The Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP Diet) is an elimination diet that replaces food that increases the gut's permeability with nutrient-dense foods intended to help strengthen the gut and reduce symptoms associated with autoimmune disease.
It's been reported that people who follow the AIP Diet report better health and fewer symptoms of autoimmune disorders, like fatigue and pain in their joints or gut. Although the results of this diet have been promising, the research is limited.
Continue reading for a comprehensive overview of the Autoimmune Protocol Diet–a beginner's guide detailing the AIP Diet and how it works.
What Is the Autoimmune Protocol Diet?
The Autoimmune Protocol Diet is an anti-inflammatory diet, and it's also an elimination diet.
Elimination diets involve removing foods that you suspect your body doesn't tolerate well. The foods are later reintroduced, one at a time, while documenting positive or adverse reactions to determine food sensitivies.
In the AIP Diet, unhealthy foods are replaced with nutrient-dense, healing foods that promote gut health, reduce inflammation, and aid other symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
Certain research suggests that, in susceptible individuals, damage to the gut barrier can lead to increased intestinal permeability, otherwise known as a "leaky gut," which may contribute to the development of certain autoimmune diseases.
Although experts believe that a leaky gut may be a plausible explanation for the inflammation experienced by people with autoimmune disorders, current research makes it impossible to confirm a causal relationship between the two.
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet strives to reduce symptoms such as inflammation and pain experienced by those with autoimmune disorders by healing their leaky gut through the removal of potentially problematic ingredients from their diet
Who Is Aip For?
The Autoimmune Protocol Diet is for people suffering from an autoimmune condition. There are too many autoimmune disorders to name them all, but the most common are:
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Hashimoto's Disease (Hashimoto's Thyroiditis)
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Celiac Disease
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Crohn's Disease
- Graves' Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Alopecia Areata
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Guillain-Barré Syndrome
- Hidradenitis Suppurativa
All autoimmune disorders have one thing in common–your immune system begins attacking your own body. And that's what the Autoimmune Protocol Diet is designed to help change.
How Does the AIP Diet Work?
The AIP is similar to the Paleo Diet in terms of both the foods it allows and the foods it avoids, as well as the phases that make it up. There's even a diet segment referred to as the sometimes referred to as the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. Many consider the Autoimmune Protocol Diet an adaptation of the Paleo Diet–though the AIP Diet is much more strict.
The AIP Diet consists of two primary phases: the elimination phase and the reintroduction phase.
The first phase of the AIP Diet is an elimination phase which focuses on the removal of foods and drugs believed to cause gut inflammation, gut bacteria imbalances, or adverse immune responses.
Foods like nuts, nightshade vegetables, legumes, seeds, eggs, and dairy are avoided during this phase. Consumption of other potentially harmful materials such as processed oils, refined and processed sugars, food additives, coffee, tobacco, alcohol, and certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) should also be avoided.
In contrast, the elimination phase encourages the consumption of fresh, nutrient-dense foods.
In addition, it emphasizes the improvement of certain lifestyle factors that will make you feel better such as sleep, stress levels, and physical activity. Be sure to get the amount of sleep and physical activity that your body needs to feel healthy.
The elimination phase of the diet varies in length, as most people maintain it until they notice a reduction in symptoms. The majority of people maintain this phase for around 30-90 days, though, some report noticeable improvements in as little as 21 days.
The reintroduction phase can begin once a measurable improvement in symptoms, and overall well-being occurs. This phase involves gradually reintroducing the avoided foods into the diet, one food at a time.
This phase is designed to identify which foods contribute to a person's symptoms and reintroduce all foods that do not cause symptoms while avoiding those that do.
In this phase, foods should be introduced one at a time, allowing 5–7 days between each reintroduction. It gives the individual enough time to notice if any symptoms reappear before they continue to reintroduce the food.
Well-tolerated foods can be added back to the diet while avoiding those that trigger symptoms. Though, food tolerances are subject to change over time.
Therefore, you may need to repeat the reintroduction test for foods that initially failed every once in a while.
