Health & Wellness

Your Definitive Guide to the AIP Diet: Everything You Need to Know About The Autoimmune Protocol

If you suffer from an autoimmune disease and are looking for ways to support your health and feel more like your old self, this post is for you! The AIP diet (autoimmune protocol diet) is believed to both fight inflammation and support the immune system—and many people have touted its benefits.

If you feel you could benefit from trying the AIP diet, make sure to read this article where I dive into how the protocol works, what it entails, and everything else you need to know to get started!

 

What is the AIP diet?

Believed to fight autoimmune diseases, the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet helps to reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system.

So, how does the autoimmune protocol work? The AIP diet is an extension of the Paleo diet that also calls for avoiding gluten, refined sugar, and other foods and chemicals known to trigger internal inflammation and resulting symptoms. [1]

In place of these foods, you consume whole foods rich in nutrients known to contain anti-inflammatory compounds.

After eliminating the inflammatory foods or a certain period of time, the AIP diet calls for a maintenance phase followed by a systematic reintroduction of the originally eliminated foods to see which trigger symptoms and which don’t. This ultimately allows for a less restrictive and highly individualized diet.

 

AIP diet - Dr. Pingel

 

Is AIP effective?

Over the years, many researchers have spent significant time study the effects of an anti-inflammatory diet on inflammatory disorders. As a result, we now know that one of the most effective ways to combat inflammation is through eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods.

But just how effective is the AIP diet for autoimmune disorders, specifically?

To answer this question, let’s take a moment to revisit how autoimmune diseases occur. Anytime your body naturally becomes inflamed, it also causes stress in your body, which triggers your adrenal glands to produce higher levels of cortisol.

What you may be surprised to learn is that cortisol limits inflammation, which boosts your immune system. Higher immunity is good in the short-term, but not so much if it goes on for weeks, months, or even years.

Over time, your body can get used to the high cortisol and stop responding to it, and inflammation levels can rise. [2] And this is when autoimmunity can set in.

So, the root goal here? Keep your levels of inflammation under control as much as possible by focusing on eating anti-inflammatory foods and avoiding pro-inflammatory foods.

Now, back to the original question at hand: How effective is the AIP diet? Let’s take a look at a few sample studies.

According to one study on adults with active inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), following the AIP diet, which consisted of a six-week elimination phase followed by 5-week maintenance phase, not only improved symptoms but also reduced inflammation in those with IBD. [3]

And a 2019 study on 36 women with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis revealed that the reported clinical symptom burden decreased by more than an incredible 68 percent! [4]

Those are some pretty incredible results, aren’t they?

What to Avoid on AIP (+ What to Eat!)

OK, so now that we’ve reviewed what the AIP diet is and what the research has to say about its effectiveness, let’s focus on the big question at hand: What should you eliminate from your diet while on AIP?

Here’s a list of the foods you’ll be eliminating from your diet as you begin the protocol:

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Nightshade vegetables
  • Dairy
  • Red meat
  • Eggs
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Refined/processed sugars
  • Processed oils
  • Food additives

Now here’s a list of what you’ll be eating:

  • Vegetables (except nightshades)
  • Fruits
  • Healthy fats, such as avocado and oils such asolive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil
  • Healthy proteins, such as wild-caught fish and organic, pasture-raised poultry
  • Natural sweeteners such as honey, 100-percent maple syrup, and agave (all in limited amounts)
  • Tea and bone broth


Elimination, Then Reintroduction

While the AIP diet is pretty restrictive, the good news here is that you don’t have to eliminate all of those foods you’re avoiding indefinitely. Usually, avoiding them for anywhere from 30 to 60 days is enough time to get them out of your system.

You’ll then want to maintain your diet for at least a few weeks to make sure you’re seeing the changes you desire, and then you can begin by reintroducing foods one at a time. Start by selecting one food to reintroduce each week and watch closely for any symptom development. And start small—eating a small amount once and checking for symptoms throughout the day.

As long as you don’t experience symptoms, you can continue to reintroduce a food each week. When you do encounter an offending food, though, stop eating it immediately and don’t reintroduce another food until all symptoms are gone.

I recommend starting off by reintroducing foods with nutritional value first, such as nuts and seeds, ancient grains such as quinoa, and legumes.

Side Effects and Risk Factors

The biggest risk factor of the AIP diet is the potential for nutritional deficiencies, should you stay on it too long. There’s also a risk of experiencing low blood sugar if you don’t eat regularly. And as with any dietary change, there is always the risk for sleep disruption.

As long as you discuss your plans with your physician and come up with a routine that works for your individual circumstances, though, you should be armed with the knowledge you need to find some relief of your autoimmune symptoms.

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