How to Follow an AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) Diet

How to Follow an AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) Diet

The Autoimmune Protocol diet is an emerging tool for reducing the painful symptoms of autoimmune diseases.

As its name suggests, the Autoimmune Protocol diet, or AIP diet, is designed to help people with autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune diseases occur when our bodies’ immune systems mistakenly attack healthy cells in our own bodies, having misperceived that there is a threat to our health (Wolter et al., 2021). These diseases include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes mellitus, and multiple sclerosis, among others.

Interestingly, these diseases have become increasingly common in the last century, particularly in industrialized countries such as the United States, a trend we can attribute in part to changes in our environments and our diets (Wolter et al., 2021). More recently, research has consistently demonstrated that people with autoimmune diseases have different, less adaptive gut microbiomes than people without autoimmune diseases. This has led researchers and doctors to propose that restoring a healthy gut microbiome in people with autoimmune diseases may be a form of treatment for their autoimmune diseases (Wolter et al., 2021).

In particular, the AIP diet was designed specifically to help reduce inflammation in our guts (Wolter et al., 2021). Similar to diets such as the paleolithic diet, it is designed from the perspective that our modern diets have moved far away from the foods we evolved to consume. This mismatch is thought to lead to an inflamed gut, with serious consequences for our immune systems—namely, that they may struggle to accurately detect and respond to threats to our health, often targeting parts of our bodies that are actually already in good health.

Thus, the AIP diet may be a way to eliminate or reduce the dietary factors that contribute to autoimmune diseases. It aims to reduce our exposure to highly processed foods and foods that reflect modern food science and redirect us back toward the diets of our ancestors. For example, highly processed foods provide cheap and easily consumed fuel for our bodies (Ungar et al., 2006).

“I am a better person when I have less on my plate.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert

An AIP Diet Plan

The AIP diet looks very much like a paleolithic diet, meaning that if a caveman couldn’t have found it and eaten it, it is probably not on the menu. However, the AIP diet goes further by eliminating other foods, such as some fruits, nuts, eggs, and nightshade vegetables, that are known to irritate some people’s guts (Konijeti et al., 2017).

The plan can be very specific as to how to reintroduce foods. Suppose you wanted to know whether tomatoes—a nightshade vegetable—were affecting your autoimmune symptoms. Having eliminated tomatoes from your diet, you might eat a very small amount of tomato several times across a single day, then not eat it again and wait for about a week to see if your symptoms changed. If you experienced no symptoms, you could then try again with tomatoes, eating slightly more and waiting again to see if symptoms changed. Then, you would repeat this process with each food you hoped to be able to eat again.

AIP Diet Food List

So what foods can you eat on an AIP diet? You can eat vegetables, with the exception of nightshades. You can eat most fruits, although you should not eat too many each day. You can eat meat that has been minimally processed, such as chicken breasts or salmon but not ground beef. You can eat sweet potatoes and other foods in the category of tubers. You should definitely try to consume fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha. Bone broths, teas, minimally processed vegetable oils (for example, olive oil or coconut oil), and most herbs and spices are also permitted on this diet.

Tips for Sticking to the AIP Diet

The AIP diet is pretty restrictive and can be difficult to follow. Tips for success include identifying recipes and having a plan for meals ahead of time, physically removing AIP-prohibited foods from your kitchen, and stocking AIP-compliant foods ahead of time.

In Sum

The AIP diet is specifically designed for people with autoimmune diseases, and it holds a lot of promise as a treatment for these specific conditions. However, it is a very stringent diet, and for people with other health concerns, less intense elimination diets may be a better choice. Again, it’s best to discuss these possibilities with a healthcare provider before making such a big lifestyle decision.

References

● Konijeti, G. G., Kim, N., Lewis, J. D., Groven, S., Chandrasekaran, A., Grandhe, S., . . . & Torkamani, A. (2017). Efficacy of the autoimmune protocol diet for inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory Bowel Disease, 23(11), 2054–2060.

● Wolter, M., Grant, E. T., Boudaud, M., Steimle, A., Pereira, G. V., Martens, E. C., & Desai, M. S. (2021). Leveraging diet to engineer the gut microbiome. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 18(12), 885–902.

● Ungar, P. S., Grine, F. E., & Teaford, M. F. (2006). Diet in early Homo: a review of the evidence and a new model of adaptive versatility. Annual Review of Anthropology, 35, 209–228