Living with an autoimmune condition can be an exercise in frustration. Some days you feel great and energetic, some days your symptoms come on full-force and you feel terrible, and sometimes the best way to describe your physical health is just "meh." It's even more frustrating when you're not sure what’s causing your symptoms — you could be following doctor's orders and still not feel like yourself. If you're considering taking on the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet to figure out if a particular food is causing your discomfort, you might know that eggs are on the list of food recommended for elimination. In this article, we'll take a look at eggs and AIP, and what the science says about whether they should stay or go.
What Is the AIP Diet?
The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet is a regimen that seeks to reduce the symptoms of autoimmune diseases, such as inflammation and pain.The protocol has been used in the treatment of Crohn's, IBS, celiac disease, and other autoimmune conditions. (Source)
A Word About Inflammation
Inflammation is an important term to understand when talking about autoimmune conditions and the AIP diet. Inflammation occurs when your body responds to something like a virus or bacteria that shouldn't be there by sending out inflammatory cells and proteins called cytokines, which generate more inflammatory cells.
If you're healthy, this inflammatory response ends when you're healed. If the inflammation is chronic, and continues to attack tissue even when there's no reason for it, it can result in symptoms such as:
- chest pain
- abdominal pain
- joint pain
- mouth sores
- skin rash
Autoimmune disorders such as lupus can cause chronic inflammation, but there are other causes:
- chronic stress
- excessive alcohol consumption
- excessive exercise or not enough exercise
How Does AIP Work?
The AIP diet doesn't operate according to calories or portion sizes. Rather, it's an elimination diet in which you avoid for a limited time foods that may trigger inflammation and other symptoms. Foods eliminated during the first phase of the diet include:
- nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, spices sourced from peppers, like cayenne and paprika)
- nuts and seeds
- refined and processed sugars
- industrial seed oils (highly processed oils like soybean, canola, and corn)
- eggs (we'll get back to this one shortly)
The AIP Diet Includes Anti-Inflammatory Foods
The AIP diet also emphasizes consumption of anti-inflammatory foods that are rich in antioxidants and fiber, inhibit those signals that are overproducing inflammation, and promote healthy gut microbiota. These foods can help in the production of short-chain fatty acids, which have been shown in clinical studies to be beneficial in treating ulcerative colitis and Crohn's Disease. (Source, Source, Source)
Some examples of anti-inflammatory foods include:
- vegetables (excluding nightshades)
- whole grains (oats, barley, brown rice, millet, spelt, buckwheat, amaranth)
- legumes (chickpeas, lentils)
- monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocados, almonds, pumpkin seeds)
- polyunsaturated omega-3 fats (salmon, chia seeds, walnuts)
- dark chocolate
What You Need to Know About Reintroduction and Maintenance Phases
In the second phase of the AIP diet, you begin to systematically reintroduce trigger foods to see if any of them cause or increase symptoms. In the last phase, after your problem foods have been identified, a long-term diet that helps avoid intestinal inflammation and other symptoms can be planned. This final phase is usually called the maintenance phase, but because the diet is tailored to your individual needs, some practitioners refer to it as the “personalization” phase instead.
What About Eggs and AIP?
There's no scientific evidence that eggs impact inflammation, but they remain controversial when it comes to their role in diets. Because they contain cholesterol, eggs have previously been recommended as a protein source primarily for the young and athletic, while folks who have conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes have been advised to avoid them.
Eggs Also Have Health Benefits
However, there's research indicating eggs can actually improve inflammation in those with obesity who want to lose weight, as well as in those with type 2 diabetes. Eggs are also high in vitamin D, which has anti-inflammatory effects (it's actually been shown to lessen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis), and are a good source of protein and B vitamins. (Source, Source, Source, Source)
Egg Whites Are Behind AIP Elimination
Eggs are eliminated in the first phase of the AIP diet because egg whites are a common allergen. In the reintroduction phase, you'd begin gradually putting eggs back into your diet to see if they're a source of symptoms for you. Egg yolks are not as allergenic and many who continue to avoid egg whites after completing the AIP diet are able to tolerate yolks. WellTheory's Nutritional Therapy Practitioners can coach you through all phases of the AIP diet and help you come up with a personalized nutrition plan that works best for you. (Source)
9 Egg Substitutes
If you're considering phasing out eggs on the AIP diet, you might be looking for some solid substitutes for cooking and baking. Eggs bind, leaven, and provide moisture in recipes, and while commercial egg replacers are popular, they're not great for those on the AIP diet because they often contain guar gum and corn or potato starch.
There are egg alternatives that are AIP friendly, though, such as:
- mashed banana
- pumpkin puree
- agar-agar powder
- vinegar and baking soda
- arrowroot powder
- carbonated water
For more recipes, check out our article: 9 Tasty AIP Breakfast Options.
The Bottom Line on Eggs and AIP
The autoimmune protocol diet is a means of reducing symptoms such as inflammation and pain related to autoimmune disorders. Eggs are on the list of food to eliminate in the first phase of the AIP diet because they are a common allergen. However, eggs are also an important source of vitamins and protein, and actually have been shown to help alleviate inflammation in folks with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Whether or not you need to leave eggs behind entirely depends on your overall health and what kind of results eliminating them yields. A WellTheory membership can help take the guesswork out of adhering to a nutritional protocol, like the AIP diet. Working with a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner can provide hands-on guidance during the elimination phase of the diet, and help you strategically reintroduce eggs and other foods when the time is right.