Chances are that you’ve heard of at least a few dozen diets before. While most of them are designed to help you lose or manage weight, the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet is a bit different. It’s primarily designed as an approach for managing autoimmune conditions by focusing on nutrient-dense foods while minimizing potential inflammatory triggers.
Many people with autoimmune disorders (such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, or celiac disease) may find the AIP diet a helpful tool in their wellness journey. In this guide, we aim to provide a thorough understanding of the AIP diet, its comparison to the Paleo diet, and practical tips for incorporating it into your daily life.
Of course, with any significant dietary changes, we recommend that you consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional before embarking on this journey. With that in mind, let’s dive in and learn more about the AIP diet!
What Is the AIP Diet?
The Autoimmune Protocol diet, commonly referred to as the AIP diet, is a restrictive diet that’s similar to the paleo diet. The diet is designed specifically to help individuals with autoimmune diseases. It’s based on the belief that certain foods can cause inflammation in those with autoimmune disorders, aggravating their symptoms.
The AIP diet consists of two main phases: the elimination phase and the reintroduction phase.
In the elimination phase, foods believed to be potential triggers are removed from your diet. This includes foods such as:
- Nightshade vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers
- Food additives
- Certain oils, like canola oil
Instead, the focus is on consuming nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods such as bone broth, organ meats, fermented foods, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
After a period of time, typically a few weeks to a few months, you begin the reintroduction phase. Gradually, one by one, eliminated foods are reintroduced into your diet while observing for any reactions or symptoms. This helps you identify which foods your body can tolerate and which might be causing issues.
The goal of the AIP diet is to support your gut health and immune system and potentially support the quality of life of individuals suffering from autoimmune diseases.
AIP vs. Paleo Diet: Key Differences and Similarities
The AIP diet and the paleo diet share similarities, particularly in promoting whole, nutrient-dense foods and discouraging processed foods and food additives. Both diets recommend foods like grass-fed meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables while encouraging you to remove grains, dairy products, and legumes from your diet.
However, there are key differences. The AIP diet is an elimination diet, so it’s more restrictive, as it’s designed specifically for people with autoimmune conditions. In addition to the food groups excluded by the paleo diet, the AIP diet also eliminates nightshade vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds, and certain spices like cumin and fennel, at least during the elimination phase.
While the paleo diet is considered a long-term dietary approach, the AIP diet is initially restrictive and temporary, moving towards the reintroduction and maintenance phase. The AIP diet also places a significant focus on gut health and the gut microbiome, given its link to autoimmune diseases.
Ultimately, both diets aim to promote wellness and may help with weight loss and health markers. However, it’s important to consider your individual needs, preferences, and potential dietary restrictions before choosing a diet plan.
What Are the Phases of the AIP Diet?
As mentioned earlier, the AIP diet follows a phased approach that involves an elimination phase, a reintroduction phase, and a maintenance phase.
The Elimination Phase
The elimination phase is where you remove potential food triggers from your diet. This is based on the idea that certain foods may exacerbate symptoms of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and more.
It’s essential to follow this phase strictly, removing all foods and ingredients identified as potential triggers.
Foods with emulsifiers and other additives, which are thought to increase intestinal permeability or “leaky gut,” are also eliminated. Similarly, gluten, certain sweeteners, and other carbohydrates suspected of causing inflammation are removed.
This phase typically lasts a few weeks to a few months, but it may vary based on individual needs and responses. Some may notice a significant improvement in symptoms during this phase, providing further motivation to continue.
The Reintroduction Phase
The reintroduction phase is where you gradually bring the eliminated foods back into your diet one at a time. The idea is to observe if any of the reintroduced foods cause a flare-up in your symptoms. If a food does cause symptoms, it’s recommended to eliminate it again, waiting for a while before attempting to reintroduce it once more.
This process helps to identify specific triggers for your autoimmune condition. The reintroduction phase is highly individualized, as people react differently to different foods. While the side effects of a flare-up will be unfortunate, this stage is very important, as it will indicate which foods trigger a reaction.
The Maintenance Phase
Once you’ve successfully reintroduced several foods without a flare-up in your symptoms, you’ve entered the maintenance phase. This is where you follow a personalized version of the AIP diet, including foods that your body tolerates well.
It’s essential to maintain a balanced, nutrient-rich diet in this phase, incorporating as much variety as possible. Regular monitoring of symptoms is also crucial, as the efficacy of an autoimmune protocol diet may differ from person to person.
What Should You Eat and Avoid on the AIP Diet?
AIP diets are extremely personalized because everyone will have their own triggers. However, these are a few of the general foods that you might keep or cut on an AIP diet.
Foods To Keep
In the AIP diet, the focus is on whole foods that are rich in nutrients and low in potential inflammatory triggers. For example:
- Lean meats, especially organ meats, are nutrient-dense, while fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- A large variety of vegetables, excluding nightshades, are also encouraged, as well as small amounts of fruit.
- Dairy-free fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and other probiotics are considered beneficial for gut health.
