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AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) Diet: The Definitive Guide 

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Do you work with clients with autoimmune diseases as a Holistic Nutritionist or AFPA-Certified Autoimmune Holistic Nutrition Specialist? If so, this article can help you understand and support clients who have been put on this diet by a healthcare professional, plus generally understand the relationship between food and autoimmunity. 

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) is a type of elimination eating pattern designed to help people with autoimmune diseases identify and eliminate foods that may be triggering inflammatory symptoms in their bodies. The AIP diet was developed knowing that certain foods can cause the immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissues in the body, leading to autoimmune diseases. 

The AIP diet has been shown to be effective for some people with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, in reducing inflammation and improving symptoms. However, it is important to note that the AIP diet is very restrictive and should only be undertaken with the guidance of a healthcare professional. Additionally, it is important to ensure that you are still getting all the nutrients your body needs while following the diet. 

This article provides an introduction to the AIP diet, including a beginner’s step-by-step guide to implementing the AIP and a snapshot of what a day of meals might look like while on the AIP.  

Learn How to Become an AFPA Certified Autoimmune Holistic Nutrition Specialist in Less Than 6 Months

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What Is the AIP Diet, and What Is It Designed to Do? 

 The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is a type of elimination diet designed to help people with autoimmune diseases identify and eliminate foods that may trigger inflammation in their bodies. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body, leading to inflammation and damage. 

The AIP diet is based on the idea that certain foods can cause the immune system to become overactive and trigger autoimmune responses. By eliminating potentially inflammatory foods, the AIP diet aims to calm down the immune system and reduce inflammation. 

The AIP diet involves eliminating certain foods from your diet for a period of time, typically 30-60 days, and then reintroducing them one at a time to see if they cause any adverse reactions. The foods that are eliminated on the AIP diet include grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods, refined sugars, and nightshade vegetables (such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants). 

During the elimination phase, the AIP diet focuses on nutrient-dense foods that are thought to be anti-inflammatory, such as meat, fish, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. After the elimination phase, foods are gradually reintroduced to determine which ones may be causing inflammation and should be avoided. 

The AIP diet has been shown to be effective for some people with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, in reducing inflammation and improving symptoms. However, it is important to note that the AIP diet is very restrictive and should only be undertaken with the guidance of a healthcare professional. Additionally, it is important to ensure that you are still getting all the nutrients your body needs while following the diet. 

Who Is the AIP Diet For?  

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is designed for individuals with autoimmune conditions, in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues in the body, causing inflammation and damage. It is also often recommended for individuals with other inflammatory conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).  

The AIP diet is designed to reduce inflammation in the body by eliminating foods that may trigger the immune system and incorporating nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods to support overall health and healing.  

However, it is important to note that the AIP diet may not be suitable for all people with autoimmune conditions, especially those with certain medical conditions or nutritional deficiencies. It is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet. 

The AIP is not a weight loss diet or a diet meant to be undertaken by people without autoimmune conditions or suspected autoimmune reactions to foods. It is a therapeutic diet with the specific purpose of identifying and eliminating foods that exacerbate autoimmune symptoms.  

Note: the purpose of the AIP is to identify which specific foods trigger symptoms of inflammatory responses in people with autoimmune diseases. If you don’t have an autoimmune condition but are interested in eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, consider learning more about the anti-inflammatory diet, which is focused on the consumption of anti-inflammatory foods and the reduction of pro-inflammatory foods. 

How Diet Can Influence Autoimmune Conditions 

 When we talk about “diet”, we are talking about a pattern of eating. We can talk about a specific dietary style, type, or protocol, such as the AIP, but when talking about diet in general, we are talking about a general pattern of eating. Even if you don’t follow a specific diet, most people tend to have a general pattern of eating based on their preferences, culture, beliefs, and habits.   

Dietary patterns determine when, how, and how much of each food component you consume, including nutrients, phytochemicals, and additives.  

Dietary patterns can influence autoimmune conditions by affecting the balance of the immune system and the inflammation levels in the body. 

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body, leading to chronic inflammation and damage. Certain dietary patterns can either exacerbate or help to reduce inflammation in the body. 

For example, a diet high in ultra-processed foods, refined sugars, and saturated fats can contribute to inflammation and exacerbate symptoms of autoimmune diseases, as all of these elements are pro-inflammatory. In contrast, a diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help to reduce inflammation and support the immune system, since all of these elements are anti-inflammatory. 

Additionally, many people have immune responses to specific foods and food components, regardless of whether they are anti-inflammatory for most people. For example, whole grains are generally anti-inflammatory, but if a person has celiac disease or has gluten sensitivity, whole-grain bread would be pro-inflammatory. Since gluten sensitivities can be common, they are avoided in the elimination phase of the AIP.  

