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The anti-inflammatory diet and autoimmunity

By Nadia McMorran

Inflammation can manifest itself in many different ways in the body, including pain and various illnesses and imbalances.

Over the years, autoimmune diseases have become far more prevalent than ever, particularly in the Western world. Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s immune system cannot tell the difference between foreign pathogens and healthy tissue, causing a hypersensitive reaction. There are over 80 different types of autoimmune disease, with most being genetic and they are triggered at some point over a lifetime.

Some of the most common autoimmune diseases include Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, coeliac disease, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Addison’s disease, myasthenia gravis, Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, pernicious anaemia and type I diabetes.

Unfortunately, an autoimmune disorder is for life and there is no cure, however it is possible to be in remission and symptom free. One way to do this is with an anti-inflammatory diet, also known as the AIP (autoimmune protocol) diet. This diet addresses inflammation in the gut and throughout the body that promotes autoimmune diseases and causes many of the painful symptoms.

When you remove inflammatory foods and potential allergens and begin nourishing your body with whole foods that heal the gut and reduce inflammation, it can result in the body going into full remission from autoimmune disease and living a symptom free life. An anti-inflammatory diet isn’t only beneficial to those with autoimmune disorders as it can also help to balance hormones, boost your immune system, increase energy levels, reduce joint stiffness, help healing from injury, clear a foggy mind and heal various digestive complaints.

This diet must be strictly adhered to for a minimum of 8 weeks, however, the longer the better. Foods can then be reintroduced very slowly – only one new food in small amounts (ie. one teaspoon daily) for a minimum of five days with no reaction before thinking of introducing another. You should also record a symptom diary so that anything can be noted and tracked back to the specific food you had tried at that time – for example joint stiffness, brain fog, digestive symptoms, mucous production etc.

If you are interested in learning more about an anti-inflammatory diet, you can find a lot of information available on the internet, however it is always advisable that with any major dietary changes you work with a naturopath to guide you.

Food to avoid:

  • Grains (corn, wheat, millet, buckwheat, rice, sorghum, amaranth, rye, spelt, teff, kamut, oats, etc.)
  • Nuts and nut oils (including almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews and macadamias)
  • Seeds (including flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame)
  • All dairy products (except ghee)
  • Legumes (including all beans, chickpeas, peas and peanuts)
  • Chocolate and cacao
  • All processed food
  • Eggs (all varieties)
  • Soy
  • Nightshade vegetables (potato, tomato, eggplant, paprika, capsicum, goji berries and chilli)
  • Alcohol
  • Alternative sweeteners (including stevia)
  • Vegetable oils
  • Coffee and black tea
  • Malt vinegar

Food to eat:

  • All grassfed meat, poultry and seafood
  • Vegetables (other than nightshade vegetables detailed previously)
  • Fruit (except dried, do limit the amount you eat daily to a maximum of 2 pieces)
  • Coconut products (including oil, cream, milk, aminos and shredded coconut, but not coconut sugar or nectar)
  • Fats (including olive oil, coconut oil, lard and cultured ghee)
  • Fermented foods (including coconut yoghurt, kombucha, water and coconut kefir and fermented vegetables)
  • Bone broth or meat stock
  • Herbal tea
  • Vinegars (including apple cider vinegar, coconut vinegar, red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar with no added sugar)
  • Honey and maple syrup (however this should be limited to 1 tsp daily)
  • Herbs (but not those that are seeds such as coriander, mustard or cumin seed)