The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is an approach to managing autoimmune diseases. The diet focuses on incorporating nutrient-dense foods that help support gut health and reduce inflammation, while eliminating foods that can trigger dysbiosis or an inflammatory response. The AIP diet also encourages stress management, physical activity, and getting sufficient sleep. (Source)
In this article, we talk a bit about what the AIP diet is and how it works, then take a deeper dive into which foods are recommended and why.
What Is the AIP Diet For?
The incidence of autoimmune diseases in the United States is rising. The reasons are not fully understood, but research suggests there are both genetic and environmental causes.
One environmental factor believed to be a significant driver of increased autoimmunity is diet. The modern diet, with its excessive refined carbohydrates and processed foods and low levels of dietary fiber and antioxidants, may cause intestinal inflammation and imbalance in the microbiome. There is increasing evidence that this disruption of gut health contributes to development of autoimmune diseases. (Source, Source, Source)
While the AIP diet is not expected to prevent development of autoimmune diseases, there is evidence it can help reduce inflammation and related symptoms in those who have autoimmune diseases, especially inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
In a study that looked at whether the symptoms of IBD can be improved through the AIP diet, 73% of participants were found to achieve remission (no symptoms or very minimal symptoms) by the sixth week and maintained remission over the next 5 weeks. The researchers recommended using the AIP diet alongside therapy for inflammatory or autoimmune diseases to improve symptoms and gut inflammation. (Source)
How Does the AIP Diet Work?
The AIP diet has three phases: elimination, reintroduction, and maintenance. In the elimination phase, food groups that may trigger dysbiosis or gut inflammation are removed. This is then followed by a reintroduction phase in which eliminated food groups are systematically reintroduced to identify those associated with symptoms or disease aggravation. Last is the maintenance phase, in which a personalized diet that avoids problematic foods is followed. (Source)
What Foods Should Be on My AIP Food List?
When following the AIP diet, you will be increasing your intake of fresh, micronutrient-dense, whole foods that don’t trigger your disease.
Here is a list of the best foods to include on the AIP diet to ensure you get all the nutrients you need, and why they are beneficial for your health.
Vegetables are very nutrient dense. They contain a huge variety of essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (beneficial compounds produced by plants). Many phytonutrients have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are very beneficial for our health. (Source, Source)
Vegetables are also rich in dietary fiber, which helps feed our gut bacteria. Research has found that lack of fiber in the diet will cause some bacteria to begin feeding on the protective layer of mucus that lines the intestines. This weakens the mucus layer and allows pathogens to reach the intestinal lining. (Source)
Best AIP Vegetables
- leafy greens: kale, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, watercress, beet greens, collard greens
- cruciferous: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, arugula, turnips, mustard greens, radish, turnips
- alliums: onion, leek, garlic, ramps, scallions, shallots, chives
- tubers and roots: sweet potato, beets, carrots, parsnips, turnip, acorn squash, yam
- edible fungi: mushrooms
- sea vegetables: laver, hijiki, wakame, dulse, Irish moss, alaria
Fruits are also a great source of nutrients, although they are higher in fructose than vegetables. Choose colorful fruits to ensure a diverse range of phytonutrients with antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Some phytonutrients that are responsible for the different colors in fruit include:
- lycopene: red (watermelon, papaya, grapefruit, etc.)
- Lycopene is an antioxidant that helps protect our body from damage by unstable, highly reactive molecules called free radicals. Due to its antioxidant activity, lycopene may offer protection against a variety of diseases such as diabetes. (Source)
- alpha- and beta-carotene: orange and yellow (apricot, cantaloupe, mango, orange, etc.)
- Alpha- and beta-carotene are thought to promote eye health. Although study results have been inconsistent, carotenes have been associated with a lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, or of preventing progression of the disease once it occurs. (Source)
- anthocyanins: red, purple, and blue (cranberries, blueberries, pomegranate, etc.)
- Anthocyanins may improve insulin sensitivity and prevent insulin resistance in individuals with type 2 diabetes. They have also been found to have antibacterial effects against Staphylococcus, the bacteria responsible for staph infections, as well as other types of bacteria. (Source)
- lutein: yellow and green (kiwi, green grapes, etc.)
- Lutein is a powerful antioxidant that’s known for protecting our eyes against age-related vision loss. Lutein consumption has been associated with lower inflammation, although more studies are needed to determine whether there’s a causal relationship. (Source)
- anthoxanthins: white (bananas, etc.)
- Due to their antioxidant properties, research suggests some anthoxanthins have potential as treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. The anthoxanthin quercetin has anti-inflammatory effects and possible anticancer properties. (Source, Source)
Best AIP Fruits
- apples (red, yellow, green, etc.)
- berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, etc.)
- grapes (green, purple, etc.)