Research has also shown that specific nutrients can have a protective effect against autoimmune diseases. For example, omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, flaxseed, and chia seeds have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. 

In addition to specific nutrients, some dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, have been associated with lower rates of autoimmune diseases. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole, plant-based foods, healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts, and moderate amounts of lean protein and fish. 

Overall, dietary patterns can have a significant impact on autoimmune conditions by affecting inflammation levels in the body and supporting the immune system. A balanced, nutrient-dense diet can be an important part of managing autoimmune diseases. 

How Can the AIP Diet Help Manage Autoimmune Conditions? 

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet can help manage autoimmune conditions by reducing inflammation and identifying trigger foods that may be exacerbating symptoms. 

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body, leading to chronic inflammation and damage. The AIP diet is designed to reduce inflammation by eliminating potentially inflammatory foods and focusing on nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods. 

By eliminating foods such as grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods, refined sugars, and nightshade vegetables, the AIP diet removes common triggers of inflammation and helps to calm down the immune system. This reduction in inflammation can lead to improvements in symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, and digestive issues. 

  1. Reduces inflammation: The AIP diet eliminates potentially inflammatory foods and focuses on nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods. This can help reduce inflammation in the body, which can in turn improve symptoms of autoimmune diseases. Identifies trigger foods: The AIP diet involves a period of elimination followed by a gradual reintroduction of foods to identify trigger foods that may be exacerbating symptoms. This can help individuals with autoimmune conditions better understand their triggers and make informed decisions about what foods to include in their diet. 
  2. Improves gut health: The AIP diet focuses on gut-healthy foods such as bone broth, fermented foods, and probiotics. This can help to improve gut health, which is important for overall immune function and inflammation levels in the body. In fact, the AIP diet is commonly used in people with inflammatory bowel disease to help reduce symptoms.  
  3. Supports nutrient intake: The AIP diet encourages the consumption of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. This can help individuals with autoimmune conditions get the nutrients they need to support their overall health and manage their conditions. 

Overall, the AIP diet can be a helpful tool for managing autoimmune conditions by reducing inflammation, identifying trigger foods, improving gut health, supporting nutrient intake, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. However, it is important to note that the AIP diet should not be used as a replacement for medical treatment and should only be undertaken with the guidance of a healthcare professional. 

The AIP for Beginners: Steps and Food List 

Like most elimination diets, the AIP is a short-term diet aimed at identifying foods that trigger autoimmune response symptoms. In general, elimination diets have three phases: the elimination phase, the reintroduction phase, and the maintenance phase. These phases vary between elimination protocols. Below is the general description of the steps of the AIP protocol.  

Along with diet, adequate hydration and regular physical activity are encouraged and help to support immune function.  

NOTE: The AIP diet should be undertaken with the guidance of a healthcare professional, particularly if you have a pre-existing medical condition or are taking medication. Additionally, it is important to ensure that you are still getting all the nutrients your body needs while following the diet, which may require supplementation or careful meal planning. 

Elimination Phase: Eliminating Potentially Inflammatory Foods 

The first step of the AIP diet is the elimination phase, which involves eliminating potentially inflammatory foods for a period of time. This typically lasts 4-6 weeks but can vary depending on individual needs and response time. This time allows your body to stabilize after sustained periods of activated immune mechanisms. Foods that most often cause an immune response and thus are eliminated are: 

  • Grains (including gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley, and rye) 
  • Legumes (including soy, peanuts, and beans) 
  • Dairy products (including milk, cheese, and yogurt) 
  • Processed foods (including those with additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients) 
  • Refined sugars and sweeteners 
  • Nightshade vegetables (including tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes) 
  • Alcohol 
  • Any other foods you suspect you might be sensitive to 

During the elimination phase, it is recommended to focus on nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods such as: 

  • Vegetables (except for nightshades) 
  • Fruits (in moderation) 
  • Lean protein sources (such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and pasture-raised poultry) 
  • Fermented foods (such as sauerkraut and kimchi) 
  • Healthy fats (such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado) 

If you do not see any improvements in symptoms during this time, it is likely that other foods are the ones that are causing immune reactions. Ask family members about sensitivities, where possible, or consult with an allergist, physician, or dietitian specialized in integrative nutrition to identify what these foods might be and start the elimination protocol again, keeping the list above but eliminating those specific foods as well.  

Reintroduction Phase: Gradually Reintroducing Foods 

After the elimination phase, the next step of the AIP diet is the reintroduction phase. This involves reintroducing foods eliminated in the first phase one at a time to identify any potential trigger foods that may be exacerbating symptoms. This is typically done over a period of several weeks or months, depending on individual needs. 

