As I was first starting the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol I found the food pyramid below to be a helpful visual reminder of just what I’m supposed to be eating. (Curtesy of A Simple Guide to the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, by Eileen Laird, a nice basic starting guide to the AIP.) In a nutshell I would say the diet consists of cutting out a lot of stuff, eating hella meat and vegetables, and having bone broth and fermented foods every day. But this diet, if followed completely from organ meat to seaweed, should provide all your nutrition from the ground up without any supplementation, much more completely and effectively than a standard diet full of empty calories.
It’s easy enough to remind yourself not to eat grains, sugar, legumes, dairy, seeds, nightshades, nuts, or eggs, and not to drink alcohol or caffeine, but what are you supposed to eat? When and how much? Actually it’s amazed me how quickly I’ve managed to get into the flow of this diet and start nailing it. True it’s been well over a month now, but the last few weeks I’ve been doing absolutely everything right, which is pretty satisfying. It helps a lot if you a) have a really good reason and b) don’t have much else to do.
I eat 6-9 cups of vegetables a day, and I have homemade bone broth, homemade kefir, and homemade sauerkraut every day. I eat protein and fat at every meal and get lots of omega 3s. I eat seaweed once a week, for iodine. I try to limit my fruit, though I do enjoy quite a bit of fruit. I have such sweet tooth that the fruit nicely satisfies my cravings, especially now that my taste buds have recalibrated themselves and fruit tastes sweeter than sugar used to. Dessert is very limited and really only ever consists of more fruit: a fried plantain, or a banana and some berries with coconut butter on top, or some dried mango or figs, but these treats have become decadently delicious.
AIP guidelines suggest that you have organ meat 3-4 times a week, (or about 12 ounces a week), and seafood 2-3 times a week. In the last few weeks I’ve been fully succeeding, trying to swap them off and eat each one about every other day. I’ve even branched out from cans of tuna and Alaskan salmon fillets to trying shrimp and giant scallops for the first time!
Eating 6-9 (sometimes up to 14 are recommended) cups of vegetables a day is also not actually that hard. They cook down a LOT in the evening soup and a big lunch salad can add a lot too. Really between those two things its fairly easy to get six cups, but it’s also easy to add more through a berry smoothie (colored fruits count), veggies mixed into meat patties, crudités with pâté… According to the Wahls Protocol (another similar diet aimed at repairing serious illness) your veggies should consist of three cups each of three types: colored fruits/veggies, leafy greens, and sulphur-rich veggies.
Colored fruits and veggies (they are supposed to be colored all the way through, berries not apples) provide important antioxidants so you want to eat three cups of things like raspberries, blueberries, carrots, beets, mangos, citrus, and purple cabbage. Leafy greens provide essential vitamins and minerals, so lots of chard, kale, spinach, collards, bok choy, and lettuce. Sulphur-rich vegetables, like onions, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, cabbage and asparagus, do necessary detoxing and provide sulphur.
I’ve also been doing a good job of eating this vegetable variety, with at least two cups a day in each category. It’s quite fascinating listening to the founder of this diet, Terry Wahls, talk about how eating copious amounts of these three types of veggies (with a few other things) makes it possible to get all necessary nutrients from your food without supplementing, and how eating this diet turned around her MS. TED talk here.
Another recommendation is frequent ginger tea for digestion, which I’ve been managing to do despite living in a hot climate and not wanting to drink hot tea all day. My solution has been to brew up a huge intense batch of ginger extract in the pressure cooker and then add bits of this to sparkling water for a nice cooling digestive drink. I also add it to my morning “tea” and sometimes make cocktails out of it with juice and frozen fruit.
And that’s pretty much it! All in all this has been quite interesting to learn about and try out, and all it feels very nourishing. I’m still not sure if a gut issue contributed to my developing this autoimmune thing, (as it obviously did for lots of people who are able to completely turn their symptoms around through the AIP), but it has to be beneficial to cut out all these potentially inflammatory foods and hopefully very supportive to the muscle regrowing I need to do to be eating so much nutrient-rich food and protein.
The idea with the AIP is that you eventually start to reintroduce other paleo foods and tailor the diet to you. As it’s been over a month I’ve started having eggs and seeds and nuts, a welcome change from meat, meat and more meat. I also tried some dairy but decided to wait on that. Eventually people try reintroducing grains and other things, but I guess a lot of people with chronic autoimmune issues keep gluten and sugar and other major inflammatory things out for ever. I’m hoping the drugs and a period of time with this diet will be sufficient for me, and eventually I can reintroduce everything without a problem. Also it’s pretty fun to be on a diet where you can eat absolutely as much as you want, and to be trying to gain weight, for a change!