Difference Between Gluten-Free and Paleo

Karen Frazier
Healthy Fat Foods

The paleo diet and a gluten-free diet are two distinct eating plans. While the paleo-diet is a gluten-free diet, the gluten-free diet isn't necessarily paleo.

Dietary Differences

There are some key differences between a paleo and gluten-free diet in terms of allowable foods and driving philosophy behind the diet. The only thing excluded from a gluten-free diet are foods made with gluten-containing ingredients derived from wheat, rye, barley and some oats. On a paleo diet, while these foods with gluten-containing ingredients are disallowed, so are all other processed foods.

The following chart illustrates the differences in allowable foods between the two dietary approaches.

Food/Food Group Gluten-Free Diet Paleo Diet
Animal proteins All animal proteins are allowed unless they have been marinated in or seasoned with gluten-containing ingredients.

In paleo, the emphasis is on eating animal proteins that are raised outside of conventional practices, which includes:

  • Wild-caught fish and seafood
  • Pastured (grass-fed) organic meats
  • Pastured organic poultry
  • Eggs from free-range, organic chickens
  • Game meats
  • Organ meats (from pastured animals)
Fruits and Vegetables All fruits and vegetables are allowed. All fruits and vegetables are allowed with an emphasis on organic.
Grains

Only gluten-free grains are allowed. Grains containing gluten that are not allowed include:

  • Wheat and its derivatives (such as einkorn or spelt)
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Oats (if processed in a facility that isn't gluten-free)
No grains are allowed.
Soy Soy ingredients are allowed unless they contain gluten. Soy is not allowed.
Legumes All legumes are allowed. No legumes are allowed.
Potatoes Potatoes of all types are allowed. Only sweet potatoes are allowed.
Sugar Sugar is allowed. No processed sugars are allowed. Only natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup are consumed.
Artificial sweeteners All artificial sweeteners are allowed. No artificial sweeteners are allowed except stevia.
Processed foods Processed foods are allowed unless they contain gluten. No processed foods are allowed.
Dairy All dairy is allowed. The only allowed dairy is butter from grass-fed cattle.
Alcohol Alcohol is allowed, but people need to avoid alcohol made with gluten-containing ingredients, such as beer, malt beverages and some hard liquors. It depends on the version of the paleo diet someone is following. In general, people on paleo diets consume small amounts of hard liquor and wines as long as they don't contain added sugar. Beer, malt beverages, and sugary beverages are not allowed.
Nondairy milks

All gluten-free nondairy milks are allowed including:

  • Soymilk
  • Rice milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk

Only nondairy milks without artificial ingredients and sugar or not derived from grains or legumes are allowed, including:

  • Unsweetened almond milk
  • Unsweetened coconut milk
Soda and energy drinks Unless they contain some gluten-ingredient, soda and energy drinks are allowed. These types of beverages are not allowed.
Coffee and tea Allowed Allowed
Fats and Oils All fats and oils are allowed. Industrial seed oils are disallowed. Animal fats from grass-fed sources are allowed, as are expeller pressed oils from olives, coconuts, avocados and macadamia nuts.
Nuts and Seeds These are allowed unless they have gluten-containing ingredients. Nuts and seeds are allowed (preferably raw) provided they aren't seasoned with grains, sugars, artificial ingredients or industrial seed oils.
Herbs and spices All are allowed unless they have gluten-containing ingredients. Dried and fresh herbs and spices are allowed.
Condiments All are allowed as long as they don't have gluten-containing ingredients. People are urged to read labels carefully. In general, conventional condiments are not allowed because they contain artificial ingredients, chemicals, industrial seed oils and sugars. However, there are paleo replacements for these, such as coconut aminos to replace soy sauce and homemade mayonnaise to replace commercial versions.
Baked goods Allowed only if they are gluten-free. Not allowed unless they are made containing only paleo-approved ingredients.

Why the Diet?

People follow paleo and gluten-free diets for better health and, in some cases, weight loss. Each has unique effects on health.

Why Eat Gluten-Free?

There are many reasons why someone may eat gluten-free.

  • gluten free pastries
    In some cases, it is a personal choice because the person following the diet has heard anecdotal information about gluten, and they believe cutting it out may help them feel better or lose weight.
  • In other cases, someone following a gluten-free diet may do so out of medical necessity, because they have either celiac disease, which is a severe autoimmune gluten intolerance that causes intestinal damage, or non-celiac gluten intolerance (NCGI), which is a generalized intolerance of gluten that can lead to a host of symptoms.

Following a strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease, and it is highly effective provided the person eating this way avoids even trace amounts of gluten. On the other hand, there is no evidence that following a standard gluten-free diet causes weight loss. Since gluten-free dieters often consume gluten-free versions of foods like cookies, pasta, and baked goods, calorie expenditure tends to be about the same on a gluten-free diet as it is on a conventional diet unless the person following it is also following some other form of a weight loss program.

Why Eat Paleo?

People choose to follow a paleo diet for health reasons as well as for weight loss. Proponents of this dietary approach believe the human body has not adapted to eat modern, processed foods so returning to an ancestral way of eating--eating only foods that could be hunted or gathered as cave men ancestors did--may positively affect health and weight. Likewise, because it limits the foods you can eat and is reasonably low in carbohydrates, many believe the paleo diet supports weight loss. Some studies do show the paleo diet may be effective for both weight loss and improving things like blood sugar control and factors that affect cardiovascular disease such as cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides.

There are many versions of the paleo diet. One, known as the autoimmune paleo diet or the autoimmune paleo protocol (AIP) is a restrictive version many believe can help control inflammatory symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases. While there is anecdotal evidence to support this, a lack of long-term controlled studies means the jury is still out on whether AIP actually helps people with autoimmune conditions.

Which to Choose

If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, then either the paleo diet or a gluten-free diet will work for you. Therefore, whether you choose either of these diets depends on your health goals. If you wish to lose weight, you can do so on either diet provided you stick to eating fresh, unprocessed foods and limiting high-calorie and high-carb snacks and sugars and controlling portions. It is also possible to gain weight or maintain your weight on either diet based on your food choices. However, for inflammation and autoimmune disease or to improve overall health, the paleo diet may be a better choice due to its focus on fresh, unprocessed foods. Always check with your primary health care provider before making any dietary change.

Difference Between Gluten-Free and Paleo