The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is a diet that helps to reduce inflammation in the body and minimize other symptoms of autoimmune diseases. The diet focuses on eliminating foods known to promote symptoms and replacing them with more nutrient-dense foods which are thought to heal the body from the inside out. If you’re curious about the AIP diet or have been told by your doctor to follow it, we have the answers to your questions, plus a free 7-day AIP Diet Meal Plan to get you started.
The Autoimmune Protocol Diet
If you have an autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto thyroiditis, psoriasis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or celiac, this diet may be an option to consider after checking with a medical professional. The Autoimmune Protocol Diet, also called Paleo AIP, offers a dietary approach to helping your body heal and manage symptoms from inflammation, leaky gut, and autoimmune disease.
Increasing evidence suggests that modification to dietary intake can influence inflammation and reduce symptoms of IBD and other autoimmune disorders. By changing the way you eat and following the AIP protocol, you also eliminate the foods that can cause hormonal disruption, affect thyroid function, spike blood sugar, make your autoimmune condition worse, and just make you feel uncomfortable in your own body.
Autoimmune Disease Symptoms
Autoimmune disorders are estimated to affect more than 23 million people. They’re conditions that are characterized by the body’s immune system going into overdrive and attacking itself. There are different types of autoimmune diseases; each affects a specific area or system of the body. However, it’s often the case that the symptoms are systemic.
For example, Crohn’s Disease is a type of autoimmune Irritable Bowel Disease. It primarily affects the colon, but it’s not uncommon for people with Crohn’s disease to experience symptoms outside of the gut. These might include achy joints, arthritis, sore and tired eyes, and skin issues.
Across the board, common autoimmune disease symptoms include fatigue, joint swelling, pain, aching, skin disorders, frequent fevers, malnourishment (primarily seen in autoimmune disorders affecting gut health), and chronically swollen glands or lymph nodes. These are just examples and are not meant to be an all-inclusive list.
The AIP diet isn’t a cure for autoimmune diseases. These conditions aren’t cured, but instead, they’re managed through dietary approaches and sometimes medications. The AIP diet offers a dietary approach that aims to relieve these symptoms by removing the foods that trigger inflammation, pain, and other unpleasant symptoms.
Getting Started with Autoimmune Paleo Diet
To begin, the AIP encompasses two phases: elimination and reintroduction.
What Is an Elimination Diet?
An elimination diet is used when there are multiple types, or even a single type, of foods suspected to be the cause of ongoing health problems. You start by eliminating all of the foods that might be causing inflammation for a set period of time. This might be anywhere from two to six weeks, depending on the type of elimination diet you’re on.
With the AIP diet, a period of six to eight weeks is standard, but your healthcare provider may suggest a different plan that’s more specific to you.
The elimination phase lasts so long because your body needs time to detox and repair itself from the trigger foods causing inflammation. This isn’t something that happens in a matter of days or even a couple of weeks. You need the extra time to heal and repair so that you’re starting with a clean slate when it’s time to start reintroducing foods and seeing how they affect your immune system.
To see the AIP diet work, you must stick to only AIP-compliant foods during the elimination phase. Then when it’s time to start reintroducing foods, do so only one at a time and give yourself some time between reintroductions.
If you consume two foods you had eliminated at once, it becomes impossible to determine which is at fault if you end up having a reaction. You should also not reintroduce more than one food on any single day, even if it’s at different meals. Not all immune system reactions are instantaneous.
Many occur hours or even a day after eating a suspected food. In the reintroduction phase of the AIP diet, a food journal becomes your best friend.
From start to finish, an elimination diet, like the AIP diet, should take two to three months to complete an entire cycle of elimination and reintroduction.
The AIP Elimination Phase
The AIP is an elimination diet, which involves avoiding certain foods for several weeks at a time. The purpose is to try and identify which foods may be triggering symptoms of autoimmune disease.
There is an initial elimination of food groups, including grains, legumes, nightshades, dairy, eggs, coffee, alcohol, nuts and seeds, refined/processed sugars, oils, and food additives. The rationale is to avoid foods that may trigger inflammation within the body.
Typically it is recommended to follow the elimination phase of the paleo AIP diet for at least 30-90 days before introducing new foods, although some may experience improvements within three weeks. The AIP Elimination Phase will be packed with nutrition while eliminating dietary toxins and autoimmune triggers.
Not All Anti-Inflammatory Foods Are Created Equal
There are many eliminated foods on the AIP meal plan that make sense. Chemical additives, artificial flavorings, processed foods, and high fructose corn syrup aren’t suitable nutrition for anybody.
Of course, these foods are going to cause issues. But what about foods like whole grains, dairy, nuts packed with Omega-3s, and vegetables like tomatoes? Aren’t we told that these foods are healthy? Why, then, are they on the list of potentially inflammatory foods you need to avoid?
