If you like to keep up on diet trends, you have probably heard of the gluten-free diet. This trend isn’t exactly new – neither is the Paleo Diet – but it has gained a lot of attention lately. I'm here to help shed some light on the difference between the two... because some people think they are the same thing. If you have any confusion about them.... you are not alone.
Since leading a "Paleo Lifestyle" myself, I've noticed there is a lot of confusion about Paleo vs. gluten-free. It's understandable, because unless you really look into it, it's a bit unclear. They have been called diet "fads". I do agree it's gotten out of control, but it's only because many people don't understand them. The people I know who eat Paleo, do it as a "lifestyle" to be healthier, not for weight loss, not for any other reason than to eat "clean" unprocessed foods...and therefore improve their heath. I also know people with severe food allergies, so they cannot eat gluten. What is Gluten?? Gluten is a protein found in certain foods, primarily but not limited to wheat, barley and rye.
If you know anything about the gluten-free diet, you will notice some key similarities with the Paleo Diet, mostly the fact that both are gluten-free. But gluten-free doesn't necessarily mean Paleo...so what makes these two popular diets DIFFERENT?
One difference is the MOTIVATION for making the switch to either diet: For many people, including myself, the motivation for switching to the Paleo Diet is health-based. The same is often true for those who choose to follow a gluten-free diet, but it's also a little more specifically health problems that motivate the switch.
Whereas the Paleo Diet can help to reduce your risk for chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, the gluten-free diet is geared toward a specific set of health problems – food allergies, food sensitivities, food intolerance and celiac disease.
It is estimated that 1 out of 3 people suffer from some form of food intolerance, though for many it is not significant enough for them to notice. For others, however, food intolerance or allergies can be very serious – even dangerous.
Let's compare the benefits...
The benefits of both the Paleo Diet and the gluten-free diet are linked to the motivations an individual has for making the switch. If you switch to the gluten-free diet out of necessity due to food intolerance or celiac disease, the main benefit you experience will be a relief from symptoms. But what about those who make the switch for non-medical reasons?
Both the Paleo Diet and the gluten-free diet provide a number of other benefits. The Paleo Diet, for example, is a wholesome and nutritious diet founded on whole foods like those our Paleolithic ancestors would have eaten. These foods are free from the artificial additives and genetic modification many processed foods contain. Eliminating these foods from your diet will produce such benefits as improved energy levels, regulated blood sugar and digestion, improved skin and hair health and even improved sleep patterns.
For more information on what you get to eat within the Paleo lifestyle... see my blog post "Paleo 101".
Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease
One of the key reasons people switch to a gluten-free diet is because they suffer from gluten intolerance or have been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called celiac disease. Celiac disease is a condition affecting the digestive system and it can interfere with the proper absorption of nutrients if not treated. This condition is often described as a severe form of intolerance, but it is not exactly an allergy.
When an individual with celiac disease consumes gluten, the body regards the gluten as a foreign invader and produces antibodies to fight it. Unfortunately, some of those antibodies damage your own bodily tissues – particularly in the intestines. These antibodies damage the villi, the little hair-like structures lining the walls of the intestines, which interferes with their ability to absorb nutrients.
People with celiac disease often experience symptoms of digestive upset including gas, cramping and diarrhea. Some of the more serious symptoms of celiac disease are linked to the malabsorption of nutrients – fatigue, lack of mental clarity, muscle aches, etc. There is no cure for celiac disease but following a gluten-free diet can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of the disease.
Though many people switch to a gluten-free diet out of medical necessity, others do so simply because they think it is a healthier alternative to the modern Western diet. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
The biggest thing people don't understand about "Gluten-Free"...
As gluten-free diets become more popular, food manufacturers are beginning to come out with gluten-free products. These products may be gluten-free, but that doesn’t necessarily make them healthy. Processed gluten-free foods can still be high in sugar and bad fats as well as artificial ingredients. This is why many people report "gaining weight" when switching to the gluten-free diet who don't need to for health reasons! Just because they take the gluten out...they are replacing it with something else. It doesn't automatically make it healthy.Gluten-free processed foods are STILL processed foods!!
