The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet is a therapeutic elimination-style diet used to reduce inflammation in the body, which may help treat symptoms of autoimmune conditions in some people. This extreme diet isn’t for everyone, but if you and your health care professionals are on board, we’ll give you all of our tips, tricks, and recipes so you can succeed on AIP.
Back in the summer of 2017, I became so sick that I couldbarely make it out of bed. For months, I was in and out of the hospital and doctor’s offices, and no one> could figure out what was wrong with me.
I was eventually diagnosed with Lyme Disease, but during the journey to get to my diagnosis, I had numerous health care professionals suggest that I do an elimination diet to help identify foods that caused inflammation in my body. While they didn’t know what was going on with me, they did know that if I identified—and removed—the foods that my body was reacting to, I’d start on the path to healing.
Working with my health care team, we eventually decided to try the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) to help heal my body and help me recover. I am incredibly grateful to the AIP diet to help me get on the path to healing!
The AIP Diet is a therapeutic diet used to treat inflammatory conditions in your body. It is recommended that you do the AIP under the guidance of a dietician or other health care professional.
What does AIP stand for?
AIP stands for Autoimmune Protocol. In some places, you’ll also see it listed as Autoimmune Paleo, because it is a diet that is based on paleo principles.
What is the AIP diet?
The AIP diet is an elimination diet that helps you identify which foods are not tolerated well by your body. It is a short term, therapeutic diet that removes foods that most commonly cause people adverse immune reactions as identified by medical researcher Dr. Sarah Ballantyne in her book The Paleo Approach. These kinds of reactions can range from severe (anaphylaxis after eating peanuts) to relatively minor (bloating after eating bread).
The AIP Diet is designed to be done short-term to promote healing—with a minimum recommendation of 30 days—and after you feel well again, you slowly start to reintroduce foods and gauge your body’s reaction to them. Because your body has healed for at least 30 days, you’ll have a clean slate to observe food reactions, no matter how minor they may be. And then you have the information to make decisions about what foods can come back into your diet regularly, occasionally, rarely, or never.
Who is the AIP diet for?
As the name implies, the Autoimmune Protocol Diet is designed to help identify the foods that may contribute to making autoimmune conditions worse. Some people (like me!) have had good results using AIP to identify food sensitivities that contribute to non-autoimmune conditions.
The AIP is an extreme dietary change, and I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. It’s a therapeutic diet, meaning it’s not just something you pick up and do for funsies. The AIP is a treatment for an illness or disorder, and the hope is that once you’ve completed your treatment, you’ll be better and can stop the therapeutic diet.
How does the AIP diet work?
The AIP diet is broken up into phases, each one getting increasingly less restrictive:
- Full AIP/Elimination: The first part of the AIP diet is the most restrictive. This is the elimination portion of the diet. You are on this at least 30 days, or until your symptoms dramatically improve—whichever comes last. This time allows your body to heal from any inflammation caused by food reactions.
- Reintroduction: After your body has begun healing, you can start testing the foods that you eliminated one at a time, starting with foods that are least likely to cause a reaction.
- Maintenance: You take the information you learned during the reintroduction phase and use it to decide what foods are the most nourishing for your body, and what foods you may want to avoid.
The first phase of AIP Diet is meant to be a short-term, and AIP in general is meant to be an evolving diet. The goal is to identify what foods make your body feel good and which don’t, not to stay on AIP forever.
For some people, you might have just identified one or two foods that cause you problems, and your diet can go mostly back to normal. For others, you might have long lists of foods that you would like to avoid. The most important part is that now you have the information to make an informed decision about what goes on your plate.
What can you eat on the AIP diet?
A key component of the AIP diet is focusing on nutrient density. The concept is that an unwell body needs a heavy dose of nutrients to help heal. The foods that are allowed during the elimination phase are:
- Meat, fish, and seafood
- All vegetables except for nightshades
- Fruits (in moderation)
- Healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, animal fats, etc.)
- Bone broth
- Organ meats
- Grain-free baking flours (cassava, tigernut, tapioca, coconut, etc.)
It is recommended to try to find the highest quality options that will fit within your resource limitations. Free-range meats, organic produce, and fresh foods take preference over other options (but doing the best you can with what you have is always my philosophy).
What can’t you eat?
No sugar-coating this one. AIP is restrictive. During the elimination phase of AIP you need to avoid:
- Beans and legumes (including peanuts)
- Nightshade veggies (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc.)
- Seeds (including seed-based spices like cumin)
- Nuts (including nut milk like almond milk)
- Grains (both gluten-containing and gluten-free grains)
- Pseudo-grains (quinoa, amaranth, etc.)
- Processed foods
- Certain vegetable oils (sunflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil, etc.)
Again, you cut out these foods for a minimum of 30 days, and then you can reintroduce them one at a time, and if you do not have a reaction, that food can rejoin your diet regularly without concern for exacerbating your condition.
