The terms “grain free” and “gluten free” are often used interchangeable, but there are important differences to keep in mind if you are in the process of determining which diet is right for you. While gluten is found in many grains, it does not come from all grains. This is one of several reasons being grain-free is different from following a gluten-free lifestyle. Here’s what else you need to know about the differences between these two diets and the reasons why people often follow each one.
Wheat Allergies, Grain Sensitivity, and Gluten Intolerance
Health issues are sometimes a consideration when choosing a diet. If you have a wheat allergy, eating certain grain products could produce symptoms that include nasal congestion, throat swelling, or respiratory issues. Wheat allergies often develop during infancy and are sometimes outgrown. Some people also have a grain intolerance that extends to rice, oats, and other non-wheat grains.
An inability to digest gluten properly is gluten intolerance. If you have gluten intolerance, celiac disease, or sensitivity to gluten, you’ll likely benefit from a diet free of gluten and foods with gluten-containing ingredients since a grain-free diet does not eliminate all sources of gluten from your diet. Another option is to adopt a grain-free diet and couple it with an avoidance of gluten-containing foods.
Gluten-free and grain-free diets have some similarities, especially with what your diet will primarily consist of when following either one of these diets. With both diets, your main food sources will be:
- Leafy greens
- Fresh fruits and veggies
- Protein sources like beans
Going grain-free means you will be mainly eliminating wheat products and whole and refined grains from your diet, including gluten-free grains like barley, oats, rice, and corn. However, products not technically considered grains (e.g., buckwheat, quinoa) are permitted in limited amount. There are also no restrictions on:
• Meat or fish products
• Dairy products
If you are going gluten-free, you will be eliminating all wheat products from your diet plus non-grain sources of gluten like baked goods, sauces, and gravies. You’ll also have to avoid foods with gluten-containing ingredients like bran, emmer, panko, and udon. Permitted foods on a gluten-free diet include:
Meat, poultry, and fish
Avoiding Unhealthy Gluten Alternatives
One of the potential drawbacks of a gluten-free diet for some people is an increased reliance on starchy gluten alternatives like gluten-free bread, rice, and potatoes. There are also gluten-free alternatives to beer and flour for use in baking. While you may still meet the standards for going gluten-free by turning to alternative options, you could be consuming unhealthy calories. With a grain-free diet, you’ll still be able to have complex carbohydrates, but in moderation.
Should you have a severe allergy to wheat, a grain-free diet will likely benefit you. If you have celiac disease, you may also benefit from a grain-free diet, but you’ll have to take steps to avoid other sources of gluten like some processed meats and cream-based soups and certain types of candy. Even if you’re not allergic to wheat or gluten intolerant or sensitive, a grain-free diet is worth considering since there are fewer restrictions. However, you’ll still be cutting calories and enjoying many potential health benefits.