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Diet

Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) for Lupus

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The foods we eat impact how our bodies (and autoimmune systems) function. The Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) may help reduce lupus inflammation & flares. But, research is still limited.

These days, it seems like eating well is more complicated than ever. You have to buy the right foods, prepare them in special ways, and still want to eat them once you’re done. All of which take energy and time that you might not have. Still, changes in diet can have real health benefits.

The autoimmune protocol diet, or “AIP diet,” is a diet that excludes:

  • all sugars
  • processed foods
  • many grains
  • most legumes
  • dairy products
  • seed oils

AIP also restricts several other foods that are high in cholesterol or that have a link to inflammation, including:

  • Eggs (high in cholesterol)
  • Nuts and seeds (including coffee, chocolate, coriander, and cumin.)
  • Nightshade vegetables (which includes tomatoes, eggplants, and white potato)
  • Chewing gum
  • Alternative sweeteners (such as Splenda)
  • Thickeners (other than arrowroot)

 

Instead, autoimmune protocol diet meals consist of:

  • fresh vegetables
  • meats
  • non-processed foods
  • coconut oil
  • olive oil
  • sweet potato
  • non-dairy fermented foods
    • pickles
    • kimchi
    • kombucha
    • miso
  • vinegars (without added sugar)
  • small amounts of unprocessed sugars
    • honey
    • maple syrup
  • most herbs and spices
  • gelatin
  • seaweed
    • nori
    • kelp
    • dulse

 

Fruit is limited due to the high sugar content. A little red wine is alright (it has several antioxidants,) but most alcohol should also be avoided.

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Diet & the Digestive Tract

This diet is highly restrictive. However, it helps to manage weight and food-based inflammation triggers. The idea is that diet has a lot to do with autoimmune disease. A condition colloquially known as “Leaky Gut” may be partially responsible.

In Leaky Gut (intestinal permeability) irritation in the gut causes the seals between cells to be weakened. This allows partially digested food particles, toxins, pieces of bacteria, and viruses into the bloodstream. The immune system becomes riled up attacking these “invaders.” It puts the body on high alert, increasing inflammation throughout the body. In autoimmune diseases such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), the immune system attacks the body’s own cells.

Switching to a restrictive, low-inflammation diet can help give your body a break and heal some of the damage. Over time, other foods can be slowly reintroduced into the diet, depending on whether they cause flares or not.

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What are Nightshades?

Nightshades are a family of plants that include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, chili peppers, and other pepper-based ingredients such as cayenne and paprika. Plants contain chemicals called alkaloids that can affect the body. These alkaloids are the reason why herbal medicine can actually cause medicine-like effects in the body; however, certain alkaloids can encourage inflammation. Nightshade alkaloids are known to cause inflammation. Many people with lupus and other autoimmune disease feel that cutting nightshades from their diet helps their symptoms.

Measuring the impact of diet

Though it varies from person to person, the connection between lupus and diet is well-known. Studies have shown that modifying something as “simple” as diet can improve the symptoms of lupus

Calorie-restricted diets, for example, are known to help people with lupus maintain their weight and control their symptoms. You can read more about weight issues and lupus here.

Gluten, found in many grains such as wheat and rye, can cause inflammation in some people, especially people with celiac disease. Sugar is a known issue for people with lupus, too, since it can be linked to problems with weight, memory, cognition, and heart disease. 

In contrast, Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential diet-gained nutrient that improves brain, skin, and hair health – as well as heart and joint health. It may also calm down inflammation in the body.

People with lupus should make sure to also eat foods rich in calcium and vitamins. Meat can be a little contentious, as people with lupus have stressed bodies that need more protein to recover, but high protein foods can put pressure on already-damaged kidneys (as in lupus nephritis). Vitamin B12 is a very good reason to add red meat into your diet, and fish (such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines,) is a good way to get both. 

So Does AIP Work?

There is limited research into the effectiveness of the AIP diet as a way of combatting autoimmune diseases or more generally. 

A 2017 study found benefits of the diet for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) including reduced symptoms and inflammation. However, only 15 people participated in the study and the researchers concluded that “randomized controlled trials are warranted.”

