Inflammation reduction is an integral pillar of overall health. It goes right along with sleep, exercise, and diet. While there are a few “easy” food rules you can follow to immediately reduce inflammation — such as cutting refined and processed foods and sugar — there is a very specific diet that aims to individualize inflammation food triggers and therefore reduce inflammation in your specific body.
It’s called the Autoimmune Protocol diet or the AIP diet.
Let’s take a deep dive into this inflammation-cutting diet to see if it’s right for you!
What is Inflammation?
Why would we want to reduce inflammation in our diet?
This question is the obvious place to start when considering an inflammation-reducing diet, such as AIP. Yet, there’s an even better place to start.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is not only a normal part of a healthy functioning body, but it’s also crucial. When “you are injured or get infected, your body signals the immune system to send white blood cells to the affected areas to repair the injury or fight the infection.” This is an example of an inflammatory response, which is designed to keep your body safe and healthy.
With that said, due to a variety of factors, the body’s inflammatory response can oftentimes get derailed.
This is basically when your “immune system gets turned on and stays on after the ‘crisis’ has passed” — whether it’s due to diet, disease, condition, or injury. If your immune system is switched on indefinitely it leads to a slew of health issues including “an increase in the ‘risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and even Alzheimer’s disease.” On top of that, chronic inflammation — the term used for this switched on inflammatory response — has also been linked to “damage [to] healthy cells and organs and [causing] constant pain in muscles, tissues, and joints.”
What is the AIP Diet?
Now that we understand inflammation and its connection to health issues, let’s take a look at the AIP diet!
AIP stands for Autoimmune Protocol Diet and this specific way of eating “aims to reduce inflammation and relieve other symptoms of autoimmune disorders.” In particular, those suffering from autoimmune diseases generally follow some form of the AIP diet. Autoimmune disease — such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus — “causes the immune system to attack and damage healthy tissues or organs by mistake,” therefore by following the inflammation-reducing AIP diet, they are able to manage their symptoms.
With that said, this diet is not restricted just for those suffering from an autoimmune disease but is said to be helpful for those with chronic inflammation or even those looking to reduce moderate bodily inflammation.
So, how does it work?
As with any diet, the AIP diet has some do’s and don’ts when it comes to food. Specifically, it focuses on “eliminating [inflammation-causing] foods and replacing them with health-promoting, nutrient-dense foods that are thought to help heal the gut, and ultimately, reduce inflammation and symptoms of autoimmune diseases.” For instance, the AIP diet excludes gluten, which is theorized to “cause abnormal immune responses in susceptible individuals.”
This may sound like lots of other diets you’ve heard of. So, what’s the difference?
The AIP diet also includes an entire elimination phase followed by a reintroduction phase. This is an incredibly important part of the diet, as it helps each person individualize the diet to fit their specific inflammation triggers.
I’ve said it multiple times, we are all individuals, therefore finding a diet that seeks to fit your body’s needs is a diamond in the rough!
The elimination phase of the AIP diet is pretty much exactly what it’s called — elimination of common inflammation triggering foods — it lasts on average around 30 to 90 days, but is dependent on the individual person and how they feel.
This initial phase of the diet removes “foods and medications believed to cause gut inflammation, imbalances between levels of good and bad bacteria in the gut, or an immune response.” This phase specifically seeks to exclude “foods like grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, nightshade vegetables, eggs, and dairy,” as well as “tobacco, alcohol, coffee, oils, food additives, refined and processed sugars, and certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).”
Yet, it’s not all about elimination, but also about what you’re replacing these foods with.
The elimination phase encourages you to include “fresh, nutrient-dense foods, minimally processed meat, fermented foods, and bone broth.”
Along with the food, you’re adding, it’s important to also change lifestyle factors including reducing stress, increasing sleep quality, and working in a physical activity routine of some kind.
It’s important to wait until you begin to notice a change in your bodily symptoms or the way you feel before reintroducing foods. This means that you have finally reduced the inflammation in your body by removing some sort of food that was causing said inflammation.
By reintroducing certain foods — one at a time! — you’ll be able to identify which food is actually causing inflammation or reactions.
