Paleo, The Autoimmune Protocol, Whole30, and Primal. You’ve probably heard of all these when reading about the best autoimmune diet, but do you know the difference between them?
There are many similarities, but it’s subtle differences you should pay attention to when choosing the best autoimmune diet for you. This is especially true for those with food sensitivities.
The autoimmune diet you choose will directly impact your wellness and your symptoms.
Thankfully, no matter which option you choose or have already chosen, it will be healthier than the Standard American Diet (SAD).
I have read the foundational books for each of these approaches, so the information provided in this post comes directly from the leading authorities on the topics.
By the time you finish reading, you’ll understand the purpose of each of these diets and the information necessary to make a decision as to which approach might be best for you, because the best autoimmune diet is the one that works for you.
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Since the AIP and Whole30 programs are variations of the Paleo approach, let’s start with Paleo.
I’ll tackle Primal a little later.
Paleo is a long-term diet. This is a way of eating for life.
Paleo is a very popular autoimmune diet for many. The top two offenders: dairy and grains (and as a result, gluten) are not allowed, therefore, many find relief when following a Paleo diet.
Robb Wolf, one of the world’s leading paleolithic nutrition experts, and whose book, The Paleo Solution, brought me a greater understanding and respect for the approach, explains:
The Paleo diet is the healthiest way you can eat because it is the ONLY nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic! Research in biology, biochemistry, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and many other disciplines indicate it is our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats and sugar, that is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility.
WHAT TO EAT ON A PALEO DIET:
- Lean proteins
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Healthy Fats from Nuts, Seeds, Avocados, Fish Oil, Olive Oil, and Grass-Fed Meats
FOODS TO AVOID ON THE PALEO DIET
- Legumes (beans, peas, peanuts)
- Cereals and Grains
- Refined Sugars and Sweeteners
- Refined Seed Oils
- Dairy (Ghee, clarified butter is allowed if tolerated)
One of the common misconceptions is that the Paleo diet involves eating bacon and red meat all day every day. This is not true, as the focus is to improve health by increasing nutrients, which requires eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds as well.
The Autoimmune Protocol is a specialized version of the Paleo diet, an elimination diet designed to help identify food sensitivities, which can impede our ability to heal.
For many, a Paleo approach will bring about relief and improvement, at least initially, but for others, an elimination diet is necessary to rule out foods that, while allowed on Paleo, may still be problematic. This is where AIP comes in.
This diet is intended to be followed for a few months, then foods approved for the Paleo diet, but excluded from the protocol can slowly be re-introduced.
Sarah Ballantyne, the author of the book, The Paleo Approach, further explains:
The goal of the Autoimmune Protocol is to flood the body with nutrients while simultaneously avoiding any food that might be contributing to disease (or at the very least interfering with our efforts to heal). It is an elimination diet strategy, cutting out the foods that are most likely to be holding back our health. After a period of time, many of the excluded foods, especially those that have nutritional merit despite also containing some (but not too much) potentially detrimental compounds, can be reintroduced.
WHAT TO EAT ON THE AUTOIMMUNE PROTOCOL:
- Vegetables- Eat a Variety- all Colors and Type
- Fish and Shellfish
- Organ Meats
- Quality Meats
- Quality Fats
- Probiotic/ Fermented Foods
- Bone Broth
FOODS TO ELIMINATE WHILE ON THE PROTOCOL
- Nightshades (white potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, tomatillos)
- Spices derived from Nightshades
- Sweeteners with no nutritional value (stevia included)
- Coffee and other seeds
- Food additives and emulsifiers
- NSAIDS (ie-Ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin)
- Foods your body may react to if you are Gluten sensitive
This autoimmune diet is challenging but very beneficial for those looking to uncover food sensitivities so common and problematic, especially for those with autoimmunity.
Whole30 is also a specialized, short-term approach that involves removing problematic foods for thirty days. It’s considered a reset.
It is strict, but many foods not allowed on AIP (nightshades, coffee, for example) are okay here as long as they are whole foods.
A driving philosophy is- The fewer ingredients, the better.
Whole 30 is often referred to as, “Paleo with potatoes,” but that is too simplistic.