- Bone broth is also often recommended, given its gut-soothing properties.
Foods To Eliminate
As mentioned earlier, the AIP diet eliminates a number of food groups, including:
- Nightshade vegetables
- Dairy products
- Food additives
The Debate on Legumes and Grains in the AIP Diet
One of the major points of discussion in the AIP community revolves around legumes and grains. These are eliminated in the AIP diet due to their potential to cause inflammation and contribute to a leaky gut. Some also believe that these foods may increase intestinal permeability, which could potentially trigger autoimmune reactions.
However, it’s important to remember that everyone is unique, and foods that may cause an issue for one person may not cause an issue for another. This is why the reintroduction phase is so crucial. It allows individuals to determine what foods their body tolerates well, creating a personalized diet plan that can help manage their specific autoimmune condition and improve their quality of life.
As with all diets, particularly ones as restrictive as the AIP diet, it’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before starting. This can help ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need while following the diet and that it’s suitable for your specific health condition and lifestyle.
You may also want to work with a nutritionist or dietitian, as having professional help may help you have greater success on your diet.
How Can Supplements Support the AIP Diet?
While the primary focus of the AIP diet is nutrient-dense, whole foods, sometimes supplements can provide additional support.Supplements can help fill potential nutrient gaps in your diet, especially during the restrictive elimination phase.
However, it’s important to remember that supplements are not a substitute for a balanced, varied diet but can complement it when necessary.
Essential Supplements for the AIP Diet
Here are some supplements that may support those on the AIP diet:
- Vitamin D: Often, those with autoimmune conditions have lower levels of vitamin D. Sunlight exposure is a natural source, but supplementation can help, especially in the winter months.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fatty fish, these essential fats support overall health in a variety of ways. However, they’re most commonly known to help soothe the body and support cardiovascular health. If you’re not eating fish regularly, a supplement may be helpful.
- Digestive enzymes: These can support digestive health and assist in breaking down foods, which may be particularly useful during the reintroduction phase.
How Can Bone Broth Support Your AIP Diet?
Bone broth is a staple of the AIP diet. It’s a nutrient-dense food packed with essential minerals and amino acids. It’s also believed to support gut health, which is a key focus of the AIP diet.
Bone broth products can be especially beneficial if you’re following an AIP diet. They are made from grass-fed bones and are free of additives, making them a quality choice for those looking to maintain a clean, nutrient-rich diet.
You can consume bone broth on its own, use it as a base for soups and stews, or incorporate it into sauces and gravies. The versatility of bone broth can be extremely beneficial when you’re undergoing an AIP diet.
The Power of Probiotics
Probiotics are another vital component in the arsenal of those on the AIP diet. They consist of beneficial bacteria that support a balanced gut microbiome. Maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria is important for everyone, particularly those with autoimmune conditions, as gut health is often compromised in these individuals.
Probiotics can come from both food sources and supplements. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha are excellent sources of probiotics. When it comes to supplements, it’s recommended to opt for ones that offer a variety of strains, as diversity is key to a healthy gut microbiome.
Creating an AIP-Friendly Meal Plan
A practical way to manage the AIP diet is by creating a personalized meal plan. Doing so can make shopping and cooking easier while ensuring you maintain a varied and nutrient-rich diet. When planning meals, focus on whole foods that have been identified as safe during the elimination phase.
Use these tips to guide you through the grocery store:
- Consider including a protein source at each meal, such as organ meats or grass-fed meats.
- For carbohydrates, opt for colorful vegetables like sweet potatoes and other starchy root vegetables.
- Incorporating leafy greens and other vegetables high in nutrients is also essential.
- For fats, choose options like avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil.
- In terms of beverages, bone broth is an excellent choice due to its nutrient density and potential to soothe the body.
- For snacks, consider fruit, vegetables, or fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut.
The Role of Healthy Oils
Healthy oils play a crucial role in the AIP diet, offering necessary fats and contributing to overall satiety. Avocado oil, olive oil, and coconut oil are typically among the recommended choices.
Avocado and olive oil are high in monounsaturated fats, which are known to support heart health. They are also versatile, suitable for cooking or as salad dressings. Coconut oil, rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), can be used in cooking, baking, or added to smoothies.
Remember, while these oils are healthy, they are also calorie-dense. Be mindful of portion sizes to maintain a balanced diet.
Finding the Balance: A Conclusion to Your AIP Journey
The AIP diet may seem restrictive at first, but with careful planning and guidance, it may offer relief for many individuals with autoimmune conditions. It emphasizes nutrient-dense foods, healthy oils, and bone broth, all while promoting gut health.
It’s crucial to remember the AIP diet is not a cure-all, but an approach designed to help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for those with autoimmune diseases. Individual experiences can vary significantly, and positive results from the AIP diet can’t be guaranteed.
Each person is unique, so progress should be measured against personal goals and feelings rather than comparing with others. Along with the diet or program, maintaining a balanced lifestyle with regular exercise is essential. Consultation with healthcare professionals, including registered dietitians, is essential throughout the journey.