The short answer is that each of these foods has some component to them that may trigger inflammation in certain people with autoimmune diseases, but this inflammatory response won’t be the same for everyone, much like how people with Celiac Disease can eat grains as long as they’re gluten-free while others have no issues.
The Autoimmune Protocol diet seeks to get to the root of these issues, and following a healthy AIP meal plan is the way to start.
Foods to Avoid
- Trans Fats
- Chemical Additives
- Artificial Flavorings
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup
- Legumes & Beans
- Processed Foods
- Vegetable Oils
- Night Shades
- Alcohol & Coffee
The food groups to avoid on the AIP diet are thought to increase gut permeability, which can cause damage to the gut barrier. This may lead to problems such as a “leaky gut,” which can be a trigger for symptoms in individuals with autoimmune disorders. People with IBS or IBD, including Crohn’s Disease, may also experience inflammation and digestive issues when consuming these foods.
Foods to Eat
- Vegetables (excluding Night Shades)
- Sweet Potatoes
- Fruit (small amounts)
- Avocado Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Milk
- Dairy-Free Fermented Foods
- Honey or Maple Syrup
Nutrient-dense foods like these are rich in vitamins and other nutrients, which may help reduce symptoms of autoimmune disorders. The AIP emphasizes the consumption and preparation of fresh, nutrient-dense foods, bone broth, healthy fats, fatty fish, shellfish, fermented foods, and organic vegetables and fresh fruit — as long as they’re not on the AIP elimination list.
Rethinking the Traditional Diet
One of the most important things you can do to make your AIP diet meal plan successful is to rethink your traditional diet. This is true regardless if you eat a typical American diet that’s loaded with processed foods or a plant-based diet that’s as clean as possible.
There’s a mindset around food that leaves us feeling entitled. Yes, everyone deserves access to a bounty of healthy foods, but there’s a feeling of missing out when you have to eliminate foods, such as with the AIP meal plan.
Instead of thinking about what needs to be eliminated, shift your mindset to thinking about what foods you get to enjoy. Think about how they nourish your body rather than hurting it and causing inflammation.
Find a way to get excited about your AIP meal plan. Find some new interesting dishes for your meal prep, or try approved foods that you’re unfamiliar with.
A paleo or AIP meal delivery service is a fun way to try new dishes or, at the very least, reduce the stress of meal planning and cooking for yourself.
A Few Words About Breakfast
Breakfast is one of those meals that so many of us get wrong. We either skip it altogether or grab something quick and unhealthy as we walk out the door, still a bit groggy.
Most foods typically consumed for breakfast, especially convenience foods, are loaded with processed sugars and saturated fats. Both of which cause inflammation and are on the elimination list of the AIP diet.
I like to encourage people to rethink how they approach their first meal of the day. Instead of cereal, which contains grains, and is therefore on the elimination list, why not have warmed leftovers from the night before? It’s just as fast and easy because it’s already prepared.
An AIP-compliant soup made with bone broth also makes a great breakfast, as does a small plate of fresh fruits and veggies. The goal is to learn you don’t need cereal, pastries, or eggs to start your day.
The elimination phase is followed by a reintroduction phase, the duration of which can vary by the individual until a measurable improvement in their symptoms has been made. Staged reintroduction of food groups is initiated gradually as individuals identify specific foods or food groups that may contribute to symptoms while liberalizing their diet.
After following the elimination phase for at least 30-90 days, you may transition into the reintroduction phase. There are four stages of reintroduction. Follow each stage for 30-90 days before proceeding to the next stage.
Why You Shouldn’t Cheat When You Reintroduce Foods
The AIP meal plan isn’t like other types of diets. If you’re on a diet to lose weight and fall off your diet for a day, you simply get back on without sacrificing much in terms of progress. If you follow keto and eat too many carbs, you can snap back into ketosis the next day. If you’re following Whole30, you might feel less than your best if you “cheat,” but there’s no actual harm done.
This is not the case with AIP. Since this is an elimination diet, reintroducing a food before its time instantly sabotages your results, and you have to start from the very beginning, at least for the food that was prematurely reintroduced. Having meal plans in place can minimize the desire and opportunity to cheat.
Why Meal Planning Is Important on the AIP Diet
For many, the AIP diet eliminates foods that they were accustomed to eating every day and requires a significant shift in how they think about food. Following the AIP diet requires more thoughtful meal planning so that you always have something AIP-compliant to eat, even on super hectic days.
Meal planning is a way to protect yourself from eating potential trigger foods when following AIP. A good meal plan keeps you on track, nourishes your body, and promotes healing and symptom management.
