bother some people. If you are following the program and find yourself reacting to certain starches in foods, it may be a sign that these FODMAP carbohydrates need to be eliminated from your diet. Remove these foods for a period of 10-14 days and then slowly reintroduce to determine your personal tolerance level.
The AIP can be summarized as follows:
What Can You Eat On The Aip
- All animal proteins (excluding eggs)
- All vegetables (excluding nightshades)
- Fruits in moderation
- Healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, animal fats, etc.)
- Bone broth
- Organ meats
- Grain-free baking flours (cassava, tigernut, tapioca, coconut, etc.)
What To Avoid On The Aip
- All grains (wheat, oats, rice, corn, etc.)
- All dairy (all dairy of all types)
- All legumes (all beans such as lentils, black beans, chickpeas, and vegetables like green beans as well as peanuts)
- Nightshade vegetables and spices (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, all peppers, red spices)
- All nuts and seeds
- Seed based spices (mustard, cumin, sesame, etc.)
- Thickeners, gums, and food additives
- Poor quality seed oils (sunflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil, etc.)
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After the elimination phase, you can begin to reintroduce eliminated foods one at a time. This can help identify foods that might trigger inflammation or pain, teaching you what your body can and cannot handle.
When reintroducing a food, it is best to designate a testing day when you reintroduce the food and eat it a few times a day. This is followed by avoiding the food for a period of time, generally 5 or 6 days. During this time, pay attention to your body. Do you feel any differently? Have any of your symptoms worsened or returned? If you do have symptoms, then you know that this food might need to be permanently removed from your diet. If you don’t have any symptoms, then you can fully reintroduce the food into your diet.
To obtain the best results, you should wait about a week before reintroducing a new food. This period of time between reintroducing foods allows for a clear understanding of how your body reacts to each food item. By introducing foods too quickly, you might not be able to tell which foods are causing your symptoms to flare up.
By setting a timeline for your elimination diet, you can focus on the healing aspect of the program and keep motivated with an endpoint in sight. While the AIP may help you to find out which foods you react to, the strict AIP is not necessarily meant to be followed for life. Once you have completed the diet, have a focused reintroduction period to identify your food triggers and sensitivities.
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com