Food Reintroduction Process
Here's a step-by-step approach (similar to the paleo approach) on reintroducing foods avoided during the initial elimination phase of the Auto Immune Protocol Diet.
Reintroduction Prep: choose one item of food to reintroduce to your diet. You will consume the selected food a couple of times per day on the day of testing and then avoid it entirely for 5-7 days after testing.
Step 1. Eat a small amount of the selected food, about one teaspoon, and then wait 15-30 minutes to see if you have any reaction.
Step 2. If you experience any negative symptoms, end the test and avoid the food immediately. If no symptoms occur, eat a slightly larger portion of the same food, about two tablespoons, and monitor how you feel for the next few hours.
Step 3. If you experience any symptoms during this time of testing, end the test and avoid the food immediately. If no symptoms occur, eat a regular portion of the same food and avoid it for 5–6 days without reintroducing any other foods.
Step 4. If you don't experience any symptoms for 5–7 days, you may begin to slowly reincorporate the tested food into your diet.
Step 5. Repeat the 4-step reintroduction process above with a new food item.
It's advised to avoid reintroducing foods under circumstances that increase inflammation because it will be more difficult to interpret test results. Circumstances that may increase inflammation include: following a poor night's sleep, during an infection, following a strenuous workout, or when feeling unusually stressed.
Additionally, it's seldom recommended to reintroduce foods in a particular order to reduce the risks of extreme adverse effects. For example, when reintroducing dairy, you may want to reintroduce products with the lowest lactose concentration first.
Foods to Avoid and Foods to Eat
The elimination phase of the AIP Diet follows strict recommendations in terms of which foods to eat or avoid. It's a good idea to create an AIP Diet meal plan and shopping list for yourself based on the foods to eat and avoid during the elimination phase.
Check out our AIP Food List blog post for a comprehensive overview of foods to eat and avoid.
Foods to Avoid
Foods to avoid on the AIP Diet include nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, food additives, nightshade vegetables, and processed foods–including processed vegetable oils and processed sugars.
The consumption of drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco should also be avoided.
Avoid These Foods:
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, and soy
- Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Nuts and seeds such as peanuts, almonds, and sesame seeds
- Nightshade vegetables such as eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes
- Processed foods
- Refined carbohydrates
- Processed and refined sugars
- Artificial sweeteners
- Refined vegetable oils, nut oils, and seed oils.
- Nightshade spices such as paprika and seed-based spices, such as coriander and cumin
- NSAID's such as Ibuprofen and aspirin
- Preservatives, thickeners, flavorings, emulsifiers, coloring, and other food additives such as guar gum
Foods to Eat
Despite being allowed, some protocols recommend moderating intake of certain foods such as salt, saturated fats, coconut-based foods, and natural sugars such as honey, maple syrup.
Additionally, some protocols recommend limiting high-glycemic fruits and vegetables.
Enjoy These Foods:
- Animal protein such as meat, organ meat, and fish
- Animal fats such as duck lard and beef tallow
- Animal bone broth
- Fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut
- Leafy green vegetables such as chard, spinach, and kale
- Brassicas such as brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli
- Green vegetables such as asparagus, zucchini, and cucumbers
- Root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, taro, and yams
- Minimally processed oils such as avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil
- Non-seed based AIP-approved herbs and spices
- Coconut flakes, coconut milk, and coconut aminos
- Natural vinegars sans added sugar, such as apple cider vinegar
- Natural starches such as arrowroot starch and tapioca starch
The AIP Diet consists of two phases: the elimination phase and the reintroduction phase. The elimination phase removes potentially harmful foods, and the reintroduction phase slowly reintroduces foods into the diet.
The Bottom Line
The AIP Diet is an anti-inflammatory elimination diet designed to help reduce symptoms associated with autoimmune disorders.
It's composed of two separate phases designed to help you identify and conclusively avoid foods that may trigger inflammation and disease-specific symptoms. While this can be a restrictive diet, you will find various foods to incorporate into your diet within the parameters.