Jul 7, 2023 • 15 min read

What is the AIP Diet? Food List & Foods to Avoid

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Autoimmune diseases comprise at least 100 different disorders that relate to the immune system becoming overactive and selectively targeting your own body tissues. The tissue being targeted may include every cell of the body, certain organs, or just a few cells within a given organ.

The result may include low thyroid function, elevated thyroid function, diabetes, muscle pain or weakness, kidney disease, and bowel-related symptoms. This wide range of symptoms rarely happens to everyone; instead, your symptoms vary depending on the target of your wayward immune system.

Many things can improve your symptoms or make them worse. Stress, infection, and even your diet matter in controlling the severity of your autoimmune disease symptoms.

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) is a dietary program that can help you identify triggers and find foods to reduce overall bodily inflammation.

This guide goes over what the AIP diet looks like and provides you with an AIP food list of things to eat and avoid. You’ll learn the science behind the AIP diet and see for yourself whether it could be something you’d benefit from trying.

AIP diet overview

The AIP diet is loosely based on the Paleolithic diet, commonly referred to as the Paleo diet. This diet focuses on foods that are easy to digest and avoids foods that can cause inflammation.

At the beginning of the diet, you eliminate foods that most people are intolerant to or that have known inflammatory properties. For example, refined sugar, grains, and dairy are considered inflammatory foods, while most fruits and vegetables are anti-inflammatory. When you eliminate the most likely culprits and begin to feel better, you can add back some of the foods least likely to make your symptoms worse.

The AIP doesn’t only involve dietary changes. As you alter your diet, you work on stress management, sleeping better, getting exercise, and finding a support system you can trust.

Common disorders known to be helped by using the AIP diet include:

  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Rheumatic arthritis
  • PCOS
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

In the following sections, we’ll talk about the different phases of the AIP diet (elimination, reintroduction, and maintenance) as well as the reasoning behind the foods you need to eat or avoid.

The protocol is not difficult to follow, particularly once you have improvements in your symptoms; however, the tips that follow will make it easier to achieve the results you are looking for.

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Phases of the AIP diet

The AIP diet is based on three phases. Each phase involves tasks you need to do to identify your own inflammatory triggers, learn what you can easily eat, and maintain a healthy diet with improved health.

Let’s explore the 3 phases so you can see how they work and the rationale behind why they are utilized.

1) Elimination Phase

The elimination phase involves consuming nutrient-dense foods and beginning to reduce stress, sleep better, and get more exercise out in nature. This is the time to get serious about eating better and focusing on your health above all else.

The foods you eat are generally the same as on a Paleo diet; however, there are things you cannot eat on the AIP elimination diet that you would be able to eat on the Paleo diet.

These things include nightshade vegetables (peppers and tomatoes), nuts, eggs, alcohol, and seeds. These tend to inflame some people with gastrointestinal diseases, so these are avoided in the elimination phase of the AIP diet.

2) Reintroduction Phase

The reintroduction phase often begins when you begin to feel better. You may decide to reintroduce foods after 30 to 60 days on the elimination diet. Within the reintroduction phase, there are as many as four stages.

Each stage could last from one week to thirty days, depending on how you feel.

Stage 1:

The things added back during this stage include egg yolks, legume sprouts, legumes, seed-based spices, nut and seed oils, ghee, coffee, fruit or berry spices, and cocoa or chocolate.

Stage 2:

Begin to add back nuts and seeds (whole ones), alcohol in greater quantities, butter, egg whites, and daily coffee. 

Stage 3:

Add back nightshade vegetables (just eggplant, sweet peppers, white potatoes, and paprika), grass-fed dairy, lentils, garbanzo beans, and split peas.

Stage 4:

Finally add all other nightshades, white rice, gluten-free grains, and other legumes.

If you have any difficulties with GI upset, musculoskeletal pain, or other worsened symptoms, you would stop and continue to avoid any food you feel is making your symptoms worse.

Foods not on this list are least likely to be tolerated and should not be part of this phase unless you or your nutritionist think you should add the food item.