Since you cannot eat most prepared foods, meal prep is essential on the AIP Diet.
Is the AIP diet safe and healthy?
The AIP diet is very restrictive—cutting out entire groups of foods—which over the long term can be tricky to manage while still getting balanced nutrition. Thankfully, the AIP diet is designed to be a short-term diet. While some people with extreme autoimmune illnesses feel their best doing the full/elimination AIP for the long term, the vast majority of people who AIPers are only visitors on the elimination phase of the diet.
Again, the main goal of the AIP diet is to identify the foods that cause a reaction in your body. Once you have that information, you can relax your dietary restrictions. Most people who do AIP eventually identify a handful of foods that cause them issues, and they can then go back to a full, rich, diverse diet once they’ve done that work. Some people who have had success on AIP land on a paleo or paleo-leaning diet after their time is done on AIP (limiting grains, gluten, sugars, beans, and dairy), but the wonderful thing about doing AIP is that afterwards, you have the knowledge to craft the diet that works best for you and your body.
Because you are cutting out huge swaths of food groups on the AIP diet, you do need to pay careful attention to make sure you are getting the correct amount of nutrients. That’s why I highly recommend doing AIP under the guidance of a health care professional who is familiar with the program.
If you have a history of eating disorders or disordered eating, please consider whether or not a restrictive diet like AIP is appropriate for your stage of recovery.
Is the AIP diet low carb?
Because the AIP diet removes many carb-heavy foods like grains and beans, it might be easy to assume that AIP is a low carb or keto diet, but it is not. The AIP diet is about the types of foods you eat, not the numbers associated with them. You can eat sweet potatoes, bananas, squash, and other carb-heavy fruits and veggies on AIP.
How long should you do the AIP diet?
It is recommended that you do the first elimination phase of the AIP diet for at least 30 days, or until your symptoms dramatically improve. Once you are feeling better, you can start reintroducing foods and expanding your diet. The speed of the reintroduction process can vary based on your tolerance and your reactions.
Does the AIP diet really work?
Anecdotally, both my husband and I had great results on the AIP diet. We were both able to identify the foods that our bodies were reacting to, heal from that, and eventually feel much better! We now eat a rich, diverse diet that includes many of the “don’t eat” foods from the elimination portion of AIP that we didn’t react to.
All across the internet, there are lots of testimonials of folks who had great success on AIP. However, it’s impossible to know if the diet will work for you and your particular conditions. That’s where a health care professional comes in! They can be a great resource to determine if AIP is something that might work to help you treat your condition.
Can you lose weight on the AIP diet?
The AIP diet is not a weight loss diet. While some people may lose weight on AIP, it’s also possible that some people may gain weight, depending on the needs of their bodies. Because the diet restricts so many categories of food, it is highly recommended that you do not restrict any other aspects of your diet like the number of calories, number of carbs, or portion sizes.
Is AIP just about food?
Food is just one aspect of the AIP “diet.” It’s the one that most people focus on because it’s the most dramatic, but living AIP also means doing other stuff like resetting your circadian rhythms, protecting your sleep, relieving stress, getting moderate and regular activity, fostering connections with people you love, and doing activities that bring you joy. Many of the action items we describe the Living Wholefully Starter Guide coincide with the AIP lifestyle recommendations nicely (and it’s free).
I venture to say that if you just focus on the food aspect of AIP, you’re not really going to get the full benefits of the protocol. Trust me, if you cut out grains but still only get six hours of sleep at night and spend all your day stressed out, your body isn’t going to get a chance to heal.
What are some good AIP recipes I should try?
I spent three months on the elimination portion of AIP, and an additional six months reintroducing foods—trust me, I have tried my fair share of AIP meals. Here are some of the best AIP recipes I created:
- Swedish Meatballs. Drop the fennel seed and black pepper, and use mace instead of nutmeg, to make these AIP-compliant.
- Bone Broth. Just leave out the black pepper, and you’ll be all set!
- Grilled Blackened Tuna Steaks. Just skip the paprika, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in the seasoning for this tuna steak recipe.
- Bacon Wrapped Dates. With AIP-compliant bacon, these make a great appetizer or snack.
- Breakfast Porridge. You won’t feel restricted at all with this Pumpkin Spice Coconut Breakfast Porridge.
- Sweet Potato Toast. The topping options for this meal prep breakfast are endless—just make sure the toppings are AIP-compliant!
- Sweet Potato Fries. No need to miss fries on AIP! Be sure to use arrowroot flour when making these.
- No-Bake Macaroons. While you are supposed to eat desserts in moderation on AIP, that doesn’t mean you have to skip them entirely!
- How to Make Sauerkraut. Fermented foods are important when you are on AIP, and this is one of my favorites.
- 109+ Easy and Healthy Meal Prep Ideas. Learn all our best tips and tricks for meal prep, which is key to helping AIP go smoothly.
- Don’t forget, we have literally hundreds of healthy recipes right in our recipe index (which is sortable by dietary needs)!