Melissa Hartwig, the creator of Whole30 and author of, It Starts with Food, explains:
Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it. Are your energy levels inconsistent or non-existent? Do you have aches and pains that can’t be explained by over-use or injury? Are you having a hard time losing weight no matter how hard you try? Do you have some sort of condition, like skin issues, digestive ailments, seasonal allergies, or chronic pain, that medication hasn’t helped? These symptoms are often directly related to the foods you eat—even the “healthy” stuff. So how do you know if (and how) these foods are affecting you?
Strip them from your diet completely. Eliminate the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the reset button.
WHAT TO EAT ON WHOLE30
Moderation is key
- Vegetables (white potatoes are allowed)
- some Fruit
- Healthy Fats
FOODS TO AVOID ON WHOLE30
- Dairy- (ghee is okay)
- Legumes (beans of any kind)- includes soy
- Sweeteners (artificial or natural)
- Alcohol- even for cooking
- additives like msg and sulfites
- Baked and treats goods made from “approved” ingredients
The idea here is to reset your body. This is a great starting point before transitioning to a traditional Paleo diet if you are already aware of food sensitivities.
Primal is a lifestyle where diet is just one piece of the puzzle.
The lifestyle involves eating whole foods, engaging in restorative exercise, sleeping enough, getting outside, and avoiding spending too much time in the digital realm. Sounds good, right?
There are many similarities between the Primal and Paleo dietary principals, but Primal is much less rigid.
In addition to Paleo-approved foods, the diet allows for full-fat dairy, legumes, coffee, nightshades, and whey protein if one is able to tolerate such foods.
Mark Sission, the author of The New Primal BluePrint, explains it this way:
When you get past the contrary position on coffee, the legume agnosticism, and the stances on potatoes and nightshades and dairy, there aren’t a lot of differences between paleo eating and Primal eating itself. The biggest difference is in the name: the paleo diet is a diet, while the Primal Blueprint is a lifestyle. You’ll often hear “make it a lifestyle shift, not a diet,” and it’s great advice. Diets don’t work. They come with built-in endpoints, “goal weights” that, once reached, people use to justify quitting.
This is an approach that still leads to much healthier eating and a better quality of life but is problematic for many with autoimmunity if not altered or customized.
To summarize these potential autoimmune diets:
Paleo: a long-term approach- a way of eating for life that works without ancestral DNA
AIP and the Whole30 are short-term Paleo adaptations with restrictions designed for specific purposes. These diets are followed short term to identify problematic foods. One returns to the Paleo diet for the long term.
Primal is a lifestyle incorporating a less rigid version of the Paleo diet philosophy.
After reading all of these books (and others), trying several anti-inflammatory diets including AIP and Whole30, eliminating and re-introducing foods, and much trial and error, I have finally found an autoimmune diet that works best for me.
It is basically a hybrid: a nightshade-free combo of Whole30 and Paleo with a little Primal thrown in for good measure. Confused? Hopefully not for long.
Here’s a quick explanation:
I start each weekday with a shake made from a powder containing whey protein isolate, which although contains only the slightest trace amounts of lactase, is not Paleo, but okay for Primal.
Coffee is controversial with some Paleo followers but is a big part of the Primal lifestyle. I drink at least one cup every morning. I add stevia to my coffee, which is not Whole30 approved but is Paleo compliant.
Additionally, I avoid “paleofied” products like the bread and muffins made with approved ingredients (even though I bake them for my daughter) and unrefined sugars like maple syrup, which is more of a Whole30 philosophy, since unrefined sugars are allowed on the Paleo diet.
I avoid nightshades included in the Whole30, Paleo, and Primal approaches.
As a rule, I focus on consuming quality proteins, lots of vegetables, some fruits, and healthy fats
I consider mine to be a Paleo diet, but more of the 90/10 approach due to my Primal breakfast choices.
Finding the right autoimmune diet for you will take time, so be patient.
What is most important is finding what works for you. Many foods, even those included in all natural approaches, can still cause inflammation in those with sensitivities.
Please feel free to contact me with further questions about autoimmune diet and food sensitivity and be sure to subscribe to my email list to have anti-inflammatory recipes delivered right to your inbox.