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AIP Diet Explained + Food List and Sample Meal Plan

AIP Diet

All disease begins in the gut. - Hippocrates

Today we’re sharing the basics of the AIP diet, as well as tips and tricks for tackling the AIP lifestyle!

Gut health has been in and out of the public zeitgeist for centuries, but autoimmune diseases, leaky guts, and paleo diets have dramatically risen in popularity over the past one hundred years.

The AIP diet is a somewhat new approach to treating autoimmune diseases and focuses on reducing the stress you put on your gut — allowing to heal before reintroducing inflammatory foods (more on that in a bit).

The AIP diet isn’t about calorie reduction; it’s focused on eliminating certain food types that are linked to gut health.

The gut is often considered the “gateway to health”, so many doctors believe that your intestinal wall can actually lead to widespread symptoms!

AIP is rooted in the paleo diet, but it’s even more restrictive. It’s all about swapping grains and inflammatory foods for nutrient-rich, natural alternatives (bonus points if they include omega-3 fatty acids).

Okay! Let’s get started.


What is Autoimmune disease?

Generally speaking, Autoimmune disease is any condition where the body mistakes healthy tissues for toxic tissues and begins to attack its own body.

They’re characterized by an “overactive immune system that leads to chronic inflammation and tissue destruction.” [*]

Autoimmune disease symptoms typically include inflammation such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriasis, but autoimmune diseases can be difficult to diagnose since their symptoms can look like other diseases and are often misidentified.

A common approach to fighting back against autoimmune disease is by adopting what is known as the “Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)”.


What is the AIP Diet?

The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) helps repair the immune system and reduce the effects of all inflammatory diseases by giving your gut time to heal by eliminating inflammatory foods.

It’s also referred to as the paleo autoimmune protocol, and it’s sort of like paleo with added restrictions.

The AIP diet has been popularized by the belief in a condition known as “leaky gut” or “hyperpermeability”.

How is AIP related to leaky gut?

The medical diagnosis of leaky gut is still being contested in the medical field, but the idea of intestinal permeability has been known in medical literature for over one hundred years.

Studies have linked intestinal permeability to celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and Crohn’s disease.

Now doctors are trying to figure out how widespread the effects of a leaky gut are. Some doctors don’t think there is enough evidence to blame certain symptoms on hyperpermeability — others are convinced leaky gut syndrome is one of the great crises of our age with an estimated 50 million people suffering from an autoimmune body. These distinctions are what doctors are currently researching.

Leaky gut is understood as such:

Leaky gut is when your weak bowel lining allows in larger molecules, toxins, and bacteria then it should.

For many individuals, this stress can occur from gluten. Some proteins found in gluten can widen your pores and open up the intestinal wall.

When your gut lining is more porous, it can’t keep out undesirables, and this results in toxins and other germs getting into your bloodstream and causing a whole host of issues!

Many leaky gut awareness advocates stress the detrimental effects food industrialization has had on our guts and health as a whole. They tie everything back to how humans evolved to eat in the first place. Bread and grains were a rarity, and even when they were consumed it was through processes like sourdough that break down the grains and make them easier to digest.

AIP aims to eliminate inflammatory foods and replace them with foods that are easy to digest and nutrient.

Over time, this should close up the “holes” and help heal your gut.

This “healing” aims to:

  • Reduce the symptoms associated with Autoimmune Disease
  • Reduce autoimmune responses
  • Restart your immune system
  • Prevent secondary autoimmune diseases

Many people approach AIP through experimentation — by initially eliminating all of the recommended foods and then strategically reintroducing them one-by-one and observing how your body feels, you can see which foods you’re free to continue eating and which ones you may want to eliminate for the long-term.


What you can and can’t eat on the AIP Diet

There are a lot of foods you can’t eat on AIP, but the main idea is to eliminate all preservatives, grains, and inflammatory foods and replace them with more nutrient-rich foods.

I’ve also included some awesome graphical summaries via Michelle at Unbound Wellness.


AIP Diet - List of Foods to Eat

AIP means you CAN eat these foods:

  • Meats and fish: Part of succeeding with AIP is remembering that a lot of foods aren’t inflammatory by themselves, but the additives and preservatives companies add to them are. Whatever you can do to avoid big industry meats (fed by grains instead of grass) and fish farms, do so.
  • Non-starchy vegetables: This excludes “nightshades”, so that means no potatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc.
  • Fruit: Fruits are high in natural sugars, so just try to limit your consumption and opt for lighter fruits (melons, etc.) when you can.
  • Coconut Milk / Coconuts Products
  • Vinegar
  • Balsamic and apple cider vinegar is fine!
  • Bone Broth or AIP Protein Powder
  • Teas
  • Herbs: Dill, cinnamon, basil, mint, rosemary, and most cooking herbs are fine.
  • Avocados, Olives, and Coconuts (and their oils!)
  • Fermented foods (excluding dairy): Think sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir — all of which are fun and easy to make at home!
  • Honey or natural syrups in small amounts

AIP Diet - List of Foods to Avoid 

AIP means NOT eating these foods:

  • Grains: Pretty much across the board here. No rice. No corn. No wheat.
  • Legumes: Pretty much all beans are out.
  • Seed oils: Oils are a no go except or olive, avocado, and coconut.
  • Dairy: Milk and cheese can be particularly hard on your gut, so no, no, no!
  • Nuts: Nuts and seeds (including coffee!) are a no go.
  • Eggs: Egg proteins can really agitate your gut.
  • Nightshades: Nightshades are a family term that includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, etc.
  • Processed/industrial foods: Additives and preservatives all contribute to an unhealthy gut lining. So pretty much anything that is frozen or packaged needs to go.
  • Sugars: Processed sugars gotta go, too.
  • Alcohol: Sorry!

