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TSL - Autoimmune Protocol

(Image by TSL)

One quarter of what you eat keeps you alive. The other three-quarters keeps your doctor alive (Hieroglyph in an Egyptian Tomb)

So, you know how I mentioned things were going to be a bit different in TSL-land this year? Well, I wasn’t kidding. We’re really shaking the tree here at Casa TSL. And it begins today. Today is the first day of our Autoimmune Protocol (AIP).

Before I give you my take on the AIP – the un-scientific take (because I am no scientist) – first, let me preface it by acknowledging that this decision will probably have its detractors. The idea that food can be medicine is not a universal one. But, it is one that I hold.

My interest in the correlation between the food I eat and my health probably began when I started to suspect that the chronic skin issues I have been plagued with for decades seemed to fluctuate depending on what I ate. I started to take more notice. To cut a very long story short (and to spare you all of my health story!), just over a year ago I gave up grains (gluten), pulses, all trans fats and processed food. My dairy intake reduced greatly (LM is allergic). And, you know what? – pretty quickly my skin issues cleared up. Almost completely. There is no doubt in my mind that I have a sensitivity to gluten.

And, I started reading. I read a lot. About diet, nutrition and health. There’s a short list of some of my favourite books at the end of this post, if you’re interested. Along the way, I discovered that the skin problems that run in my family are a form of autoimmune disease. I learned that while I have a predisposition to autoimmune problems (along with other stuff!), the way I choose to eat and live also contributes. And, I learned that I’m lucky. I could have developed a much worse autoimmune problem – Coeliac disease or Multiple Sclerosis, for example. Some of that is due to my genetic blueprint. Some of it is due to my diet and lifestyle. And, some of it is just dumb luck.

While my skin issues have cleared up significantly, not all my health issues have. And, as I get older, I want to ensure, as much as I can, that I have a quality of life that allows me to move freely and not be limited by ill health. I want to be a healthy old person! So, I am undertaking the AIP in an effort to make it easier to reach this goal. And, lovely LM has chosen to join me. And, I didn’t even have to twist his arm or resort to bribery!

(Image from here)

(Image from here)

So, what is the Autoimmune Protocol?

The AIP is an elimination diet. But, it also more than that. It is a nutrient-rich approach that removes foods that irritate the gut, cause gut imbalance and activate the immune system.

(AIP) helps heal the gut, to restore normal/healthy gut microorganisms, to reduce inflammation and to regulate the immune system both through healing the gut, regulating hormones and addressing micronutrient deficiencies. (Sarah Ballantyne, ‘The Paleo Approach, Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body’)

A leaky gut and imbalances in gut microorganisms are believed to be involved in all autoimmune diseases. They are directly related to diet and lifestyle. According to the very knowledgable Sarah Ballantyne, the AIP helps to heal the gut, to restore healthy gut microorganisms, to reduce inflammation and to regulate the immune system both through healing the gut, regulating hormones and addressing micronutrient deficiencies. Count me in!

But, what does it mean in practical terms? Well, here at Casa TSL we have already cut out all grains, pulses, refined sugars, trans fats found in modern vegetable oils and processed food. My pantry looks nothing like it did a few years ago. Dairy of any kind (even grass-fed ghee) will also now be avoided for a while. But now, we’re cutting the following foods out, too:

  • Eggs (which I’m not looking forward to)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds (including cocoa, coffee – yes, coffee! – and seed-based spices)
  • Nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, chillis, cayenne, and all spices derived from peppers, including paprika)
  • Fructose consumption in excess of 20g per day (that’s a couple of pieces of fruit)
  • Alcohol
  • NSAIDS (like aspirin or ibuprofen)
  • Non-nutritive sweeteners (yes, all of them)
  • all other food additives

So what CAN we eat?

The primary focus on the AIP is eating a nutrient-rich diet. Deficiencies are the strongest diet-related factors contributing to increased risk of autoimmune disease. And, just as some foods will be eliminated, there is also a focus on eating more of the very nutrient-rich foods:

  • organ meat and offal (chicken liver pâté is my new best friend)
  • fish and shellfish (more of a challenge at Casa TSL given LM’s shellfish allergy)
  • vegetables of all kinds (lots and LOTS of fresh vegetables)
  • quality meat (grass-fed, pasture-raised and happy is best)
  • quality fats (pasture-raised/grass-fed and happy animal fats, fatty fish, olive, avocado, coconut)
  • fruit (keeping fructose intake under 20 g daily)
  • probiotic foods (things like fermented vegetables, kombucha and kefir, and probiotic supplements)
  • glycine-rich foods (anything with connective tissue, joints or skin, organ meat, and bone broth)

We’re going to be eating like this for at least 30 days. After that, depending on how we feel, we’ll either continue or we’ll start reintroducing foods – one by one – to see if they cause a reaction. And, I’m going to be writing about it. Here.

Of course, diet is just one element of continued good health. Getting enough sleep, moving every day, spending time outside in the sunshine and managing stress are all important factors, too. All of this is detailed far more comprehensively in some of these books:

The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body, by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD

Your Personal Paleo Diet, by Chris Kresser

Primal Body, Primal Mind, by Nora Gedgaudas

Digestive Wellness, Strengthen the Immune System and Prevent Disease Through Healthy Digestion, by Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN

and, of course, the book that started it all for me,

Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon-Morell

So, a change in direction for TSL. Clearly dining out is almost impossible on the elimination stage of the AIP. That means I’m going to be spending a lot of time cooking. There really is no escaping the need to cook on this regime. I’ve stocked the freezer – lots of braises made from happy meat, bone broth and chicken liver pate. 

Here’s hoping we experience some positive results…!

*By the way – I know there are going to be purists out there who notice the corn, capsicums and tomatoes in the top image. These are not part of the AIP. Call it ‘artistic licence’!