Spices on the Autoimmune Protocol

July 26, 2012 in Categories: , by

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Seeds are restricted on the Autoimmune Protocol due to their ability to increase inflammation (they typically contain some lectins, phytic acid and have a high omega-6 content).  Nightshades are restricted on the Autoimmune Protocol due to their high saponin content (which can increase gut permeability and act as an adjuvant, exaggerating immune responses).  Spices from the nightshade family (mainly peppers) also contain capsaicin (one of the chemicals that give them heat), which is a gut irritant.  When it comes to spices, figuring out which ones are safe 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 (if I’ve missed any, please leave a comment below!).  Herbs and other spices derived from the leaves of fragrant plants are safe to use in your cooking, as are any spices derived from non-reproductive plant parts.  Spices derived from berries and fruits of plants get the “proceed with caution” label.  This is because these typically contain more seed than fruit and you are still consuming the ground seed.  I advise leaving these spices out of your diet at first and them adding the back in to see if they make a difference (some people report having an intolerance to pepper, for example, so be careful).  Seed spices should be avoided at first as well.  Depending on your individual autoimmune challenges, some people tolerate the very small doses of seed-based spices typically used in cooking (I do, as long as they aren’t chili pepper spices).  Again, try and avoid them initially and reintroduce slowly and cautiously.  Spices from the nightshade family cause problems for most people with autoimmune disease.  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).

Safe Spices (Leaves, Flowers, Roots, Barks)

  • Balm (lemon balm)       Leaf of Melissa officinalis L.
  • Basil Leaves (Sweet)     Leaf of Ocimum basilicum
  • Bay Leaves (Laurel Leaves)   Leaf of Laurus nobilis
  • Chamomile                       Flower of Anthemisnobilis L. or Matricaria chamomilla L.
  • Chervil                               Leaf of Anthriscus cerefolium
  • Chives                                Leaf of Allium schoenoprasum
  • Cilantro (Coriander Leaf)        Leaf of Coriandrum sativum
  • Cinnamon/Cassia          Bark of Cinnamomum spp.
  • Cloves                                Bud of Syzygium aromaticum
  • Dill Weed                          Leaf of Anethum graveolens/Anethum sowa
  • Garlic                                 Bulb of Allium sativum
  • Ginger                               Root of Zingiber officinale
  • Horseradish                   Root of Armoracialapathfolia Gilib.  *(Read ingredients list for horseradish sauce!)
  • Lavender                         Flower of Lavandula officinalis Chaix.
  • Mace                                 Aril of Myristica fragrans
  • Marjoram Leaves        Leaf of Majorana hortensis Moench
  • Onion Powder               Bulb of Allium cepa
  • Oregano Leaves           Leaf of Origanum vulgare/Lippia spp.
  • Parsley                            Leaf of Petroselinum crispum
  • Peppermint                   Leaf of Mentha piperita
  • Rosemary                      Leaf of Rosmarinusofficinalis
  • Saffron                            Stigma of Crocus sativus
  • Sage                                 Leaf of Salvia officinalis/Salvia triloba
  • Salt                                  Mineral
  • Savory Leaves             Leaf of Satureia montana/Satureia hortensis
  • Spearmint                     Leaf of Menthaspicata
  • Tarragon                       Leaf of Artemisia dracunculus
  • Thyme                            Leaf of Thymus vulgaris/Thymus serpyllum/Thymus satureioides
  • Turmeric                       Root of Curcuma longa

Be Cautious (Berries and Fruit)–best to eliminate initially

  • Allspice                           Berry of Pimenta officinalis
  • Star Anise                       Fruit of Illicium verum Hook
  • Caraway                          Fruit or Carum carvi Maton.
  • Cardamom                     Fruit of Elettariacardamomum
  • Juniper                            Berry of Juniperus communis
  • Black Pepper                 Berry of Piper nigrum
  • White Pepper                Berry of Piper nigrum
  • Green Peppercorns    Berry of Piper nigrum
  • Pink Peppercorns       Berry of Schinus terebinthifolius
  • Vanilla Bean                  Fruit of Vanilla planifolia/Vanilla tahitensisMoore

Avoid (Seeds)

  • Anise Seed                     Seedof Pimpinella anisum
  • Annatto Seed                Seed of Bixa orellana
  • Black Caraway (Russian Caraway, Black Cumin)    Seed of Nigella sativa
  • Celery Seed                   Seedof Apium graveolens
  • Coriander Seed            Seed ofCoriandrum sativum
  • Cumin Seed                   Seed of Cuminum cyminum
  • Dill Seed                         Seed of Anethum graveolens/Anethum sowa
  • Fennel Seed                  Seedof Foeniculum vulgare
  • Fenugreek                     Seed of Trigonellafoenum-graecum
  • Mustard Seed              Seed of Brassica juncea/B. hirta/B. nigra
  • Nutmeg                          Seed of Myristica fragrans
  • Poppy Seed                  Seedof 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

Some Common 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

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!



