The autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet is a diet designed to help heal the immune system in people who suffer from any autoimmune disorders. This is a relatively new form of diet that is a food-based approach towards eliminating any unwanted inflammation in the body. It is a diet plan that is believed to help heal the gut in order to lower inflammation that is created by autoimmune disorders. By reducing inflammation, the diet is believed to relieve the symptoms of autoimmune conditions.
An autoimmune disorder is any medical condition where a person’s own immune system starts to mistakenly attack and damage its own bodily tissues and cells. Inflammation is the most common sign of an autoimmune disease, as witnessed in lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis.
What is the Autoimmune Protocol Diet or AIP Diet?
Also referred to as the paleo autoimmune diet, the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet can be thought of as a much stricter version of the original Paleo diet. The paleo diet is based on fish, meat, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and is considered to be a highly restrictive type of diet. Many people find it very challenging to follow it religiously.
The autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet recommends the elimination of certain foods that are known to cause inflammation in the gut and to consume nutrient-rich foods that will help reduce inflammation as well. The autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet plan is based on the belief that a ‘leaky gut’ causes autoimmune disorders in the body. The medical term to refer to a ‘leaky gut’ is altered intestinal permeability.
The ‘leaky gut’ theory is that there are small holes in the gut that causes food to leak out into the body. This is believed to cause the immune system to start overreacting and attacking the body’s tissues by mistake.
By eating nutritious foods and avoiding foods that cause inflammation, the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet aims at healing these small holes in the gut. This is believed to help in the following ways:
- Prevent an autoimmune response
- Decrease the symptoms of autoimmune disorders
- Prevent the occurrence of any secondary autoimmune disease
- Reset the immune system
Here are some other basics of the autoimmune protocol diet:
The diet focuses on elimination: The main goal of the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet is to completely eliminate inflammation-causing foods from your diet in an attempt to reset the immune system. The basic idea behind this is to lower inflammation in the body and also to put the autoimmune disease into a phase of remission by following better eating habits.
Avoiding foods that cause inflammation will help heal the leaky gut (discussed above).
- The diet is derived from the paleo diet, but the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet version is even more restrictive than the original paleo diet.
- Autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet also promotes the consumption of vitamin and nutrient-rich foods.
- The autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet also places a lot of importance on having foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
When you start following the strict eating plan prescribed by the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet, you will need to follow it strictly for several weeks before you can start adding new foods that are not initially included in the diet. Many people try out the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet for a short period of time, while others firmly decide to adapt their dietary habits to the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet and follow it as a long term lifestyle decision.
Keep in mind that it will take time to add any new foods to the diet and that too, they need to be added gradually. Adding a new food every couple of days to once a week and then closely monitoring whether you have any reaction to the food is essential. If you notice any kind of side effects due to the food, you should take it out of the diet plan.
Autoimmune Protocol Diet or AIP Diet: Foods to Avoid
The AIP diet is extremely restrictive, and there is a long list of foods that you cannot eat. These also include many of the same foods you need to avoid if you were following the paleo diet. Here is a list of foods that have to be avoided in both the AIP and paleo diets:
- Refined sugars
- Legumes such as peanuts, soy, beans, hummus, etc.
- Dairy products including raw dairy products as well
- Processed foods
- Industrial seed oils such as canola or vegetable oils
Here are the foods that are restricted by the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet, but not always banned in the paleo diet:
- Nuts and seeds, including items such as chocolate, coffee, and some spices such as cumin and coriander. These are foods that you do not typically associate with nuts and seeds.
- All grains, such as oats, rice, and wheat
- All dairy products
- Alternative sweeteners
- Emulsifiers and food thickeners
- Nightshade vegetables (these include peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, and more)
- Butter and ghee (clarified butter)
All other oils except for avocado, coconut, and olive
You also need to avoid taking any nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and alcohol when you are following the AIP diet. NSAIDs are common painkillers such as aspirin (brand name: Bufferin), ibuprofen (brand name: Advil), and naproxen sodium (brand name: Aleve).
Furthermore, even though the AIP guidelines do not specifically address this issue, but many proponents of the diet also recommend that you avoid any intake of blue-green algae because it is known to stimulate the immune system. Due to this, people with autoimmune disorders should avoid blue-green algae.
Autoimmune Protocol Diet or AIP Diet: Foods You Can Eat?
Now that you are aware of the foods you cannot eat while you are following the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet, here’s a look at the foods you can have. The basic premise of the AIP diet is that your diet has to be rich in meats and vegetables, but not nightshade vegetables.
Other foods that you are allowed to have while on the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet include:
Ferment foods such as nondairy kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented vegetables. These foods should not contain any dairy.
