What Is AIP? Part 1: Diet

If you have been following Daily Mom for a while, you’ve probably seen a few recipes go by with a stamp of “GF, DF + AIP”. While there are a lot of acronyms in the diet world that you are probably familiar with — GF is gluten free, DF is dairy free — AIP is a fairly new addition.

AIP stands for Auto-Immune Protocol, and it is generally considered a subset of the Paleo diet. It was first alluded to by Loren Cordain in The Paleo Diet, and then referred to as the “autoimmune caveat” by Rob Wolf in The Paleo Solution. While a Paleo diet eliminates a number of modern food sources, the Autoimmune Protocol expands on Paleo to exclude more foods that are often troublesome for people suffering from autoimmune disease(s).

What is an Autoimmune Disease?

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which one’s own body is attacking itself in some way. A prominent and common example of an autoimmune disease is Type 1 Diabetes. In Type 1 Diabetes, the body literally attacks the beta cells (insulin producing cells) of the pancreas. This results in the body’s inability to properly control blood sugar leading to a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes. There are many other diseases that are confirmed (or have strong scientific evidence for being) autoimmune-related, including but not limited to:

  • Addison’s Disease
  • Arthritis, various kinds
  • Celiac Disease
  • Diabetes, Type 1
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Graves Disease
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome
  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
  • Lupus
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Narcolepsy
  • Psoriasis
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Reynaud’s Syndrome
  • Ulcerative Colitis

What is the Autoimmune Protocol?

The Autoimmune Protocol contains both dietary and lifestyle measures that can help heal or halt the effects of autoimmune disease. For diet, the first step is to eliminate foods that cause certain digestive issues.

  1. Some foods contain anti-nutrients that bind to nutrients making your body unable to absorb the needed nutrients. This malnutrition, even in a small way, can impair your body’s ability to heal and fight off infections.
  2. Some food can cause “gut dysbiosis”— meaning that the bacterial microbiomes in your gut are not healthy.
  3. Some foods can damage the lining of your intestines, causing what is called “leaky gut”. Leaky gut allows undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream, which then elicits an immune response from your body.

Once problematic foods are eliminated, your body can begin healing from these poor diet issues. Once the gut lining heals, more foods may be tolerated without causing inflammation or autoimmune flare-ups.

The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne is an excellent starting place with all of the nitty-gritty details about immunity and gut health you could possibly ask for.

Foods to Avoid

As stated previously, the Autoimmune Protocol builds on the Paleo Diet, but for those with autoimmune diseases, more foods may cause further inflammatory or autoimmune responses when eaten. As a general rule, following an AIP diet would include the removal of:

  • Grains and Pseudo-grains
    • Wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, etc.
  • Dairy
    • Butter, buttermilk, cheese, ice cream, milk, yogurt, etc.
  • Legumes
    • Beans, lentils, green beans, peas, peanuts, soy, etc.
  • Processed Vegetable Oils
    • Canola oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, etc.
  • Processed Food Chemicals and Ingredients
    • Artificial colors and flavorings, emsulfiers, MSG, lecithin, etc.
  • Added Sugars, Sugar Alcohols, and Non-nutritive Sweeteners
    • Corn syrups, fructose, brown rice syrup, mannitol, sorbitol, aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, etc.
  • Nuts/Oil and Seeds/Oil
    • Almonds, almond flour, almond oil, cashews, pecans, chia, hemp, sesame, sesame oil, etc.
  • Nightshades and Nightshade Spices
    • Bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, tomatoes, potatoes, paprika, etc.
  • Eggs
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee

If that list seems overwhelming… it is. However, the Autoimmune Protocol diet is not meant to be followed forever. AIP is designed to be an elimination diet. For a specified period of time, one or more months — usually until symptoms of an autoimmune disease begin to improve — all or some of the food listed above are to be completely avoided. After the initial time period is over, the potentially problematic foods are reintroduced one at a time over several days (that is several days of testing for each item before moving on to the next). If any food causes digestive issues, or obvious flare-ups with your autoimmune disease, it will need to be avoided for several more months to give your body more time to heal (and then try reintroduction again) or avoid completely.

