The AIP diet, or autoimmune diet, is a specific way of eating or “way of life” to help individuals heal from autoimmune disease. Here’s all you need to know about an AIP Diet, including the benefits, side effects, food lists, meal ideas and tons of resources to help you get started.
AIP Diet 101
The Autoimmune Protocol, or “AIP Diet,” is a special dietary approach to help people with autoimmune disease, symptoms and/or digestive issues heal their gut—and decrease inflammation.
“Autoimmune” essentially means “attacking self”.
In the case of autoimmune disease, the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissues, leading to the deterioration and in some cases to the destruction of such tissue.
And this is most often attributed to a leaky gut—as your intestinal lining becomes more permeable (less tight) with wear and tear, food particles and ingested toxins easily leak into the bloodstream, causing those antibodies (disease destroying particles) to go to work.
As the antibodies attack the foreign invaders, they also attack your body’s own tissues in the process, leading to inflammation, “flare ups”, achy joints, skin conditions, brain fog, depleted energy, cysts, IBS, heart disease, cancer and more.
In other words: No bueno (no good).
Why the AIP Diet?
Certain “higher inflammatory” and histamine foods generally provoke this situation more, including:
- Grains and gluten
- Sugar (added) and artificial sugar
- Nuts and most seeds
- Processed foods
- Vegetable oils (canola, Crisco, margarine)
- Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes—sweet potatoes ok, peppers, eggplant, paprika, all chili’s including spices)
Enter: The AIP diet—a period of “removing the triggers” and focusing on gut-loving, anti-inflammatory foods to allow the body (and gut) to heal.
How the AIP Diet Works
An Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet works to reduce inflammation in the intestines.
Many “clean eating” or elimination diets are not complete enough to remove immune triggers that promote inflammation in the gut.
AIP works to calm inflammation in the gut and also calm inflammation in the body. Although autoimmune disease can never be cured, it can be put into remission by targeting improved gut health. For some, an initial AIP protocol of 6-8 weeks (paired with digestive support like probiotics and enzymes) is all that’s needed to then begin experimenting with some foods within the “avoid” list again to see how the body responds—even on occasion.
For others, it can be years, or even a lifetime from a history of an unhealthy gut that certain foods do provoke an inflammatory response. Every BODY is different and it’s a matter of finding what works for you.
AIP Diet Foods: What to Eat & What to Avoid
Although AIP may sound like a restrictive diet, there are actually hundreds of foods included and ways to “spice” it up. I encourage my clients to eat with the “abundance” mindset. Think: What CAN I eat, instead of what CAN’T I eat? In fact, the “avoid” list is MUCH shorter than the “eat list”
What to Avoid
- Dairy (Except for Grass-fed butter; Ghee; Full-fat grass-fed yogurt with Live Active Cultures Only)
- Beans & Legume (Including Peanuts)
- Nightshades (potatoes-sweet potatoes are ok, tomatoes/tomato sauce, eggplants, sweet and hot peppers, cayenne, red pepper, tomatillos, goji berries etc. and spices derived from peppers and paprika)
- Fructose consumption in excess of 20-30g per day (1-2 servings/fruit per day)
- NSAIDS (like aspirin or ibuprofen)
- Artificial sweeteners (yes, all of them, even stevia for right now)
- Sugar & added-sugar (Salad dressings, ketchups, frozen dinners—read labels)
- Conventional Processed/Packaged Foods
- Emulsifiers, thickeners, and other food additives
- Alcohol (limit to 1-2 glasses per week)
- Coffee (limit to 1 cup or less of high-quality, organic coffee per day)
What to Eat
- Grass Fed Meats, Poultry and Seafood
- Vegetables (except nightshades)
- Fruits (limit to 20-30 grams fructose/day)
- Coconut, including coconut oil, manna, creamed coconut, coconut aminos, canned coconut milk, shredded coconut
- Fats: olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, lard, bacon fat, ghee (derived from butter, but ok in small doses)
- Fermented Foods (coconut yogurt, kombucha, water and coconut kefir, fermented vegetables)
- Bone Broth
- Herbal Teas
- Green Tea
- Vinegars: Apple Cider Vinegar, Coconut vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic
- Natural Sweeteners: occasional and sparse use of honey and maple syrup (1 tsp/day)
- Herbs: all fresh and non-seed herbs are allowed (basil tarragon, thyme, mint, oregano, rosemary, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, savory, edible flowers)
- Herbs and spices (such as: sea salt, curry, dill, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, vanilla, onion powder, oregano, garlic, cilantro, bay leaf, basil, chives, peppermint)
Benefits of the AIP Diet
Feeling energetic, less inflamed and experiencing remission of your condition!