Different types of vinegar, such as red wine, balsamic, and apple cider. They should not have any added sugar.
- Small amounts of maple syrup or honey
- Arrowroot starch
- Gelatin from grass-fed beef
- Sweet potatoes
- Fresh non-seed herbs such as mint, oregano, and basil
- Bone broth
- Non-seed herbal teas
While you are on autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet, you are allowed to introduce certain new foods, but on a limited basis and not immediately after beginning the diet. However, fruits remain a controversial food in both the paleo and AIP diets.
While certain approaches suggest that fruit should be eliminated altogether, others recommend that you can have around 10 to 25 grams of fruits or fructose each day. This comes to about just two pieces of fruit every day.
You can also have some unrefined salts and teas in moderation. However, when having tea, make sure that they are not seed-based such as black tea and green tea.
Does the AIP Diet Really Work?
As mentioned above, the logic that the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet follows is that by avoiding any gut-irritating foods and by consuming nutritious foods, you will be able to successfully reduce inflammation and also heal any holes in the gut.
The diet is believed to prevent or, at least, reduce the immune system’s attacks on the bodily tissues. In this manner, the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet also tries to reduce the signs and symptoms of autoimmune disorders. However, is there any scientific evidence behind this? Let’s take a look.
There is, in fact, quite a lot of scientific evidence that supports the link between good gut health and inflammatory diseases.
A 2012 study carried out by the Research Center for Allergy and Immunology in Japan found that bacterial growth in the gut is linked to both autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
Another study done by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 2014 found evidence that showed that the gut wall is being maintained by a network of proteins. The study went on to explain that inflammation has a direct effect on how well this gut wall functions and also noted that food allergies could cause the gut wall to develop holes in it, making it more porous. This study concluded that autoimmune diseases are definitely linked with problems in the gut wall, thus supporting the idea of the ‘leaky gut’ concept that proponents of the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet firmly believe in.
Nevertheless, at the same time, the study also added that further research was still required to confirm that gut wall dysfunction is one of the primary risk factors in the development of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
Furthermore, a 2017 study by The Scripps Research Institute in the United States, found that eliminating specific foods as part of the AIP diet plan can actually bring about an improvement in the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is an autoimmune disease. This research study is one of the first clinical studies that have been done to date on the effectiveness of the AIP diet.
More research, though, is still required to prove whether or not the AIP diet really can reduce the symptoms of other autoimmune diseases.
AIP Diet: Pros and Cons
Due to the fact that the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet is extremely restrictive, people generally find it very difficult to follow. You might find it challenging to adhere to the diet, especially for a more extended period of time, and also because it will start interfering with your daily lifestyle as well.
It is possible for you to instead begin with an adapted version of the AIP diet, by simply eliminating certain foods and experiencing the beneficial results. However, even while you are on the modified AIP diet, you need to still ensure that you avoid eating a diet that is high in fat and cholesterol.
If you do follow the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet, then you will soon discover that the benefits of this diet far outweigh the burdens of its limitations. The diet places a lot of importance on eating only healthy foods, so it is very much likely that your body will soon start reacting positively to the dietary changes brought on by the AIP menu.
Most people also start enjoying having a strict control over their diet and what they are ultimately putting into their body, especially when this is going to lead to a reduction in inflammation and an improvement in the symptoms of their autoimmune disease.
Who Should Follow The Autoimmune Protocol Diet or AIP Diet?
People with autoimmune disorders stand to gain the maximum benefit from the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet. The diet is engineered to reset the immune system by avoiding foods that cause inflammation inside the body.
There are over 50 million people in the United States alone with autoimmune disorders, and collectively, autoimmune diseases today constitute the most prevalent form of health problems amongst people.
While there is no cure for autoimmune conditions, it is possible for the disease to go into a phase of remission, and the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet attempts to do just that by relieving the symptoms of these diseases.
AIP Diet: Conclusion
There is no doubt that following the strict guidelines of the autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet may help you if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder as the diet eliminates all foods that cause inflammation in the body.
However, remember that at the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the management of autoimmune conditions and diet.
Maintaining a journal of foods that you eat, when you eat, and any symptoms you experience afterward will help you identify any patterns and triggers in your eating habits. Consulting a dietitian or a nutritionist will help you in this process, and you will also be able to increase the number of foods you can add to your diet plan.
Remember that your diet is only one of the factors that influences inflammation in the body. Getting an adequate amount of sleep, reducing your stress levels, avoiding unhealthy habits like drinking and smoking, are all steps you can take towards feeling better and healthier. These steps will also help reduce the symptoms of your autoimmune disease.
If you are considering the AIP diet or any other lifestyle changes to help your autoimmune disorder, then always make sure to first consult your doctor or a dietitian before going ahead with the changes.