3) Maintenance Phase

The maintenance phase is indefinite and follows the diet you will consume as long as you continue to feel better. The maintenance phase generally involves anti-inflammatory foods that reduce whatever autoimmune symptoms you currently have.

The goal of this diet is to have as little restriction in your eating choices as possible. You will generally eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, organic poultry and beef, fish, healthy fats (olive oil, avocadoes, and coconut oil), and many herbs including cinnamon, turmeric, rosemary, and ginger. Inflammatory foods are eaten only rarely.

>> Find an Autoimmune Nutritionist That Accepts Your Insurance

AIP diet foods list

Now that you see how the AIP diet protocol works, you should focus on the foods known to be well-tolerated and beneficial for you. These foods should be easily digested, lacking in proteins that many people are allergic to, and should reduce your inflammatory burden.

Let’s divide the foods into the known food groups and talk about why these are helpful to eat:

Meats and Fish

Only choose foods from this category that are wild-caught or organic. Beef should be grass-fed beef and should have not received antibiotics or hormones:

  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Wild-caught fish low in mercury
  • Shellfish

Fruits

Almost all fruits are excellent sources of vitamins and phytonutrients. Choose from a wide variety of fruits of different colors to gain the micronutrients most healthful for you:

Vegetables

Almost all vegetables are healthy for you; however, some are anti-inflammatory and therefore, better choices. Among starchy vegetables, there are only a few that are excellent choices:

  • Leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, lettuce)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli)
  • Garlic
  • Fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut)
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Squash

Fermented vegetables contain probiotics that benefit health by enhancing the gut microbiome. These are good to consume at least a few times per week.

Healthy Fats

There are plenty of healthy fats that can be added to your diet or incorporated as part of a healthy diet. Some of these include things like coconut oil, which contains medium-chain triglycerides good for fat-burning, oral health, and brain health.

  • Coconut oil (and all other coconut-based products without added sugar)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coconut yogurt
  • Avocado (whole and oil)

Extra-virgin olive oil is one of the better oils for general health. It should be consumed without heating it for one of the best options to gain healthful polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Herbs and Other Items

Many fresh herbs are excellent options for general health and are anti-inflammatory substances. These include a variety of herbs you can grow in pots in your home:

  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger

Besides herbs, you can consume all types of vinegar and bone broth. Bone broth is made from soaking and boiling animal bones (usually beef) to make an amino acid-rich broth that is easily absorbed by the GI tract. It is often used to provide protein when digestion is poor or suboptimal.

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Foods to avoid on the AIP diet

The foods to avoid on the AIP diet are either those that promote inflammation or are common allergens. Food intolerances of any kind may enhance the leakiness of the gut, furthering inflammation and possibly triggering more autoimmune diseases.

In addition, there are some who believe that grains are poorly digested by modern humans because the GI tract remains better suited to foods from pre-agricultural societies. The ability to tolerate these foods more easily has not caught up with modern agricultural practices. It may explain why many have grain intolerances. 

The foods to avoid on the AIP diet include the following:

  • Dairy products (including milk, cream, butter, yogurt, and cheese)
  • Legumes (including beans, soybeans, peanuts, and lentils)
  • Eggs
  • Any other foods you know you are allergic to

Foods that are possibly inflammatory for other reasons include:

  • Wheat, oats, corn, barley, and rice
  • Refined sugar
  • Nightshade vegetables – these include potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant
  • Cocoa and coffee beans (they may be added back if tolerated)
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Soybean, peanut, canola, corn, and sunflower oils (they are more inflammatory than other oils)
  • Highly processed foods
  • Foods with additives like thickeners, emulsifiers, and food dyes

There are no direct inflammatory issues in the nightshade vegetables; however, they appear to alter the gut microbiome, leading to gut leakiness and the potential to exacerbate arthritic pain.

Tips for sticking with the AIP diet

The AIP diet is not always easy to stick with. The first phase is the most restrictive because few foods you are accustomed to eating are on this diet. 

