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!



There is a TON of science being done in this line of thought, and it is supporting and proving to be on target in many ways. Try Googling some of the subject topics outside of the diet and educate yourself before making ignorant and useless blanket statements. Better yet, read JAMA.

I find it interesting that you would post such an opinion on this site – run by a scientist whoe provides a scientific explanation for nearly everything. One of the reasons I enjoy The Paleo Mom is because all of her information is rooted in science, and there is proof not only that a specific guideline works but why it works. That gives me confidence that guidelines are safe and have a purpose.

I thought peppers etc help pain because of message they trigger in brain when digested/effect taste buds? I thought some of those spices listed, turmeric, fennel eek etc had healing qualities?

chinese 5 spice does not contain peppercorn, Sichuan/Szechuan peppercorn is used and that is not actually a peppercorn but the husk from around the seeds.

also on your safe spice you have mace but mention nutmeg on your aviod list, surely these would be on the same list.

I’m wondering if dried spices (the approved ones) are okay. I heard that sometimes they can include anti-caking ingredients. I’m looking at all my spices and most of them don’t even contain an ingredient label. Should I assume that means they are just the pure spices with nothing added?

Do you have a works cited page for this? I love that you researched all of this and I want to be able to cite your page to use in my research, but I cant cite it unless i know you have your own works cited or that you got your information from reliable sources.

i saw mustard and went, what???? no mustard??
then i thot, helene, you can do no mustard, no red hot sauce, even no apple cider vinegar if you must. you have just fasted 3 days, the first with only water, the rest with only salt, lemon n lime juice. you have eaten only veggies, salt and a tbsp of coconut oil for 2 days after that. food tastes amazing now…the cooked veggies in coconut oil for dinner finally on the 5th day was superb!
if we keep our appetite up and eat very little but what sustains us, it will taste amazing.
seeing as the cravings are gone we can easily forgo the junk too. we will be satisfied.
granted i havent done this more than a few days but ive done other restrictive diets and suffered the whole time. just feeding my body is delighting it now…and thats never happened before but when i went raw, 12 yrs ago, for several months. i will add in meat when i feel i need it, but definitely in 3 wks. that was my downfall with the raw diet, no fat or protein.
we can do this if we must. hopefully we can add back eggs and things, but we do what we must to regain quality of life/lose wgt.
i highly recommend starting with a fast, even a juice fast for several wks. im doing a juice fast rly, its just not juiced veggies but whole or blended. i added the fat to satiate me as veggies alone, even with a little fruit added (juices 80veg/20fruit), can not hold you more than a few days without causing suffering and im done suffering. i want to “eat my juices” for 3 more wks, with rare cooked veggies, yes. no fruit, no protein till i rly need it.
im actually looking forward to watching my body blossom. it has already felt more like my friend in just a few short days.

Coriander is not a seed although it is called that due to the fact that the dried FRUIT is hard and appears seedlike. Like any fruit, it does contain seeds. In this case there are 2, making up a very small percentage of the whole. Try comparing dried coriander to plantable cilantro (which IS coriander) or parsley seeds to see the difference.

Question about tumeric:

I have Hashimotos and am curious if making a drink using a tumeric bug is going to be alright? I believe I have heard that it is great for supporting the immune system, but since I’m dealing with an auto-immune disease, I’m confused on whether or not something like this would be ok, or stimulating in a bad way??? Does that make sense?

I have a question to ask you…

Would Fenugreek leaves (AKA Kasuri Methi) be considered AIP? I am not talking about the fenugreek seeds, which I know are not, but the dried or fresh leaves of the fenugreek plant.
These are often used dried in Indian cooking, often sprinkled over curries etc, and the fresh leaves can be eaten as a green vegetable. They taste a bit like bitter celery leaves…

Everything I have read seems to indicate that they may well be AIP – and from what I have read, they seem to have a beneficial effect on digestion and liver function.

I would value your opinion.


Question – US Wellness Meats liverwurst contains coriander seed. Does this mean if you are following the AIP you cannot eat liverwurst from US Wellness Meats?

Musturd is relatively high in omega-3. I’ve actually been eating a lot of it, and I’ve noticed that my psoriasis is much-reduced when I eat it. I doubt it’s a good idea to eat so much of it in the long term, but I’m desperate. It’s basically doing what prescription drugs can do. Likely with the same ill-health effect(s).

Nevertheless, see:
J Dermatol. 2013 Jul;40(7):543-52. doi: 10.1111/1346-8138.12119. Epub 2013 May 19.
“Mustard seed (Sinapis Alba Linn) attenuates imiquimod-induced psoriasiform inflammation of BALB/c mice.”

I cannot tolerate nightshades and feel I am having problems with spices—info contained on your web site VERY helpful—many thanks

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