Per Healthline.com, there is a specific 5-step process to follow when reintroducing foods to your diet:
1. Begin with one food that you’ve eliminated from your diet. Consume your chosen “food a few times per day on the testing day, then avoid it completely for [five to six] days.”
3. Let’s say you start experiencing symptoms. Bingo! You’ve identified a food that you should avoid. At this point, make sure to end the test. On the other hand, no symptoms means push yourself a bit further and “eat a slightly larger portion, such as [one and a half] teaspoons, of the same food and monitor how your feel for [two to three] hours.”
4. Follow the same protocol — “if you experience any symptoms over this period, end the test and avoid this food,” or if you don’t experience any symptoms “eat a normal portion of the same food and avoid it for [five to six] days without reintroducing any other foods.”
5. Finally, if you still feel normal after five to six days, “you may reincorporate the tested food into your diet, and repeat this [five-step] reintroduction process with a new food.”
Yes, this is quite a laborious process! With that said, if you put the time in to follow these steps and identify foods that cause symptoms, by the end, you’ll have total control over how food affects you. On top of that, if you ever want to introduce a new food into your diet, you’ll have the tools to do so effectively and safely.
What You Can and Can’t Eat
Now we’ll get into the details of the AIP diet — what can you eat and what should you avoid?
- Common inflammation triggering foods, such as grains and legumes
- Nightshade veggies, such “eggplants, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, etc. as well as spices derived from nightshade vegetables, such as paprika”
- Eggs and dairy
- Nuts and seeds
- Certain beverages, specifically, alcohol and coffee
- Processed vegetable oils, such as “canola, rapeseed, corn, cottonseed, palm kernel, safflower, soybean, or sunflower oils”
- Refined or processed sugars, such as “cane or beet sugar, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, and barley malt syrup; also includes sweets, soda, candy, frozen desserts, and chocolate, which may contain these ingredients”
- Food additives and artificial sweeteners, such as “trans fats, food colorings, emulsifiers, and thickeners, as well as artificial sweeteners, such as stevia, mannitol, and xylitol.”
Alright, what can you eat? All the good stuff!
What You Can Eat:
- Vegetables, except for nightshade veggies and algae
- Fresh fruit
- Tubers, such as “sweet potatoes, taro, yams, as well as Jerusalem or Chinese artichokes”
- Minimally processed meat, such as “wild game, fish, seafood, organ meat, and poultry; meats should be wild, grass-fed or pasture-raised, whenever possible”
- Fermented, probiotic-rich foods, such as “nondairy-based fermented food, such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and coconut kefir”
- Minimally processed vegetable oils, such as avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, and coconut oil
- Herbs, spices, vinegar of any kind including “balsamic, apple cider, and red wine vinegar, as long as they’re free of added sugars”
- Natural sweeteners, including honey and maple syrup and only in moderation
- Green and black tea, and bone broth.
While decreasing bodily inflammation always seems to lead to better health, the AIP diet has been shown to improve a few specific conditions. Let’s take a look at the science!
Improves Gut Health
While the research on overall gut health is incredibly minimal, there have been studies performed showing the efficacy of the AIP on leaky gut.
Those with healthy guts “typically [have] a low permeability … [which] … allows it to act as a good barrier and prevent food and waste remains from leaking into the bloodstream.” Leaky gut syndrome is when a highly permeable gut “allows foreign particles to crossover into the bloodstream, in turn, possibly causing inflammation.”
There have been a few studies that suggest “that the AIP diet may help reduce inflammation or symptoms caused by it, at least among a subset of people with certain autoimmune disorders.”
The golden goose of the AIP diet is a reduction of bodily inflammation. This is why many people look into and take part in this diet.
Luckily, studies and science uphold that the AIP diet may actually help you obtain this!
One study with “[fifteen] people with IBD on an AIP diet,” reported, “significantly fewer IBD-related symptoms by the end of the study.” Another study that included “[sixteen] women with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid gland, followed the AIP diet for 10 weeks.” This study reported, “inflammation and disease-related symptoms decreased by 29% and 68%, respectively.”
