One of the questions I get asked the most from people following the Autoimmune Protocol is about a specific superfood powder being allowed or not during the elimination phase of the protocol, and a post about the superfoods not allowed on the AIP is truly needed.
The Autoimmune Protocol has been around for a few years now, and knowing what foods are AIP compliant and what foods need to be eliminated instead has become easy information to gather online through complete and detailed AIP Food Lists.
But how does it work with superfoods? If they are supposed to be nutrient-dense foods that can provide a host of health benefits, aren’t they ok on the AIP too?
Well, unfortunately things aren’t that simple.
Actually, many of the so called superfoods have the potential to stimulate the immune system and therefore are not recommended for people who are following the AIP trying to better manage their autoimmune condition.
Some of these superfoods are considered gray areas and, while people can experiment with them on their own during reintroductions, while on the elimination phase of the Autoimmune Protocol, it’s best to avoid them.
In today’s post on the 10 superfoods not allowed on the AIP, I want to address a few ingredients and superfoods that are quite popular in the healthy food industry, but not AIP. To put together this list, I researched and compiled the amazing information published by some of the founders of the Autoimmune Protocol, like Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf, whose guidelines I used during my AIP journey as well.
I think it will be useful for you guys to have all of the superfoods that are not AIP listed in one place. As per the other readers who aren’t dealing with autoimmunity, please note that, despite not being allowed during the elimination phase of the AIP, the following superfoods aren’t necessarily problematic. Experiment with them with an open mind and see how they make you feel.
The 10 Superfoods Not Allowed on the AIP:
Spirulina & Chlorella
Chlorella and Spirulina are freshwater microalga which contain a powerhouse of essential nutrients, such as protein, fatty acids, magnesium, zinc, iron, and chlorophyll, plus plenty of phytonutrients. However, because these chlorella and spirulina are immune stimulators, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne bans them from the initial stage of the AIP. (SOURCE)
Wheat grass is prepared from the freshly sprouted first leaves of the common wheat plant and contains a number of nutrients, including protein, phosphorous, magnesium and iron.
Nevertheless, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne explains that wheat grass “contains wheat germ agglutinin and it’s not allowed on the AIP”. (SOURCE)
Also, this what Robb Wolf said about wheatgrass: “I’m not a fan of. It just kind of freaks me out. I think there might be some lectins (anti-nutrient proteins) in there. You could play around with it. I’m just not really a fan of that.” (SOURCE)
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a root member of the brassica family that grows on the mountains of Peru and that looks like a cross between a radish and a turnip.
After the maca roots are pulled from the ground, they are then sundried and processed into maca powder, a substance that’s high in minerals like calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. It has a pleasant and sweet taste that can enhance the flavor of your smoothies and baked goods.
But, because maca has the power to stimulate the immune system, it’s better to avoid it on the initial phase of the AIP.
According to Dr. Lorein Cordain: “powdered maca root could adversely affect thyroid function because of the presence of glucosinolates. […] Generally, in people with normal thyroid function, consumption of brassica plants have no adverse effects. Only when thyroid is impaired by pre-existing low plasma iodine levels does the consumption of brassica exacerbate the problem”. (SOURCE)
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Lucuma is fruit grown in South American countries and it’s considered a superfood because of its nutritional qualities. It has a mildly sweet taste and can also be used as a sweetener.
While, according to Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, “lucuma is pretty much the same as date sugar (it contains glucose and fructose, but is a whole fruit so it also contains some fiber, vitamins and minerals), it’s still not a good choice in large or frequent quantities”. (SOURCE)
Mesquite is technically a legume and it appears on the NON AIP food list compiled by Dr. Sarah Ballantyne.
Also, Dr. Loren Cordain explains that “phytic acid concentration is high in mesquite bean flour”, an ingredient that’s also problematic because “Phytohemoagglutinin (PHA) has been detected in Prosopis species like Mesquite. And, to date, animal experiments have shown that PHA breeches the gut barrier and interacts unfavorably with the immune and GI systems” (SOURCE)
Bee pollen (flower pollen collected by bees and then mixed with their saliva to form into granules) is commonly considered a super-food because it contains 22 amino acids, enzymes, coenzymes, B vitamins, fatty acids, minerals, and flavonoids with anti-inflammatory properties.
However, studies have shown that bee pollen can stimulate the immune system as it “contains a large amount of pollen, which belongs to various allergenic families of plants, it retains its allergenic potential.” (SOURCE)
It’s better to avoid this superfood during the elimination phase of the AIP and try to reintroduce it afterwards.
Like many other mucilaginous plants that can help thicken the gut’s mucus layer (such as licorice root, slippery elm and marshmallow root), aloe is often suggested to people with increased intestinal permeability issues to help repair the gut barrier.
Dr. Sarah Ballantyne mentions that aloe in particular “has been shown to dramatically increase cytokine production, especially cytokines that stimulate Th2 cells” (SOURCE)
and, because mucilaginous plants in general may be immune stimulators, she recommends to avoid them (except for DGL or Deghlycerized Licorice which is allowed on the AIP) in the presence of an autoimmune disease.
One thing I can mention from my personal experience is that one of the very first supplements that my functional medicine doctor put me on at the beginning of my journey to heal intestinal permeability was a combination of DGL Licorice, Marshmallow Extract, Slippery Elm and Aloe Vera. I did amazing with it! And it helped me tremendously to calm my bloating and stomach pain from day one! BUT, I did this under the surveillance of my doctor, who was checking my blood results regularly and who created a detailed supplement plan specifically for my body’s needs.
Another one of the superfoods not allowed on the AIP is Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng. This superfood is popular in Ayurvedic medicine for its properties in lowering cortisol and balancing thyroid hormones. Since ashwagandha belongs to the nightshade family, it’s not okay during the elimination phase of the AIP. (SOURCE)
Stevia is not really a superfood but a natural sugar substitute that comes from the leaf of a plant. However, because steviol glycosides have a hormone structure, it’s better to avoid this sweetener for individuals with autoimmune issues, in which hormones have such a dramatic impact on disease development and progression. According to Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, “the impact of consuming stevia on hormone regulation is relevant” and she suggests avoiding this ingredient altogether. (SOURCE)
Bottom Line? If you are following the AIP strictly, it’s better to be on the safe side and avoid these 10 superfoods not allowed on the AIP, at least during the elimination phase.
You definitely don’t want to add scoops of (expensive) powders into your food thinking you are doing some good to your health… when you might actually be triggering inflammation.
Reintroduce these superfoods when you are ready and see how to do with them! Personally I was totally fine with maca, lucuma, mesquite and mucillagenous foods, so you might able to enjoy some of these ingredients too.
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Big love from Italy!