During the reintroduction phase, you should generally reintroduce one food group at a time and wait several days before reintroducing the next food group. This is because most immune reactions that are not due to food allergies take several days to appear. 

If you have suspicions as to which foods are causing your symptoms, reintroduce these foods first, one at a time, and wait a week before introducing additional new foods. If you notice symptoms, eliminate the food again immediately and continue the reintroduction process.  

Maintenance Phase: Finding Your New Normal 

Once trigger foods have been identified, the final step of the AIP diet is the maintenance phase. This involves continuing to avoid trigger foods while incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods into the diet in a sustainable fashion. This can help to reduce inflammation and manage autoimmune symptoms over the long term. 

Foods “Allowed” While on the AIP Diet 

 While following the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet, the focus is on consuming nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods. Here is a list of foods that are generally allowed on the AIP: 

  • Vegetables (except for nightshades such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes) 
  • Fruits (in moderation) 
  • Lean protein sources such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and pasture-raised poultry 
  • Organ meats such as liver 
  • Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi 
  • Healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado 
  • Bone broth 
  • Herbs and spices (except for seeds and nightshades) 
  • Non-dairy milk alternatives such as coconut milk or nut milk (without additives or sweeteners) 

It is important to note that while these foods are generally allowed on the AIP diet, individual needs may vary, and certain foods may need to be limited or avoided based on personal sensitivities or reactions. Additionally, it is important to ensure that you are still getting all of the nutrients your body needs while following the diet, which may require careful meal planning or supplementation.  

What Might a Day of Meals Look Like While on the AIP Elimination Phase? 

Breakfast: 

  • Two scrambled eggs cooked in coconut oil 
  • Sautéed spinach and mushrooms 
  • Half an avocado 

Snack: 

  • Sliced apple with a tablespoon of almond butter 

Lunch: 

  • Grilled chicken breast 
  • Steamed broccoli 
  • Sweet potato mash (made with coconut oil and cinnamon) 

Snack: 

  • Carrot sticks with guacamole 

Dinner: 

  • Baked salmon 
  • Roasted brussels sprouts 
  • Cauliflower rice (made with coconut oil and turmeric) 

Before bed: 

  • Herbal tea (without caffeine) 

It’s important to remember that individual needs and preferences vary, and it’s a good idea to work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to ensure you are meeting your nutrient needs while on the AIP elimination phase.  
 

Foods to Avoid on the Autoimmune Protocol Diet 

While following the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet, certain foods are eliminated in order to reduce inflammation and give the body time to heal. Here is a list of foods that are generally avoided on the AIP: 

  • Grains such as wheat, oats, rice, and corn 
  • Legumes such as beans, lentils, and peanuts 
  • Nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes 
  • Dairy products 
  • Processed foods and refined sugars 
  • Artificial sweeteners 
  • Eggs 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, and canola oil 
  • Alcohol 
  • Coffee and other caffeinated beverages 

It is important to note that while these foods are generally avoided on the AIP diet, individual needs may vary, and certain foods may need to be limited or avoided based on personal sensitivities or reactions. Additionally, it is important to ensure that you are still getting all of the nutrients your body needs while following the diet, which may require careful meal planning or supplementation. 

Impact of AIP on Specific Autoimmune Conditions 

The AIP diet may be effective for a variety of autoimmune conditions, in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues in the body, causing inflammation and damage. Here are some examples of autoimmune conditions that the AIP diet may be helpful for: 

Note that for many of the conditions listed above, there is limited clinical evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of the AIP in reducing symptoms, since most of the autoimmune response of these conditions, except for IBD, are not primarily triggered by food. However, the introduction and sustained consumption of anti-inflammatory foods as part of the regular diet can help to reduce symptoms. In other words, the “maintenance phase” focusing primarily on foods with anti-inflammatory properties may help the individual manage symptoms.  

Additionally, the AIP diet may also be helpful for other inflammatory conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). However, it is important to note that the AIP diet may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with certain medical conditions or nutritional deficiencies. It is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet. 

Health Benefits of the AIP Diet for People with Autoimmune Diseases 

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet may provide several health benefits for individuals with autoimmune diseases. Here are some potential benefits of the AIP diet: 

  • Improved autoimmune symptom appearance and management: In people with autoimmune diseases, the purpose of the AIP is to eliminate trigger foods and increase the consumption of anti-inflammatory foods, which could help improve symptoms and overall wellness.  
  • Reduced inflammation: The AIP diet eliminates foods that are known to trigger inflammation and replaces them with anti-inflammatory foods, such as vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and nutrient-dense proteins. This can help reduce chronic inflammation, a key factor in the development and progression of autoimmune diseases. 
  • Improved gut health: The AIP diet focuses on gut-healing foods, such as bone broth, fermented foods, and other nutrient-dense foods that support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. This can help improve gut health, which is often disrupted in individuals with autoimmune diseases. 
  • Improved nutrient status: The AIP diet emphasizes nutrient-dense foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. This can help improve overall nutrient status, which is often compromised in individuals with autoimmune diseases due to malabsorption, gut inflammation, and other factors. 
  • Improved overall health: By reducing inflammation, improving gut health, and supporting nutrient status, the AIP diet may help improve overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. 

