We said it! We want you to know the difference between going gluten-free, and going paleo. Then you can make an educated decision about what first step is right for you! The term “Gluten Free” is actually targeted for people who eat grains, but feel they may be reacting somehow to the gluten in wheat grains. Therefore, a good first step for many involves cutting gluten out of the diet, by switching over to the same food items (pastas, breads, treats, etc), but the gluten free version of them. This is a good first start, however, it is NOT paleo, and we will explain why. Paleo, however, is gluten free! Eating paleo involves eating pasture raised healthy meats, healthy fats, and organic vegetables and fruits. It does not involve the consumption of grains. Therefore, by default, there is no gluten in the paleo diet.
Is Gluten Sensitivity a Fad?
Although mainstream media labels gluten free a “fad” Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is a real struggle for many. According to this recent trending piece on NPR,
“About 6 percent of the global population may be sensitive to gluten, according to gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Symptoms can be similar to irritable bowel syndrome, with abdominal pain, bloating, alternating diarrhea or constipation. And there can be other symptoms, including “brain fog,” headache, fatigue and joint and muscle pain.”
The researchers suggested that a protein found in the human gut called zonulin is responsible for the immune response some have to gluten. Zonulin helps to regulate the permeable junctions in the gut (to keep pathogens out of the gut). None of us can fully digest gluten, as it is a large and foreign protein to the human gut. For some people the undigested protein triggers a release of zonulin, leading to high levels and an immune response. Therefore, we now know there is a mechanism behind gluten sensitivity, and it isn’t just a fad to remove gluten from our diet.
Why Not Just Eat Gluten Free Grains, Why Paleo?
There are several reasons why Gluten Free is not paleo. First of all, we are trying to stick with or mimic as best as possible the diet of our early ancestors (before modern diseases). The original human diet did not contain any grains. Our early ancestors hunted and gathered their food. There was no agriculture. This is a way to get the best nutrient density in the diet, and is a non-inflammatory diet. When we first started consuming grains, (10-15,000 years ago) our ancestors would properly prepare them (soaked, sprouted, or fermented) so that they could be more easily digested and assimilated by the body. Grains (all grains, even gluten free ones) contain anti-nutrients that can affect our digestion, bind to nutrients we consume, and render them unavailable for our body. These anti-nutrients (phytates and lectins) also affect our digestion, and can leave us feeling sluggish. Therefore, even if you go gluten free, you still may struggle with digestive issues and immune responses when consuming gluten free products.
Secondly, the big bad blood sugar rollercoaster! Most of us are what is known as “sugar adapted.” We are burning sugar as our primary source of fuel, and we struggle with healthy fatty acid deficiencies. When you switch over to eating gluten free grains (pastas, breads, desserts, etc), you are still fueling your body primarily with sugar. In fact, gluten free processed foods tend to have much more sugar than gluten containing ones. Therefore some people beginbeing to feel even worse, and then suggest that “I went gluten free and I felt terrible” We feel terrible because our body is constantly relying on sugar as a primary fuel throughout the day. We experience mood swings, irritability, frequent hunger, grazing all day, etc. By cutting out these gluten free processed foods and adding more healthy fats into the diet, (like avocado or coconut cream and berries), we can switch ourt body to becoming more fat adapted, or a “fat burning metabolizer”. When your body stops reaching for sugar, and you begin burning fat as your primary fuel, it is like throwing a big log on the fire, vs. constantly throwing kindling on it. You become stable and satiated throughout the day, and less “hangry.” Your mood becomes better too, because you are getting healthy fats to nourish the brain.
And yet another big reason to go all out paleo? People in the paleo community try to avoid processed foods that contain food dyes, chemicals, soy, and bad oils. The goal is to nurture and heal the body, and keep the body in an uninflamed state. Many gluten free processed foods contain harmful ingredients. Many gluten free products (even those found in the “health food” aisles, are made with GMO ingredients like soy flour, as well as food dyes, and hydrogenated oils that contribute to inflammation and autoimmune responses. Again, many people will say they went gluten free but didn’t feel any better. This is another reason why.
The truth is, health is not only about the big bad gluten. Gluten IS indeed a huge culprit. However, those who struggle with gluten most likely have a leaky gut and are therefore struggling with other issues as well. Eating paleo helps to get your body back into an uninflamed state. For many people, going all out paleo is too big a transition to make too quickly. Therefore keeping some gluten free treats is a good way to make the transition. My suggestion is to at the very least keep these gluten free processed items to a minimal amount, and read the ingredients!
However, in my personal experiences, letting these gluten free items trickle back into the diet after going paleo, can lead you right back to where you started, without even realizing it. Remember, when you stop having them, you eventually stop craving them. Plus, there are some naturally sweetened paleo treats that don’t contain harmful ingredients and can make the transition to paleo easier for you!
So how do you REALLY go gluten free? Just Go Paleo!