Spices on the Autoimmune Protocol

July 26, 2012 in Categories: , by

Print Friendly

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.

That’s really not true. There are loads of studies on this stuff. It might be a little hard to find but this diet has been well researched. Sarah Ballantyne is a PhD and can be looked up by her renown contributions to science and health. I encourage you to look her up. :)

Sarah is the one who wrote “The Paleo Approach Reverse Autoimmune Disease and heal your body” I’m pretty sure she wrote a cookbook too.

CB- to each their own. I for one have benefited from following the auto-immune Paleo diet and I would still be on intense pain medications that caused problems just from taking them. I for one would appreciate not reading comments such as yours. Go talk with a functional medicine doctor who is also a MD and see what they have to say about it. Remember some medical practices were considered absurd prior to becoming common practice.

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.


Charlotte, any ‘leaf’ spices such as kasuri methi which is dried fenugreek leaves from the province of Qasar in Pakistan are allowed

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

I’m confused about the logic of the AIP diet. It excludes even a sprinkle of many spices on the grounds that they are seeds, but as far as I can tell it allows rasp/blackberries and figs, does not caution to remove seeds from plantains, etc.
So… Is there some kind of philosophical reason to believe that seed spices are of a different nature than fruit seeds? Or has the entirely of the AIP blogosphere just not noticed consciously that those lumpy things in fruit are called seeds? The second one seems unlikely, the I haven’t seen any evidence of the first.
I’m a week in (haven’t seen a lick of difference yet, but I’m going to persevere for a while longer), and I’m not sure if I should be being extra-consistent by excluding seedy fruits, or follow logic and include seedy spices in moderation.

I’m going to quote Paleo Mom from another article on her website:

“So, my rule of thumb with seeds in fruit and vegetables is that if they are big enough that you might break them apart with your teeth, don’t eat them (like maybe cucumber seeds or pomegranate seeds), but if they are small enough to enter your digestive system intact (like berries, bananas, kiwis) then they are typically okay (that being said, they are something to look at if you aren’t seeing improvement on the AIP).”

But for a full description you should read her book.

Wow. ASD much? No worries if so me too. Just spot others who have it pretty quick. Not sure if this helps, but not all seeds cause an auto immune flare like nightshades do. Your comment about e fruit seeds made me laugh. I have to agree with you. It is all VERY confusing.

What about a detox tea made with some of these seeds (I think it’s cumin, fennel and coriander). You strain the actual seeds out of course. Still bad?

Thank you for all this helpful information. You have clarified a lot of things for me, but I am still confused about one thing: You say to be careful about spices which contain seeds, but what about fresh berries such as blueberries? Should I also be careful of these seeds at first. And what about the seeds in things like cucumbers and summer squash? I appreciate the help, thank you.

I just learned this today from Sarah’s book!: Seeds found in fruits and veggies have a friendlier defense system… If u can eat it raw, then its fine. If u have to cook it, it has gut damaging lectins.

Thank you so much for the reply. I’ve been wondering about this for several weeks, as I keep seeing AIP recipes that include these foods. So good to know that I can enjoy my fresh berries and cucumbers.

Hi Sarah,
What about Asafoetida powder? I’m doing a Low-Fodmaps version of AIP so I’m missing the flavor of Onion and Garlic. Is Asafoetida safe to try?


Probably not. Asafoetida/hing is usually made with wheat or rice starch. I haven’t seen any that’s AIP friendly, which is a shame because it’s very good for you oterwise.

I have celiac, and just started on the AIP this week. I got tired of scaly itchy rashes from my head to toes, which bled profusely. Painful, difficult to wear clothes, not to mention the itch and takes longer to heal.

A few questions on some items I eat that are not addressed in the AIP protocol (being Chinese ancestry and eating mostly Asian foods):
– water chestnuts;
– lily bulbs;
– hairy mountain yam (aka Dioscorea opposita);
– lotus root;
– lotus seeds;
– taro (both Colocasia esculenta and eddoe);
– konnyaku (devil’s yam, Amorphophallus konjac);
– is there a sago palm starch we can use instead of tapioca from cassava?
Thanks for all your help.

