At last, surgery.
Carving away foods that can be no bueno for our immune systems.
Having gone through functional medicine and AIP courses, I can tell you that the molecular and biochemical science behind the nutritional recommendations is very well-defined. There’s a mind-boggling number of chemical pathways, enzymes, and alphanumeric receptor names. Paleo and AIP science books literally read like biochem textbooks.
You don’t need to know the difference between a saponin and a salicylate to benefit from a Paleo or Autoimmune Protocol diet.
But it does help to understand something of why you’re cutting back on certain food families. Eating MORE stuff that’s tasty and good for you, like seafood and multicolored fruits and vegetables, is an easy sell. But when you’re bidding farewell to deeply beloved comfort foods, you really want to know why the breakup will be worth it.
They’re bad news, kiddo
I wouldn’t be writing this if it weren’t.
But let’s rip the bandaid right off.
Short version: the AIP subdivision of Paleo is an elimination diet, where you cut back on many of the tastiest fast food and comfort food favorites across many cultural food traditions. It’s a big, R U effing kidding me? step that sounds dead on arrival where long-term success is concerned, were it not for the fact that a) many eliminated foods can be carefully re-introduced, and b) the thing works.
Yes, there is that.
Medium version: big carve outs are sugars and sweeteners, all grains and pseudograins, legumes (beans and peanuts), nuts and seeds, and nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants), and dairy products. Beverage-wise: alcohol and anything sweetened. Cooking oils: processed seed oils like fast food oils, canola, corn, vegetable, sunflower and safflower oils.
There’s a finite number of ways that the immune system in the gut, aka the GALT, can go south. Hormones can negatively impact its function. Substances in food can cause the junctions between lining cells to open up, or the lining cells themselves to break down (aka leaky gut). Or bacteria can overgrow and cause malfunction in places they’re not supposed to be (aka gut dysbiosis). Since 80% of the immune system is in the gut, fundamentally disrupting the gut can significantly disrupt immune function.
The food exclusions minimize these problems.
Excess sugars cause elevations in the hormones insulin and cortisol, which are inflammatory, and sugars are themselves both inflammatory and fuel for bacterial growth in the small intestine. Modern low/no calorie sweeteners aren’t much better, being disruptors of hormonal regulation. All modern health promoting diets, from Carnivore to Vegan, recommend cutting out sugars and sweeteners as the first, most important step, and in the strongest possible terms.
Grains like rice, wheat, oats, barley, rye, and corn (and pseudograins like quinoa and amaranth that come from seed grasses) are rich in prolamins, substances that open tight junctions, damage gut lining cells, and contribute to gut dysbiosis. Ditto for legumes that also contain prolamins; and gliadin is a prolamin fragment of the wheat protein gluten, you may have heard of it.
Nightshade vegetables — like beloved potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and all variety of peppers including paprika — contain similar compounds (saponins & glycoalkaloids) that disrupt gut integrity. So french fries, chips, breakfast potatoes, mashed potatoes, ketchup, tomato or marinara sauce, kochukaru (red pepper flakes) used to make kimchi, bell peppers, and any spicy sauces are all on the to-be-cut list. Fries dipped in ketchup swirled with Tabasco check all the wrong checkboxes (#sadface).
Many of the foods on the no bueno list contain multiple gut disruptive compounds: saponins are present in nightshades, grains, pseudograins, and legumes, and both prolamins and agglutinins are common to grains, pseudograins, and legumes. The biology behind this overlap is fascinating: plants evolved these compounds over the millennia as defenses against insect, microbial, and animal consumption, and early humans only began consuming plants in large quantities in the past 50,000 years, not long enough to develop countermeasures against the chemical defenses.
There are biochemical reasons that the Paleo and AIP diets cut way back on these food classes. We don’t love them because they’re good for us. We love them because they mash down on lots of positive reinforcement centers in our brains — especially when processed and enhanced by food corporations — and we’ve been taught to call them “comfort foods.” These make you feel good, you’ve had a rough week and you deserve a simple pleasure, it’s not like they’re gonna kill you, right?