The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (or AIP) has become extremely popular recently as a dietary approach to manage autoimmune disease. I’ve been aware of the AIP for quite some time, but have been pretty turned off of very restrictive diets for the past few years based on my experiences with GAPS/SCD (and for other reasons as well). But after dealing with several back-to-back flare-ups related to recent treatments I’ve been exploring, I decided to give it a shot.
However, I was a little worried about getting enough carbs on the diet. Most common starchy foods (including potatoes and white rice, two of my staples) are on the “no” list, and AIP proponents usually recommend limiting fruit and sweeteners. That leaves sweet potatoes and plantains as the only familiar sources of dense carbohydrate, with things like squash and parsnips providing lesser (but respectable) amounts of non-starchy carbs.
I personally had a little trouble figuring out how to get enough carbs on the AIP, even with the Internet and my existing nutrition knowledge at my disposal. Granted, this is partially because I personally do better when I include plenty of starchy carbs, so I can’t really rely on veggies like squash and parsnips. And I just don’t love sweet potatoes enough to eat them that every day. Regardless, I’ve since discovered AIP-friendly foods (which I’ll tell you about below!) that fully and easily satisfy my carb needs.
But given how easy it is to default to a very-low-carb diet on the AIP, I really feel like the carb issue should be addressed more frequently and fully by proponents of the diet. (Although maybe it is, and I just missed it!) Of course, many people do really well on lower-carb diets, which is fantastic! But everyone’s needs will be different, and people who are already dealing with the physical and mental stress of chronic illness often do poorly when saddled with the additional physical stress of a low-carb diet.
So my goal with this post is to compile a bunch of information about why carbs are an important consideration when starting the AIP, as well as AIP-friendly food sources and recipes that are more carbohydrate-dense.
How Many Carbs Do You Need?
Being slightly more involved in the AIP community now, I’ve noticed many AIP newbies reporting certain new or worsening symptoms on the AIP, including digestive issues, trouble sleeping, hormone issues, and hair loss.
My friend Laura Schoenfeld does a ton of work with clients who are recovering from eating too few carbs and/or calories for their stress and activity level, and I’ve had my own experiences with low-carb issues on the SCD. So a lot of these issues jumped out at me as potentially being caused or exacerbated by not eating enough carbs.
As I mentioned above, existing stress load plays a huge role in determining how your body will react to a low-carb diet. One reason for this is that cortisol is one of the hormones responsible for promoting gluconeogenesis (the creation of new glucose) when your body is low on stored glucose. If your cortisol levels are already up-regulated due to other stressors, this additional bump in cortisol could lead to or worsen any of the myriad adverse health effects of chronic stress.
I don’t want to get into it too much here, but below I’ve linked some articles and podcasts from Laura and her podcast partner Kelsey…
…and a couple articles from Chris Kresser…
…that should explain more about why carbs are important, and help you figure out how many carbs are right for you personally. I’m sure there are many other resources out there to help you answer the carb question for yourself; these are just the ones I was already familiar with. Feel free to link to other helpful resources in the comments!
AIP-Friendly Carb Sources
Now that you have a general idea about how many carbs you should be eating, here are some places to find them! Below are a couple tables I made listing AIP-friendly foods and their carbohydrate content. I included good sources of carbs, as well as foods that people often think are good carb sources, but really aren’t!
The data is all from the USDA Nutrient Database, so hopefully it’s somewhat accurate. And I’ve listed everything in terms of a one-cup serving, because even if you wouldn’t eat, say, an entire cup of blueberries, I find things easier to conceptualize when the physical amount of food stays constant.
Starches and Vegetables
|Carbs (grams per 1 cup)
|Carbs (grams per 1 cup)
A Guide to Unfamiliar Starches
Now, you may be wondering – what on earth is malanga? Or taro? Or ñame? These, along with yuca (aka cassava/tapioca, which you’ve probably heard of) are all carbohydrate-dense starchy tubers that are neutral-tasting, rather than sweet like sweet potatoes. This makes them fantastic potato replacements for those of us on the AIP.
Honestly, having been on this diet for about a month and a half now, I really don’t miss potatoes, aside from how easy they are to find in stores. All of these other tubers are equally satisfying and versatile, and I often find myself liking them even better than potatoes! I used cubed yam (ñame; these are true yams, which are nothing like sweet potatoes, despite common labeling confusion) in a beef stew recently, and it was fantastic. I liked them better than potato, because the cubes had a denser texture and really held their shape, rather than getting grainy or falling apart.
I’ll probably update this post once I have more experience cooking with them, but for now, check out this post from Amanda at The Curious Coconut for an excellent guide to some of these foods!
As far as where to find these things: I’ve found plantains at almost every grocery store (including Walmart), and my local Publix actually has malanga, yuca, and yams, which I was extremely surprised about. But in general, your best bet is going to be ethnic markets.
In the picture at the top of this post, you can see malanga (bottom left), frozen yuca (top left), and green plantains that I found at my local Mexican market, and taro (middle), yam (to the right of the taro), and sweet potato glass noodles from my local Asian market. (Note: The only ingredients in the glass noodles are sweet potato starch and water, but I’m not sure there’s a consensus on the AIP-okayness of them due to questionable labeling standards in other countries. Proceed at your own risk.)
Carb-Tastic AIP Recipe Roundup
Linked below are some recipes featuring these tropical starchy tubers, as well as sweet potato and green plantain. Obviously there are tons of recipes out there, but these are either ones that I’ve tried and liked, or just really caught my eye! I’ll add more as I find them. And again, feel free to share your favorites in the comments!
AIP Plantain Waffles – Simple & Merry (Note: I’ll be posting a slightly modified version of this recipe soon that has a higher ratio of green plantain to arrowroot, making it a little more whole-food-y)
Now, go forth and carb it up!