During the month of July, we are focusing on debunking diets at Healthoholics. This week we’re covering three diets in one – Paleo, Whole 30 and the Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP)!
What is a Paleo, Whole 30 and/or AIP?
Although each of these diets is slightly different, they have many things in common, which is what has allowed us to group them together for the blog this week!
- the Paleo diet is based on what it is believed as what the earliest humans consumed
- Whole 30 is based on “whole”, unprocessed, unrefined foods
- AIP is a specific therapeutic diet aimed at facilitating gut healing and calming auto-immune conditions
What do these diets have in common?
All three of these diets – Paleo, Whole 30 and AIP – exclude:
- all grains
- beans and legumes
- food additives including food colourings, MSG, carrageenan, or sulphites
- industrialized seed oils such as canola, vegetable, or soy oil
- anything highly processed
Additionally, all three of these diets place the focus on:
- nutrient-dense fresh vegetables
- moderate amounts of fruit
- high-quality animal proteins
So, what do you eat?
Let’s start with the Paleo diet, because the other two diets build off it. Paleo enthusiasts advocate for the consumption of unprocessed plant and animal foods. On a Paleo diet you can eat:
- Herbs & Spices
- Whole-food sweeteners like honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup
- Limited alcohol
- Fish & Other Seafood
How they’re different:
Whole 30, at its core, is an elimination diet. The Whole 30 approach stresses mainly what not to eat. Developing off the Paleo diet above, Whole 30 excludes sugars, sweeteners and all alcohol in addition to the restrictions of a Paleo diet.
Again, comparing to the Paleo diet above, the Auto-Immune Protocol, also known as AIP takes things a step further. The AIP diet removes nuts and seeds from the diet, including spices that are seed based, nightshades (a family of foods that includes potatoes, tomatoes, peppers of all kinds including spices, goji berries and ground cherries), and eggs.
With the AIP approach, not only are there additional foods to restrict, but there is a strong focus on what foods to eat. AIP brings attention to consuming lots of green leafy vegetables, sulpher-rich foods, probiotic foods daily, three servings of seafood a week, and three servings of offal or organ meats per week.
I personally have varied experience with each of these diets.
Before my diet of choice had a label, I ate in a Paleo-esque way for several years (excepting for the occasion portion of rice). I personally feel at my best when I’m not consuming dairy or beans and legumes, so this diet was a great match for me for a long time.
Admittedly, my experience with Whole 30 is second-hand. I have many friends and colleagues who have done the Whole 30 challenge, which is similar to the Real-Food Reset we designed here at Healthoholics. Many have realized successes and learned about their food reactions by trialling this short-term elimination diet.
My experience with AIP is the most significant. Almost 18 months ago, I embarked on the AIP diet after struggling with thyroid issues stemming from an injury. I was desperate to get my body back into balance, and I hoped that AIP would help. Even as a Nutritionist, I was SHOCKED by how much better I felt, and how quickly. I was pushed to experiment with new, extremely nutrient-dense foods – like liver, sardines, heart, and fermented vegetables – that I previously hadn’t included or prioritized in my diet. My health quickly improved, and after reviewing my latest blood work results I see the value in this way of eating more than ever.
Benefits and Therapeutic Effects
I personally see the value of the Paleo diet as a solid, long-term solution to counteract the excesses of our 21st century North American lifestyle. It is naturally nutrient-dense, meaning it’s easy for us to get all the nutrients we require while eating this way. Plus, because the Paleo diet does not include grains, dairy, beans and legumes (which includes soy) or refined sugar, this means many of the most common food allergens/sensitivities are automatically eliminated – which, results in less inflammation, better gut health, a stronger immune system, and more energy.
Whole 30 is almost the total opposite. Whole 30 is a purposefully short-term elimination diet. It is meant to be restrictive, and is intended to act a “reset” of sorts. The Whole 30 is not a long-term lifestyle in the same way that Paleo is.
AIP is also not intended to be a permanent way of eating, it was originally introduced as a strategy to address to root causes of auto-immunity and to reverse auto-immune conditions. In auto-immunity the immune system is on high-alert and begins attacking the body’s own tissues instead of foreign invaders. The Auto-Immune Protocol is also an elimination diet meant to remove the most common triggers that would stand in the way of the body healing itself. I can personally attest to the success I’ve experienced with the AIP diet, and addressing auto-immune related health challenges. That said, AIP is not meant to be forever. I have begun re-introducing restricted foods now that most of my healing is done. The program includes recommendations on how to re-introduce restricted foods for the best results.
I believe all of these diets are generally health-promoting ways of eating. The biggest potential drawback would be in the mindset of the person undertaking this way of eating. All three of these diets include significant restrictions, and while that isn’t inherently a negative, it may be challenging for some. Restricting entire food groups may cause some individuals to exacerbate already existing all-or-nothing thinking.
To that end, all of us, to one extent or another may need to do some mindset work to recognize the abundance (new foods, better health) that can come along with these diets, rather than centring on the restriction.
The social aspect of Paleo-style diets may be a consideration for some individuals as well. This is a very different way of eating, when compared to the majority of North Americans, which may result in additional planning and questions from friends at social events.
Things to Consider
Whole 30 is just about what to avoid. If you have a history of disordered eating, addiction, or restriction of any kind, Whole 30 may not be the plan for you.
Paleo and AIP lifestyles on the other hand, offer more to consider than just diet. In AIP especially, there is an emphasis placed on sleep quality, stress management, movement, deep breathing, meditation, and finding your purpose, because – while diet is important – there is more to healing than what you eat.
To sum this all up, although Paleo and Paleo-inspired diets like Whole 30 and the Auto-Immune Protocol restrict entire food groups, they are considerably more nutrient-dense than the standard North American diet or even most government recommended diets like our food pyramid in Canada. Paleo-inspired diets offer many benefits ranging from the basics like better energy, through to reversing auto-immune diseases – so, there is a good chance there’s a paleo-inspired diet to fit your nutritional and health needs. Lastly, it’s important to note that diet isn’t the be all and end all. Our mindset surrounding our diet matters, as does the quality of our sleep, our stress management habits, the amount we move our bodies, and living in alignment with our purpose.
If you’re interested in trying out any of these three diets, we’ve put together a one-week menu plan that is Paleo, Whole 30 and AIP-compliant! Get your copy today!