This article was previously published on May 10, 2017.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association, nearly 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease–75% of which are women.
Disclaimer: This is not to scare you or send you on a tireless Google hunt to determine whether or not you have an autoimmune disease. For those of you who do suffer from autoimmune diseases, this will be of great help. For those of you who do not, this can also be informative as we are constantly exposed to toxins, stress, unhealthy foods, and infections that wreak havoc on the immune system regardless of whether or not you have a preexisting condition. In other words, an anti-inflammatory diet is a win-win for all!
My Autoimmune Disease Discovery
I officially became a member of the autoimmune disease club when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease. Full confession, I was a little saddened to find out my body was fighting itself; however, with a lot of research and a heavy dose of patience and love, I stumbled upon a dietary lifestyle that offered a natural, clean approach to drastically lower inflammation in my body. This was a perfect addition to my supplements, sufficient sleep, and a low-stress lifestyle.
What Is the A.I.P.?
The autoimmune protocol, or A.I.P., is actually quite simple. Avoid the foods and drinks that cause inflammation in the body for the recommended duration, then carefully reintroduce certain foods back into your diet. Following the strict food guideline helps to heal the gut by eliminating foods that inflame your intestines, thus triggering or increasing your autoimmune disease flare-ups.
Those of us with autoimmune diseases may already know we commonly have inflammation in the body due to our immune system targeting our own tissues. Basically, the immune system is working overtime. Adding in a highly inflammatory diet introduces even more stress to the already overworked immune system. The goal of A.I.P. is to naturally reduce as much inflammation in the body as possible by eliminating any foods that contribute to the fiery cause.
Eat This–Not That!
The tricky part may be the list of foods and drinks to avoid. Trust me, I get it. But waking up to another morning of painfully stiff shoulder joints, foggy brain, lethargy, and poor digestion was enough for me to make a change. I would rather feel balanced and put my flare-ups into remission than eat that gluten-free, vegan donut.
Please note: before starting any elimination cleanse, it is always wise to speak with your healthcare practitioner first.
Elimination Phase (6-8 weeks)
I bid thee farewell!
- Dairy products
- All processed food
- Seeds [yes that includes our beloved quinoa, too]
- Grains [oats, corn, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, amaranth, rye, spelt, kamut]
- Alternative sweeteners [xylitol, stevia]
- Dried fruits
- Beans & legumes
- Nightshades [tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, potatoes, eggplant, paprika, mustard seeds, chilis, cayenne, goji berries]
- Certain herbs [cumin, coriander, fennel, mustard, cardamom, fenugreek, nutmeg, caraway, dill seed]
Replenish Phase–Eat plenty of the following
- Vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, squash, celery, radishes, etc. [Except nightshades listed above]
- Sweet potatoes
- Coconut [coconut oil will be your best friend. Coconut manna, canned, creamed, shredded, flaked. Just be sure to read the labels for any pesky additives like guar gum and sugar.]
- Leafy greens
- Fresh non-seed herbs [mint, basil, parsley, thyme, cinnamon, turmeric, oregano, tarragon, rosemary, ginger]
- Fruits [berries have the lowest sugar]
- Fats [olive oil, avocados]
- Fermented Food [kombucha, coconut yogurt, coconut kefir, fermented vegetables]
- Green Tea
- Herbal Tea
- Vinegarsv[apple cider, red wine vinegar, coconut vinegar]
Side effects: balanced energy, decreased aches and pain, clear skin, smiles, laughter!
What’s the Deal with Nightshades?
Nightshades are apart of the Solanaceae family of plants. One of the problems with these plants is that they contain potentially toxic compounds called glycoalkaloids. Glycoalkaloids are hard to digest and can cause damage to the lining of the intestines by directly killing the epithelial cells or creating small holes in these cells. The job of our intestinal epithelium is to absorb helpful substances and provide a barrier against harmful substances. So damaging these cells is not to be taken lightly, specifically for those with autoimmune diseases and/or any digestion problems. Here’s more on nightshades.
Some of My Favorites
I eat so many sweet potatoes I could be their spokeswoman. I first boil the sweet potato for approximately 10 minutes. Remove, dice into cubes, and toss them in coconut oil and sea salt. Bake it in the oven at 375º and broil for the remaining 5 minutes if you want to crisp the edges. I’ll eat it by itself or on top of salads. (Pro tip: eat the sweet potatoes cold!) Zucchini is great, too, because you can grate it down, mix with coconut flour & coconut oil, and form patties. Cook the patties in a pan with coconut or olive oil. On a cold day, I love a hearty vegetable stir fry which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cubed zucchini, squash, and kale, sautéed with lots of fresh garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil.
My initial elimination cleanse lasted for 6 weeks. After that time, I began to include nuts, but in flour form only. Feel free to play around with the length of time you cleanse; however, it’s recommended for 4-6 weeks. Eventually, you will reintroduce certain foods back into your diet one at a time. I made the mistake of eating a huge bowl of rice pasta with tomato sauce. Bad idea! My stomach was inflamed for four days, my energy took a nose dive, and my bathroom schedule went bonkers. Start with something small, a handful of nuts, or a few beans, and wait. Wait 3-5 days to take in the full reaction of the new food in your body. You may feel great! Or you may notice the brain fog coming in or your belly getting inflamed. Although uncomfortable, it is normal. It may eventually go away as you continue to work that specific food back into your diet, or it may not. Through this process, I’ve learned there are certain foods that simply do not mix well with me, whether I’m allergic or not.
Sticking to the diet verbatim is a hefty task, so give yourself a lot of love and patience–especially on days when you may feel discouraged or slip up on food. It is okay to make mistakes. It is okay to slip off the path a little bit! Just stick with it and be proud of the initiative you’ve taken to heal your body.
Have you tried the Autoimmune Protocol?
Related: 9 Small Ways You Can Fight Inflammation And Save Your Skin
10 Dos and Don’ts of Inflammation
I Used To Battle Lifelong Eczema. How Plant-Based Diet Healed Me
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