The Difference Between the Paleo Diet and the Gluten Free Diet

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Sep 19, 2013
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If you like to keep up to date with the latest health and fitness trends, you are probably familiar with the gluten-free diet. This trend isn’t exactly new – nor is the Paleo Diet – but it has gained a lot of attention in recent years.

If you know anything about the gluten-free diet, you will notice some key similarities with the Paleo Diet, namely the fact that both are gluten-free. But what makes these two popular diets different?

Motivations for Making the Switch to a Paleo Diet or Gluten Free Diet

For many people – perhaps even for you – motivations for switching to the Paleo Diet are health-based. The same is often true for those who choose to follow a gluten-free diet, but to a more specific level.

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 and intolerance.

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.

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.

The Benefits Compared

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.

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.

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.

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. If you are considering one of these two diets, make sure to consult your doctor and do a bit more research for yourself to determine which is truly the right option for you.

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