Paleo and Gluten-Free: Pros and Cons of Two Trendy Diets

With so many trendy diets flying around these days, it’s hard to keep them all straight. Many of today’s specialty diets offer nutritional advantages, but along with these perks can come fallbacks for the inattentive dieters among us. It’s nearly impossible to follow the nutritional pyramid to a T, but doctors do advise that dieters be aware of their bodies’ reactions to restrictive eating habits. If you’re planning to cut out a certain element of your diet, be sure to supplement with a balanced stream of vitamins and minerals. This way, you’ll meet your weight loss goals, without sacrificing your health.

Below are two of today’s most popular diets, along with some advice on how to maintain a healthy, balanced metabolism while trying to shed extra weight or build muscle.



Meat | Source: iStock

According to WebMD, Paleo is also called the Caveman Diet or the Stone Age diet, and it is characterized by “a high-protein, high-fiber eating plan that promises you can lose weight without cutting calories.” All in all, this means Paleo is a carnivore-friendly diet with a focus on fresh lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and healthier sources of fat. Paleo stresses the avoidance of processed foods such as dairy, refined sugars, starches (potatoes), and salt. Paleo is based on the philosophy that because these products were not available to our Stone Age ancestors, our bodies have not evolved to the point where we can healthily digest them.

Paleo, like most diets, has its benefits. Time reports that “cutting down on preservative-packed processed foods” is an intelligent move. Scientific American compounds this statement, writing that “such processed foods often offer less protein, fiber and iron than their unprocessed equivalents, and some are packed with sodium and preservatives that may increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.” So far, so good.

Paleo criticism does exist, however, and it stems from the argument that the diet is overly restrictive of what its adherents are able to consume. As Scientific American writes, “The Paleo diet bans more than just highly processed junk foods — in its most traditional form, it prohibits any kind of food unavailable to stone age hunter-gatherers, including dairy rich in calcium, grains replete with fiber, and vitamins and legumes packed with protein.” In other words, strict Paleo adherents can neglect to eat many healthy sources of nutrients available to us today.

Scientific American further suggests that the intent to emulate precisely what our Stone Age ancestors ate is not only needless, but impossible: “If humans and other organisms could only thrive in circumstances similar to the ones their predecessors lived in, life would not have lasted very long.” Evolution has come a long way, and as the University of Zurich’s Christina Warinner further emphasizes, “Just about every single species commonly consumed today — whether a fruit, vegetable or animal — is drastically different from its Paleolithic predecessor.”


people following gluten-free diets can eat quinoa

You can eat quinoa on a gluten-free diet | Source: iStock

According to the Mayo Clinic, the popular gluten-free diet is characterized by the complete exclusion of a certain protein (gluten) from the diet. Gluten-free dieters avoid foods that contain or are processed with gluten-containing grains, such as barley, rye, and wheat.

A gluten-free diet is recommended — and necessary — for people with celiac disease (1% of Americans) or gluten sensitivity. A well-balanced approach to this diet can indeed have its merits, but, experts warn gluten-free dieters stay mindful, ensuring that their bodies are still receiving and processing all of the nutrients necessary to maintain a clean bill of health. Peter H.R. Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, says that a gluten-free diet can pose issues for people who don’t have these conditions: “Unless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber.”


Quinoa | Source: iStock

While gluten itself does not contain unique nutritional benefits, the whole grains that contain the protein often do. According to WebMD, whole grains are “rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber.” The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that “at least half of all grains eaten are whole grains,” with supporting studies showing that whole-grain foods as part of a balanced diet can reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

When approached responsibly, a gluten-free diet can be a healthful way to manage weight loss. But rather than cutting out all grains, try replacing glutenous grains with nutritious whole grains like millet, quinoa, and amaranth, says U.S. News & World Report.

With a mindful outlook, any diet can be tailored to the healthy management of muscle tone and weight. To compensate for the shortcomings typically associated with your preferred diet, alternatives can often be found that fit within the dictated guidelines. Seeking healthy alternatives will allow you to maintain a healthy and balanced diet without sacrificing your fitness goals.

More from The Cheat Sheet: