AU­TOIM­MUNE DIET: RE­STRIC­TIVE AND CON­TRO­VER­SIAL

Some­times called Pa­leo-plus, the AIP is one of the most re­stric­tive di­ets out there — and it’s not with­out con­tro­versy

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Cindy Sut­ter

An­gela Huang had al­ways had food sen­si­tiv­i­ties. She had tried dif­fer­ent di­ets with vary­ing re­sults. By the time she moved to Colorado in 2011, she be­lieved she had healed suf­fi­ciently to rein­tro­duce cer­tain foods into her diet. That was nec­es­sary, be­cause she had en­rolled in a culi­nary pro­gram that taught clas­sic French tech­niques and food, which in­cluded gluten and dairy.

“I was work­ing as a pas­try chef, and I be­gan to have skin is­sues,” says Huang, who lives in Boulder. “It started with a rash on my hand, moved up my arm and to the rest of my body.”

The prob­lem got bet­ter for awhile, but then wors­ened, even though she had quit eat­ing what seemed to be the foods that caused prob­lems.

“I got full-body hives,” Huang says. “It was go­ing on for months. It looked like open­wound burns on my arms. I had to go to the emer­gency room. It had spread to my face and was block­ing my vi­sion.”

The emer­gency room staff rec­om­mended a der­ma­tol­o­gist, who Huang says wanted to put her on steroids to calm the re­ac­tion she was hav­ing.

“That was not get­ting to the root of any­thing,” she says. “My own jour­ney had me feel­ing like I needed to do some­thing to calm the in­flam­ma­tion in my body. I was hy­per­sen­si­tive. At one point, my body was prob­a­bly al­ler­gic to ev­ery­thing. My body was in a su­per­in­flamed state.”

Huang took off work, did some read­ing and think­ing and de­cided to try the Au­toim­mune Pro­to­col diet, some­times nick­named Pa­leo-plus. The AIP diet, pop­u­lar­ized by Sarah Bal­lan­tyne, em­pha­sizes nu­tri­ent­dense or­gan meats, veg­eta­bles and fats such as co­conut oil, but it adds sev­eral ad­di­tional re­stric­tions on foods, in­clud­ing night­shades and nuts. And like the Pa­leo diet, no grains, legumes or pota­toes are al­lowed.

The diet is not with­out con­tro­versy.

“There is ab­so­lutely zero re­search this kind of diet is ef­fec­tive for any­thing, not to men­tion au­toim­mune dis­ease,” says Bon­nie Jort­berg, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the de­part­ment of Fam­ily Medicine at Univer­sity of Colorado School of Medicine. Jort­berg, a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian who holds a PhD, teaches med­i­cal stu­dents about nu­tri­tion.

One of Jort­berg’s big ob­jec­tions to the diet, in ad­di­tion to the lack of re­search show­ing its ef­fi­cacy, is that it elim­i­nates many nu­tri­tious foods and adds a lot of an­i­mal fat into a per­son’s diet.

And, she adds: “It’s not easy to fol­low on a daily ba­sis.”

That can be prob­lem­atic, Jort­berg says, when peo­ple who must re­strict their di­ets be­cause of a med­i­cally di­ag­nosed con­di­tion such as Celiac dis­ease, try the diet. She wor­ries that hav­ing such a large num­ber of re­stric­tions makes peo­ple more like to “cheat,” per­haps en­dan­ger­ing their health by eat­ing foods proven to be harm­ful to them.

Huang ad­mits that ad­her­ing to the AIP diet is dif­fi­cult. She has started a Meetup group in Boulder where peo­ple fol­low­ing the diet can sup­port each other.

“It’s to share the hard­ship of be­ing on such an iso­lat­ing diet,” Huang says.

The group holds potlucks, and Huang, us­ing her chef ’s train­ing, also holds events — such as tast­ings of or­gan meats — that charge a fee.

Huang copes with the diet by cook­ing in large quan­ti­ties and freez­ing foods, which makes it more con­ve­nient to eat at home.

“I like to do batch cook­ing. It saves time,” she says.