Win. Win. Win.
Side Effects of the AIP Diet
As with anything in life, there are “pros” and “cons,” and some cons to be aware of include:
- Overthinking your food
- Stressing out or fearing how food makes you feel
- Isolation (not feeling like you can go out or be with people)
- Unwanted weight loss (your body is still healing)
- Feeling limited in your food options and choices
- Cravings or thinking about binging due to restrictive mindset trap
It’s vital to be aware of your mindset and the psychology of eating when commencing AIP, and remember: It’s not forever.
Beyond the AIP Diet: Is There Anything Else You Should Do?
The AIP Diet goes far beyond the foods you put into your mouth. In fact the actual latin form of the word “diet” means “a way of life.” For the individual with an autoimmune condition, this means your lifestyle also reflects an “autoimmune diet”—or anti-inflammatory—lifestyle.
In fact, considering that 90-95% of all disease is triggered by stress alone, mitigating and addressing stress head on is an essential component of the “healing” process.
AIP Lifestyle “Medicine”
Healing Your Gut
An AIP Diet is great, but it is not the end all, be all to healing from autoimmune disease. Gut healing is an ESSENTIAL component to any AIP Diet protocol, and should not be taken lightly. “Intestinal permeability,” or “leaky gut” go hand in hand with autoimmune conditions, and healing and sealing the gut is not a practice of just managing the disease with an AIP diet.
Addressing underlying issues or causes to intestinal permeability and autoimmune disease is essential, including potential testing for:
- Food Intolerances/Sensitivities
- Fungal & Parasitic Infection
- Organic Acids
Partnering with a functional medicine practitioner or nutritionist skilled in addressing the ROOT CAUSES of disease can be game changing.
Aside from lab testing, supplement protocols, other food avoidances and gut-healing agents may be warranted, including:
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Herbs like Dandelion and Milk Thistle
- Bone Broth
7-9 hours per night does a body good—sleep and rest is where anti-inflammatory healing occurs.
Aiming for a minimum of half your body weight in ounces per day, and limiting coffee/caffeine to 1 quality cup of organic brew per day or less.
Not too much, but not too little. Many people with autoimmune diseases find they feel weak after a bout of dealing with the disease, making exercise more difficult. Others realize their stressful lifestyle itself has been the #1 contributing factor to their disease—over training included. Movement is essential to healing, but a focus on gentleness and truly listening to your body is encouraged. A variety of movement also is beneficial, including: Yoga, walking, swimming, and strength training. No need to train for a marathon or CrossFit back to back 5-7 days per week either. Simply: Have fun with movement AND listen to your body.
AIP Diet 3-Day Meal Plan Ideas
Chicken Sausage, Veggies (Greens, Mushrooms & Zucchini Sautéed in Ghee), Avocado
Roast Turkey, Collard Green Wrap, Avocado Mayo, Plantain Chips
Bison Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries & Coleslaw
“Chocolate” Green Protein Smoothie (with Collagen Protein)
AIP Zucchini Bread Slice
Spinach Salad with Leftover Burgers, Avocado, Sweet Potato Fries, & Apple Cider Vinegar or Squeezed Lemon
Crispy Chicken Thighs
Coconut Butter Packet
Breakfast “Tacos”: Coconut Flour Tortilla, Ground Turkey, Guacamole, Nutritional Yeast
Leftover Shredded Chicken with Avocado Mayo
Herb Crusted Salmon
Cinnamon Roasted Butternut Squash
AIP Diet FAQs
- How long should I do AIP for?
When first starting the AIP diet, the “strict” AIP diet is recommended for 30-60 days. This is to allow your gut and body time to heal and detox from any inflammatory foods you’ve been eating, followed by a reintroduction phase, where you may begin to experiment with foods.
- How do I do the reintroduction phase?
