Your Wholesome Guide To The Autoimmune Paleo Diet (AIP)

Your Wholesome Guide To The Autoimmune Paleo Diet (AIP)

The Ketogenic diet, Intermittent fasting, Paleo, FODMAP, Elimination diet - so many to choose from, which one do you pick? There are many new ‘eating habits’ that are gaining popularity in today’s society. It’s no surprise that people are more confused than ever deciding which one, if any to follow! Each of these ‘eating habits’ have their strengths and weaknesses and work great for different people depending on their needs. 
Recently, I’ve had quite a few patients interested in learning about the Autoimmune Paleo Diet or AIP diet. So, I decided to do some further research to really get into the nitty gritty details of this food based approach for inflammation. The AIP diet is used to help reduce inflammation in the body to relieve symptoms of autoimmune disorders. 

What are Autoimmune Disorders?

Autoimmune disease is the result of an abnormal immune response that causes our immune system to attack our own body. Some examples of autoimmune diseases include:
  • Celiac Disease
  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
  • Grave’s Disease
  • Crohn’s 
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Alopecia
  • Arthritis
All autoimmune diseases are rooted in genetics but environment can play a huge role, as the common saying goes, "genetics load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger”. The great thing about this is even though you cannot change your genes, you can surely change your environment. 
Naturopathic Medicine takes into account the 5 components that can play a large role in the development of autoimmune disease:
  • Gut health
  • Stress/sleep
  • Hormones
  • Toxins
  • Infections
The focus of today’s article will be gut health and how the AIP diet can work to improve it. Conventional medicine treats autoimmune disease through suppressing the immune system so it stops attacking the body. However, the Naturopathic approach works to support the immune system. 

Gut Health’s Role in the Development of Autoimmune Disease

The intestinal lining of the gut has a tight barrier that stops harmful substances from passing through and making their way into the bloodstream. This tight barrier can become compromised through exposure to substances in the environment including but not limited to, bacteria, viruses, medications (NSAIDs, antibiotics), foods (gluten), stress, toxins, pollution and yeast overgrowth. When the gut lining is damaged it can lead to the development of leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability. Here, harmful substances can “leak” through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. 
In healthy individuals with strong gut linings, these large substances will be contained in the gut and then eliminated from the body, but with a leaky gut these substances can find their way into other systems in the body and interfere with our body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Once these substances have made their way into the bloodstream they are flagged by our immune system as “foriegn”. This creates complexes of food particles and immune cells all over the body that build up in the joints, skin and even the brain which is what creates inflammation, or autoimmune diseases.
There are 4 key steps to healing a leaky gut from the Naturopathic approach:
  1. REMOVE offending substances like inflammatory foods and toxins
  2. REPLACE components required for healthy digestion (ex. Digestive enzymes)
  3. REINOCULATE with good bacteria (ex. probiotics)
  4. REPAIR the gut lining (ex. L-Glutamine)
Today, we will pay specific attention to step 1 of healing a leaky gut which is DIET! Depending on what the person needs, it may be necessary to follow a Paleo, AIP or ketogenic diet. Autoimmunity always goes back to the gut. So it makes perfect sense to address autoimmunity at the level of the gut.

What is Paleo Eating?

The paleo diet focuses on eating “primal” foods - those that were hunted and gathered by our ancestors millions of years ago. It focuses on eating whole foods that have not been processed, while avoiding processed and refined foods. 
Paleo allows:
  • Fruits
  • Veggies 
  • Lean protein (meat, poultry and seafood)
  • Healthy fats
  • Seeds
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
Paleo restricts:
  • Dairy 

  • Grains

  • Legumes 

  • Starchy veggies (ex. potatoes)

  • Processed foods and sugar

  • Alcohol

The Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP)