What’s the evidence?

The idea behind AIP is that by reducing the foods that inflame your gut, you’re giving it time to heal any holes and larger perforations in the gut. Instead of repeatedly agitating a wound, you’re giving your body the space it needs. Once your gut heals, some doctors believe it will stop misinterpreting larger proteins and molecules as threats and will prevent it from attacking itself.

While there is some evidence to support the link between gut health and autoimmune diseases and the effect food allergies have on how porous our gut walls are, it is not widely accepted as empirical truth, yet.

It’s currently being researched, but many people are already espousing the benefits of AID.

In other words, AID & leaky guy syndrome are currently in the, “Maybe… but we need more conclusive research” phase.

The bottom line?

If other methods or diagnoses aren’t working, AID may be worth looking into, but always consult with your doctor before trying a diet like AID!


Succeeding with the AIP Diet

Here’s the thing: following the AIP diet is hard.

There’s no doubt about it.

The list of restricted foods is long, and it makes cooking with your family or going out with friends difficult.

There are a few things you need to keep in mind to succeed:

  • It’s temporary. AIP isn’t a permanent lifestyle change. You can either start by going all-in and reintroduce older foods back into your diet over a few weeks OR start by getting rid of the biggest inflammatory foods (grains, seed oils, high glycemic sugars, etc.) and see if that makes you feel better.
  • It’s not all about diet. Stress, smoking, not exercising, insomnia, drugs, and more can contribute to autoimmune diseases. Look at all the possible behaviors that could be agitating your gut and tackle what you can, one-by-one.
  • You’re already on your way! Doing your research and looking up blogs, etc. is a wonderful place to start. So nice job!

Our Go-to AIP Food List / Meals

Just because AIP is super restrictive doesn’t you mean you can’t eat well!

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Breakfast

AIP Breakfast Recipe - Smoothie

Photo courtesy of The Paleo Mom

Smoothies are your friend on AIP, believe me.

They’re the perfect way to start your days full of tasty nutrients, and it should last you until lunch!

Ingredients:

  • ½ banana
  • ¼ avocado
  • 1 cup vegetable juice
  • 2-3 cups fresh leafy greens (for example, spinach and kale)
  • 1-2 scoops AIP-friendly (collagen) protein powder

GET THE RECIPE

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Lunch

AIP Lunch Recipe - Hawaiian Teriyaki Bowl

Photo courtesy of Forest and Fauna

Continuing with the island theme, here’s a super tasty Teriyaki bowl from the team over at Forest and Fauna.

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless pasture raised pork chops
  • 4 slices pineapple
  • 1 small red onion
  • a little coconut oil for the grill
  • 4 cups green leaf lettuce
  • pinch of green onions or cilantro

Teriyaki Sauce + Marinade

  • 1/4 cup coconut aminos
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey
  • 1 teaspoon ginger juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice (optional - recommend if marinating pork overnight)

Cabbage Slaw

  • 1/2 a head of red cabbage
  • 1 Tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons honey
  • pinch of sea salt

GET THE RECIPE

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Dinner

AIP Dinner Recipe - Orange Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs

Photo courtesy of AIPlifestyle

These AIP Orange Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs from AIPlifestyle are soooo good, and the meatballs are extremely simple.

Ingredients:

Meatballs

  • 2 pounds ground chicken
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
  • 2 tsp orange zest (2 oranges worth)
  • big pinch salt

Sauce

  • 2/3 cup fresh orange juice (juice of 2 navel oranges)
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup coconut aminos
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1 tbsp honey

GET THE RECIPE

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On-the-go with AIP

AIP Snack Recipe - Granola

Photo courtesy of AIPlifestyle

Need something to get you through the day? Here are a few common AIP snacks:

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Conclusion

Remember, using AIP to fight leaky gut syndrome isn’t a one-and-done, quick-fix situation.

Remember to take everything in stride, know that AIP is really hard to follow, make sure to reintroduce things back into your diet on a regular basis and take note of how you feel, and to set reasonable goals.

Good luck! You’ll be living a healthier, happier life in no time!

Nathan Phelps
Nathan Phelps is a foodie, writer, marketer, and musician living in the great city of Nashville, TN. He loves the intersection of healthy eating & science, and his daily activities include co-opting coffee shops as offices, morning optimism, afternoon doubt, and a nice swig of evening regret before bed.