Disclaimer: Before we delve into the specifics of the autoimmune protocol (or AIP), I would like to make a couple of things clear: First, I am not the creator of this protocol. I originally came across the idea of it as Dr. Kharrazian’s autoimmune hypothyroidism diet as well as through the work of Robb Wolf and Chris Kresser. Second, Sarah Ballantyne, PhD and author of The Paleo Approach is to be credited with doing all of the deep research and refining the protocol as it is known today. Since she is a scientist and very well qualified to be making the calls on the protocol given her deep research and extensive experience. What I have written here barely scratches the surface compared to the amount of information you will find on her website, The Paleo Mom and her forthcoming book, The Paleo Approach. My recommendations here are the same as what Sarah advocates on her website and in her book, because lets face it – she is the expert!
What is the autoimmune protocol?
The autoimmune protocol is a version of the Paleo diet (no grains, legumes or dairy) where a person also avoids the following:
-seeds (including cocoa, coffee, and seed-based spices)
-nighshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and the spices derived from them)
-excess fructose (more than 20g/day)
-potential gluten cross-reactive foods
-non nutritive sweeteners (including stevia)
-emulsifiers, thickeners, and other food additives
For some awesome print-out guides with lists of what to eat and avoid, click here!
What is the theory behind the autoimmune protocol?
The autoimmune protocol was derived from the recent research indicating that autoimmune disease stems from a problem with intestinal permeability (or “leaky gut”), instead of the commonly assumed infection that resulted in autoimmunity. Simply put, when a person has leaky gut, irritation in the gut lining causes the tight junctions in the intestinal barrier to let unwanted molecules (food, toxins, bacteria) into the bloodstream. All the foods avoided on the autoimmune protocol are those that have been shown to irritate the gut or cause increased permeability in the gut. If you want to dig in to the science behind the autoimmune protocol, check out Sarah Ballantyne’s book - The Paleo Approach.
Do I have to go on the autoimmune protocol forever?
Some people feel best when they stick to the autoimmune protocol 100%. For some, the relief of symptoms is worth the difficulty of adhering to the diet strictly. Some people use the autoimmune protocol as a type of elimination diet by doing it for a period of time (I recommend 1-3 months) and then reintroducing foods slowly to test them. Some people are never able to tolerate certain foods on the excluded list, but may be able to tolerate some of them in small quantities. All of these things are dependent on how the person feels – obviously if a person is very ill, and being on the autoimmune protocol makes them feel better, they will do their best to stick to it. On the other hand, some people do well on the autoimmune protocol for a period of time, and then through the reintroduction of certain foods find their tolerance limit of them. This person may be able to stick to the autoimmune protocol most of the time, never eat some of the restricted foods but be able to tolerate some foods on the list on occasion and still feel good in the long run.
For more information, please check out this post on Sarah Ballantyne’s website. She goes into great detail about the whys of the protocol, foods that people are commonly confused about, and which foods someone who is attempting the autoimmune protocol should include lots of in their diet for maximum healing – all extremely important facets of this process. I am not trying to reinvent the wheel, so I am not reposting that information here. Go dig in on her site and then come back looking for recipes and inspiration.