Gluten- and Grain-Free | The Paleo Diet®
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Gluten-and grain-free

Gluten is an anti-nutrient that is not part of a natural Paleo Diet®. However, the increasingly popular gluten-free trend is not the same thing as a Paleo Diet—simply substituting gluten-free flour doesn’t make a food healthy. The Paleo Diet promotes eating few, if any, grains, which are low in key vitamins and minerals and high in anti-nutrients.

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“Gluten-free” has become a buzzword. It’s hard to walk into a supermarket today and not find an isle of “gluten-free” products. The problem is that many of those products are cookies, cakes, and breads, which many people purchase believing the “gluten-free” label makes them healthy.

Gluten is a protein found in some cereal grains, particularly wheat. Gluten contains several anti-nutrients (molecules that are inflammatory or damaging) including a lectin called gliadin, which is the culprit in Celiac’s disease. A lectin is a protein produced by plants to protect itself from predators.

Gluten is one of the most prominent and problematic anti-nutrients, but there are many others. Wheat also contains a lectin called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) and amylase trypsin inhibitors. Almost all grains contain their own forms of anti-nutrients even if they don’t contain gluten.

These anti-nutrients—particularly lectins and saponins—have a remarkable ability to break down our intestinal barriers and cause inflammation.

Grain products such as breads, pastries, and pastas have many other issues that go beyond their anti-nutrient content. First, grain products tend to be very low in beneficial nutrients. Second, they tend to contain large amounts of both sodium and simple sugars, which has a significant impact on our acid-base balance and our glycemic load.

The glycemic index is a measure of how much a food can raise blood sugar levels. All foods are compared to a standard which is either glucose or white bread. Both top the scale at a value of 100. Just below glucose and white bread, other grain products including other breads, bagels, rice, cereal, and instant oats own the top of the glycemic index list. A high glycemic load diet—one that is dominated by grain products—contributes to insulin resistance, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease, and obesity.

Because of the anti-nutrients in all grains as well as the issues with acid-base balance and glycemic load, simply substituting wheat products with “gluten-free” alternatives doesn’t make a diet healthy. Most of the issues are still there.

As a result, The Paleo Diet recommends reducing or eliminating all grains, not just wheat. Throughout our evolutionary history there was no requirement for humans to eat grains. In fact, grain products were only introduced to our diet in the past 10,000 years, well after our last major evolutionary changes.

The simple fact that most grain products must be fortified with nutrients such as folic acid and iron should tell us all we need to know about their health benefits. No one has ever had to fortify broccoli or an apple.

If you want to eat an anti-inflammatory, healthy diet, don't bake with a gluten-free flour for your dessert. Instead, reach for a piece of fruit.

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Paleo Leadership
 
Trevor Connor
Trevor Connor

Dr. Loren Cordain’s final graduate student, Trevor Connor, M.S., brings more than a decade of nutrition and physiology expertise to spearhead the new Paleo Diet team.

Mark J Smith
Dr. Mark J. Smith

One of the original members of the Paleo movement, Mark J. Smith, Ph.D., has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the benefits of Paleo nutrition.

Nell Stephenson
Nell Stephenson

Ironman athlete, mom, author, and nutrition blogger Nell Stephenson has been an influential member of the Paleo movement for over a decade.

Loren Cordain
Dr. Loren Cordain

As a professor at Colorado State University, Dr. Loren Cordain developed The Paleo Diet® through decades of research and collaboration with fellow scientists around the world.