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The autoimmune protocol (AIP) has been shown to help many people with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This diet is designed to decrease inflammation and support the immune system.

If you're already following AIP or planning to start, you might worry that it will be too expensive or wonder how you can save money while following the protocol. While AIP eliminates some commonly eaten foods, there are many ways to save money and still eat delicious AIP-approved meals. Read on for 6 simple ways to save money while on the autoimmune protocol, because living flare free should be accessible to everyone.

1. Prioritize Quality, Nutrient Dense Foods

AIP is an elimination diet aimed at removing specific foods that can contribute to inflammation and gut dysbiosis. The goal of the diet is to reduce autoimmune symptoms and improve overall health. Buying organic produce, eating with the seasons, and choosing healthier options are all staples of consuming quality, AIP-approved foods.

Opting to eat organic produce means choosing “cleaner” fruits and vegetables (fewer synthetic chemicals than used in conventional farming methods), as well as no GMOs or other potentially harmful ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup. Following the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists from the Environmental Working Group can help you choose produce with lower levels of pesticide residue. (Source, Source)

It's a common misconception that organic means expensive, but as long as you know what to look for, it can actually be similarly priced or less expensive than conventional products. Buying local and in season produce can also ensure fresh, quality produce while keeping costs down.

Arguably most important is prioritizing food that is nutrient dense and minimally processed. Some ways to do that include choosing grass-fed meat over factory farmed meat, eating high protein foods, cooking with healthy fats like avocado oil or coconut oil, and filling up on vegetables.

2. Buy in Bulk and Shop Deals

One of the best ways to save money on your AIP diet is by buying in bulk from stores such as Costco or Sam’s Club. Purchasing items that will last for a long time and don't go bad quickly makes it simple to save money. Additionally, these types of wholesale stores are typically cheaper than traditional grocery stores.

One concern with food in bulk can be spoilage. Buying canned, frozen, or dried versions of ingredients — especially if you don’t have access to certain fresh fruits and vegetables in your area — can limit your worry about food going bad before you can eat it all. Preserved foods can help keep costs down as they can be less expensive. These products can also be just as nutritious and taste just as good, if not even better, than their fresh counterparts, because they're usually picked at peak ripeness.

At the supermarket or wholesale store, you can find weekly deals on produce, meats, and seafood. One strategy for lowering grocery bills is to plan ahead. When something is cheap at one store but expensive at another, you can compare prices before making a purchase. If you have access to multiple stores, keep an eye out for sales in your area. You might be surprised to find that another store has a better price or larger selection.

Stocking up on various food items can change throughout the year. Not everything is available all year long, so knowing what's seasonally available can help you maximize nutrients and freshness while keeping costs low. Following trends in fresh produce can be fairly straightforward. Fruits and vegetables that are in season will typically be cheaper, displayed in large quantities, and highlighted as fresh/seasonal.

Other foods such as meat and seafood are a little less obvious. For example, seafood tends to be cheaper in the winter months than in the summer months. Summer is when they're more popular at restaurants, but many types of seafood (like Alaskan crab) are caught in winter months. Meat also tends to be cheaper in fall and winter.

If certain food items are not in season or are out of stock, buying canned or frozen items can be just as good! Produce is picked and frozen at peak ripeness, making it high in potential nutrients. Purchasing frozen produce instead of fresh produce when the prices are similar, especially if you're buying it in bulk (e.g., whole heads of cauliflower, broccoli florets), can give higher cost savings over time as well. Similarly, canned or frozen fish, seafood, and meat can also be less expensive when their fresh versions are out of season.

3. Go Local

Visit your local farmers’ market or go to a butcher — buying local and supporting your community is a great way to get the freshest whole foods you can find. Another plus: Local farmers and butchers will often have the best quality produce and meats at a lower price than supermarkets, making it an easy way to save money.

Instead of packaged meats at the grocery store, butchers can often offer better deals because they buy directly from farmers and process their own meats. You can also ask a butcher about the meat's origin and how it is raised, ensuring high-quality proteins. To further save money at the butcher counter, buy whole roasts or cuts of meat that you can trim or cut down yourself. If you don't have a local butcher, consider purchasing a whole animal from a farmer and dividing it yourself before freezing portions for later use. While the upfront cost may be high, it can keep meat costs lower in the long run.

