Is That Diet Gluten-Free?
Published March, 2021
Keto, Paleo, Whole30, Mediterranean – there are so many diets out there that claim to be healthier or help you lose weight. Changing what you eat can potentially improve or optimize your health, but specific restricted diets can also be unbalanced and unhealthy.
We’ve looked at four popular diets that limit specific foods and promote others to determine how they fit in with a gluten-free diet. This information is in no way promoting any particular diet and is for educational purposes only.
Unless there is a medical/health reason for following a highly restrictive diet, such as with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, diets which eliminate or restrict whole food groups are likely to be missing key nutrients. They may also be nutritionally unbalanced and are generally not sustainable for long-term health. Diet changes should never be undertaken without the guidance of a healthcare provider or registered dietitian nutritionist.
Ketogenic (Keto) Diet
The Ketogenic, or keto, diet is a high fat and low carbohydrate diet that lowers blood sugar and insulin levels and forces your body to burn fat and ketones instead of carbs for energy, which often leads to weight loss. The diet was originally developed for children with hard-to-treat epilepsy. While some research has found some other short-term health benefits to the keto diet, there is insufficient research on the diet’s long-term health effects.
Some foods allowed in the keto diet are the following (listed only as explanation, not endorsement):
- Seafood, meat, poultry, eggs
- Nuts and seeds
- Non-starchy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, peppers, and cauliflower
- Berries (versus other fruits that are high in carbs)
- Olives, avocados
- Cheeses as well as, in moderation, cottage cheese and plain Greek yogurt
- Coconut oil, butter, and cream
- Plain coffee and tea
Is it gluten-free? The foods typically eaten on the keto diet are gluten-free if eaten plain or prepared with gluten-free ingredients. Clearly missing from the standard keto diet are breads, baked goods, and other flour-based products like crackers and pizza. Since a small amount of carbohydrates are allowed on the keto diet, these could technically be derived from gluten-containing grains. If, like most keto followers, you leave out these flour-based products entirely, you don’t have to search for gluten-free alternatives. Take note that not all packaged keto foods are gluten-free. Double check product labels to be sure.
Any downsides? The keto diet restricts many nutritious foods, including starchy vegetables and fruits, beans and lentils, and whole grains. These foods provide vitamins and minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. The focus on high fat foods in the keto diet can mean unhealthy levels of saturated fat intake.
Paleo or Paleolithic Diet
The Paleolithic diet is also known as the paleo diet, the caveman diet, and the stone-age diet and consists of foods that people imagine humans ate during the Paleolithic era. While there is no written record of what prehistoric humans ate, the diet consists of foods that were likely present in that era, anything that may have been hunted or gathered. The diet does not include any foods that have been processed or altered in any “modern” way, including grains and legumes. The Paleo diet also avoids refined sugar, salt, and usually dairy products. Most potatoes are allowed in moderation, but low-carb or keto versions of Paleo recommend avoiding potatoes.
Some foods allowed in the paleo diet are the following (listed only as explanation, not endorsement):
- Lean meats, grass-fed animals and wild game; fish, especially salmon, mackerel and albacore tuna, all rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Oils from fruits and nuts – olive oil, walnut oil, avocado oil, macadamia, and coconut oil. Also includes palm oil and lard.
- Natural sweeteners such as coconut nectar, coconut sugar, date sugar, and honey.
Is it gluten-free? The paleo diet is essentially gluten-free, particularly because there are no grains consumed. That means you can’t substitute with gluten-free grains since they are probably not foods familiar to cavemen. You can use flours that aren’t derived from grains, such as almond flour, cassava flour, tapioca flour, and coconut flour – all of which are gluten-free. Paleo baked goods tend to be heavy on the eggs, which are also gluten-free.
Any downsides? The grains and legumes you’ll be missing in a paleo diet are good sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. While it is possible to get sufficient amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, this can be harder to accomplish when food choices are limited in this way. The lack of dairy in the paleo diet means fewer sources of calcium.
