Astoundingly, one in seven Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease, and over 80 different autoimmune diseases have been identified: Hashimoto’s disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, lupus, and many, many more. (1, 2)
When functioning normally, the immune system recognizes and attacks foreign substances like viruses and bacteria. But in an autoimmune disease, the body mistakes one or more types of its own cells as invaders and attacks itself. For example, in type 1 diabetes, the body targets beta cells in the pancreas. In Hashimoto’s disease, the body attacks thyroid tissue.
In many cases, proteins or antigens in specific foods can trigger the body to attack itself. The AIP diet was developed as a way to help manage autoimmune disease and determine individual dietary triggers.
The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet can seem restrictive at first glance, but with easy recipes and go-to substitutions, it becomes more doable. Check out this article from Katie Melville for more on the AIP diet and for eight recipes submitted by our readers. #AIP #wellness
The Theory behind the AIP Diet
The AIP diet focuses on nutrient-dense foods while removing foods that can contribute to:
- Immune dysregulation, which is at the heart of autoimmunity
- Gut permeability and gut dysbiosis, which can trigger the development of or exacerbate autoimmune disease (3)
- Inflammation, which is at the root of all modern diseases, including autoimmunity (4)
Although similar to a Paleo-type diet, the AIP diet goes a few steps further by eliminating additional foods including:
It’s unlikely that all these foods will need to be avoided forever, but people with autoimmune disease are more likely to have food intolerances than healthy controls. (5) Because there are definite limitations with immunoglobulin G- and immunoglobulin A-based food sensitivity tests, the AIP diet helps to identify any trigger foods that exacerbate autoimmune symptoms or trigger flare-ups.
Clinical Evidence Shows the Benefits of the AIP Diet
A couple of research studies have looked at a program called the “SAD to AIP in six,” where participants transition from a standard American diet to the AIP diet in six weeks, followed by a maintenance phase, with the support of a health coach and an online forum. In one study, 11 of 16 patients with inflammatory bowel disease went into remission by the end of the study! (6) In another small study, the AIP diet decreased markers of inflammation in women with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and several of the women were able to lower their thyroid medication doses. (7) These promising results highlight the often underappreciated impact that diet can have on disease progression. The AIP diet truly can make a difference in an autoimmune condition.
The AIP Diet Template
Before I get into the list of do’s and don’ts, keep in mind that the AIP diet is an elimination diet. Yes, it seems very restrictive at first glance, but you shouldn’t have to avoid all these foods for the rest of your life. The point is to remove all possible trigger foods for four to six weeks and then slowly start reintroducing foods one by one to determine your specific triggers.
What you can eat on the AIP diet:
- A variety of vegetables
- Quality meats, preferably pasture-raised and organic
- Healthy animal fats, olive oil, and coconut oil
- Fruit at moderate levels
- Fermented foods
- Spices that aren’t derived from seeds
- Glycine-rich foods like bone broth
What to avoid on the AIP diet:
- Grains, especially gluten
- Legumes, including soy and peanuts
- Refined sugars
- Industrial seed oils
- Seeds and spices derived from seeds (like mustard seed, coriander seed, nutmeg, etc.)
- Nightshades, including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, tomatillos, and spices from peppers like paprika, red pepper flakes, cayenne peppers, etc.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen
- Sweeteners, including artificial, stevia, and monk fruit
- Emulsifiers, thickeners, and other food additives
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Adhering to the guidelines can seem overwhelming, but it’s important to stay 100 percent compliant for the first four to six weeks so that your body doesn’t keep producing antibodies to any food proteins that might be triggers. When you start reintroducing food, you could start first with the ones least likely to cause reactions, or you could start with the ones that may have the biggest benefits of being added back in, like eggs with their nutrient-dense yolks. Working with a dietician, nutritionist, and/or health coach can help guide you through the reintroduction process.
Five Tips for Success with Your AIP Diet
The AIP diet can be challenging to implement, especially if your current diet is more standard American than Paleo. Planning and a dose of creativity are your best bets for success.
1. Meal Plan
When strictly following the AIP diet, meal planning is everything—but don’t overextend yourself. Every meal doesn’t have to include a gourmet entrée with complicated side dishes. Double or triple a recipe so that it can last more than one meal. Try heating up leftovers for lunch instead of making a new dish, or repurpose cooked chicken or steak for a salad the next day.
It can be overwhelming to think about planning four to six weeks of new unique meals. Start by planning one week of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If needed, you can just repeat that week later in the program, or every week in the program.