Farmers’ markets are a great way to shop for local produce. Buying local food when possible is advantageous as it can be fresher and cheaper than foods grown farther from you. Produce that's shipped long distances tends to be more expensive than locally grown produce, even if it's organic. Additionally, local produce is usually harvested at the best stage, when it’s very ripe and highest in nutrients. This is because produce sold locally doesn’t need to be shelf stable for long periods of time — local produce is picked and sold much more quickly than non-local produce.

One of the best ways to save money on groceries is shopping seasonally. By shopping at a farmer's market, you can also ask for their seasonal produce list or ask the farmer directly, allowing you to get fresh, nutrient-dense produce. (You can also find what produce is in season at grocery stores if you don’t have access to a farmer’s market.) By shopping locally and in season, you can maximize nutrients while lowering costs overall.

Check out the Farmers Market Coalition website for a clickable map that makes it easy to find your nearest farmers’ markets.

Even if you don’t live within a short distance from a farmer’s market, there are ways to get seasonal or local produce. Joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share guarantees that you'll get fresh produce on a weekly or monthly basis at an affordable price. Many CSA organizations offer delivery or central pick-up locations so that getting your fruits and vegetables is as easy as going to the grocery store.

4. Grow Your Own AIP-Approved Foods

You can grow many herbs in a window box or on your back porch, while larger plants such as tomatoes and peppers are great candidates for container gardening. If you live in a climate that allows for outdoor growing, consider a vegetable garden or fruit tree. Even if you start small, such as growing broccoli sprouts in a jar, your costs can continue to lower over time.

If you don't have access to land for planting seeds, or if there isn't any room in your yard for growing plants, then consider taking advantage of community gardens. Community gardens provide an opportunity for residents to grow their own food in a shared space, often with support from local organizations. You'll be able to save money on your grocery bill and get fresh produce straight from the source. Locating your nearest community garden is the first step.

5. Save Time to Save Money

Prepping AIP-friendly recipes ahead of time is a great way to ensure that you are eating healthy throughout the week while saving time and decision-making on busy days. You can also save money by planning ahead — you won't be as tempted by fast food or takeout options if you already have a plan for cooking your own meals!

A quick way to meal prep for the week is to make sheet pan meals or instant pot meals with base ingredients like chicken and vegetables. With these, you can simply roast food on a baking tray or pressure cook until done, then portion out into storage containers. You can keep it simple by reheating and eating each meal as is, or you can add seasoning and sauce each day to change things up. You can also try batch cooking to prep for a few weeks of meals.

Get creative with your cooking. There are many ways to use up leftovers, including making soup or using them as ingredients in a casserole or stir fry. Freezing certain foods is also a great way to save money on groceries and make sure that nothing goes to waste!

If you're looking for another way to reduce food waste, one solution is to only buy what you need — a good rule of thumb is to only purchase what you know you'll use (or freeze) within two or three days.

6. Know What to Look For

Managing symptoms of autoimmune diseases through diet can seem challenging, but with time and practice it can become an integral part of your lifestyle change to support better health. Knowing what items to look for when planning and shopping for food can help minimize stress when following AIP.

Here are some tips for getting started with AIP groceries and meal prep:

  • Make a grocery list with AIP-approved foods that you like to eat.
  • When purchasing ingredients, think about how many times ingredients might be used during the week. Buying items that go well together will help keep cooking simple (and stress free).
  • Organize and keep stock of your fridge and pantry so nothing goes bad before being used or finished.
  • Keep a list or recipe book of AIP-friendly snacks and meals to make decisions fast and easy

The Bottom Line on AIP Budget Tips

There are many ways to save money while still adhering to AIP and focusing on quality, nutrient dense food. You can buy in bulk, plan ahead with meal prep, choose meat wisely, and buy local. Simple actions such as growing herbs in your windowsill or choosing in-season produce can add up over time to save on grocery bills.

WellTheory’s Care Team offers personalized nutrition and lifestyle coaching to address autoimmune health and provide sustainable relief. The experts at WellTheory work with you to comprehensively address your autoimmunity and wellness goals.

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6 Tips for Saving Money on AIP

Following the autoimmune protocol (AIP) doesn’t have to break the bank. These budget tips can help lower the cost of AIP-approved groceries.
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Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Anshul Gupta
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