The Paleo Diet for Celiacs?

I’ve been struggling mightily with this one.

Seriously, I just deleted a couple pages I’d already written, and then decided that was very stupid.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve said before that living healthfully and gluten free is a lifestyle, not a “diet.” I just hate the connotations that come along with the word diet.  There’s so many wacky “diets” out there.  And for some reason, whenever something is a “diet,” there’s always individuals who seem to latch on to the ideas or principles presented, as the next great thing that is going to cure cancer and clean your kitchen to boot.

In all fairness, the Paleo Diet in it’s purest form is a way of eating, not a “diet.”  It’s kind of exploded beyond that though.
Is that a hotdog?

Photo Credit Rakka

A few weeks ago, I was having a e-discussion with my friend Shirley over at Gluten Free Easily about food, eating, and diet.  Shirley and I share many of the same views about food in general, and she mentioned how she seems to find weight control more successfully and easily when following a Paleo-like plan.

So what is this Paleo, you may be saying?

According to Wikipedia (really, where else would you look,) “The modern dietary regimen known as the Paleolithic diet (abbreviated paleo diet or paleodiet), also popularly referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various human species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic—a period of about 2.5 million years duration that ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture. In common usage, such terms as the “Paleolithic diet” also refer to the actual ancestral human diet.[1][2] Centered on commonly available modern foods, the “contemporary” Paleolithic diet consists mainly of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts; and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.[1][3][4]

That sounds pretty good, for starters, right?

Meats, veggies, fruit, nuts-this sounds like what I talk about all the time.  This Paleo thing sounds pretty good, right?

And the fact that grains are excluded makes it a slam dunk for celiacs.
Well, yes, kind of.

I  love the foods that they include.  All naturally gluten free, all can be highly nutritious.  What I don’t like so much are all the exclusions.  I like beans, and find them a good source of protein and carbohydrate.  Tasty, too.  Same goes for dairy (as I am not casein or lactose intolerant.)  And no rice, ever?

Maybe it’s just the inner rebel in me, but if someone says I can’t have something it makes me want it more.

I’ve recently been reading more from Mark Sisson at Mark’s Daily Apple.  He’s taken a riff on Paleo, and called it Primal .

From what I’ve read, his approach is a bit more realistic, and flexible, which I like.  He even indicates that dairy and rice (gasp!) would be acceptable in certain circumstances. 

Robb Wolf also has a bit more flexibility in approach, especially for athletes, and I like that quite a bit.  I recently listened to a podcast interview with him and if I am remembering correctly, his Mom has celiac disease.

Another person with some good stuff to say is Dr. Kurt Harris at PaleoNu.  He has a 12 step “getting started” which I like quite a bit, with the exception of meal frequency (I think it’s more individual than he indicates.)

Here’s one of my big issues with the Paleotards, and those non-obsessed, but following one principle I have issue with.

Insulin is THE DEBIL! (Cue Kathy Bates as the Mom in the Adam Sandler movie The Waterboy.)

Insulin secretion is not, in fact, the devil. 

James Krieger did a great overview of insulin on his blog, which I highly recommend you check out.  Here’s the Cliffs Notes version: insulin is not necessarily bad, although it can be circumstantially, and if there is not a caloric surplus, (yes, calories do matter,) fat will not be stored.  I also very much like the analogy that Kurt Harris uses of insulin being like a bouncer at a club.  Logic and reason for the win.  Insulin in the face of a caloric deficit will not magically make you fat.

Also, there is no magic to eating in a Paleo fashion which will make you lose weight.

A higher protein intake is recommended, and that is something I wholeheartedly support.  However, there is no “metabolic advantage” to a higher protein diet.  As James Krieger so eloquently illustrated in another post on his fine blog, the magic isn’t magic.  It’s satiety.

Satiety=feeling full.

A lower carbohydrate, higher protein diet makes you feel fuller.

So, you eat less. The magic happens because you are eating less CALORIES!  Yes, it’s easier because you feel fuller, but it’s not magic.

So is the Paleo or Primal way of eating a good way to go for celiacs?

I think it’s a good start.  My personal approach is more moderate.  I do recommend, and personally choose, to eat whole, naturally gluten free foods most often. That does, for the most part, coincide with the Paleo approach.  However, I don’t like being exclusionary, especially to entire groups of food (like dairy, if you tolerate it.)  I offer a free guide which gives some more of my ideas (like you haven’t listened to me enough already!) on healthy gluten free nutrition.