Research published in 2019 explored the AIP diet’s value to people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid gland. The diet accompanied by a lifestyle program significantly improved patient’s quality of life (SF-36) and clinical symptoms (MSQ). However, there were no significant benefits to thyroid function or antibodies. Also, the study only included 16 participants.

 

The Autoimmune Protocol Diet & Lupus

While full studies are yet to be conducted, the individual pieces of the diet may make sense for people with lupus. The AIP diet requires eating foods that are known to be valuable to Lupus Warriors. AIP meals:

  1. Are high in raw and cooked whole vegetables
  2. Exclude garlic, a potential contributor to lupus flares
  3. Include lots of fiber, a food component that benefits both gut health and inflammation health
  4. Permit turmeric, a spice that may have health benefits for people with lupus
  5. Restrict alcohol consumption, a known risk-increaser
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Tips for Sticking to the Autoimmune Protocol Diet

AIP is very restrictive and lupus can come with either lowered appetite or a huge craving for carbohydrates. This can make it difficult to feel satisfied. However, you should know that you have options for delicious food that will both nourish and satisfy you. 

Nom Nom Paleo is a blog with many recipes for people on Paleo diets, which are easily modified for an AIP diet. Her podcast can be found here

Autoimmune Wellness is a website that specializes in the AIP diet. Their podcast can be found here.

AIP can also seem more expensive – after all, processed foods are typically cheaper and whole vegetables require preparation work. The truth is, whole vegetables, bought in bulk, can be cheaper overall. And, if the diet works for you, it can save you money in the long run. 

But AIP-compliant meals don’t have to break the bank. Find 31 recipes that you can make for under $5 on here.

 

Other AIP Recipes

If you just look at the restrictions in the AIP diet, it can look scary. It can also look like it requires a lot of preparation and cooking work. You might feel that you don’t have the energy for it. But, many meals can be prepared in bulk ahead of time when  you have the ‘spoons,’ energy, and time.

Bone broth is a good example of this. It is made from bones, aromatics such as onions (but not garlic in this case) and vegetables that have been cooked for a long time. It is very nutritious, easy to eat, and it provides a source of both joint-repairing collagen and water. You can make bone broth in a pressure cooker, instant pot, or a stock pot. It can be stored in the fridge for weeks and in the freezer for months.

You can also make soups this way, and many other easy to eat, tasty, nutritious meals in slow cookers that will last you for days.

 

Other cheap, delicious, easy to make, and filling dishes include this chili dish. It can be made without tomato, a nightshade. Beets can be substituted for color, and summer squash can be added in for extra flavor and vitamins. 

Roasted vegetables are also an easy, tasty, portable meal that also keeps well. A lot of vegetables can be roasted, including sweet vegetables like parsnips and sweet potato. You can make it in advance, too – which can help make the prep worth it.

You can find many other recipes (wheat-free almond bread, pot roasts, and more) online. If there is a particular taste that you are looking for, or level of prep work, you can find it.

Bottom line, sticking to the AIP diet may be challenging, but worth it.

Have experience with the diet or favorite recipes? Be sure to leave a comment below 😊

 

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Comments (3)

3 thoughts on “Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) for Lupus

  1. I’ve had Lupus for 45 years and RA for 6 years. I try to keep my CRP level down (measures general body inflammation). I do my best at sticking to Paleo diet (am just learning today about this AIP diet). I can say that the Paleo diet has served me well. Forget about all the things that you can’t eat. With Paleo it is simply meat and vegetables. And yes, I occasionally cheat. Food with refined flours (breads, etc) are my nemesis. If the AIP diet is similar to Paleo (which it looks like it is) then here is one person who can attest to it’s benefit.

  2. I read about these recommended diets from time to time and give them a try. But over the decades, the recommendations change and I’m not sure there’s really one diet that suits everybody with lupus. For example, I know for sure I don’t tolerate vinegar, no matter what kind it is, no matter the amount. Pickles used to be a big favorite but no more! So, my recommendation is to give this sort of thing a try, continue if it seems to help, move on if it’s not working.

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