Have you heard of the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet? We know, there’s a lot of diets to keep track of these days. Between the paleo diet, the Whole 30 diet, the SIBO diet and a million others, it’s impossible to figure out which diet is right for you. But fear not. You may be overwhelmed with keeping up with the new and emerging diets out there, but I, a Registered Dietitian, am here to clear things up for you. I’ll break down the pros and cons fo the AIP diet, as well as tell you which foods you can and can’t eat on it. Let’s get started.
AIP Diet Basics
You may be wondering, what exactly is the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet? The AIP diet is used to reduce inflammation and other symptoms that come along with autoimmune diseases. These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The AIP diet is the stricter version of the Paleo diet and similar to the SIBO diet because it involves eliminating certain foods. These avoided foods may trigger an immune response, cause mucosal inflammation, or create an imbalance in gut bacteria. In short, things you don’t want.
Foods You Can’t Eat on the AIP Diet:
During the first phase of the diet, the elimination phase, the following foods are to be avoided:
- Grains: Including rice, wheat, oats, barley, rye, etc., and foods made from grains like pasta, bread, and breakfast cereal.
- Legumes: Including lentils, peas, beans, peanuts, etc., and foods derived from them like tofu, tempeh, mock meats, and peanut butter.
- Nightshade vegetables: Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, tomatillos, etc. and products derived from them like pasta sauce and spices like paprika
- Eggs: Make sure to exclude whole eggs and the egg whites themselves. And don’t forget products containing eggs like baked goods.
- Dairy: Including milk from cows, goats, sheep, etc., and food derived from dairy products like cream, cheese, butter, or ghee. Dietary supplements and protein powders with dairy are included.
- Nuts and seeds: All nuts and seeds and products made from them like nut butter, flours, oils. This includes cocoa and seed-based spices.
- Refined/processed sugars: Cane/beet sugar, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup. Other food items like sweets, soda, candy, frozen desserts, and chocolate are included because they may contain refined/processed sugars.
- Artificial sweeteners: Stevia, mannitol, xylitol
- Industrial seed oils: Soybean, safflower, sunflower, rapeseed, corn oils
- Food additives: Food coloring, emulsifiers, thickeners
- Coffee: This is one really hard for some people.
- Alcohol: And sometimes this one is even harder!
Foods You Can Eat on the AIP Diet:
With such a long list of food you cannot have, you may be wondering which foods are allowed? Here is a list to give you an idea:
- Vegetables: All vegetables allowed, excluding nightshade vegetables.
- Fresh fruit
- Tubers: Sweet potatoes, taro, yam, and artichokes
- Bone broth
- Minimally processed meat: This category includes wild game, fish, seafood, organ meat, and poultry.
- Fermented foods: You can consume probiotic-rich, non-dairy foods like kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and coconut kefir.
- Vinegar: The AIP diet permits balsamic, apple cider and red wine vinegar. Just make sure they do not have any added sugars.
- Herbs and spices: It’s OK to consume non-seed derived herbs and spices.
- Natural sweeteners: Maple syrup and honey.
- Certain teas: It’s OK to consume green and black tea.
The second phase of the diet is the maintenance phase. You will maintain a diet free of the foods on the elimination list for a certain period. Finally, the last stage of the AIP diet is a slow re-introduction of the eliminated food groups. This gradual re-introduction can allow a person to identify which foods are triggering their symptoms. So, if you eat an egg and your symptoms come back, you know eggs are a no-no for you going forward.
Now that we’ve cleared up the process of the AIP diet let’s explore the pros and cons of following it.
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How Long Does the AIP Diet Take to Work?
It can take anywhere from 3-6 months to start seeing results from the AIP diet. Everyone’s body reacts differently so it’s difficult to put a timeline on it’s effectiveness (and there’s no guarantee it will work for you.)
AIP Diet Pros
- The AIP Diet may reduce symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- May reduce symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- It can potentially reduce inflammation
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May Reduce Symptoms of IBD
A 2019 study published in the Crohn’s & Colitis 360 journal looked into the AIP diet’s effect on active IBD symptoms. The study involved a 6-week elimination phase; it was conducted in stages, so all of the food groups that may exacerbate the condition were not all eliminated at once. A 5-week maintenance phase followed where no elimination foods were allowed.
The diet’s overall effect was based on a survey of the quality of life that each study participant took at three weeks, six weeks, nine weeks, and eleven weeks into the study. Some issues in the research study included diet adherence and the small sample size being studied. The results showed that the AIP diet might be helpful to use alongside traditional IBD therapy because it was observed to improve quality of life. As always, more studies are needed.
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May Reduce Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, commonly referred to as Hashimoto’s disease, is an autoimmune disorder that affects your thyroid function. The thyroid is responsible for releasing hormones that play essential roles in the body, like regulating body temperature and metabolism.
In a 2019 Cureus journal article, the AIP diet’s effects on the symptoms experienced from Hashimoto’s disease were studied by researchers. The study lasted ten weeks, and it involved 17 women who participated in an online health coaching program that helped them follow the AIP diet. The diet’s effects were measured using surveys, questionnaires, and blood tests that looked at thyroid function, inflammation, complete blood cell count, and a complete metabolic panel.
The results of the 10-week program facilitated by a team of health professionals showed an improvement in quality of life for participants and a decrease in inflammation, evidenced by a reduction in blood C-reactive protein (CRP) seen.
May Reduce Inflammation
As stated in the previous sections, the AIP diet, in conjunction with a lifestyle change program and help from health professionals, has been associated with a reduction in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the body.
AIP Diet Cons
- Few studies to validate the effect of the diet
- Possible nutrient deficiencies
The elimination part of the AIP can be challenging to adapt to and follow for a prolonged time. Any diet that restricts what you eat can make you feel isolated and lose your motivation. We always want what we can’t have. And when a diet tells you not to eat something that usually makes us want it more. Plus, not eating some of our splurge foods is no fun.
Possible Nutrient Deficiencies
One thing to keep in mind is that the AIP diet can be restrictive during the elimination phase and the re-introduction period. Make sure you are monitored by a medical professional and taking the right supplements is essential for avoiding nutrient deficiencies when following any restrictive diet.
Few Studies to Validate the Effect of the Diet
Some studies show some promise of the AIP diet and its effect on autoimmune conditions, symptoms, and inflammation in general. But as always, we need more controlled studies to know how effective the AIP diet can be.
Finally, the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet attempts to address burdensome symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases and inflammation in general. Following the diet may be difficult for individuals because the elimination phase of it is very restrictive and can be isolating. We always advise that you speak with your medical provider before starting a new diet.
Kaelyn Johnson is a Registered Dietitian from Southern California who has worked as a clinical dietitian and is now a freelance writer. She has written for WebMD, produced an e-book, and written case studies for healthcare practitioners.