Not to diminish weight loss diets, but the AIP plan is one that doesn’t offer grace for a cheat day. If you slip and consume one of your eliminated foods, you have to start the elimination phase from the beginning. Having an AIP meal plan in place can help prevent this from happening.
Meal Prep Tips
Some people are naturally great at meal planning, but it can be a challenge for others. Here are a few strategies and tips to make AIP meal planning even easier.
Pick one day a week for meal prep, and prepare fresh veggies. Shredded carrots are easy to add to cooked dishes and salads, and you’ll be more likely to eat spinach and other leafy greens if they’re washed and ready to go.
Add some new spices to your dishes, as long as they’re not nightshade based, like paprika or chili powder. Even something simple like Celtic sea salt is elegant and adds different flavors to your dishes.
Try at least one or two new AIP recipes each week.
Research a sample meal plan or two to get a feel for how others are managing their AIP diet.
Don’t forget about snack ideas!
Plan ahead and prep ahead for days when you know you’ll be extra busy.
Buy less meat, but pay more for higher quality meats. Grass-fed beef and organ meats are good choices but stay away from fatty, inferior cuts.
Invest in quality food storage containers that keep food like leafy greens and green beans at peak freshness in your refrigerator.
Autoimmune Diet Recipes
We love delicious recipes, and there are some great AIP-compliant recipes that taste great and will make your life easier. Spend some time checking out different blogs and AIP recipe sites. Many paleo blogs also offer recipes that are AIP compliant. Paleo Mom is a popular one, but there are plenty of others out there. These are great resources for autoimmune diet recipes and snack ideas that you can add to your weekly meal plans.
Another option is to make AIP meal planning easier on yourself and sign up for a meal delivery service that caters to the Autoimmune protocol diet.
Paleo meal delivery services are also a good way to try new AIP recipes without needing to plan ahead for a trip to the grocery store or cooking. If you decide to go with a paleo meal delivery service, make sure you look at the ingredients of every meal, just to make sure it doesn’t contain any food that might be a potential trigger.
7 Day AIP Meal Plan
If you’re looking for a place to start, our free 7-day AIP meal plan will get you going on the right foot. It includes seven days of meal and snack ideas for your AIP journey and a shopping list to help you plan ahead and stick to the diet. Download it today and get started.
There are currently not many drawbacks to the AIP diet, especially when performed under the guidance of a medical professional. The benefits seem to outweigh any possible risks for most individuals. There are a number of possible health benefits of the AIP diet, including:
- Reduced inflammation
- Less joint pain
- Symptom management for autoimmune disorders
- Improved digestion
- Increased focus and concentration
What is the AIP diet?
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is a diet that helps to reduce inflammation in the body and minimize other symptoms of autoimmune diseases. In general, the diet focuses on whole, unprocessed foods and those without additives.
What can you eat on the AIP diet?
Nutrient-dense foods including meat, fish, vegetables (excluding nightshades), sweet potatoes, fruit (small amounts), oils (coconut, avocado, olive), coconut milk, dairy-free fermented foods, honey, maple syrup, broth, and vinegar.
What can I eat for breakfast on the AIP diet?
Some breakfast ideas include a coconut yogurt parfait (all stages), green smoothie (all stages), sweet potato toast (stages 3 & 4), and veggie omelet (stage 4).
How long should you follow the AIP diet?
Typically it is recommended to follow the elimination diet for at least 30-90 days before introducing new foods. After following the elimination phase for at least 30-90 days, you may transition into the reintroduction phase. There are four stages of reintroduction. Follow each stage for 30-90 days before proceeding to the next stage.
Can you lose weight on the AIP diet?
The goal of the AIP diet isn’t to lose weight, but it’s certainly possible that you will lose weight, depending on what your diet was previously. The AIP foods list is packed with whole foods that are notorious and contain a good caloric value. By swapping out junk foods for these types of foods, some people experience weight loss.
Are eggs ok on the AIP Diet?
Eggs are one of the foods that should be avoided during the elimination phase of the paleo AIP diet. After the elimination phase, eggs can be reintroduced and enjoyed if they don’t cause symptoms for you.
Autoimmune diseases cannot be cured, but their symptoms can be managed. Some research shows that the AIP diet works to reduce inflammation and provide benefits for people with autoimmune disorders.
With minimal downsides, this healing diet can be a good option for those with autoimmune disorders who are seeking to improve their symptoms.
Anyone starting a strict elimination diet should consult with their doctor first to ensure that it is safe for their health.
Kristen Kuminski, RD, CDN
Kristen is a consultant Dietitian with experience working with a variety of individuals and populations. Kristen has experience counseling/ coaching clients in eating disorders, pediatrics, weight management, mental health nutrition and other chronic health conditions.