Once you are allowed to add some foods back, the diet becomes easier. When you feel reduced levels of pain, fatigue, and GI symptoms, you may be more motivated to maintain this type of diet plan.

In the meantime, there are things you can do to enhance your ability to stick with the AIP diet:

  • Clean out your pantry of non-AIP foods. The foods you know you won’t be eating on the AIP diet should be given to those who can eat them or thrown away.  It will be much easier to reduce the temptation when you are not seeing those foods in the pantry.
  • Stock up on allowed foods. Try to have a mix of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack items available. Snack foods are the most difficult to consider because most people link snacks with processed or sugary foods. Fruits you can toss in your mouth like grapes or cherries might make them feel more like snacks.
  • Plan your meals ahead. You can plan your meals ahead of time and even do some advanced meal preparation. This will make it easier to buy the foods you need and prepare your meals more quickly.
  • Do a recipe search. Find simple recipes that will help you avoid the foods you shouldn’t be eating. They should emphasize plant-based foods with lean meats as a good protein source.
  • Eat homemade foods. It is incredibly challenging to find restaurant-based or fast foods that are included in the AIP diet. If you prepare your meals at home, you know what has gone into making them. This will also help you avoid foods known to have preservatives that are not part of this protocol.
  • Consider working with an AIP dietitian or nutritionist. Because you have many dietary changes to consider as part of this diet, you may wish to work with a nutritionist whose expertise can make this an easier process for you. 

Be patient with yourself. If it seems too overwhelming to start abruptly, you can eliminate certain classes of foods first and move on once it becomes easier to add to your list of restrictions. Expect it to take 30 to 90 days to have the greatest effect on your symptoms.

>> Find an Autoimmune Nutritionist That Accepts Your Insurance

Benefits of the AIP diet

The AIP diet was designed for those with autoimmune disorders. While no diet will eliminate the disease itself, the AIP diet may reduce many symptoms based on the level of inflammation in your body. There are many potential benefits of adhering to his diet:

1) Reduce autoimmune symptoms

Autoimmune diseases have different symptoms depending on the type you have. While the AIP does not cure any autoimmune disorder, many of your symptoms will improve if you have better gut function and reduced inflammation.

Some autoimmune disorders exert their symptoms of fatigue and pain because of inflammation. Without so much inflammation, these symptoms improve greatly.

2) Reduce inflammatory pain

Pain is often a sign of inflammation. Some inflammation is normal when there has been an injury and healing; however, when the inflammation is too great, cells of the immune system responsible for releasing pain-producing molecules create the feeling of pain in the muscles, joints, and soft tissue. The AIP diet can reduce pain seen in rheumatic diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

3) Enhance gut health

When you have excellent gut health, you have an intact lining of the gut wall, optimal bacteria in the gut, and enhanced digestion of nutrient-rich foods. You will be able to eat without bloating, diarrhea, or constipation that comes from having a poorly functioning gut microbiome.

>> Read more: How to heal your gut naturally

4) Identify allergic (and other) triggers

Because so much of the AIP diet involves eliminating and then adding back the foods you may or may not be intolerant to, you could discover that you are lactose intolerant or cannot eat wheat, for example. 

True allergic reactions among foods you eat may not be obvious until you eliminate the allergen. If you feel better without the food and then reintroduce it unsuccessfully, you can show that you are either allergic to the food or intolerant to it in other ways.

5) Enhance general wellness

You may find that the AIP enhances your health in other ways. Besides the diet, the emphasis is on lifestyle factors like improving sleep, reducing stress, and getting more quality exercise. When you add these things to your everyday life, you can lose weight, improve your mood, and feel your overall quality of life is enhanced. 

6) Enhance mood

Many individuals with depression have inflammation or a poor gut microbiome. If the gut microbiome is improved, your mood may get better even if no other changes have been made in your life.

In addition, if you start eating better, sleeping regularly, and getting more exercise, it is likely you will feel better about yourself and have an improved overall mood.