Hi all – I wonder if anyone can tell me if there are any herbs I should be eating fresh rather than dry or if it doesn’t matter either way? I know fresh will be better generally speaking as some of the good stuff can be lost when dried but didn’t know if there is anything I should avoid all together in dried form?

Couldn’t find this in either of the books or on the website. Forgive me if this sounds like a stupid question!

I hope everyone is on their way to better health and healing well.

I purchased the book and am working my way through it as I’m doing a 30 day reset. I am on day 10 right now and just saw black pepper on this list (which I hadn’t realized) I have only been using fresh herbs and salt and pepper because I have been so wary about getting any nightshades or seeds and I thought the black pepper was ok! Do I need to restart the 30 day reset?! Any information would be very much appreciated!

Was wondering if you could answer some questions about bone broth. If I am doing a Low FODMAPs protocol in addition to AIP, can I cook the meat/bones with garlic and onions as long as when I strain I don’t include any in the broth or ingest any with the meat? or is that cheating?

Hi Sarah and Christina,
I have a somewhat esoteric question. I am avoiding eating all of these seed and nightshade ingredients, but what about smelling them? I make hot sauce as part of my work. The spicy aroma definitely gets in the air. Am I setting myself back at work? Thank you for any insight you may have.

There’s no evidence in the scientific literature that the compounds in seed and nightshade spices could be a problem by smell as long as you aren’t anaphylactically allergic.

I know fennel seeds are best to avoid on AIP, but what about fennel pollen? I just came across this spice today and am curious about it.

May I ask this very important question? What about chocolate! I can’t (well I don’t want to) live without chocolate. I have been making sure my chocolate that I eat does not contain any soy lecithin or cocoa processed with alkali but cocoa is a nut, right and I saw vanilla bean listed the list to be cautious about.

Hi everyone,
I have just been diagnosed with Lichen Planus. The skin specialist prescribed Acetretin which I have been taking for a couple of weeks but it doesn’t seem to be working. I am now given to understand that I need to be on it for at least a month before I see any improvement if any and it may not even last.
I am considering the AIP diet after all I have read on here.
I didn’t notice Lichen Planus on the list of AI diseases here and am wondering if anyone can help with any information and advice. I am seeing a Chinese herbalist tomorrow. Has anyone with Lichen Planus had relief with this diet and/ or Chinese herbal medicine or acupuncture? I would appreciate any advice I can get. Thank you very much.

What do you think about seeds in tea? For instance teas that contain milk thistle seed, fennel seed, fenugreek seed?

I’m in desperate need of allergy medicine that is AIP friendly. Food and drink wise I’ve been in AIP a week strictly, no cheating, only to find out all my supplements contain no no ingredients. Loratidine helped a bunch and without it, I can’t stop sneezing and can’t breathe through my nose. Any suggestions ?

Do you have The Paleo Approach? Sarah discusses allergies on pages 306-307. Different food allergies go hand in hand with other environmental allergies so cutting out the foods that are associated with whatever environmental allergens you are reacting to can be helpful. Anti inflammatory foods (which you should be eating in large quantities already with AIP) are also beneficial. And vitamin C has shown to be helpful for allergies. Of course, it’s important that you discuss all of these things with your healthcare provider. -Kiersten

Be cautious as some of the safe spices are not at all, at least for me. These include: horseradish(horrible), chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper.

Hi, I was wondering about onion powder. I was under the impression that we had to avoid onions, but see onion powder listed as an allowed spice. (I’m sitting here hoping onions are indeed allowed!!!!)


Onions do not need to be avoided on the autoimmune protocol unless you are also avoiding FODMAPs. -Kiersten

Do you have any information on Pippali, or piper longum? It is a cousin to black pepper but not the same, and typically used to respiratory problems in Ayurvedic medicine. Can this be used on the AIP? I need to know if I need to discontinue use.

Hi Dr. Ballyntyne and Co.,
Are Sichuan peppercorns aip acceptable? They are the husk (pericarp) around the seed of a couple of plants in the genus Zanthoxylum, but not the seed itself. Sichuan peppercorns in addition to being spicy have a numbing/tingly quality due to the hydroxy-alpha-sanshool.
I really miss heat in dishes on the aip and would love to know. . . .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *