San Francisco architect Erika Schlick, who’s also a certified health coach, credits the autoimmune paleo or autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet with aiding her battle against autoimmune disorders.
“The AIP helped me figure out the foods that worked and did not work for me,” Schlick says in a news release. “After the first few of weeks of detox, I started to feel good. My energy improved; my brain felt better. I didn’t feel so weighed down by food that led me to another food coma in the afternoon.”
So, if the AIP diet benefited Erika Schlick, can it benefit you? It might. But not everyone agrees on the value of this diet. To help you figure out whether the AIP diet is right for you, read on.
What is the AIP diet?
According to a study published in 2017 in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, the AIP diet is a stricter version of the whole-foods-centric paleo diet, currently one of the most popular diets in the U.S.
The AIP diet focuses on an initial elimination of foods that include grains, legumes, nightshades, dairy, eggs, coffee, alcohol, nuts, seeds, refined and processed sugars, oils and food additives, the study says.
A maintenance phase follows the elimination phase. This phase is designed to measure a person’s symptoms and overall well-being, the study says. Then, various foods are reintroduced into the diet to identify which ones might be causing symptoms tied to autoimmune diseases. In the end, the diet aims to cut out foods that trigger autoimmune-induced inflammation within the gut.
“For people with debilitating or life-threatening autoimmune conditions, the autoimmune protocol reduces their symptoms and in some cases puts their disease into remission,” says Beth Jacques Chen, an AIP blogger who has autoimmune disorders.
The diet also emphasizes getting proper sleep, managing stress, engaging in physical activity and bolstering support networks.
What can you eat on the AIP diet?
Among the items permitted in the AIP diet are:
- Various fruits and vegetables outside the nightshade family.
- Meat and poultry from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals, including beef, chicken, lamb, pork and turkey. Connective tissue, joints and organ meats, which are rich in the amino acid glycine, also are recommended.
- Fish and shellfish.
- Foods with healthy fats, such as avocados, coconuts and olives.
- Probiotic foods like fermented fruits and vegetables, kombucha and coconut milk kefir.
“The standard American diet is filled with sugar, processed foods and chemicals. These things are not allowed on the AIP diet,” Chen says. “The AIP diet consists of whole foods, which means lots of cooking that takes up a lot of time and energy.”
How long should you say on the AIP diet?
The diet is meant to be a short-term plan, lasting at least one month and no more than a few months. Staying on the diet for a longer period could rob you of a host of nutrients, says Chicago registered dietitian Amanda Kostro Miller, a member of the advisory board of the Smart Healthy Living website.
“If you are trying to reduce the amount of processed food you are eating, then a Paleo-type diet strives to do so. Limiting processed foods would be one of the only true pros of the AIP diet,” Miller says.
Los Angeles registered dietitian Katie Chapmon emphasizes that in order for the AIP diet to properly assess your autoimmune system, you must follow the diet completely, not partially. She cautions that you might need to take vitamin and mineral supplements during the AIP diet’s elimination phase.
The diet “may be unnecessarily restrictive in calories and lead to nutrient deficiencies if not done carefully,” warns registered dietitian Becky Kerkenbush, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Does the AIP diet actually work?
Proponents praise the diet — some folks who don’t have autoimmune disorders even claim it has recalibrated their approach to nutrition — but little scientific evidence exists to support its benefits.
Barry Sears, author of the “Zone Diet” book series and president of the nonprofit Inflammation Research Foundation, is skeptical of the AIP diet.
“It might improve gut health,” Sears says, “but there’s no indication of it improving autoimmune conditions. Those with autoimmune disorders will be disappointed by the false claims.”
What should you do before trying the AIP diet?
Kerkenbush recommends that before going on the AIP diet, you should evaluate what you’re eating and adjust accordingly. Here are her tips:
- Eliminate added sugar, artificial sweeteners and processed foods.
- Add fermented foods two to three times a week.
- Dine in rather than eating out.
- Give up soda, alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
- Visit with a nutrition or medical professional to check for food sensitivity or intolerance.
“You may notice a change doing these things first,” Kerkenbush says.