The Autoimmune Protocol and Reintroductions

13. Produce Baskets by Natalie Walters

The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) has helped me so much. It literally healed me from the inside out and I am forever grateful that I found out about it and did the hard hard work of going through it. It seems so hard when you first start and have to give up so many foods (eggs, coffee, alcohol, nightshades including tomatoes and white potatoes, grains, dairy, soy, sugar) that have been a part of your normal diet for years. It’s daunting to find all new recipes, ways of cooking, strategies for eating out (the most challenging part in my opinion) and navigating social occasions that revolve around meals. After awhile though, the protocol becomes your new normal and you adapt to your new way of eating and you learn to put up with those people that just don’t seem to“get it”.

Once getting into my stride on AIP, I started to see results after about 4 months of following it to the letter. It felt wonderful to have nagging symptoms go away and I was managing just fine with the few things I knew I could eat. But, in the back of my mind I knew that AIP is not supposed to be a long term diet that you embark on forever. It is a restrictive elimination protocol designed to clear out all diet-based inflammatory inputs so that you have a “clean slate” to start reintroductions with. Reintroduction can be scary for someone who is doing well with AIP. You’d think that I would have been jumping for joy to bring some more variety of foods back into my diet but I was scared. AIP was working, my symptoms were gone, why would I mess with that? Because, as I learned; my gut had healed and I needed to trust the process and go through reintroductions to know what really sets me off and what my system can in fact handle.

The way that I found best to conduct reintroductions with, was to introduce a previously eliminated food consistently (eaten at least twice every day) for 3 days in a row. I wouldn’t add any other new foods so it would just be regular AIP plus the one “new” food to see how it did. Then, I would wait another 3 days before the reintroduction of a second “new” food. If I started to feel or see symptoms coming back during the re-introduction, then I knew that the previously eliminated food was something my system still does not do very well with and that I was probably better off without it. It was really key that I listened to my body very closely during reintroductions because even if my old symptoms didn’t resurface there were other signs that a newly reintroduced food could be doing me harm, like: gastrointestinal distress, feeling lethargic, having food cravings, mood issues, headaches or achy joints.

Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, author of “The Paleo Approach” outlines which “new” foods might be the best tolerated to worst and suggests reintroducing foods in the least likely to be problematic category first. Here is her very helpful list below:

Least likely to be problematic:

Egg yolks (if you don’t tolerate them, make sure you are buying pastured, soy-free, wheat-free eggs and try again)

Ghee from grass-fed dairy

Seed-based spices (as long as they aren’t nightshades)

FODMAP foods if you have been avoiding them 

High histamine foods if you have been avoiding them 

The next least likely to be problematic:

Seeds

Nuts

Alcohol in small quantities

Coffee (occasional)

Grass-fed butter

Moderately likely to be problematic:

Eggplant and sweet peppers

Paprika

Coffee (daily)

Cocoa/ chocolate

Yeast

Grass-fed cream

Fermented grass-fed dairy (goat dairy may be tolerated better than cow dairy)

Most likely to be problematic:

Egg whites

Chili peppers

White potatoes (better if peeled)

Alcohol in larger quantities or more frequently

You may never want to consume:

Tomatoes

NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen)

As you might imagine, the reintroduction process can take quite some time. You will feel like your whole life is one giant highly detailed science experiment until you can get to the bottom of what foods your system will and will not tolerate. After finishing reintroductions, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were a lot of foods I could add back into my diet with no ill effect, even tomatoes. I had been so afraid to try, fearing that I would be stuck on a very restrictive diet for the rest of my life. I am at the point now (about a year or so later) where I can consume most of the items on the reintroduction list with the exception of cow’s dairy, NSAIDS and alcohol in larger quantities. Those few exceptions are nothing to sniff at when I think about all the wonderful foods I got back! If you are considering trying AIP or are currently on it and planning your reintroductions I hope this post encourages you to tough it out because it is definitely worth it.