AIP is essentially paleo, but a stricter version. It removes the most common allergic foods that are known to cause inflammation in the body, leading to autoimmune disorders.
AIP goes a step further and ALSO eliminates:
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Deadly nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers)
  • Spices derived from seeds like cumin, coriander, mustard, nutmeg. etc
  • Dried fruits
  • Coffee 
Allowed foods on the AIP Diet:
  • Vegetables (minus the nightshades)
  • Fruits (limit to 20 grams of fructose/day)
  • Coconut products
  • Fats: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, bacon, fat
  • Cultured ghee (free of lactose and casein)
  • Bone broth
  • Grass fed meats, poultry and seafood 
  • Green tea
  • Non-seed herbal teas
  • Any herbs or spices not derived from seeds: cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, parsley, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, mint
  • Vinegar: apple cider vinegar, balsamic
  • Honey and maple syrup
  • Arrowroot starch
From my perspective as a Naturopathic Doctor, following the AIP diet can help to support gut health, especially when it comes to leaky gut. This in turn can help to address autoimmune disorders along with their symptoms. 

Must you follow this diet forever?

The short answer is No! A very important part of the AIP diet is to reintroduce the eliminated foods. This is because some of the eliminated foods like eggs, seeds, nuts add nutritional value. The goal is to get to a baseline of optimal health where you are symptom-free so that when reintroductions start you can clearly identify which foods are leading to your symptoms. 
Challenging foods can be a good way to see if some of these foods can be incorporated into your diet in moderation if no reactions appear during the re-introductions.
When is an ideal time to reintroduce foods? This really depends on the person. Some people will start to feel amazing after 3-4 weeks. Generally, it is recommended to follow the AIP diet for about 30-90 days before reintroducing the foods. 


Reintroduction procedure:

  1. Select a food to challenge. Eat this food 2-3 x a day for 5-6 days
  2. In general, it is best to only reintroduce one food every 5-7 days while monitoring your symptoms
  3. If you have any reaction at all, you need to continue to restrict the food for a minimum of 3 months
  4. If you have no reaction at all, you can continue to incorporate that food while continuing to reintroduce the other foods

Drawbacks with the AIP Diet

The AIP diet does have some drawbacks for certain people. Firstly, there are very few protein sources that are allowed other than meat, making it a difficult protocol to follow for a vegan or vegetarian. Secondly, it can be quite expensive to follow as grass fed meats can come at a high price. Thirdly, when you start to subtract important elements from the diet, you can sometimes develop nutritional deficiencies, such as a calcium deficiency. However, if followed correctly the AIP diet can be quite useful for autoimmune conditions and helps to manage symptoms. 

Tips for getting started with the AIP Diet

  1. Before starting with the AIP diet, remove all non AIP foods and stock your pantry with AIP allowed foods! Stock your freezer with high quality fish and grass fed meats. Purchase some easy to reach for foods like fruits, vegetables, coconut chips, plantain chips and bone broth powder
  2. Batch Cook - The temptations to venture out of the AIP diet come when AIP allowed foods are not easy to reach for. AIP works mostly through cooking all meals at home. This is hard to do everyday. So pick 2-3 days of the week to prepare AIP meals that can last you a couple of days. 
  3. Supplement - As mentioned earlier, the AIP diet is quite restrictive and can leave you with potential nutritional deficiencies. Some of the most useful supplements include: 
    • L-glutamine to heal the lining of the gut
    • Magnesium to help regulate bowel movements
    • Collagen for a great protein source and to support connective tissue
While genetics play a big role in one’s predisposition to autoimmune disease, environmental factors like diet plays an even larger role in developing autoimmune disease. Conventionally, autoimmunity is treated through medications that suppress the immune system. But this is not sustainable and does not treat the root cause. Autoimmunity begins in the gut, thus the first place to target when trying to address autoimmunity need to be diet. The AIP way of eating helps to reduce whole body inflammation and supports the immune system. Although it is quite restrictive and can be quite challenging it can do wonders for dealing with the symptoms of any autoimmune disease! The best way to safely approach the AIP diet is to do it under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner. 
** Disclaimer: The advice is in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.