Spices on the Autoimmune Protocol

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When it comes to  herbs and spices, figuring out which ones are safe on the Autoimmune Protocol can be tricky.  Many spices come from the seeds of plants and some are even from the nightshade family.  And what about the spices that come from the fruit or berry of a plant, are they safe?

I have divided spices into several categories. To listen to my full explanation on these categories, check out TWV Podcast Episode 450: Spices on the AIP? What’s In, What’s Out, and Why.

Herbs and other spices derived from the leaves of fragrant plants are generally safe to use in your cooking, as are any spices derived from non-reproductive plant parts like barks and roots. In fact, herbs are an awesome source of antioxidant phytonutrients and are well-known to improve health, so go ahead and use these liberally! See The Health Benefits of HerbsThe Health Benefits of SpicesTurmeric: The Full Scoop and The Health Benefits of Ginger.

Seeds are eliminated on the AIP due to their unusually high food allergy and intolerance rate (see The WHYs behind the Autoimmune Protocol: Nuts and Seeds).  Seed spices should be avoided at first as well, but are considered  Phase 1 Reintroductions (see The Reintroduction Phase of the AIP and The 3 Phases of the Autoimmune Protocol).  Depending on your individual autoimmune challenges, some people tolerate the very small doses of seed-based spices typically used in cooking (see Making Healthy Choices: What’s Your Currency?).

Spices derived from berries and fruits of plants are eliminated initially on the AIP, but are considered Phase 1 Reintroductions (see Reintroducing Foods after Following the Autoimmune Protocol).  This is because these typically contain more seed than fruit and you are still consuming the ground seed.  While some people opt to include seed and berry based spices when they first adopt the AIP (again, see Making Healthy Choices: What’s Your Currency?), I advise leaving these spices out of your diet at first and them adding the back in to see if they make a difference (it’s quite common for autoimmune disease sufferers to have an intolerance to pepper, for example, so be careful).

Spices from the nightshade family can be particularly problematic for people with autoimmune disease.  Nightshades are restricted on the Autoimmune Protocol due to their high glycoalkaloid and agglutinin content (which can increase gut permeability and act as an adjuvant, exaggerating immune responses).  Most spices from the nightshade family (mainly peppers) also contain capsaicin (one of the chemicals that give them heat), which is a gut irritant — don’t reintroduce these until you are ready to reintroduce all nightshades (and I would start with eggplants and bell peppers before trying chili peppers). See also The WHYs behind the Autoimmune Protocol: Nightshades and What Are Nightshades?.


Safe Herbs & Spices (Leaves, Flowers, Roots, Barks)

*Vanilla bean gets a pass because the seeds are so small that they are intact when you consume them, putting vanilla bean (which is not a legume) in the same category as berries.  Vanilla and vanilla extract is also okay provided its certified gluten-free (often grain alcohol is used).

Note: Fresh and dried herbs not only add a ton of flavor to dishes but are also packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Learn more in The Health Benefits of Herbs.

Early Reintroduction Spices (Berries and Fruit)


Early Reintroduction Spices (Seeds)

  • Anise Seed                     Seed of Pimpinella anisum, see The Health Benefits of Spices
  • Annatto Seed                 Seed of Bixa orellana
  • Black Caraway (Russian Caraway, Black Cumin)    Seed of Nigella sativa
  • Celery Seed                    Seed of Apium graveolens, see Celery Juice: Fad or Fabulous?
  • Coriander Seed             Seed of Coriandrum sativum, see The Health Benefits of Spices
  • Cumin Seed                   Seed of Cuminum cyminum, see The Health Benefits of Spices
  • Dill Seed                         Seed of Anethum graveolens/Anethum sowa
  • Fennel Seed                  Seed of Foeniculum vulgare
  • Fenugreek                     Seed of Trigonellafoenum-graecum
  • Mustard Seed               Seed of Brassica juncea/B. hirta/B. nigra, see The Health Benefits of Spices
  • Nutmeg                         Seed of Myristica fragrans, see The Health Benefits of Spices
  • Poppy Seed                   Seed of Papaver somniferum
  • Sesame Seed                Seed of Sesamum indicum


Avoid (Nightshades)

  • Capsicums                    Seed of Capsicum spp.
  • Cayenne                         Fruit of Capsicum annuum
  • Chili Pepper Flakes       Many Varieties, fruit of Capsicum genus
  • Chili Powder                 Blend of fruit of Capsicum genus
  • Curry                             A spice mixture typically containing coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and red pepper.
  • Paprika                          Fruit of Capsicum spp.
  • Red Pepper                  Fruit of Capsicum


Common Problematic Spice Blends

In general, I recommend against using any spice blends because often the ingredients list doesn’t actually tell you everything that’s in it (why is it okay to label “spices” or “natural flavors” on the labels of these?!).  But, here are some common spice blends you might have in your kitchen with components to worry about:

  • Curry Powder             A spice mixture typically containing coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and red pepper.
  • Chinese 5-Spice         Contains Star Anise, Peppercorns, and Fennel Seed
  • Garam Masala           Contains peppercorns, cumin seeds and cardamom pods
  • Poultry Seasoning     Often contains pepper, nutmeg
  • Steak Seasoning        Usually contains pepper, chili, cumin, and cayenne

If you’re looking for awesome AIP spice blends to replace your old favorite all-purpose seasoning, check out AIP Paleo Powder, the Everyday AIP blends from Primal Palate, and the KC Naturals blends, all of which are available at ShopAIP.

I hope this list helps you as you embark on the Autoimmune Protocol.  I know that this can be very overwhelming and feel overly restrictive.  Keep in mind the restrictions you already live with as you accommodate your disease and think about how great it would be to put your autoimmune disease into full remission.  And, note that the largest category of spices above are the safe spices and there are lots of wonderful meals that you can cook with those!


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