With the rise of food sensitivities and allergies, along with the growth of gut problems, more and more people are looking to adjust their diet in hopes of simply feeling better. For many people, particularly those dealing with autoimmune diseases or symptoms of these diseases, the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet may be eye-opening and even provide some relief.
What exactly is the AIP diet?
The AIP diet was created by Dr. Loren Cordain, who theorized that certain foods could trigger inflammation in people with autoimmune disease. Cordain believed eliminating inflammatory foods could help those with autoimmune diseases like:
For those experiencing symptoms of an autoimmune disorder – who may not yet have been diagnosed – trying the AIP diet can be helpful in determining whether foods are contributing to symptoms and inflammation.
The AIP diet is an elimination diet that is noticeably stricter than Paleo. The basics include vegetables and clean, lean proteins, but the list is stringent and needs to be followed closely to reap the diet’s benefits.
The major benefits of the AIP diet include lowering inflammation and gut irritants. The AIP diet removes potentially irritating foods and replaces them with nutrient-dense foods to nourish the gut rather than adding fuel to the “inflammatory fire.”
If you have symptoms or a condition that has a root cause of inflammation, which some autoimmune diseases do, trying the AIP diet can be a way to help reduce inflammation in your body. It is imperative to note that while trying the AIP diet, it’s not only what’s on your plate that’s important; your lifestyle habits, including getting enough sleep, managing stress, prioritizing exercise, and promoting overall happiness, are all factors that can contribute to feelings of wellness.
How the AIP diet works
The AIP diet consists of two phases: the elimination phase and the reintroduction phase.
The elimination phase
During the elimination phase, you’ll remove inflammatory foods from your diet. This phase typically lasts one month, although some people may take longer if they wish. During the elimination phase, be sure to keep a detailed record of what and when foods are eaten and any symptoms you experience.
Foods to avoid during this phase include nuts, seeds, grains, eggs, dairy, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, etc.), and legumes. It’s also recommended to remove alcohol, tobacco, processed foods, coffee, refined sugar, and nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs include medications like ibuprofen and high-dose aspirin.
During this phase, the focus is on foods like:
- Bone broth
- Fermented foods
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Unprocessed meats, like chicken, lamb, and pork
The reintroduction phase
Once you’ve finished the elimination stage, the reintroduction phase begins. During this time, begin adding foods you eliminated during the previous stage back into your diet one at a time. This process of slowly reintroducing potentially triggering foods allows you to more closely monitor your body’s reaction to the foods than if you jumped back into your old diet. Wait around 5–7 days between each new food to see if you experience any adverse reactions, like stomach cramps, headache, diarrhea, nausea, or bloating.
How long should people be on the AIP diet?
Because some people tolerate more foods than others, it can take varying amounts of time to complete the two phases. Many people stay on the AIP diet for 30–90 days but feel positive changes prior to the 30-day mark. To ensure you’re receiving adequate nutrition, it’s not suggested you stay on the diet longer than a few months.
What to eat on an AIP diet
After completing the elimination and reintroduction phases, you should be able to tell which foods you tolerate well. To maintain any weight loss achieved during the elimination and reintroduction phases – and to reap the long-term benefits of relieving inflammation – the AIP diet recommends:
- Bone broth
- Fermented foods
- Healthy fats, including ghee, avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil
- Herbs and spices for seasoning (as opposed to salt)
- Organ meats, such as liver, heart, kidney, tripe, and brain
- Quality meats that are grass-fed, grass-finished, and pasture-raised
- Vegetables, like leafy greens and mushrooms
- Well-tolerated fruits
- Wild-caught fish and shellfish
Side effects and precautions
At the end of the day, the AIP diet is an elimination diet and is restrictive. As noted above, nutrient deficiencies and lack of diversity may result from following the AIP diet. It also can be a restrictive diet to follow in social settings and when eating outside the home. Adding stress is definitely not the goal for someone with autoimmune conditions, so if following the AIP diet becomes stressful, it may not be worthwhile.
The bottom line
The cure for most autoimmune diseases has yet to be found, and instead symptoms of these diseases must be managed. Thinking of the AIP diet as a management tool is a more realistic approach than assuming the disease will go away as a result. Before starting any new diet regimen – especially if you have or believe you have an autoimmune disease – consult your doctor to make sure you follow any new protocol properly.