2. Rethink Breakfast
Since the AIP diet is egg-, nut-, and dairy-free, scrambled eggs, yogurt, and nut granolas are off the breakfast table. Instead of relying on dozens of AIP-compliant pancakes, think of breakfast as a third meal rather than “breakfast-y” in the traditional sense. Some good options to try include:
- A breakfast hash made with ground meat, sweet potatoes, and some veggies
- Homemade breakfast sausages with veggies on the side and an avocado-based sauce
- A smoothie with coconut milk, ice, banana, fruit, and coconut oil or avocado oil
- Sweet potato toast with avocado and compliant bacon
3. Swap Out Your Favorites
Instead of starting completely from scratch, you may be able to transform already-loved recipes into AIP-approved meals with clever substitution. Try some of these swaps:
- Sweet potatoes for potatoes
- Coconut aminos for soy sauce
- Coconut milk or cream for dairy
- Zucchini noodles or butternut squash noodles for pasta
- Carob powder for cocoa powder
- Riced cauliflower for rice
- Kombucha for soda
- Coconut flour, arrowroot starch, or tapioca flour for flour when dredging meat
4. Make Your Own Spice Blends
Spices can be hard to substitute without compromising flavor. Italian seasoning, steak seasoning blends, taco seasoning, and curry powder all contain some ingredients that should be avoided on the AIP diet. However, a simple internet search can provide some homemade spice blend recipes for experimentation.
Without cumin and chili powder, a decent taco seasoning substitute can contain oregano, cilantro, garlic, onion, cinnamon, ginger, fenugreek, lime, and turmeric.
Omit the allspice and nutmeg, but include cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and mace.
Try turmeric, garlic, onion, cinnamon, ginger, and clove.
5. Google with Caution
There’s no shortage of AIP recipes of all cuisines on the internet. But proceed with caution. Check every ingredient, every spice, and every purchased pantry item’s ingredient list, even if you’ve bought it before and it was AIP-approved previously.
To help get you started, we’ve included eight AIP diet recipes submitted by our readers.
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Eight AIP Diet Recipes to Try
AIP Breakfast Skillet
Recipe Courtesy of Kristen van Gilse
- 1 pound organic ground turkey
- 2 large leaves kale, removed from stems and sliced
- 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- Coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- 1 tablespoon sage
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Add coconut oil to a large skillet on medium-high heat.
- In a separate, smaller skillet, add the ground turkey on medium heat.
- In the first skillet, add cubed sweet potatoes. Stir sweet potatoes every two minutes so all sides become golden brown.
- Add thyme, sage, and salt to the turkey skillet.
- Add turkey to the sweet potato skillet.
- In the turkey skillet, add more olive oil.
- Sauté the kale in the turkey skillet.
- Once the kale is sautéed, add it to the sweet potato skillet.
- Combine all ingredients in the large skillet.
AIP Poke Bowl
Recipe Courtesy of Natalie Szczytkowski, @the_glutenfreegardener
- 1/4 head cauliflower, grated
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- Sushi-grade raw salmon or pan-seared fresh salmon
- 1/2 avocado
- Cucumber, sliced
- 1/4 raw beetroot, grated
- Radish, sliced
- 2 tablespoons green peas
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
- Fresh coriander, chopped
- 4 tablespoons coconut aminos
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
Create a bed of cauliflower “rice” (grate 1/4 of a cauliflower, crush 1 clove of garlic, and gently fry both in 1 tablespoon of coconut oil for five minutes).
- Slices of sushi-grade raw salmon (or pan-seared fresh salmon)
- 1/2 avocado sliced
- Slices of cucumber
- 1/4 grated raw beetroot
- Slices of radish
- 2 tablespoons green peas
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
- A sprinkle of chopped fresh coriander
Create a dressing with 4 tablespoons of coconut aminos, juice of 1/2 lime, and 1/2 teaspoon of honey.
Recipe courtesy of Clara Miller
- Hannah or Japanese sweet potato, diced
- Sweet onion, diced
- Small ginger nub, diced
- Thick-cut, compliant bacon, cooked and diced
- Greens of your choice, according to preference and seasonality (I love frisée, red leaf lettuce, and Italian parsley right now.)
- Small piece of liver from a pastured animal of your choice
- Avocado slices, salt to taste, and/or olive oil for garnishing
- Dice the sweet potatoes, onion, and ginger.
- Cook bacon in a cast-iron skillet and set aside.
- Reserve bacon fat in the skillet since it’s from a pastured, compliant source. If there’s too much for cooking the sweet potatoes, carefully spoon some off and reserve in a mason jar for future use.
- Cook the sweet potatoes, onion, and ginger together in the skillet with the bacon fat. Add sea salt to taste. Stir as needed to prevent sticking to the pan. Cooking will take 10 minutes or so until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender.
- While the sweet potatoes cook, chop greens of your choice. Add greens to a bowl and set aside.
