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AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) Diet: Benefits, Foods To Eat And Avoid

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the healthy cells of the body. This can result in symptoms like fatigue, swelling and redness, muscle pain, difficulty in concentrating, skin rashes, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus and celiac disease are some of the most common autoimmune diseases [1].

Researchers do not know exactly what causes autoimmune diseases, however, genetic, environmental and dietary factors are thought to be the cause. Also, studies show that in susceptible individuals who have a leaky gut can trigger the development of certain autoimmune diseases [2]. Certain foods have been shown to increase the risk of leaky gut.

A diet known as the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet is a diet that focuses on reducing the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. Studies have shown that people with certain autoimmune diseases experienced improvements in symptoms after incorporating the AIP diet [3].

Let's take a closer look at the AIP diet, foods to eat and avoid.

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What Is The Autoimmune Protocol Diet?

The Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) focuses on eliminating foods that cause inflammation and other symptoms of autoimmune diseases and includes nutrient-dense foods that are thought to heal the gut and lower inflammation and other symptoms of autoimmune diseases.

The AIP diet is similar to the paleo diet, as it eliminates many of the same foods such as legumes, grains, eggs, nightshade vegetables, dairy, nuts and seeds, refined sugar, coffee, alcohol and vegetable oil. A person who is following an AIP diet will not eat these foods as they can trigger an autoimmune response [4].

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How Does The Autoimmune Protocol Diet Work?

The AIP diet consists of two main phases: elimination phase and the reintroduction phase [5].

  • Elimination phase

In the elimination phase, foods and certain medications are eliminated which are thought to trigger an autoimmune response. These foods include legumes, grains, eggs, nightshade vegetables, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds, refined sugar, coffee, alcohol, vegetable oil, food additives and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Consumption of nutrient-dense foods, fermented foods, and bone broth are included in this phase. And it also emphasises on improving lifestyle factors such as physical activity, sleep and stress.

This phase is continued until a person feels better and experiences a reduction in symptoms. Some people may notice an improvement in three weeks or it may extend [6].

  • The reintroduction phase

This phase starts once a person has shown a marked improvement in symptoms and overall well-being. During the reintroduction phase, the foods which are eliminated are gradually reintroduced into the diet depending on the tolerance level of the person. The main aim of this phase is to identify which foods are causing the symptoms.

The foods should be reintroduced one at a time, maintaining a gap of five to seven weeks before reintroducing a different food. This time period will help a person to notice if the symptoms are reappearing before continuing the reintroduction phase [7], [8].

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Benefits Of The Autoimmune Protocol Diet

1. May help cure a leaky gut

Leaky gut syndrome is a condition that affects the lining of the intestines, which results in symptoms like digestive issues and inflammation. Studies have shown an association between leaky gut and autoimmune diseases [9][10].

Following the AIP diet has been shown to reduce inflammation and heal the gut, thereby preventing leaky gut syndrome [11][12].

However, the studies are limited and further studies are required in this area.

2. May lower inflammation and other symptoms

A study showed that 15 people with inflammatory bowel disease who were on an AIP diet for 11 weeks had an improvement in their symptoms [13].

Another study also pointed the same. People with inflammatory bowel disease who followed the AIP diet had a significant improvement in their quality of life by the third week [14].

In another study, 16 women with Hashimoto's thyroiditis who were on an AIP diet for 10 weeks showed a marked improvement in their quality of life and reduced inflammation [15].

Although these studies look promising, they are limited and more research studies are needed.

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Foods To Eat On The Autoimmune Protocol Diet

  • Eat fresh fruits in small amounts.
  • Eat a variety of vegetables, but exclude nightshade vegetables.
  • Fermented, probiotic-rich foods
  • Lean meat
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Herbs and spices (fresh and non-seed)
  • Less processed oils such as olive oil and avocado oil.
  • Bone broth
  • Honey or maple syrup in limited quantities.
  • Green tea
  • Vinegar such as apple cider and balsamic vinegar.
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Foods To Avoid On The Autoimmune Protocol Diet

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Nightshade vegetables such as eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes.
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Processed vegetable oils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Refined or processed sugars
  • Food additives
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Possible Drawbacks Of The Autoimmune Protocol Diet

The AIP diet is restrictive and can be difficult to follow, especially in the elimination phase. If the symptoms have reduced and the person progresses to the reintroduction phase, the symptoms may reoccur again and this could become problematic.

In addition, staying in the elimination phase for too long can make it difficult to meet your daily nutrient requirements, which can lead to a risk of nutrient deficiencies. This is why the reintroduction phase should not be skipped.

Also, finding foods that should be a part of the AIP diet can be time-consuming.

However, it is important to note that there is no guarantee that the AIP diet will lower inflammation and other symptoms in all people with autoimmune diseases.

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Should You Try The Autoimmune Protocol Diet?

The AIP diet works best for people with autoimmune diseases and this disease cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be managed. Studies have shown the effectiveness of the AIP diet on some people with autoimmune diseases, however, the studies are limited. There are also few drawbacks to the diet. Therefore, it is advisable to consult a dietician before you start following the AIP diet.

Common FAQs

Q. How long should you do the AIP diet?

A. It is recommended to follow the elimination diet for at least 30 days.

Q. Are bananas allowed on AIP diet?

A. Yes, bananas can be eaten on the AIP diet.

Q. Can I eat eggs on AIP diet?

A. No eggs are completely avoided on the AIP diet.

Q. Is coffee allowed on AIP diet?

A. No, you can't drink coffee when you are following the AIP diet.