The Paleo Diet, on the other hand, is both gluten-free and all natural. It is possible, of course, to follow an all-natural gluten-free diet by avoiding processed foods but many people who switch to a gluten-free diet out of preference do not realize the danger.
Both the gluten-free and Paleo diets are rising to the top in regard to recent health trends. As scientific and medical understanding of celiac disease and food intolerance advances, more and more people are making the switch.
It was once thought that celiac disease was incredibly uncommon, affecting only 1 in 10,000 people – now scientists understand that it affects as many as 1 in 133 Americans, whether they know it or not. In many ways the Paleo Diet and the gluten-free diet overlap – both exclude gluten-containing foods such as wheat, barley and rye – but there are still a few key differences. Gluten-free diets are exactly that...gluten-free.... so foods that don't contain gluten, including foods labeled "gluten-free". Paleo is more of a "Lifestyle". It's more of a whole food approach. Foods that were found in the paleolithic era... ALL grains are eliminated as well as dairy. In my opinion, Paleo IS a healthy way of eating. Gluten-free CAN be a healthy way of eating.
I personally do not have any food allergies or sensitivities that I know of... but since switching to a Paleo lifestyle, I FEEL so much better... clear-headed, lighter, less inflammation and bloat...so your body is better off without them. I know I am healthier now than I was before switching. I believe in having COMMON SENSE when it comes to eating. Have you heard the saying... "common sense is not that common"? Well, when it comes to eating, it's become a problem. With all the processed packaged foods, fast foods, genetically modified foods... it's no wonder people are completely lost, let alone an obese society! This is what I love about Paleo. It really gets back to basics. More important than asking, "Is this Paleo?"...ask "is this real whole food that will be good for my body? Does it have a bar code on it? Where did it come from? How was it grown? Is it going to leave me feeling nourished and satisfied or hungry and craving more? When I do buy anything in a package...all I look at are the ingredients. Not calories, not fat content...nothing but what is in it. Period. Eat real food... not fake food.
We need to listen to our bodies again. It's smart, it knows what to do. We need to nourish it though....not just "feed it" junk.
For those of you who do have celiac disease, allergies or sensitivities to gluten... I strongly urge you to watch a documentary called "Unlocking the Mystery of Wheat and Gluten Sensitivity" by Dr. Thomas O'Bryan. This DVD shows that "in sensitive individuals, gluten intolerance triggers Auto-Immune Diseases, Attention Deficient Disorders, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Migraines, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and more". Even if you don't have these health problems, I still encourage you to watch it because it really is eye-opening. I was amazed by what they have found are connected to eating grains. Some of the diseases mentioned above have been resolved by simply putting patients on a gluten-free diet. They have done studies of MRI's of the brain and it shows increased blood flow to the brain after eating a gluten-free diet... where it showed areas with NO blood flow to those same areas on the same people before changing the diet. Amazing findings that so many people could benefit from JUST by changing the way they eat. After watching that it doesn't make me want to eat grains! I look forward to reading the book "Grain Brain"... it's on my list of books I haven't gotten to!
I hope this helps to clear things up a bit. Don't go Gluten-Free just because it seems like the "thing to do"...it's not a "diet"....if you feel like you may have food sensitivities or intolerances, get tested! Find out for sure so you can adjust your food to get some relief! The documentary talks about testing and nutrition too. If you are interested in improving your overall health, do some research on Paleo... it's changed my life for the better for sure. I'm so thankful I gave it a try, because since I did I've never looked back.
Here is more information on the documentary "Unlocking the Mystery of Wheat and Gluten Sensitivity" by Dr. Thomas O'Bryan. Just a note...this is a scientific seminar DVD...not a beautifully filmed "movie". Watch it for the information...not great quality filming. Just so you know what to expect;)
-Most of this article is written by me in my own words. The facts about some of the differences, some of the benefits and the section on "Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease" was taken from an article written by Chris Hiestand in Paleo Lifestyle, Published 9/19/2013. I am not an expert, just trying to spread the word and help more people learn how to get healthy! I am fascinated by how nutrition can heal our bodies. As I learn more, I will post more on this topic and update this post!