[…] for the short ribs: ingredients 2-3 pounds pastured short ribs (we typically pick up some on Market Day at Eden’s) 1 tablespoon bacon fat or other cooking fat 1 small white onion, chopped 2 carrots, peeled and chopped 1 large stalk of celery, chopped 4 pieces of thick bacon (pastured is ideal) 1/2 cup of beef bone broth 1/2 cup of good balsamic vinegar 4 large cloves of garlic, pressed 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or a few sprigs of fresh, left whole, removed before serving) 1 teaspoon dried, crushed rosemary (or a few sprigs of fresh, left whole, removed before serving) 3 medjool dates or 1-2 tsp honey 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder 1/2 teaspoon of Real Salt or sea salt 1/4 teaspoon of cracked black pepper (omit if in the first phases of AIP – read what The Paleo Mom has to say about safe spices) […]

I’m wondering about vanilla extract as I’ve seen numerous recipes calling for it. To my understanding; vanilla bean is one of the things to avoid at least initially. Does that mean only the bean itself, or also extract?

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration!

Fruit-based spices are a gray area food you can include or exclude depending on your preference (note that if you include them and don’t see results, they may need to be eliminated). Sarah recommends using the extract only in recipes in which it will be cooked out. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

Last time I was about to buy ginger tea and the only one I found has black pepper in it (less than 3% – it’s Yogi Tea brand). Is it still okay to drink that ?

Thanks for providing this list. I am transitioning off the AIP and had a really hard day and could not for the life of me figure what I had eaten wrong. I checked the ingredients of my Mother’s Milk tea, which I had eliminated on the AIP and had for the first time today, and found that it has fennel, fenugreek and anise. So glad to have figured out the answer in one day.

Are there times when spices can do more good than harm, like using cayenne for parasites? Even if you have a vey leaky gut?

How common is a reaction to fruit seeds? (Fruits with seeds that are eaten with the fruit, like berries and figs, I mean.) I see them on several sites listed as safe, but I react to them just the same as any other seed. I’m wondering if I’m an outlier or if the reaction is actually fairly common in severe autoimmune disease.

I have not heard from anyone else that has had to remove seedy fruits like berries from their diet due to the seeds. Sarah considers them “generally” safe. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

Horseradish, wasabi root, watercress (“peppery”), arugula (“peppery”), red radish, galangal ginger, and possibly clove. Some people even perceive red onion and garlic to have a peppery/spicy flavor. There really is nothing that will equal a habanero… but I believe with a combination of some of these (along with smoked salt or liquid smoke) that some good dehydrated spice seasonings, rubs, and marinades can be made!

Thank you so much for this article. I was recently told to eliminate Nightshades and your page is the only one that includes a list of spices. This will make cooking so much easier for me

Garlic is listed as something to avoid on the list Johns Hopkins puts out for autoimmune. I have stopped taking that as well as echinacea since seeing the list.

I read about the seeds that should be exluded and I became very glad to find that you do not list mackerel seeds… Does that mean that I can eat mackerel seeds when on the autoimmune diet? Actually I thought that all kind of seeds is a big no no.. But I would love to have mackerel seeds with coconut milk for breakfast.

Just wondering if chia seeds are acceptable here. I am so limited I am hoping I can incorporate these into my diet. Thanks! So much great info, by the way.

I developed an allergy to coriander/cilantro, a few years ago and now carry an epi-pen. Black pepper, makes my face tingle, but I can typically eat red, yellow or orange sweet peppers without a problem. I also can’t have fennel or caraway. Thanks for the list!

I am thinking of making Kimchi, can I have gochugaru? I am guessing no, since it is related to chili powder. Any substitutes?

I am confused what a nightshade is and why is it not good. Also what about the spice cumin I use it a lot in my food and was just wondering. When you talk about seeds Is sunflower seeds ok?

Hey there,

Many thanks for the information that is helping to realize a sensitivity to nightshades.

I was wondering about other seeds, such as pumpkin, hemp and sunflower.

What about summer fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, elderberries etc

Best regards


[…] The AIP is an evolving protocol. What started as a few general recommendations from Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf (to avoid eggs and nightshades), expanded into a complete protocol contained in the book, The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne, and summarized here. She spent years delving into the scientific research to determine what foods might be inflammation triggers for people with autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, many spices made the list. She separates them into 4 categories: […]

I’m gluten free, dairy free, and nightshade free. I was wondering if you happen to have any ideas about nightshades that may be in herbal teas or even essential oils? I’m having a hard time finding this info, and have had a strong reaction to a tea and an oil in the past couple of months. I’m trying to get to the bottom of it. Thanks!

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