If you’re dealing with an autoimmune disease, chances are you have heard of an autoimmune paleo diet, or maybe even tried it. This diet excludes all grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, nightshades, and sometimes other foods such as citrus or natural sweeteners.
While many have used this diet successfully, I want to present another way to look at this diet because, unfortunately, I have also seen many people GET sick while eating this way.
If done right, this diet can be healthy and can aide in healing a leaky gut (which we know is at the root of autoimmune conditions) as well as reducing your allergen load (which helps reduce immune stimulation). But there are REAL risks with this diet that you should take into consideration before starting or before you continue with it.
- Lack of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are essential to human health and without them you can end up digging a deeper hole for your health. You must rely on fatty animal foods to get these vitamins and since avocado, olive, coconut, and meat fats primarily the only fats allowed it can be tricky to get enough animal fat. Most people are used to buying lean cuts of meat to begin with. Use lard, tallow, duck fat, or chicken fat in cooking, and non-lean cuts of meat as solutions to this problem.
- Lack of cholesterol. Cholesterol is the raw fuel that our hormones are made from so we need it for our thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormone health. Cholesterol also fights infections (we know infections are a cause of autoimmunity to begin with so we need cholesterol). It also aides in synapse formation so without it we can get brain fog and memory loss. See above for ideas as this only comes from animal fat sources.
- High in thyroid-stimulating fats. If you are hypothyroid, this isn’t a bad thing. But if you have Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism, relying on avocado and coconut as your primary fat sources (both of which are thyroid-stimulating) can have dire consequences. I have seen many hyperthyroid patients eat an AIP diet and get worsening of symptoms — rapid heartbeat that can’t be slowed, anxiety, weight loss, mania, sweating, etc.
- Weight loss. This is one of the number one complaints I see when people come to me while on an AIP diet before we make alterations. Bottom line, it is HARD to get enough calories daily while eating AIP. It kind of ends up being like the chicken breast and broccoli low-fat diets of the 80’s/90’s. You can add coconut cream to smoothies, put coconut butter on apples or sweet potatoes, fry vegetables in animal fat, dip vegetable chips in guacamole, and eat fruit (especially dried fruits), and have sausage or bacon daily for additional calories, but you will likely still lose weight. If it gets to a point where you are losing too much weight (again, VERY common), you should think about adding in the least allergenic of the foods you have eliminated and see how you feel and how your blood work looks. White rice and legumes that have been soaked or sprouted tend to be okay for some.
- Worsening of mental health or mindset. Simply put, it is hard to ENJOY life when all you are worrying about is diet. If you have to eliminate these foods because the diet genuinely is helping or because you do notice a reaction to these foods, then by all means stick with it. But JOY is a required element to the healing process and it’s not fun for anyone to miss out on social events or to simply start hating food because there are so many rules. Rules and the perceived “punishment” make us sick.
Remember, there are always more sides to the story. Just because a diet is popular at the moment doesn’t mean it’s right for YOU. You are a unique being and deserve a diet as unique as your genes and life history. A standard approach can never take those things into consideration.