What Is the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C on May 24, 2017Written by Natalie Silver

AIP diet overview

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is a relatively new, food-based approach to eliminating unwanted inflammation in a person’s body. It’s a diet that is thought to help heal your gut to reduce inflammation created by autoimmune conditions.

The diet is very restrictive and mainly includes meats and vegetables. Generally, you would try the AIP diet for several weeks before adding in foods outside of the diet.

Here are some of the basics of the AIP diet:

  • It’s an elimination-focused diet. Its goal is to cut inflammation-causing foods to reset your body’s immune system. The idea is to reduce inflammation in your body and put your autoimmune condition into remission with better eating habits.
  • It’s often aimed at treating a “leaky gut.” It’s thought that autoimmune conditions may be caused by small holes in your intestines. These holes can allow food to be released into the rest of your body and trigger your immune system. By eating only foods in the AIP diet, you help heal this leaky gut.
  • It’s rooted in the paleo diet, but it’s even more restrictive.
  • It promotes vitamin- and nutrient-rich foods and also emphasizes foods with omega-3 fatty acids.
  • You need to follow the strict eating plan for several weeks before you can start adding foods not included in the diet. Some people try it for a short period of time, while others adapt the AIP diet as a long-term lifestyle choice.
  • It takes time to add new foods to your diet, and they should be added gradually. Add a new food in every few days and monitor whether you have any reactions to it. If you notice any side effects of the food, take it out of your diet again.

Foods to avoid on the AIP diet

The AIP diet is very limited, so there is a long list of foods you can’t eat. These include some of same foods you’d avoid if you were following the paleo diet, such as:

  • grains
  • legumes (beans, soy, peanuts, hummus, etc.)
  • dairy products (including raw products)
  • processed foods
  • refined sugars
  • industrial seed oils (such as vegetable or canola oils)

The AIP diet also restricts the following foods, which aren’t always banned in the paleo diet:

  • eggs
  • nuts and seeds, including foods you might not think are in this category such as coffee, chocolate, and certain spices (for example, coriander and cumin)
  • nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and more)
  • gums
  • alternative sweeteners
  • emulsifiers and food thickeners

You should also avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and alcohol while on the AIP diet. NSAIDs are painkillers like ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin (Bufferin), and naproxen sodium (Aleve).

Foods you can eat on the AIP diet

Now that you know what you can’t eat on the AIP diet, it’s time to learn what you can. Your diet should be rich in meats and vegetables, with the exception of nightshades.

Other foods you can consume are:

  • coconut products, including coconut oil
  • olive oil
  • fermented foods, so long as they don’t contain dairy (for example, kombucha, nondairy kefir, and fermented vegetables)
  • a variety of vinegars, including balsamic, red wine, and apple cider, so long as they have no added sugar
  • small portions of honey or maple syrup
  • herbs
  • arrowroot starch
  • gelatin from grass-fed beef

While on the AIP diet, you may incorporate some foods on a limited basis. Fruits are a controversial food in the paleo and AIP diets. Some approaches recommend the elimination of fruit altogether, while others say you should only have 10–25 grams of fructose a day, or about two pieces.

You can also have in moderation unrefined salts and teas that aren’t seed based, like green and black teas.

Pros and cons of the AIP diet

Because the AIP diet is very restrictive, it may be hard for you to follow. You might find it tricky to adhere to, especially when it interferes with your day-to-day lifestyle. It’s possible you can try an adapted AIP diet by eliminating fewer foods and still experience beneficial results. Make sure you avoid a diet too high in fat and cholesterol while on a modified AIP diet.

You may find that the benefits of the AIP diet outweigh the burdens of its restrictions. The diet mainly focuses on eating healthy foods, so it’s likely that your body will react positively to these diet changes over time. You may also enjoy having control over your diet and what you put into your body, especially if it results in less inflammation.

Who can benefit the most from this diet

Those who have autoimmune conditions might benefit from the AIP diet. The diet is supposed to reset your immune system by avoiding foods that can cause inflammation in your body.

There are more than 50 million people with autoimmune conditions in the United States. Collectively, autoimmune conditions constitute the most prevalent type of medical condition among Americans. Examples include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis, to name just a few.

Autoimmune conditions can’t be cured, but they can go into remission. The AIP diet attempts to reduce some of the symptoms of these conditions.

Recipes

Because the AIP diet is so specific, following recipes may be helpful to adhere to the diet. Here are a few ideas:

Easy-to-prepare meals for the AIP diet include salads, stir-fries, and soups.

The takeaway

Living according to the AIP diet may help your autoimmune condition by eliminating foods that contribute to inflammation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to food and the management of autoimmune disorders. Keeping a journal of foods — what you eat, when, and any symptoms you experience —can help you identify patterns and triggers. Finding a dietitian to help with this process may be beneficial.

Although your diet is highly influential, it’s not the only approach to relieving your unwanted inflammation. Reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking may also help you feel healthier and contribute to decreasing the symptoms of your autoimmune condition.

You should talk to your doctor or speak with a dietitian about the AIP diet and other lifestyle modifications to help with inflammation.

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