- When sweet potatoes are almost done, add a small piece of liver to the skillet. The liver will cook quickly. The liver can be any size, depending on your current appetite for consuming liver. Something is better than nothing!
- While the liver is cooking, dice your bacon. If you cooked a whole package of bacon, select a few slices to dice for this meal and save the remaining slices for future use.
- Dice the liver very small when it’s done cooking.
- Add the bacon, the liver, and a nice helping of sweet potato hash to your bowl on top of the greens. Mix it up a bit with your fork. Garnish, as desired, with avocado slices, more salt, or a bit of olive oil. The liver should be pretty well hidden and you can get much-needed nutrition!
Paleo Pumpkin Chili (Nightshade-Free)
Recipe Courtesy of Chelsea Turner, Chelsea Turner Wellness
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 pound ground grass-fed beef or ground turkey
- 2 cups beef broth
- 2 cups butternut squash, cubed
- 1/2 can pumpkin purée
- 1 beet, cooked and puréed
- 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 bay leaf
- Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until tender.
- Add the ground meat, breaking up with a spoon. Cook until browned.
- Deglaze the pan with beef broth, scraping the bottom and sides. Add the spices and bay leaf.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the butternut squash, pumpkin purée, beet purée, and apple cider vinegar. Stir until well combined.
- Cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until the butternut squash is tender.
- Serve with your favorite toppings!
Lamb and Dill Meatballs with Creamy Mushroom Sauce and Cauli Mash
Recipe Courtesy of Kate Jay, Healing Family Eats
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
- 1/4 cup chopped dill
- 2 tablespoons pumpkin purée
- A pinch sea salt
- 2 teaspoons avocado oil to fry
Mushroom Sauce Ingredients and Tools:
- 3 tablespoons avocado oil
- 1 large shallot, finely chopped
- 10 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 cup coconut milk
- A generous pinch sea salt
- Extra dill to garnish
Cauli Mash Ingredients:
- 1 large head cauliflower, cut into medium florets
- 4 to 6 tablespoons bacon fat or other fat
- A generous pinch sea salt
- To make the meatballs, put the onions into a frying pan and gently cook for six minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Transfer to a bowl to cool down.
- Put the ground lamb into the large bowl with the onion, the garlic, and the remaining ingredients. Mix well and form into 16 to 18 walnut-sized balls.
- Wipe out the pan and add the avocado oil followed by the meatballs. If they don’t all fit, you will need to do two batches. Cook the meatballs for about 15 minutes on medium heat, turning them to ensure they cook and brown evenly, regulating the temperature so they don’t burn.
- To make the sauce, heat the avocado oil in a sauté pan and add the shallot. Cook for around five minutes on a gentle heat until translucent. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook for three to four minutes on low-medium heat, stirring frequently to ensure the onion and garlic don’t burn.
- Increase the heat to medium, add the chicken broth, and deglaze the pan. Pour in the coconut milk and simmer for seven to eight minutes until reduced by one third. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Meanwhile, steam the cauliflower for around eight minutes. Place it into a food processor and add the fat and a pinch of sea salt. Blend until smooth, taste, and adjust the seasoning.
- Arrange the meatballs into bowls and pour the sauce over the top. Sprinkle extra chopped dill over the top and serve with cauli mash.
Simple AIP Dessert with Plantains and Raspberries
Recipe Courtesy of Natalie Szczytkowski, @the_glutenfreegardener
- Ripe plantain
- Organic coconut oil to fry
- Raspberries and coconut milk to serve
Slice a ripe plantain and gently fry it in organic coconut oil until it is slightly crispy on each side. Serve with some raspberries and a drizzle of coconut milk.
“Curried” Chicken Salad
Recipe Courtesy of Heather Abrams
- 6 ounces cooked shredded chicken
- 1/2 avocado
- 2 tablespoons full-fat coconut cream
- 1 chopped scallion
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- A few shakes of turmeric and cinnamon
- Lots of salt
- A squeeze of lime juice
- Shred or chop chicken into bite-sized pieces.
- In a bowl, combine avocado, coconut cream, green onion, cilantro, spices, and lime juice. Mash with a fork until creamy.
- Add the chicken and mix until evenly coated. Season to your liking with salt. This is tasty on its own or as a filling for lettuce wraps!
AIP Basil Pesto
Recipe Courtesy of Lucia Agnelli, Alight with Healing
Ingredients and Tools:
- 5 cups tightly packed fresh organic basil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
- Rinse your fresh basil and remove the leaves from their stalks.
- Add the basil leaves and the remaining ingredients to your blender.
- Blend on medium for a minute until all is combined. Use to add flavor to almost any dish! Think zucchini noodles tossed in pesto and meatballs or as a dressing to a summer salad. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days or frozen to extend the storage life.
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