Risks of the AIP diet

It’s a good idea to sort out the potential risks of any diet, including the dietary component of the AIP. Remember that your goal is to feel better by making informed dietary changes and not to risk your health in other ways. 

There are aspects of this diet that you may want to discuss with your healthcare provider and nutritionist to see if the benefits outweigh the risk in your unique situation.

1) Challenges with adherence

The AIP can challenge even the most dedicated individuals because it is harder to adhere to than many other diet plans. These challenges come from the fact that so many common foods are eliminated from the diet in the first phase.

If you review the list of tips to enhance adherence, you should be able to adhere to the protocol long enough to be able to eat more foods later in the program.

2) Nutritional deficiencies

The diet’s restrictive nature could mean that you do not get as many of certain nutrients as you need. If you are concerned about missing nutrients, you can take supplemental vitamins and minerals to help improve your dietary balance of nutrients. If you eat the fruits and vegetables allowed in all phases of the diet, you should get the phytonutrients they provide.

3) Potential for disordered eating

Most individuals will have no difficulty with the diet and do not develop disordered eating. Disordered eating, such as anorexia and bulimia, often predate starting the protocol.

Because the diet is so restrictive and often means you’ll focus heavily on everything you put in your mouth, it could trigger symptoms of anorexia (if you already have the tendency). If you are concerned about your eating habits, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to eat with healthy intentions.

4) Reduction in socialization

Food is part of almost all celebrations and family gatherings. Without the opportunity to eat what others are eating, you run the risk of feeling isolated from others, particularly if you feel like you can’t avoid eating things not on the protocol.

Try bringing food to an event to share with others that also fits within the parameters of the AIP diet. Explain to others that feeling better is important to you and choose activities that don’t involve eating such as walking, hiking, or other sporting activities.

5) High cost

Even though you are eliminating a lot of foods from your diet, those you can eat are often very expensive. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are all expensive in some parts of the world. Try doing the protocol when you have access to a local market or farmer’s market where fresh foods are much more plentiful.

6) Limited long-term research

The diet appears to be safe; however, there are no long-term studies on its safety and efficacy in managing autoimmune diseases. This may not concern you; however, if you have kidney disease and cannot handle excess protein in your diet, or if you develop nutritional deficiencies, you may not be able to be on this diet for an extended period.

>> Find an Autoimmune Nutritionist That Accepts Your Insurance

Example AIP meal plan

Here’s a sample AIP diet meal plan that comes in at around 2000 calories. Remember, your specific diet will vary based on your personal situation. For example, you may find that certain foods included below cause issues for you.

Breakfast:

  • Organic AIP smoothie:
  • 1 cup organic frozen mixed berries (70 calories)
  • 1 medium banana (105 calories)
  • 1 cup coconut milk (445 calories)
  • 1 scoop collagen protein powder (70 calories)

Morning snack:

  • 1 medium apple (95 calories)
  • 2 tablespoons of coconut butter (188 calories)

Lunch:

  • Organic salad:
    • 2 cups organic mixed greens (20 calories)
    • 4 oz grilled chicken breast (184 calories)
    • 1 cup of sliced cucumber (16 calories)
    • 1/2 medium avocado (120 calories)
    • Dressing: 2 tablespoons of olive oil (240 calories) mixed with lemon juice, salt, and pepper

Afternoon snack:

  • 1 cup of organic carrots (52 calories)
  • 2 tablespoons of AIP-friendly tahini (170 calories)

Dinner:

  • 4 oz of baked salmon (206 calories)
  • 1/2 medium baked sweet potato (103 calories)
  • 2 cups of steamed broccoli (110 calories)
  • Sauce: 2 tablespoons of coconut aminos (30 calories) and garlic

Evening snack:

  • AIP-friendly coconut yogurt (150 calories)
  • 1/4 cup of fresh blueberries (21 calories)

As with any diet plan, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to ensure it meets your specific dietary needs and health goals.

