Have you ever heard of AIP? I know I mention it quite often in my recipes. Especially, when it comes to tips and ways to tweak a dish to make it “AIP compliant”. If you are not familiar with this specific version of the Paleo Diet, you might want to keep reading through this post to find out if this particular WOE could be beneficial for you.
WHO IS PALEO AIP FOR?
This elimination diet is for those of us who are affected by autoimmune diseases. With 100 identified autoimmune diseases and counting, the target audience of this particular diet seems to be growing every year. Some diseases, like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Psoriasis, are more common than others, and most of us either have one of them or know someone who does. Even though in conventional medicine this cluster of disorders has been shrouded in mystery for years (as regular doctors put it: “no one knows how they occur and there’s no cure”), it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the root of these illnesses is in the gut (for more on the subject, read this post ).
As Hippocrates already knew a few eons ago, all disease begins in the gut. True, and even truer when it comes to autoimmune diseases. It is becoming abundantly clear that the permeability of the intestinal lining, or “leaky gut”, is the main culprit.
LINK BETWEEN THE GUT AND AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES
The intestinal lining is only one-cell thick, which means it’s fragile and delicate. When it becomes damaged by overuse of antibiotics (which kill all bacteria, good and bad), NSAIDs, processed and inflammatory foods, it starts leaking toxins and bad bacteria into the bloodstream while leaving nutrients unprocessed. The substances that end up leaking into the bloodstream trigger the autoimmune system to respond with all kinds of unpleasant symptoms. To name a few: allergies, brain fog, fatigue, mystery pains, mystery rashes, bloating, gas, irregularity… At the same time, the damaged gut no longer produces certain enzymes, so some essential nutrients are left unprocessed and our body cannot absorb them. That will cause all sorts of nutritional deficiencies, hormonal and mineral imbalances and make our immune system less efficient. For instance, my damaged gut wouldn’t allow me to absorb vitamin B12. I needed to bypass the gut and introduce it through my bloodstream. One of the reasons why I’m fond of the expression:
“We are not what we EAT. We are what we ABSORB.”
PALEO AIP: WHAT IS THE AUTOIMMUNE PROTOCOL?
AIP stands for Autoimmune Protocol and is essentially a more restrictive type of Paleo diet. Today’s leading expert on this subject is without a doubt Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, scientist and author of The Paleo Approach. Even though she did not design this diet (Dr. Loren Cordain has that credit), she wrote the bible for healing nutrition when it comes to autoimmune diseases. The complexity and the science behind AIP might take a book or two to explain in detail. But in a nutshell, on this elimination diet you would:
- Avoid all processed and refined foods
- Avoid whole foods that might be potential inflammation triggers
- Eat all the nutrient-dense foods that promote health and healing
It seems simple and totally intuitive, right? I mean, it’s basically: don’t eat crap; eat real food. Duh! But it’s not as easy as that might sound, and people who embark on the AIP journey tend to need a lot of support and coaching.
FOODS NOT ALLOWED BY THE AUTOIMMUNE PROTOCOL
I’m not going to lie to you. This list is soooo long, it’d be faster to tell you which foods are allowed by the protocol. But… I believe it is important to first focus on the eliminations to wrap your head around what might be at the root of some of your health problems.
FOODS TO ELIMINATE ON THE AIP DIET:
- Grains. All of them, including the ones that don’t contain gluten, like rice, oats, and corn.
- Legumes. Yes, all of them, even lentils and chickpeas.
- Dairy. All of it, including fermented products, goat and sheep milk.
- Refined and processed sugars and oils. The way I see it these fall under “processed crap”, so no wonder.
- Eggs. Especially the whites, which I bet you were thinking might be OK.
- Nuts. What?? I know!
- Seeds. That includes cocoa, coffee, and seed-based spices. And it also includes pumpkin, sesame, and chia seeds despite their superfood status.
- Nightshades. We’re talking regular potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet and hot peppers, cayenne, red pepper, tomatillos, goji berries, tobacco, and all spices derived from peppers, including paprika.
- Alcohol. Including red wine. Even the organic foot-stomped kind. Including vodka. Even the ultra-distilled grape vodka so paleo a caveman would drink it. No alcohol period 😩
- NSAIDs. OTC meds like aspirin or ibuprofen. Let’s be honest, once you remove alcohol the need for aspirin and ibuprofen will magically decrease.
- Non-nutritive sweeteners. All of them, even Stevia.
- Emulsifiers, thickeners, and other food additives. I’m pretty sure these fall under “processed crap”. So, again, no wonder there.