Cooking on an AIP Diet
The good news about the AIP diet is that it’s super plant-based friendly! For those that are already practicing a plant-based diet, you’ll find that the hardest part may be removing processed foods or foods with artificial sweeteners. This is partly due to the fact that we are taught to crave these foods and partly due to the fact that they are hidden in almost every packaged product out there. Luckily, all it takes is cooking in the kitchen with raw ingredients! Here are a few recipes to get you started!
Source: Fermented Broccoli
One of the “can eat” foods on an AIP diet are veggies and fermented foods! The fermentation process creates lots of good bacteria that are super beneficial for your gut, making fermented foods a great addition to the gut boosting, inflammation-reducing AIP diet.
This Fermented Broccoli recipe by Gabriella Hose and Joe Furini is the perfect mixture of healthy cruciferous veggie broccoli that has been infused with good bacteria through the fermentation process. A perfect healthy snack that is super easy to make and super tasty!
Fruit Infused Sun Tea
Source: Fruit Infused Sun Tea
When it comes to consuming fruit on the AIP diet, make it diverse, and make it moderate. Yes, fruits are full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, but they are also a natural source of sugar. Therefore, overconsumption of too much fruit can lead to unwanted reactions to fructose and spikes in your blood sugar.
Baked Sweet Potato and Apple
Source: Baked Sweet Potato and Apple
My personal favorite tuber is sweet potato! This burnt orange tuber is chock full of nutrients, is a great source of healthy carbs, and is also AIP-friendly. On top of that, as you’ll be cutting out all those refined carbs and sugars, sweet potato can be a great sweet tooth substitute.
This Baked Sweet Potato and Apple recipe by Heather Thomas is a great simple way to both treat yourself and stick to the AIP diet. To make this truly AIP-friendly, make sure to leave out the sugar and substitute with a natural sweetener such as maple syrup or honey.
Real Vitality Tonic
Source: Real Vitality Tonic
Take your vinegar game to the next level with this apple cider vinegar-based tonic! Apple cider vinegar has been touted for its many health benefits including reducing heartburn, helping with weight loss, and even making your skin glow. Luckily, vinegar is a yes food on the AIP diet therefore it’s time to start experimenting!
This Real Vitality Tonic recipe by Mareya Ibrahim uses five simple ingredients — water, cinnamon, ginger, lemon juice, and, of course, apple cider vinegar. This gives you the flexibility to add or subtract ingredients based upon personal taste.
Source: Marinated Artichokes
Veggies top the list of the AIP diet and Jerusalem artichokes are a super filling, tasty, and fiber-rich option to give a try. While they take some time to cook, they are incredibly simple. Plus, artichokes are diverse on the plate. Eat them straight off the heart with a bit of AIP-friendly dipping sauce or create your own AIP-friendly artichoke casserole.
This Marinated Artichokes recipe by America’s Test Kitchen is a simple AIP-friendly recipe that can be prepped at the beginning of the week and enjoyed all seven days. Snack on them between meals, add them as a side dish, or make them your main entre!
If you’re interested in the Autoimmune Protocol Diet and want to learn a bit more about the topic, take a moment to peruse the following articles on plant-based diets for autoimmune diseases, as well as some inflammation-related topics!
- Managing Myasthenia Gravis With Plant-Based Food
- Managing Lupus with a Plant-Based Diet
- Managing Sjögren’s Syndrome With a Plant-Based Diet
- How a Plant-Based Diet Manages Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
- Managing Graves Disease with a Plant-Based Diet
- 5 Side Effects of Consuming Too Much Dairy Protein
- Healing Chronic Pain and Inflammation With Plant-Based Foods
- 15 Inflammation-Fighting Plant-Based Recipes to Manage Chronic Pain
- An Anti-Inflammatory Diet Check-List That Can Transform Your Life
- 15 Plant-Based Recipes That Can Help Your Inflammation
- Eat These Foods to Help Fight Inflammation
- 7 Anti-Inflammatory Power Foods for Arthritis
- Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods for the Vegan Athlete
- 5 Steps to Put Out the Fire of Inflammation in the Body
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health, and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
- Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- Plant-Based Health Resources
- Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- Plant-Based Meal Prep
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