Some foods you may already know are problematic and reintroduction will not be necessary to gauge the reaction that may occur upon consumption. Also, some foods will never be reintroduced like modern grains and industrial oils.

Foods to Eat

After eliminating potentially problematic foods, the next step is to eat foods that are high quality and nutrient dense. These are whole foods that heal and nourish, rather than mere “irritation-free” empty calories. While variations of sweets and baked goods can be found that are AIP friendly, these should be eaten as the occasional treat, not as sweet breakfasts every day or daily desserts.

While the list below of foods to eat is not complete, it will give you a good starting point.

Red Meat
(Ideally grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic or wild-hunted) Beef, bison, deer, goat, lamb, pork, etc.
(Ideally grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic or wild-hunted) Chicken, duck, quail, turkey, etc.
(Ideally grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic or wild-hunted) Bone broth, heart, kidney, liver, tongue, tripe, etc.
(Ideally wild-caught) Bass, catfish, cod, halibut, mahi mahi, salmon, tilapia, trout, tuna, etc.
Leafy greens (cabbages, lettuces, bok choy, collard greens, kale, spinach, etc.), asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, onion, garlic, chives, leek, and roots, tubers, and bulbs (carrots, daikon, jicama, parsnip, sweet potato, water chestnut, etc.)
Berries (blackberry, blueberry, grape, strawberry, etc.), melons (cantaloupe, honeydew, muskmelon, watermelon, etc.), apple, apricot, pear, plum, coconut, date, kiwi, papaya, pomegranate, and citrus fruits
Avocado, cucumber, olive, pumpkin, squash, zucchini, etc.
Mushroom, truffle, yeast, etc.
(Cold pressed or naturally refined, or rendered from grass-fed, pastured or organic animals) Avocado oil, bacon fat, lard, olive oil, palm shortening, tallow, etc.
Fermented Foods
Kombucha, kefir (water or coconut milk), raw-unpasturized fermented sauerkraut, vegetables, fruits, or condiments, etc.
Salt, bay, basil, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, mace, mint, oregano, thyme, etc.
Water, coconut milk, tea (herbal, green, or black), coconut milk or water, carbonated, sparkling, or mineral water, etc.
Other Items
(In moderation) Arrowroot powder, baking soda, coconut flour, coconut cream, coconut aminos, gelatin, natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, etc.), tapioca starch, vinegar, etc.

Why Should I Try AIP?

Have you ever read the list of side-effects on a prescription? Or worse… experienced any side-effects? Common side-effects to common medications can be a slight nuisance, downright annoying, or even scary. Approaching autoimmune disease with diet can help reduce or eliminate the need for prescription medications (and reduce or eliminate those nasty side-effects that may be treated with even MORE medication).

Stefani’s Story:

I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (Reynaud’s Syndrome) in my teens, although I had no idea that it was autoimmune in nature. The disease itself was mostly a nuisance and dealt with through lifestyle measures.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Psoriasis. The idea of slathering steroids on my body or taking prescription medications for the rest of my life did not sound appealing. After some initial research, I found some information about gut health and dietary modifications for psoriasis. Eventually, I discovered the Autoimmune Protocol, and learned that my body does not respond well to grains, dairy, highly processed foods, artificial sugars, nightshades, and nightshade-based spices. Avoiding these items keep me prescription free. I also have more energy, sleep better, and think more clearly when I avoid these foods that I know cause irritation and inflammation in my body.

Ready to try AIP cooking? Here are a few cookbooks and blogs to get you started:

The Autoimmune Approach isn’t just about diet, though. Stay tuned for Part 2: Lifestyle. In the meantime, see how delicious AIP foods can be with Mushroom Burger Soup, Butternut Squash Soup, Bacon Fauxtato Soup, and Slow Cooker Crispy Chicken 3 Ways.

Photo Credit: Stefani

This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician, doctor or health care professional. Please read our terms of use for more information.

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Stefani was raised in California; with her husband hailing from South Carolina, they’ve settled in the middle and are now raising three Texans. She loves classical homeschooling, great books, period dramas, modifying recipes, simple living, deep thinking, and cuddling up with her family to watch silly YouTube videos.

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