WHY ARE THERE “HEALTHY” WHOLE FOODS AMONG THE ELIMINATIONS?
First of all, “healthy” is such a relative term, it should come with a warning label. As an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, I am always reminding my clients that there is such a thing as “bioindividuality“, and one person’s food can be another person’s poison. In the specific case of AIP, it is crucial to understand that this protocol aims at including the most nutrient-dense foods, while eliminating any foods that might trigger inflammation and/or prevent the healing process and repair of the precious gut lining.
For instance, eggs are a wonderful source of nutrients. However, they are also a common cause of food sensitivities, and the white part contains lysozyme. Lysozyme can bind with complex proteins and cross the gut barrier, thus triggering our already compromised autoimmune system. (For a much more in-depth explanation, I recommend reading Dr. Ballantyne’s post).
Similarly, Nightshades (which include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers) can cause food sensitivities and trigger inflammation, due to problematic compounds. The compounds in question are lectins (which are very common in many other life forms, but in nightshades they are the kind that contributes to making the gut “leaky” or permeable), saponins, and capsaicin (a steroidal stimulant found in hot peppers and also responsible for increasing gut permeability).
DEALING WITH PALEO AIP RESTRICTIONS
If you have roamed around my blog, you might already know that I have three autoimmune diseases: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Psoriasis, and Vitiligo. Because of my medical history and genetic burden (for more on the subject, see my Autoimmune Story), I have turned to nutrition to find the help and answers that conventional medicine does not offer. One of the things I’ve tried is the Paleo AIP diet. I’ve followed this protocol intermittently for the past 4 years. I haven’t identified any foods I’m highly sensitive to, but I try to reset my body now and then with 5-6 weeks of absolute AIP. The rest of the time, I try to be as health-conscious as possible without losing my zest for life.
Confession: When I’m on a rigorous AIP diet, I feel like I’m on an episode of “Chopped”: so many relevant ingredients are suddenly missing, but I still have to come up with meals and recipes that have flavor and variety.
I mean, I’m Italian, right? Let’s say I want to make pizza, nothing fancy or complicated, just a simple Margherita. I only need 4 main ingredients: Flour, Tomato, Mozzarella, Olive Oil, plus Basil for garnish. But on AIP, I cannot have:
- Grains, So, NO FLOUR
- Nightshades. So, NO TOMATO
- Dairy. So, NO MOZZARELLA
- CONCLUSION: I’ll have a cup of olive oil and dunk a basil leaf 😀
PALEO AIP IS LIFE-CHANGING
No, it’s definitely not easy, but for some of us it’s a life-saver. Also, this elimination diet is not supposed to be necessarily a life sentence. Many of us obtain great results and are able to reintroduce most of the eliminations at some point. I will definitely write a post about that because doing it right and in the right order is crucial for successful reintroductions. In addition, I have to clarify that this diet is not just about eliminations. It actually encourages the consumption of nutrient-dense foods, including things that we are not currently eating, like organ meat, and which have the power to nourish, heal and repair. Exactly what our gut and body need.
FOODS TO EAT ON PALEO AIP
While dealing with all those eliminations, keep in mind that there are still many foods you are urged to consume keeping variety and flavor alive. These foods are so rich in minerals and nutrients, they will help your body recover what it’s lost and fight the symptoms that are plaguing you. Think of this list below as the medicine your doctor will never prescribe. It really works and has zero side effects. Enjoy with abandon!!
- Quality Meats and Organ Meat (Liver, Tripes, Kidneys…). All meat is allowed, even natural bacon.
- Fish and Shellfish
- Vegetables. Except for the kind that is not allowed.
- Sea Weed
- Herbs and Spices. Except for seed-based spices and nightshade spices
- Healthy Fats
- Dairy-free Fermented Foods
- Bone Broth
- Honey and Maple Syrup but in small doses
- Apple Cider Vinegar and Balsamic Vinegar
IS PALEO AIP RIGHT FOR YOU?
I’ll admit, this diet is not for the faint of heart. It needs a lot of patience, commitment, and planning. It’s not something to do for rapid weight loss, like Keto. It’s a weapon in our autoimmune arsenal, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. Some foods on the “eat list” might cause some people allergic reactions, just like some foods on the “do not eat list” might be crucial and needed in someone else’s diet. It is meant to be taken as a template to guide ailing food lovers in search of gut health. Bioindividuality is always important when it comes to nutrition, as one person’s food can be another person’s poison.
I hope this post gave you some food for thought and even some helpful information about solutions when it comes to your own health. Nutrition is so powerful! Sometimes, we just need to get out of the way and let it do its magic✨
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