The Whole30 Program
The Whole30 Program is considered an elimination diet by the founders. It involves eating whole foods and avoiding sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy for 30 days. After this first phase of the program, those foods and food groups are systematically re-introduced. The Whole30 first phase focuses on eating foods that are whole and unprocessed or have a simple list of ingredients you recognize, similar to paleo but more restrictive. On the Whole30 Program, you must avoid natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. You also need to avoid baked goods and food additives such as carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites. The program emphasizes 100% commitment, no cheating at all, and ties the diet to identifying food sensitivities, claiming to improve long term health rather than encouraging weight loss.
Here’s a list of the foods you can eat during the initial 30–day period (listed only as explanation, not endorsement):
- Meat, seafood, eggs
- Vegetables and fruits
- Nuts – almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and other nuts – but not peanuts
- Fruit juice as a natural sweetener
- Natural fats; ghee butter (but not regular butter)
- Herbs, spices, and seasonings including salt; coconut aminos
Is it gluten-free? Yes, the Whole30 Program should be gluten-free if you make sure any processed foods you consume are not made with gluten, including your herbs, spices, and seasonings. Seasonings, in particular, could contain wheat or wheat starch that has not been processed to remove gluten. Whole30 specifically says to avoid all grains, including gluten-free ones during the first 30–day phase.
Any downsides? Avoidance of grains, legumes, and dairy products can lead to an insufficient intake of important nutrients provided by these foods: calcium, vitamin D, fiber, and various other vitamins and minerals. Information on long-term health effects of the Whole30 Program is lacking.
Eating a Mediterranean diet means focusing on whole foods and heart-healthy, predominantly plant-based ingredients in a manner similar to how Greeks, Italians, and others in the region traditionally ate in the 1960s (and likely for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before). The Mediterranean way of eating was recognized in the 1960’s as being associated with lowered risk of heart disease and other health benefits. While not a prescribed part of the Mediterranean diet, red wine is often included with meals. Having family meals or gathering with friends over food and regular physical activity are also considered components of the Mediterranean diet. This way of eating has been widely recognized as a healthy dietary pattern.
Here’s a basic rundown of foods and consumption frequencies for the Mediterranean diet:
- Vegetables and fruits
- Whole grains including breads, cereal, and pasta
- Healthy fats, especially olive oil and nuts
- Herbs and spices
3 or More Times a Week: Beans, nuts, and seeds
2 to 3 times a week: Fish and seafood
Daily to weekly: Eggs; low fat options of poultry and dairy.
Use sparingly and more like a condiment than a main dish: Red meat
Is it gluten-free? The obvious non-gluten-free part of the Mediterranean diet is the inclusion of breads, cereals, and pastas, all of which could be made with gluten-containing grains. Substituting gluten-free grains for the gluten-containing ones is easy and doesn’t alter the main components of this diet. Because balsamic vinegar can be part of a traditional Greek or Italian meal, use higher quality versions that don’t use caramel coloring that could be derived from barley. The lack of packaged and processed foods helps you to avoid gluten that could be less obvious when added as a thickener or binding agent.
Any downsides? No. This is a healthy eating pattern that supports heart health. Without processed foods, the Mediterranean instantly eliminates foods that are often part of eating patterns associated with obesity and other adverse health conditions. Read the labels on herbs and spices in packaged forms or use only fresh herbs to avoid potential gluten-containing additives and consume only grain-based products made with gluten-free grains.
Living gluten-free can be challenging when it comes to watching what you eat as you avoid gluten. Limiting processed foods and ingredients, like sugar, that can be less ideal for your health are positive sides of some specialty diets. Many of these restrictive diets are unbalanced and can lead to new challenges and adverse health effects, especially if you are consuming too much saturated fat or missing out on sources of fiber, calcium, and other nutrients.
Check out 9 Things to Know About the New U.S. Dietary Guidelines to understand what the USDA recommends to eat and what to limit for optimal health. See our 4-Week Tasty Meal Plan for inspiration. Finally, talk with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist before making changes to your diet.
Disclaimer: GIG does not endorse any particular diet. We provide educational information to people living gluten-free. With any change in diet, consult your healthcare provider.
© 2021 Gluten Intolerance Group. All Rights Reserved