I have an autoimmune illness. Three in fact. Three in remission. I get asked quite often “Kara, what do you eat? Do you follow AIP (autoimmune protocol)?
I’ve gone through several nutrition plans through the years as I’ve paid attention to the following:
- what kind of food I can enjoy
- what kind of food I can tolerate
- what kind of food I can have (once in a while); and
- what kind of food I can never have
When it comes to food, I try to listen to how my body reacts, how my joints feel, the quality of my sleep, and the obvious signs of gastrointestinal discomfort or skin rashes.
What feels good to my body during one period, may not feel as good during another.
Bottom Line: You may have to experiment. Keep a food journal, and be flexible and forgiving. Your body is truly trying to heal.
An Individual Approach to Autoimmune Nutrition
Autoimmune recovery would be so much easier if there was one right answer to the question about “what should I eat?”
However, there is no one right answer. Remember, that unless you are an identical twin, you have your own special and unique DNA. You’ve also had a different life experience (and exposures) than anyone else on the planet and therefore . . . you have a different microbiome, you have a different genetic expression of health. Our health is a reflection of our DNA and the genetic expression of our DNA based on all of our exposures at that point in life.
(This is the concept called “epigenetics” and which means that your genes are not your destiny!)
What that also means is that your food sensitivities and intolerances are different than the person sitting next to you.
So how does that translate into what you should and shouldn’t eat? (This is the number one question my clients, friends, and family ask me.)
What should I eat?
There is SO much you can eat – even if you don’t feel like it. Stick with me and I’ll promise to help you find so much delicious, healthy, filling food!
I can confidently share with my clients that have autoimmune that you shouldn’t eat (in my own order of importance with my own scale of );
- gluten – 100% removal
- grains – 75% removal (sprouted grains may be tolerable)
- dairy – 50% removal (this means that about 50% of clients can tolerate some dairy, specific raw dairy, perhaps some heavy cream and sour cream)
- soy – 50% removal (sprouted non-GMO tofu is tolerable and enjoyable for many people)
- simple sugars – as much as possible; sugar offers empty calories, affects blood sugar and insulin control, leads to energy crashes and offers no nutritional value
This approach comes very close to a Paleo/Primal/ Mediterranean way of eating.
Some of my clients have deeply entrenched chronic or autoimmune illnesses and have to go further and deeper into eliminating certain foods. The goals are to remove the offending foods, heal the gut and have slow, tolerable introductions to regain oral tolerance.
Without testing for food sensitivities (which can be done very easily), here is where The Autoimmune Protocol – also known as “AIP” comes in. The is protocol removes all food groups which are considered inflammatory for many individuals. It is not generally a program that needs to be followed for life, however, it can be a helpful way to start figuring out what is triggering your autoimmune systems through an extensive elimination process.
AIP Kitchen Tour
I was featured in 2018 on The Autoimmune Protocol’s monthly Kitchen Tour. Inside this edition, I hope you can find tips and tricks in organizing your own kitchen, whether you follow AIP or another specific nutrition plan.
Favorite thing about your kitchen:
I have to admit. I’m in LOVE with my kitchen. Most of it was made from reclaimed materials including an old bowling alley lane, high school bleachers, and a large classroom chalkboard.
My favorite part of this kitchen is the big center island! It’s a great conversation piece as well as it gives us plenty of space to prepare food and pull up a barstool and eat as a family.
The kitchen is where I’d like to be most of the time. I have four children and two are teenagers and still at home. My better half Ron is a firefighter. What that means is that we are cooking all the time for people who love to eat!
Least favorite thing about your kitchen:
I do wish I had a pantry. That said, one of my favorite sayings is, “Eat fresh from the refrigerator, not the pantry!” So, I’m fine not having a big pantry because it wouldn’t be filled anyway!
Are there any cheap gadgets or little tools that you have found make AIP easier?
Instant Pot! I pretty much make a fresh soup every day and then save the bones for making organic bone broth.
What is the biggest thing that changed in your kitchen setup when you adopted the AIP?
I’ll admit that getting rid of peppers in my spice drawer has been very challenging. I’m originally from Arizona (way down near Mexico in fact) and I grew up with pepper in everything!
In terms of kitchen set-up, I’ve learned to be very organized and tidy. I keep glass containers for storing food and for storing chopped up ingredients to make mealtime easier.
My advice — just like clothes, donate any kitchen tool you haven’t used in over a year!
If someone was just starting to invest in some useful but more expensive kitchen tools, which one would you tell them to buy first?
Titanium (safe) and a cast-iron pan. You need a pan that can safely brown meats, clean up without having to use tons of soap, and is safe for our bodies. Chicken thighs in a cast-iron pan are so delicious almost without any other ingredients! (My in-house firefighter Ron taught me this and he cooks for the fire station so you know it has to be good!)
Are there any tricks you have learned to make AIP work in your space?
Only have ingredients in your kitchen that you can use! Do the work once — the clean-out and the re-stocking of AIP approved ingredients. It will make meal prep much more enjoyable and you won’t even worry anymore about what you can and can’t eat.
I also recommend growing herbs, whether you only have a ledge or an entire garden. Growing fresh herbs yourself (it’s so easy!) really reconnects you with this earth and dramatically changes the flavor of your meals. To know you grew something and then it’s nourishing your body — wow!
How do you deal with food for family members who do not follow AIP?
This is a big one because I have family members who don’t follow AIP! However I do most of the dinner cooking so they don’t even realize they are eating AIP.
I do keep healthy, (even if non-AIP) foods in the house and instill home-cooking as a first choice over eating out. With teenagers, you have to pick your battles and teach by example rather than by lecture.
Are there any tools or appliances that you’ve stopped using now that your diet has changed?
We didn’t need the massive breadmaker anymore!
What are your favorite meals to batch cook?
Soup! My kids tell me I should open up a soup restaurant!
I make a batch almost everyday or at least every other day. Then it’s soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a couple days. I batch cook bone broth and also refrigerate shredded beef or chicken for meals in the next day or so.
What are your favorite AIP and Paleo cookbooks?
I really like to adapt recipes by swapping out ingredients if the cookbooks aren’t 100% AIP. I love the base recipes in The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook. The Forest Feast is visually stunning and a great place to find inspiration to cook as many vegetables as possible.
Do you have any tips for those starting an elimination diet and setting up their kitchens for the first time?
I do! I’m a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner and Certified Integrative Health Coach specializing in women with autoimmune and hormonal imbalance so I have more advice than space on this page!
For starters, decide if you are all-in or you need to go slow. You have to respect yourself and you know yourself better than anyone else!
If you are an “all-in” kind of person, dedicate one full weekend to your clean-out. Enlist friends or the help of a health coach if you need support. Donate your food to the local food bank so you can feel good about this process rather than looking at it as a loss.
If you are a “take it slow” kind of person, start with removing the big food categories — dairy, gluten and all grains, eggs and nuts.
In both cases, go through every drawer and clean and organize them. Get a great chopping tools, a generous colander (for rinsing produce) and lots of glass-storage containers (ridding your home of plastics, even those that say BPA-free)
Personal Care Products
Remission from autoimmune also means looking at the soap, household cleaners, and personal care products you are using. Look for 100% plant-based products with no synthetic aromas.
I think it’s important to bring joy into your kitchen, especially given all the time you might be spending there. What can you do today to make your kitchen a place you love?