It’s important to note that the AIP diet may not be appropriate for everyone, and individual needs and responses may vary. It’s always a good idea to work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine whether the AIP diet is appropriate for your individual needs and goals. 

Can the AIP Diet Improve Gut Health?  

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet may help improve gut health in people with autoimmune conditions in several ways. Here are some potential mechanisms by which the AIP diet may improve gut health: 

  1. Elimination of common gut irritants: The AIP diet eliminates common gut irritants such as gluten, dairy, soy, and processed foods. This can help reduce inflammation and irritation in the gut, which is essential for gut healing. Note that even though these are among the most common gut irritants, most people, particularly those who do not have an autoimmune condition, are not affected by these foods.  
  2. Increased consumption of nutrient-dense foods: The AIP diet emphasizes the consumption of nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are essential for gut healing and overall health. 
  3. Increased consumption of fiber: The AIP diet encourages the consumption of fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and starchy tubers. Fiber is essential for maintaining healthy gut bacteria and promoting regular bowel movements. 
  4. Incorporation of gut-healing foods: The AIP diet includes foods that are known to support gut healing, such as bone broth and fermented foods. These foods are rich in nutrients such as collagen, glutamine, and probiotics, which can help repair the gut lining and support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. 
  5. Reduction in gut dysbiosis: Dysbiosis, or an imbalance of gut bacteria, is common in individuals with autoimmune diseases. The AIP diet can help restore balance to the gut microbiome by eliminating foods that promote the growth of harmful bacteria and increasing the consumption of foods that support the growth of beneficial bacteria. 

In summary, the AIP diet may improve gut health by reducing gut irritants, increasing consumption of nutrient-dense foods and fiber, incorporating gut-healing foods, and reducing gut dysbiosis. Improved gut health can have far-reaching effects on overall health, as the gut plays a critical role in digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function, and more. 

Does the AIP Diet Decrease Inflammation? 

Yes, the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is designed to reduce inflammation in the body, specifically in people with autoimmune conditions. The AIP diet eliminates foods that are most likely to trigger the immune system and cause inflammation, such as grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods, and refined sugars. These foods can be difficult for some people to digest and can irritate the gut lining, leading to increased inflammation and immune system activation. 

Note, however, that the purpose of the AIP is to identify which specific foods trigger symptoms of inflammatory responses. If you don’t have an autoimmune condition but are interested in eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, consider learning more about the anti-inflammatory diet, which is focused on the consumption of anti-inflammatory foods and the reduction of pro-inflammatory foods.  

On the AIP diet, these inflammatory foods are replaced with nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods that support overall health and healing, such as: 

  • Vegetables (except for nightshades) 
  • Fruits (in moderation) 
  • High-quality meats, fish, and seafood 
  • Healthy fats from sources such as coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado 
  • Bone broth and other gut-healing foods 

By eliminating inflammatory foods and replacing them with nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods, the AIP diet may help to reduce inflammation in the body and improve symptoms of autoimmune conditions and other inflammatory conditions. However, it is important to note that individual needs and responses may vary, and it’s always a good idea to work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to ensure that the AIP diet is appropriate for your individual needs. 

Is AIP Diet Easy to Follow? 

Most people find that the AIP diet is not an easy diet to follow. It requires a significant change in dietary patterns, which is why it is not designed for everyone. Those who take on the AIP are often people whose symptoms are very difficult to manage and who have high motivation to identify the cause of the symptoms.   

Anyone with an autoimmune disease who is interested in determining what foods might be potentially exacerbating symptoms and learning to follow an eating pattern rich in anti-inflammatory foods can follow the AIP with the support of a specialized health professional.  

Main Takeaways 

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is a powerful tool that may help individuals with autoimmune diseases reduce inflammation, improve gut health, and support overall health and wellbeing. By eliminating inflammatory foods and replacing them with nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods, the AIP diet provides a framework for improving nutrition and reducing inflammation, two key factors in the development and progression of autoimmune diseases. While the AIP diet may not be appropriate for everyone, it can be a valuable tool for those looking to improve their health and manage autoimmune conditions. As always, it’s important to work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine whether the AIP diet is appropriate for your individual needs and goals. 

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