Those with Celiac disease have the most severe reaction to gluten. Over time, gluten will damage their intestines. It may take several months or even years to gradually develop symptoms, and can only be diagnosed by a biopsy of one’s intestine. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and severe abdominal pain.
The second category of people who have reactions to gluten are those with a wheat allergy. Symptoms vary from person to person and may include skin, respiratory tract and gastrointestinal reactions. A blood test or a skin prick test for wheat will diagnose a wheat allergy.
Others who should avoid gluten are those who are sensitive to or intolerant of gluten. Their symptoms will be similar to that of Celiac disease, and can be felt hours to days after exposure. The major difference is that gluten will not damage their intestines. There is no test to detect gluten sensitivity. If someone suspects they may be gluten sensitive/intolerant, they should follow a gluten-free diet and see it their symptoms go away.
There are several grains that are naturally gluten-free including rice, corn, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, millet and sorghum. So while these can be consumed on a gluten-free diet, they are not allowed on the Paleo Diet.
Why No Grains Are Allowed on Paleo
The Paleo Diet models foods that were eaten by humans during the Paleolithic age, dating from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. For the most part, grains were part of the agrarian age, which directly followed. While there is evidence that in some parts of the world humans may have been eating some grasses prior to this, the negatives associated with grains outweigh the positives.
Grains are Simple Carbohydrates
Grains are very simple carbohydrates, which means they break down into sugar quickly. This will cause a spike in blood sugar level, which causes a spike in insulin levels. This prevents the body from burning fat since it needs to convert the excess glucose in the bloodstream into energy while storing the rest as fat.
Besides gluten, grains contain two other anti-nutrients: lectins and phytates. Lectins are found in a lot of plants to discourage predators from eating. It’s difficult to completely avoid them but by far grains contain the most lectins. Eating a substantial amount of lectins can cause intestinal damage, an imbalance between good and bad bacteria in the intestines, and leptin resistance, which is a pre-diabetic condition.
Phytates (phytic acid) are found in all plant foods but the most concentrated sources tend to be in whole grains and beans (also banned on the Paleo Diet). Phytic acid plays an important role in preventing free radicals, making it an antioxidant and helpful in warding off cancer. Other benefits include protecting against osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, kidney stones and diabetes.
However, too much phytic acid has its downsides. It can bind with minerals (such as iron, calcium and magnesium) in the intestines before they can be absorbed. It also can reduce the digestibility of starches, proteins and fats by acting as an enzyme inhibitor.
Eating seeds and nuts, including nut butters and flours, are a better source of phytic acid than grains and legumes (beans, peanuts, soybeans). But eating too much of these can be just as detrimental, so don’t sit down with a large bag of almonds and make a meal of them.
My mother used to bake bread every Monday and I became addicted to it at a young age. When a doctor put me on the Paleo Diet in 2016 after a serious car accident, I knew it was going to be bread that I missed the most. But I’ve discovered you can make wonderful Paleo bread with Paleo approved flours. I recently made Brazilian Cheese Bread, which uses arrowroot flour that is made from a tropical root. Even the grain eaters I’ve given these to love them and would never guess they contain no grain. Yes, I am well aware that cheese is not allowed on the Paleo Diet, and that will be the subject of a future post.