Huang says it can be dif­fi­cult to eat out. Even though it’s pos­si­ble to or­der foods that are al­lowed on the diet, restau­rants of­ten use in­gre­di­ents such as canola oil, which are con­sid­ered in­flam­ma­tory ac­cord­ing to the pro­to­col.

She says she has found three restau­rants in Boulder — all gluten-free — that can ac­com­mo­date the AIP diet: Shine, Fresh Thymes Eatery and Bloom­ing Beets. The lat­ter of­fers a spe­cial AIP-friendly menu.

Iva Paleck­ova, owner of Bloom­ing Beets, says the restau­rant started of­fer­ing the spe­cial menu af­ter sev­eral peo­ple asked for food that would con­form to the AIP Pro­to­col.

“I think it re­ally helps some peo­ple,” she says of the spe­cial menu. Cur­rently, Paleck­ova says only about 1 in 20 cus­tomers use the AIP menu. “We’ve got a lot of Pa­leo folks. AIP is still a true mi­nor­ity.”

Paleck­ova plans to open a restau­rant in the Baker area of Den­ver in the spring, where she will serve a Pa­leo-friendly, gluten-free menu, as Bloom­ing Beets does. She has not yet de­cided whether she will of­fer the AIP items on the Den­ver menu, but pa­trons will be able to cus­tom­ize their meals to fit AIP.

When it comes to eat­ing out, those fol­low­ing the AIP of­ten start with Pa­leo-friendly restau­rants that source an­i­mals raised with­out an­tibi­otics and hor­mones, like Colt and Gray and Old Ma­jor. Other Pa­leo hotspots in Den­ver, like mmm…Cof­fee on Santa Fe might find that while the AIP diet doesn’t al­low cof­fee or many of the shop’s treats that con­tain nuts or seeds, there are still AIP op­tions, like sal­ads with le­mon juice and broiled salmon. But be­cause the AIP pre­cludes olive oil and other seed oil, it would be nec­es­sary to quiz the server about how the pro­tein is cooked, even at Pa­leo-friendly restau­rants. Those par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to gluten and nuts would also need to ask about the pos­si­bil­ity of cross-con­tam­i­na­tion.

For those in­ter­ested in AIP, but not sure they can com­mit to such a strict diet, Boulder reg­is­tered di­eti­tian Es­ther Co­hen of­fers a 21-day cleanse pro­gram that be­gins with elim­i­nat­ing com­mon food al­ler­gens such as wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts and eggs. The cleanse be­gins with “clean” foods in­clud­ing meats, veg­eta­bles and some­times grains such as quinoa. It also elim­i­nates al­co­hol, sugar and caf­feine and in­cludes a one-day fast.

“One rea­son I don’t go so ex­treme is that it adds stress to the diet,” Co­hen says, adding that stress has a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the im­mune sys­tem.

Co­hen’s cleanse can also act as an elim­i­na­tion diet, in that food items can be added back one at a time to see if they cause a prob­lem. She adds that it’s also im­por­tant to heal a per­son’s gut by adding ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria and eat­ing health­ful fats.

Huang says her health is much im­proved, though she still has flare-ups. She has slowly be­gun to add back nu­tri­ent-dense items, such as egg yolks, to her diet.

Jort­berg of the Univer­sity of Colorado School of Medicine says that while she wor­ries about se­verely re­stric­tive di­ets not backed by re­search as a long-term eat­ing strat­egy, try­ing them for a short pe­riod of time is prob­a­bly OK for many peo­ple.

“We are all ex­per­i­ments of one,” she says.

But, she adds: “Try it with a healthy skep­ti­cism.”

Chef An­gela Huang, 32, poses in the kitchen of her Boulder home with a cran­berry-turmeric-gin­ger smoothie she made ac­cord­ing to the Au­toim­mune Pro­to­col, or AIP, diet. Andy Col­well, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

Col­well, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

In­gre­di­ents that fol­low the Au­toim­mune Pro­to­col diet, clock­wise from top left: co­conut ke­fir, cran­ber­ries, zuc­chini “cheese” with liver pate, baby bananas, gin­ger root and broc­coli. Photos by Andy

Chef An­gela Huang makes a cran­berry-turmeric-gin­ger smoothie in her kitchen in Boulder.

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