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AIP: A Paleo Diet for Autoimmune Patients

AIP Diet

Autoimmune (AI) diseases are now epidemic, but modern science has failed to offer satisfying solutions for the millions of people afflicted with these immune-driven diseases. As a result, many people suffering from autoimmune diseases are now looking for alternative solutions to manage their symptoms using dietary and lifestyle changes. In this article, we take a look at the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), a type of Paleo-compliant elimination diet that has been specifically designed to help those suffering from autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, to determine their food allergies and sensitivities, correct nutrient deficiencies, and heal their gut over the long-term so that foods that were once off-limits can be eaten again. In addition to learning about how the AIP works, you will get an idea of the types of foods you can eat and the types of foods you should avoid during the elimination phase of the diet.

How the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Works

The idea of using a modified Paleo diet to identify food intolerances and sensitivities in autoimmune patients was first introduced by Prof. Loren Cordain, bestselling author and founder of the Paleo movement, and his student Robb Wolf. Since then, the concept has been developed further by several researchers, most notably Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, aka the Paleo Mom. In her groundbreaking bestseller, The Paleo Approach, the Paleo Mom outlines in detail her Autoimmune Protocol, or AIP, and explains the science behind the regime in an approachable way.

In a nutshell, the Paleo AIP diet consists of a food elimination phase, followed by reintroductions. So, you begin by eliminating foods that are most likely to be problematic for autoimmune patients and change your focus on nutrient-dense foods that help correct nutrient deficiencies. In order for the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol to work, it is important that you stick to the elimination diet for a minimum of 30 days, in some cases even longer. Sticking to this strict elimination diet for long enough gives your overactive immune system a chance to calm down, and your body can start repairing the gut lining and other tissues damaged by autoimmune attacks.

After the elimination phase, you begin slowly and systematically reintroducing foods one at a time, starting with the foods that are least likely to trigger symptoms in autoimmune patients. After you have tested every potential trigger food, you will be able to tell which foods aggravate your condition—information that you and your nutritionist can then use to construct a sustainable, personalized diet that will best support your needs.

Lists of Foods to Avoid & Foods to Eat on the AIP

Trying to figure out which foods you should avoid and which foods are allowed during the elimination phase of the Paleo AIP Diet? The following lists should give you a basic idea of what you can and cannot eat during the elimination phase. In addition to the "Restricted Foods" listed below, you should also avoid all foods that you already know you are sensitive or allergic to.

Note: The lists below are not exhaustive. For more detailed information about what you should and should not eat during the first phase of the AIP, consult The Paleo Approach.

Allowed Foods Restricted Foods
VegetablesAll, except those listed under "Restricted Foods"Corn, nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet and hot peppers, tomatillos, etc.)
Fruits & berriesAll, except those in the nightshade family, but in moderation (you should avoid fructose consumption in excess of 20g per day)Nightshades (eg. goji berries)
LegumesLegumes with edible pods (such as green beans and snow peas) should be omitted in the beginning but can be reintroduced much earlier than other foodsAll beans and peas except legumes with edible pods; peanuts
Meat & poultryOrgan meat and offal, wild meat, grass-fed and pasture-raised meat; poultry in moderationFactory farmed meats; also most deli meats, cured meats, beef jerky, hot dogs, etc. should be avoided as they contain additives which are banned on the AIP
SeafoodFish and shellfish (especially wild)Immune-stimulating algae such as chlorella and spirulina
Dairy & dairy alternativesCoconut milk, coconut milk kefir, coconut milk yogurtAll non-vegan dairy products
Oils & fatsOlive, avocado, coconut, palm oil; also macadamia nut oil and walnut oil might be toleratedPalm kernel oil, butter, margarine, canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil
EggsNoneAll (especially egg whites)
Nuts & seedsFresh coconut in moderation All except fresh coconut
Spices & condimentsApple cider vinegar, wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and coconut water vinegar in moderationSeed-based spices, spices derived from peppers including paprika
Fermented foodsFermented vegetables or fruit, kombucha, water kefir, coconut kefirFermented soy products
DrinksWater, rooibos tea, coconut water, black & green tea (in moderation), kombuchaCoffee including decaf coffee, alcholic beverages, hot chocolate

Who is This Diet For?

The Paleo AIP Diet, outlined in The Paleo Approach, has been specifically designed for people who suffer from autoimmune disorders (and related conditions like allergies and some non-autoimmune skin conditions). As all of the most common food allergens are cut out during the elimination phase of the diet, it can also be used to identify food sensitivities in general.

Closing Thoughts

Judging by the huge number of great reviews The Paleo Approach has received and the patient testimonials you can find all over the Internet, the Paleo AIP actually seems to work — as long as you are not expecting miracles. According to the Paleo Mom, what you can expect is a significant improvement in your autoimmune symptoms, or even a remission of your conditions, but don't expect a cure (your immune system can never un-learn to attack itself once it has learned this nasty habit).

Once you decide you are ready to commit to this diet 100 percent (following the Paleo AIP can be hard work), the probably best thing you can do is get hold of a copy of The Paleo Approach which explains the nitty gritty details of the protocol and provides invaluable advice on how to implement the diet. If you cannot find The Paleo Approach in your local library, or simply prefer to have your own copy, you can order it through Amazon here.

Inside The Paleo Approach

In her New York Times bestselling book, The Paleo Approach, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne draws upon cutting-edge research and her own battle with an autoimmune disease to provide you with a comprehensive Paleo-based diet and lifestyle plan for regulating the immune system and healing damaged tissues. Known as the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, or AIP, Dr. Ballantyne's groundbreaking plan emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and removes foods that promote inflammation and leaky gut syndrome. Also foods that stimulate the immune system are restricted on the AIP. In addition to explaining how eating certain foods and avoiding others can help put your condition into remission, this 400-plus page tome provides expert tips on how to "go Paleo" easily and economically. To learn more about this compelling book, or to order a copy, click here.