Remember that the AIP diet is designed to be a short-term elimination diet. It can be very restrictive, so it’s essential to reintroduce foods systematically to see what works best for your body. And always listen to your body. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t force it.

Why you should consider working with an autoimmune nutritionist

An autoimmune nutritionist is someone trained in nutrition who has worked with others on the AIP diet. They work one-on-one with individuals on this protocol to maximize outcomes and help them navigate the challenges of the diet.

You can make an appointment with an autoimmune nutritionist at any point in your process—even if you are only thinking about trying the diet plan. Your nutritionist will work with you to understand your unique needs and find ways to make the protocol work for you.

You can continue to see your autoimmune nutritionist throughout your time on the protocol. They can help with meal planning and recipes and may be able to coach you to overcome the more difficult parts of the diet.

Here at Zaya Care, we can match you with autoimmune nutritionists that are covered by your insurance. You can browse our network of autoimmune nutritionists and filter by things like visit type, languages spoken, insurance accepted, and more to find your fit.

AIP diet FAQs

Is the AIP diet safe?
The diet is generally considered safe unless you are pregnant and need to provide a wider array of nutrients for your baby. There is nothing about the foods you eat on this diet that is inherently dangerous, and most people tolerate it easily.

What foods should I eat on the AIP diet?
There are many foods you eat on this diet. Most lean meats, poultry, fresh fruits, and vegetables are all allowed on the diet. You can also eat many healthy fats.

What foods should I avoid on the AIP diet?
The foods you cannot routinely eat on the AIP diet are mainly grains, nightshade vegetables, and processed foods. Alcohol and many unhealthy fats are also avoided when engaging in this diet.

How long does it take to see results from the AIP diet?
The results you see will vary as will the time it takes to see an effect. Most people know within 30 days whether or not they are feeling better while on this diet.

How long can I stay on the AIP diet?
While there are no long-term studies on the effectiveness of the diet, if you feel better and have identified foods that you are intolerant to (and avoid them), you can remain on the diet indefinitely. There is no risk to your health, however, if you decide to stop doing it at any time.

Is the AIP diet Paleo?
Much of the diet resembles the Paleo diet; however, there are things (like nightshade vegetables) that would be on the Paleo diet but not the AIP diet.

Are cheat days allowed on the AIP diet?
There are no cheat days built into the AIP diet, partly because cheating might bring on inflammation and could undo all your hard work.

How many carbs am I allowed to eat on the AIP diet?
The diet does not count carbs; however, you can eat the carbs found in fruits and vegetables. No added sugar or processed sweets are allowed on this diet. 

Is coffee allowed on the AIP diet?
Coffee is not allowed in the elimination phase of the diet. It is allowed when you begin to reintroduce foods in the subsequent phases of the diet.

Will I lose weight on the AIP diet?
The diet is not designed for weight loss; however, with reduced inflammation, more exercise, and fewer inflammatory carbs, you may naturally lose some weight.

Who created the AIP diet?
The AIP diet is loosely based on the Paleo diet created by Loren Cordain. Others who followed the diet noticed that autoimmune inflammation was reduced. One promoter of this diet was Sarah Ballantyne, who began on the Paleo diet herself but modified it for autoimmune disorders.

What kinds of conditions can the AIP diet help with?
The diet is designed for all types of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s disease, lupus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis (you can learn about the best foods for ulcerative colitis here), and many other similar disorders.

Here at Zaya Care, we can match you with autoimmune nutritionists that are covered by your insurance. You can browse our network of autoimmune nutritionists and filter by things like visit type, languages spoken, insurance accepted, and more to find your fit.

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Book a virtual dietitian appointment

Covered by your insurance

Christine Traxler MD is a family physician, lifelong writer, and author with a special interest in mental health, women’s healthcare, and the physical after-effects of psychological trauma. As a contributing writer and editor for numerous organizations, she brings a holistic focus to her work that emphasizes healing and wellness through daily self-care, connecting with others, and setting stepwise goals toward achieving more balanced and authentic lives.