Reintroducing foods after an initial AIP diet is best accomplished by focusing on adding one thing at a time, in 2-7 days chunks. This methodology allows you to see what foods work for you and which ones don’t. For instance, beginning with eggs, you may eat scrambled eggs one day and feel great, but notice your nose is runny or skin is breaking out a few days later. Sometimes foods can have a delayed autoimmune (attack) response time, so by conducting slow reintroductions, you’re able to reintegrate foods appropriately.
- Will I ever be able to eat sandwich bread, oatmeal, pizza or ice cream?
Foods during a “reintroduction” phase of the AIP diet may very well include some old beloved staples, however, be warned, most people do respond differently to more real foods (say scrambled eggs or almond butter) than they do Subway sandwiches and takeout pizza. In other words, on the “totem pole” of “inflammatory” foods, most processed and refined foods, sugars, hydrogenated oils and gluten-containing foods tend to be MORE INFLAMMATORY than real foods like nuts and eggs, even though nuts and eggs are also not technically “AIP foods.” When reintroducing foods, experiment with what you will, but be warned that most real foods sit well with individuals than not real foods. Let your body be your guide.
- I’m going out to eat, what should I order?
Many people on the AIP diet feel completely isolated because social life often revolves around food—many inflammatory foods at that. Most restaurants are unaware of AIP Diet triggers, like hydrogenated oils, margarines and gluten-cross contaminating foods (like “gluten-free grains”), and even if a restaurant is gluten-free, it doesn’t mean it’s inflammatory free. That said, you do NOT have to live in a bubble. Share with your waiter that you are highly sensitive to gluten and dairy, or have autoimmune dietary needs from the beginning, and (good) restaurants will often go out of their way to accommodate your needs. As far as ordering goes, you typically have one of two options: (1.) View eating out as more of social experience—rather than strictly an eating experiment. Plan to eat a real meal your body enjoys before or after, and at the restaurant nosh on a real-food appetizer, salad, or smaller portion of a meal (such as shrimp cocktail or ceviche—sans sauce; greens with protein, avocado and squeezed lemon juice; or non-oiled veggies and proteins). You may even opt to bring your own packet of coconut oil, coconut butter or ghee to have some healthy fat to compliment an otherwise boring or dry meal.
- I’m overwhelmed! How can I do this?!
First things first: Take a deep breath! Just like anything that’s new (and overwhelming at first), it gets easier with time. The best part? The AIP diet is NOT about perfection. As you get more and more familiar with it, you’ll get comfortable with it (and may even learn it becomes more second nature).
Helpful AIP Diet Resources
There is strength in numbers and, as more and more people become aware of the game-changing effects of an AIP diet and lifestyle, there are tons of amazing books, programs, websites, blogs and companies out there to help you navigate an “AIP” lifestyle and diet. Here are some helpful resources:
- The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook by Mickey Trescott & Angie Alt
- The Autoimmune Solution by Dr. Amy Myers http://amzn.to/2reGGGf
- The Paleo Approach by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne http://amzn.to/2reXk8E
- The Wahls Protocol by Dr. Terry Walls
- Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders
- Eat Dirt by Dr. Axe
- It Starts with Food
- The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook
- The Healing Kitchen Cookbook
- Meals Made Simple by Danielle Walker
- The Essential AIP Cookbook
- The Alternative Autoimmune Cookbook
- The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook
- Unbound Wellness
- The Phoenix Helix http://www.phoenixhelix.com
- Grazed & Enthused
- A Squirrel in the Kitchen
- AIP Lifestyle
- Autoimmune Wellness
- Chris Kresser https://chriskresser.com
- Robb Wolf
- The Paleo Mom
- Wellness Mama
- Environmental Working Group
Supplements will be unique to every individual, and a functional medicine practitioner or nutritionist can help customize a protocol for you.
In the mean time though, most any human gut can benefit from a daily probiotic, pre-biotic, fermented foods and apple cider vinegar. Fermented cod liver oil is also great for anti-inflammatory properties.
- Dr. Lauryn
- Institute for Functional Medicine
- Functional Medicine Coaching Academy
- Kresser Institute
- Paleo Physicians Network
Meal Delivery & Food Services
- Paleo on the Go
- Pete’s Paleo
- Barefoot Provisions AIP Lifestyle Collection (Snacks)
- Butcher Box (high quality meats)
- Vital Choice (high quality seafood and meats)
Get it? Got it? Good!
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