Your friend Katie used to be a die-hard Paleo fan, but lately she’s been touting the benefits of the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet. In fact, she says it’s totally cleared up her psoriasis symptoms. What the heck is it (and should you try it, too)? Here’s what you need to know.
What is it? In short, the AIP diet is a highly restrictive diet that removes foods thought to irritate the gut in order to reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms of autoimmune disorders like psoriasis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Which foods are off-limits? The AIP diet eliminates all grains, dairy, eggs, legumes (like beans and peanuts), nightshade vegetables (like potato and eggplant), sugar and processed foods. Coffee and alcohol are also out (sorry). It’s basically a stricter version of the Paleo diet, since even ghee, seeds and nuts aren’t allowed. So yeah, pretty restrictive.
So, what can you eat? Meat, fish, non-nightshade vegetables, coconut milk, dairy-free fermented foods (like kombucha and kimchi), green tea and bone broth are all on the AIP diet menu. When it comes to fruit, some sources say that a small amount each day is OK while others recommend cutting it out completely. The idea is to follow the eating plan strictly for a few weeks, then slowly add certain foods back into your diet to see if they trigger any adverse effects.
And why do I keep hearing about leaky gut? Leaky gut syndrome is a condition where small holes in your intestines allow food to be released into the rest of your body, thereby triggering many of the unpleasant symptoms associated with autoimmune disease. The AIP diet aims to heal leaky gut. The problem? Leaky gut isn’t a medically recognized condition (although it is beginning to gain support in the scientific community).
So, does the diet work? Proponents of the diet believe that it helps manage autoimmune conditions. But currently, there are no large-scale studies to back up these claims. However, some experts say that the diet can be helpful for identifying triggers and giving your gut some TLC. “I’d like to see the science behind this,” professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University Marion Nestle tells U.S. News. “A lot of it doesn’t make much biological sense. But eating the foods on the OK list should be healthy, so the diet is unlikely to be harmful—other than being a pain to follow.”
Bottom line: The AIP diet is restrictive and not easy to stick to (you can pretty much say goodbye to eating out), but anecdotally, supporters say it's helped manage their autoimmune disorder symptoms. Another plus? The foods allowed on the diet are nutritious. So, if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder, then you may want to give the diet a go—just talk to your doctor first.