Accept no approach blindly.  Do your research, get educated, and make an informed decision.  Don’t be afraid to take bits and pieces from different areas and make them your own.

The Frankenstein Diet.  I like it.

What do you think?  Have you put together your own Frankenstein?  Have you tried Paleo?  Hit it up in the comments!

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  1. Interesting post, Erin! Loren Cordain is from CSU (Colorado State, near me) and has been advocating this “dietary” lifestyle for a long time now. He’s the Paleo guy and his research is bio-evolutionary and exercise physiology based. His study interests are acne and also autoimmunity. His theory is that lectins play a role in autoimmune diseases. A friend of mine did an interview with him years ago and said he’s a fascinating character.

    I’m with you on the word “diet” as it has such a negative connotation. I tell my clients they’re not going on a “diet” — they’re simply changing what they eat. Making lifestyle changes. We’re all biochemically unique and what works for one person may not work at all for others. We also have different needs as we go through different phases of our lives. Your advice of taking “bits and pieces of different philosophies and making them your own” is perfect!

    Good post!
    Melissa

  2. Erin,

    Thank you for linking to my site and referring people to my article. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement you made:

    “Accept no approach blindly. Do your research, get educated, and make an informed decision. Don’t be afraid to take bits and pieces from different areas and make them your own.”

  3. Frankenstein diet. Ha ha. But, let’s run with this for a minute. Frankenstein, or more correctly, Frankenstein’s monster, was so misunderstood. If you read the original book which I did when I was getting my English degree, you’ll learn that Frankenstein’s creation (who is often called Frankenstein mistakely; Victor Frankenstein was his creator) started out being a good guy. However, he was rejected again and again when he tried to make friends because he was so ugly and scary looking, so he eventually he became a monster from that rejection.

    In our discussion, the other day I shared that the paleo diet with certain foods being removed stops my cravings. In fact, it stops them cold. I can suddenly focus on so much more than food. It’s not at all about feeling more full IMO. When I eat the non-paleo foods, I become the monster, slowly but surely … wanting more and more, and feeling completely out of control. I love the idea of eating a little bit of this and that and not excluding foods (as I struggle with excluding them), but I don’t like becoming the “monster” when I eat them.

    So truly, for some folks, the paleo diet is the way to go. Are those folks/me less evolved than some of our friends/other humans? Maybe. ;-) I do totally agree that figuring out what works for each individual is the answer and we see it all the time on blogs, in articles, etc. I just read a blog post on a woman who lost about 50 lbs just by adding healthy fats to each meal. She did nothing else differently, but the addition of healthy fats made her feel full, hence naturally stopping her from eating more food, and worked for her weight loss. her story supports your satiety thinking. I believe meat, fish, fruit, veggies, and healthy fats are the best things we can be eating. When I add in grains (even gf ones), dairy, and sugar, personally I have issues. Others can do great with them and eat them in moderation. One just has to figure out what works and stick with it. (Repeating this last sentence to myself over and over!)

    Great discussion post, Erin!

    Shirley

  4. Erin says:

    Hi Melissa!
    Yes, I’ve heard Dr Cordain speak and read some of his writings. Fascinating for sure, interesting, and a bit overly extreme for me. I’ve also heard the lectin theory. Baby steps I think, at first.
    We need to come up with a new word for “diet,” something fun, swamp-juice esque ;)
    And yes-biochemically unique is a great way to put it. Different genetics, different activity levels, different environmental factors, all play a part.
    Learn and individualize!

  5. Great post!

    I’m 99% the headaches and rashes I can’t rid are due to grains. Pretty wild. I’m in the challenging/testing period of this. I feel soooo much better eating a flexible paleo diet.

    Keep up the amazing work!
    Lauren Lucille

  6. Erin says:

    Hi James and thanks for stopping by!
    I am very appreciative of the time and effort put into your research and writing, then sharing it with us. I have learned, and will continue to learn from your writing. My goal is to continually reevaluate my own opinions and positions based on new information, and you provide both a great source of information and a positive role model in flexibility of thought.
    Phew! That was a mouthful!