- passion fruit
Meats And Fish
Protein is an essential nutrient for the body. It’s involved in many cellular functions, such as maintaining and regenerating tissue, making antibodies, synthesizing hormones, transporting nutrients, and acting as an energy source. (Source)
One way of getting protein into your diet is through grass-fed beef. Grass-fed beef has been shown to contain a higher concentration of vitamins A and E, as well as a higher composition of omega-3 fatty acids, than grain-fed beef. (Source)
Poultry, however, should be eaten in moderation since it has a high omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. Consuming foods high in omega-6 fatty acids contributes to inflammation and oxidative stress and may be linked to the development of chronic diseases, including autoimmune diseases. Lowering the consumption of food with a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio decreases inflammation. (Source)
Seafood, especially fatty fish, contains omega-3 fatty acids, primarily eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Research suggests omega-3 fatty acids support heart health by lowering levels of triglycerides, fats that store excess calories, and increasing “good” cholesterol levels. They may also lower blood pressure and help keep platelets (cells that form clots to prevent bleeding) from accumulating in the coronary arteries. (Source)
Omega-3 may also reduce inflammation, improve working memory, and increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes. One study found that supplementation with fish oil helped decrease disease activity of systemic lupus erythematosus, otherwise known as lupus. Omega-3 may also decrease inflammation and increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes. (Source, Source)
Best AIP Meats and Fish
The best meat and fish protein sources include:
- grass-fed beef
- Free range or organic poultry (in moderation)
- wild-caught salmon
Glycine is an amino acid used to make glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that protects the body from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when byproducts of metabolism called oxygen reactive species are not cleared from cells. This can lead to toxic effects on DNA, proteins, and lipids. (Source, Source)
Glycine is critical to many physiological processes and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. Glycine has even been shown to improve sleep quality, and to reduce daytime sleepiness when you’re not getting enough sleep. (Source, Source)
Best Glycine-Rich Foods
- bone broth
- organ meat
- tendons, ligaments, and skin of animal meat
- seafood, especially carp, clams, oysters, and wild salmon
- dried seaweed
Fermented foods have undergone a process that converts food components, such as carbohydrates, into alcohol or organic acids. This conversion process is done using microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria under anaerobic conditions (without the presence of oxygen). Fermentation of food can result in products with a diverse range of flavors and textures. (Source)
Fermented foods contain probiotics, which have been found to reverse intestinal permeability and improve the gut barrier function. Probiotics can also help restore the gut microbiome when it has been affected by dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the gut’s microbial ecology. An increasing amount of evidence supports the role of dysbiosis in the development of autoimmunity. Probiotics may also help boost immune function by reducing pathogen-related inflammation and stimulating protective responses from cells in the gut lining. (Source, Source)
Best AIP-Compliant Fermented Foods
- white kimchi (nightshade-free)
- pickled vegetables and fruits
- coconut milk kefir
- coconut milk yoghurt
Oils and Fats
Oils, along with fatty fish, are sources of essential fatty acids that our body is unable to make. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects. (Source, Source)
Best AIP Oils and Fats
- avocado oil
- coconut oil
- extra-virgin or virgin olive oil
- schmaltz (rendered chicken or goose fat)
Herbs and Spices
A misconception about the AIP diet is that meals are bland, because several common herbs and spices are eliminated. However, there are still many that can be used to flavor dishes.
Many herbs and spices have traditionally been used not just for flavor enhancement but also for their medicinal properties. For example, studies have shown that cinnamon can improve insulin sensitivity and significantly lower blood sugar levels in diabetic patients, peppermint oil can be used as a treatment to manage bloating and pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome, and turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory properties that rivals some anti-inflammatory drugs. (Source, Source, Source)
Best AIP Herbs and Spices
- bay leaf
- dill weed
- kaffir lime leaf
- onion powder
What Should I Avoid on the AIP Diet?
The modern diet tends to be high in processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fatty acids, with low levels of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber, and micronutrients. All of these factors combined are believed to lead to inflammation and an increased permeability across the intestinal barrier, otherwise known as “leaky gut.” (Source, Source, Source)
Food additives are also eliminated on the AIP diet, as research suggests they can disrupt the gut microbiome and cause inflammation. (Source)
Some medications can trigger inflammation in the intestines, dysbiosis, or food intolerances and should be avoided when following the AIP diet. Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause irritation and disrupt the intestinal barrier. Antibiotics can alter the composition of the gut microbiome and stimulate an inflammatory response. (Source, Source)
Foods and Medications to Avoid
- grains (barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oat, quinoa, etc.)
- legumes (black beans, fava beans, chickpeas, soybeans, etc.)
- nightshades (potatoes, eggplant, peppers, goji berries, and tomatoes, and spices such as cayenne, paprika, chili powder, etc.)
- nuts and seeds (including spice seeds such as cumin, fennel seed, mustard, etc.)
- refined or processed sugars and sweeteners (except for honey)
- oils (except for avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil)
- food additives (emulsifiers, thickeners, etc.)
- medications that can trigger intestinal inflammation, dysbiosis, food intolerance (e.g., NSAIDS)
The Bottom Line on AIP Foods
The AIP diet is an approach for managing autoimmune diseases. It focuses on nourishing the body with nutrient-dense foods that support gut health and reduce inflammation, which is known to be closely associated with autoimmune diseases. The AIP food list includes colorful fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood, glycine-rich foods, and fermented foods. The AIP diet also eliminates food that may trigger dysbiosis and inflammatory responses and recommends healthy lifestyle changes. Our Nutritional Therapy Practitioners at WellTheory can help you determine whether the AIP diet is the right fit for you. We can support your healing journey through therapeutic nutritional protocols, lifestyle changes, and community care — learn more about our approach.