The AIP diet stands for "Autoimmune Protocol." And the purpose of the AIP diet is to eliminate foods that may trigger inflammation.
Anybody with an autoimmune disease may want to try the AIP diet, as stringent as it is. The AIP diet will be explained shortly, but in case you're not familiar with autoimmune diseases, here's some basic facts....
What is an autoimmune disease?
Autoimmune diseases (AId) affect over 50 million people in the U.S. alone. That’s a staggering 20 percent of the population, with the majority of people with an AId--75%--being women. Though genetics does factor in developing an AId, external influences play a far greater role. Without doubt, diet is one of the most important factors in epigenetics. Epigenetics is the so-called switching on and off of gene expression. Thus, eating foods that promote inflammation can switch on genes that lead to chronic inflammation in the body, which may cause an AId. And that’s why following an autoimmune diet protocol, or AIP diet, is crucial for managing and possibly reversing the disorder.
An AId occurs when your immune system is overactive. Yes, you want your immune system to be very active in defending your body against harmful invaders like viruses and bacteria. However, in people with an AId, the immune system has essentially gone haywire. An overwhelmed immune system attacks the body instead of a truly deleterious pathogen. A specific AId is characterized by exactly where the inflammation occurs.
For example, the AId that attacks the joints is Rheumatoid Arthritis. When skin cells are attacked by the body's own defenses, this is known as psoriasis. When inflammation affects the nerves, this is multiple sclerosis. And when inflammation chronically overwhelms the body all over, this may be diagnosed as lupus. And so on….
Foods and Drinks to Avoid on the AIP Diet
If you have an AId, try following the AIP diet. Though it may sound stringent at first, ask yourself how important it is for you to feel better. If it is indeed your goal to feel better, even to the point of reversing your AId, you’ll have to make sacrifices. That being said, however, many of the foods you may enjoy now are allowable on the AIP diet.
But first, let’s get the obvious things to avoid out of the way....
Sugar ... perhaps no other substance promotes systemic, chronic inflammation like it. However, some people are conned into thinking that certain sweeteners are good for you because it’s not table sugar. Here are some examples: organic blue agave; raw honey; organic cane sugar; molasses, etc….
Now let’s say you have a sore throat one morning and you want to have a cup of tea with a spoonful of honey. Once in a blue moon, that’s fine. But in general, the more you abstain from foods and drinks with added sugar, the better.
If you have a sweet tooth, learn to bake with healthy flours that either have zero or low glycemic response. Almond flour and coconut flour are nutritious and won’t trigger an autoimmune attack (unless you’re allergic to almond or coconut of course). If you want to sweeten your tea, let’s say, the natural sweetener, monk fruit extract, will satisfy your sweet tooth without promoting inflammation.
Thankfully, with recent changes to food labelling, it’s much easier to know if a food has added sugars. (Avoid alcohol on the AIP diet; it converts into sugar.)
AIP Diet: No Processed Foods
Another obvious category of foods to avoid on the AIP diet is processed foods. But what does processed mean? After all, even getting our bone broth and collagen products into a stick pack, let’s say, involves processing. Before answering the question, great news if you want to try the AIP diet: our bone broth and collagen products are allowed. Another example of a processed food that might actually be good for you is chopped broccoli crowns….
In order to eat a piece of grass-fed beef, obviously, there needs to be some processing involved. So what does ‘avoid processed food mean?’
Processed foods that may promote inflammation have been significantly altered. A couple good examples are snacks that comes in package or frozen entrees. Processed foods to avoid most often contain highly-inflammatory seed oils. Soybean oil or cottonseed oil are a couple examples of industrial oils that will aggravate your AId. In general, any packaged food item with more than just a few ingredients is likely highly inflammatory.
AIP Diet: When Healthy Foods Become Unhealthy
For some people, certain foods regarded as healthy may cause problems. That’s because there are a few different types of compounds that may cause problems in people with AId.
Oxalates, lectins and phytates are examples. These compounds are “anti-nutrients.” Anti-nutrients interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Consequently, this exacerbates the condition known as “leaky gut.”
Let’s look at lectins as an example. Lectins are compounds that help protect a plant. Bugs and other critters avoid eating certain plants with lectins. And it’s these lectins that may prove difficult for certain people to digest. Beans are an example. That’s why it’s recommended that you soak beans overnight in water to remove the lectins.
However, on an AIP diet, you should avoid all legumes, even if they are soaked. And while we’re at it, here are other categories of foods to avoid: grains; dairy; eggs; nuts; seeds; and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants).
AIP Diet: What is allowed?
Meat. But only if it’s grass-fed, organic or pasture-raised. No corn- or soy-fed cuts. Wild salmon and other sustainably-raised fish are fine. Organ meats are ok as well. If you love milk, sorry, no dairy. But coconut milk is allowed on the AIP diet. As are most non-starchy vegetables. As for fruit, even though it contains sugar, in moderation, low-sugar varieties like blueberries are safe. Also good on the AIP diet are fermented foods that aren’t dairy (sorry, no yogurt or kefir; kombucha and sauerkraut are great). And if you need a caffeine fix, sorry, coffee is a no-no. But green tea is generally considered AIP-safe. And it’s worth repeating that bone broth and collagen protein products are encouraged.
AIP Diet: don’t do it alone
If you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and want to try and reverse it, seek help. If you can afford it, work with a naturopathic doctor or other health expert that has lots of experience in helping people with chronic inflammation. Going it alone by reading online content can be frustrating. One article may say that kale is great for you, while another one says to avoid it because of oxalates.
Sticking to the AIP diet may be challenging. Especially if you have to cook for your whole family. But eating this way isn’t a life sentence. If, after a few weeks or so, of sticking religiously to the AIP diet, you feel much better, you can slowly reintroduce foods that you enjoy. Make sure to only reintroduce one food at a time. And make sure when you do, it’s not a highly inflammatory food or drink like beer. (Quinoa would be a safer bet.) Your health professional you’ll work with will guide you along the way. Good luck and here’s to you completely reversing your autoimmune disorder. (Or at the very least, managing it to the point it gives you only minimal complications).