The terms ‘gluten free’ and ‘paleo’ are often used in conjunction these days, sometimes interchangeably, but though two diets share commonalities, they are ultimately two different ways of eating. A gluten free diet refers only to eliminating to the grains that contain the specific gluten protein. This means avoiding all foods and drinks which contain wheat, rye, barley, as well as any hybrid versions of these grains (Wondering if you have trouble with gluten? Learn common signs of gluten intolerance). Non-gluten grains such as corn or rice are considered fine to include on a gluten free diet.
Paleo vs Gluten Free
On the other hand, while a paleo diet also excludes any food or drinks with gluten, it goes beyond eliminating only gluten. All grains, those containing the gluten protein or not, are off limits on a paleo diet. Additionally, processed foods, dairy, grain-like seeds such as quinoa, added sugars, artificial sweeteners, white potatoes, and beans and legumes are not included as part of the paleo diet. The staples of the paleo way of eating include fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, healthy fats, nuts, and seeds. Additionally, an emphasis is placed on the quality of the foods people consume in the paleo diet. While not required, selecting food choices that are organic, free range, grass fed, or pasture raised (as applicable) is highly encouraged to further maximize nutritional benefits and minimize chemical exposure.
Rationale for Considering Making the Leap to Paleo Diet
The paleo diet is obviously significantly more restrictive than a gluten free diet, so you may be wondering why you would consider making the leap from gluten free to the paleo way of eating. Proponents of the paleo diet argue that many of the modern foods that have become mainstays in the average diet are actually detrimental to our health. They argue that humans are made to eat a hunter/ gatherer style diet more similar to what our cavemen ancestors in the Paleolithic time period ate than the standard diet consumed today. Factors such as agricultural and processing practices evolving far faster than people’s bodies able to adjust these changes results in an inability to properly digest these foods. Consequently, foods that were not likely part of a cavemen’s diet are removed from the paleo way of eating.
Addresses Similar Concerns
Many people switch to a gluten free diet to address problems such as low energy levels, aches and pains, gastrointestinal (GI) issues, and mood changes. With its removal of hard to digest, potentially inflammatory foods, the paleo diet aims to address these same concerns.
Eliminates Common Gluten Free Pitfalls
One of the greatest pitfalls with a gluten free diet can be the temptation to replace foods with gluten in them with processed gluten free substitutes. Processed packaged gluten free alternatives are often filled with sugars and refined grains that offer little to no benefit over their gluten counterparts. By following the stricter standards of a paleo diet, you are far more likely to replace the gluten containing foods you used to eat with healthier choices.
Points to Consider
Some foods that are not included on the Paleo diet are actually considered to be nutritious choices by many health experts. While everyone can agree added sugars are unhealthy, other items fall into a grayer area. For example, the beans and legumes that are banned on paleo are widely considered to be a smart choice for getting a fiber filled source of protein. White potatoes offer enough benefits that programs like the Whole30 that closely mimic the Paleo diet have added them back into their programs. Depending on how you fill your diet with paleo foods, you could potentially miss out on what are good healthy choices for most people.
Take Away Application
If you are following a gluten free diet, but you have not received complete relief from the symptoms you hoped to resolved with a gluten free diet, it may be worthwhile to go beyond your current gluten free diet and make the leap to a paleo lifestyle. Because some of the foods excluded from the paleo diet can offer nutritional benefits, you may find it best to do a four to six week trial of a full paleo diet and then consider slowly adding in small amounts of some of the off limits foods. For example, you may find you can tolerate a small amount of grass fed cheese, but that corn gives you negative side effects. Ultimately, you can use paleo as a blueprint for a healthy way of gluten free eating that you can adjust to what works best for your body.