  7. Erin says:

    Hey Lauren!
    I remember you mentioning that your skin condition was clearing. Glad it’s helping! Keep us posted on how you feel.

  8. AmandaonMaui says:

    Hi Erin,

    I don’t like the exclusionary thing either. However, I can see how cutting out dairy and grains would help some people lose weight. They’d be cutting out pastries, ice cream, etc. These are things that usually push over our caloric need. By cutting them out, people would be eliminating a lot of calories and might lose a few pounds.

    Still, I think that legumes and grains are useful and delicious. On the nutritional level they have protein, fiber and vitamins to offer us.

    I am definitely a Frankendiet kind of gal. I however am not an orthorexic gal (great term that means I don’t follow every diet and end up making myself ill while trying to make myself extremely healthy, Michael Pollan used it in “In Defense of Food.”)

    I am a lot Michael Pollan, a little Nourishing Traditions, and a bit of a pie-o-vore.

  9. Erin says:

    Hey Amanda,
    Too funny about the pie-o-vore! I love it :)
    Yes, if people cut out pastries, ice cream, and junk they would certainly improve their health and body composition. I don’t know if it’s necessary to completely eliminate even the decently nutritious in that category. Maybe it is, but I’ll wait for more information before I give up certain items.
    And orthoexia is an interesting term, I’ve seen a couple of definitions. In some ways it doesn’t seem too bad-yes, I’m concerned about the quality and quantity of food I put into my body. As always, there are extremes to everything.

  10. Erin says:

    Shirley!
    So glad this piece of insight did not get left in the spam folder-that would have been horrible!
    Thank you for sharing that for you, the benefit of eating in a Paleo-esque manner is the craving control as opposed to the satiety factor. I’m sure that is true for many others as well, I know for myself when I keep my diet fairly “clean” I also experience less cravings, but one bite of simple sugar leads to wanting more.

    I think your point about feeling in control and being able to think about more than food is key. To you, that is what works. The idea of being exclusionary with some foods or food groups works awesomely for some as you’ve experienced, and for others the fact that a certain food is “forbidden” makes us want it more. Just as in all of this, there is no right or wrong, only individual preferences and experience.
    I think it’s absolutely NOT less evolved ;)
    As you said, the cornerstones of all diets (eating patterns) should be a protein sources (meat/poultry/fish/eggs etc,) veggies, some fruit and healthy fats. Then the rest is largely a result of genetics, activity level, preference and goals. As Melissa says, we all have our own biochemistry.
    Your last point is too key to not reiterate. “One just has to figure out what works and stick with it.
    That sums it up rather nicely :)

  11. Hi Erin,

    Great post about the Paleo “diet.” I echo other people’s comments about finding what works for you, and drawing upon aspects of different “diets” to customize a lifestyle that suits you.

    When it comes to the Paleo diet, there are definitely some gray areas that I think warrant further thought…

    For example, in today’s era of more ethical eating, increasing numbers of people are opting for some form of a vegetarian or vegan diet. What would happen if you suddenly eliminated meats from a Paleo diet, where such protein sources are a staple?

    Also, I don’t like how the Paleo diet vilifies all grains. (Heck, with its emphasis on a hunter-gathered gastronomy, it seems to indict all organized agriculture, in a way.) I think that some Paleo adherents forget the great contributions of agriculture and grains to society. We should remember that agriculture – and the storability of both gluten-ous and gluten-free grains – enabled hunter-gatherers to settle down and form societies and civilizations. Grains sustained people through periods of drought and winter when famine might have normally been a problem. And a surplus of grains permitted some members of society to stop focusing on where their next meal would come from, and instead specialize in other areas (medicine, science, art, music, etc.). As much as Paleos point the finger at health problems that have arisen over time – supposedly as a result of agriculture and grains – where would society be today culturally without those grains?

    I could go on, but I’ll cut myself off here. Just wanted to offer some more food for thought…

    Cheers, Pete

  12. Erin says:

    Hi Pete, and thanks for coming by!
    The cultural aspect is an excellent point, and one I didn’t even touch. It’s very true that the establishment of grain as a food source is what allowed society and culture to form as we now know it.
    I have recently been in contact with a person who is vegetarian, and celiac. She may also have other food intolerances which are being explored, and it does make it extremely difficult to ensure that all nutritional bases are being covered.
    Thanks for the great thought provoking post!

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