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Gluten-Free Vs. Paleo

Gluten-free. Vegan. Dairy-free. Paleo. Whole30. So many labels exist to describe foods, diets, and lifestyle choices lately--it's hard to keep up! We often find that there is some confusion about these labels, which is not surprising. Unless you are living these lifestyles (by choice or necessity), these words are often just terms you've heard that don't mean a lot. I'd love to break down the difference between Paleo and gluten-free today, and maybe in a separate blog post, we can explore the differences between some of the other terms (for instance, what's the difference between Paleo and Whole30??).

Gluten-free is simpler to explain as it is just the absence of gluten. Gluten is the protein present in wheat, rye, barley, and malt. Gluten exists in places where you would think it would be--like breads and cereals, but it also shows up in places you never would have guessed like soy sauce, canned soup and even makeup! Gluten is harmful to people diagnosed with celiac disease. Some people who do not have celiac disease have found that they simply feel better when they don't eat it.

Pre-packaged gluten-free foods are widely available in grocery and convenience stores now, which is great for people who need to avoid it. But if a food is marked "gluten-free", does that make it healthy? No. It simply means that it is safe for someone who cannot tolerate gluten to enjoy. Gluten-free foods may still contain dairy, refined sugars, corn syrup, artificial colors/flavors and preservatives. Most gluten-free foods are made with starchy flours like corn, potato, tapioca and rice, which are high in carbohydrates. Many gluten-free foods overcompensate with sugar and salt to mask the different taste or texture that might be off-putting to consumers.

So what in the world is someone with gluten intolerance to do? Optimally, by sticking with whole foods that are naturally gluten-free, you would avoid gluten AND eat healthily. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store where you can get fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. If you still want to enjoy gluten-free grains like oats, rice, corn or quinoa, prepare them from scratch. But what about baked goods--does that part of your life have to be over?

My answer is a resounding NO and this is where we'll get into the definition of Paleo. First of all, anything that is Paleo is automatically gluten-free as well. The Paleo diet excludes gluten and other grains (like oats, rice and corn), legumes (like soy, peanuts and beans), dairy, refined oils (like canola, soybean, cottonseed) and sugars.

There are a variety of reasons why someone may choose to follow a Paleo diet. Some choose it because it helps them get better results in the gym. Some people are label readers who value "real" and whole foods and the Paleo diet only allows real and whole foods. Some people who suffer from autoimmune disease find that eliminating grains, dairy and sugar greatly decreases the inflammation in their bodies, giving them a greater quality of life.

If you are simply looking at the items you'd need to eliminate, it does sound as if following the Paleo diet would be very challenging. However, Paleo does include:

  • meats and eggs (preferably free-range/pastured)
  • nuts and seeds
  • vegetables and fruit
  • healthy oils like avocado, olive and coconut
  • natural sweeteners like honey and pure maple syrup

At first glance, it doesn't seem like baked goods are readily available with these ingredients, but Paleo may be your surprising answer to healthy, gluten-free treats that actually taste good! Instead of starchy flours, Paleo bakers use almond and coconut--not only are they tastier, they are protein-packed and nutritious. Almond flour also holds moisture well, which makes Paleo baked goods more moist and much softer than their typical gluten-free counterparts. Paleo baked goods do not rely on refined oils or sugars, but contain ingredients like coconut oil and honey. While Paleo baked goods should still be regarded as occasional treats, it is nice to know that if you want to "splurge", you don't have to go into a sugar coma to do it!

Here are the ingredients of a popular store bought gluten-free sandwich bread:

Ingredients for a popular, store bought gluten-free bread





Here are the ingredients of our Paleo sandwich bread:








I love that more and more consumers are becoming label readers, as I think we should all know and be concerned about what is in our food. As a completely Paleo business, we decided from the beginning that we would always list every ingredient on every item we sell. Typical gluten-free bakeries place more emphasis on the one ingredient that is missing from their food (gluten), while glossing over the actual ingredients used to make their items. As a 100% Paleo food company, we are proud to list all of the (real, whole, nutritious, and yes--gluten-free) ingredients that are in our food.

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