Friends, I know how confusing the alternative food choices are and I’m here to hopefully clear things up, especially when it comes to sweets, breads, biscuits and anything dough.
I mainly develop grain free, keto friendly, gluten free recipes here, although you may see other recipes as well.
It’s easy to confuse gluten free, paleo and keto as one and the same. Sometimes a product can be all three, but they are not interchangeable. I will also discuss briefly the carnivore diet and the new ketovore diet at the end of this article.
- Gluten free foods are usually grain free, but not starch or sugar free. Most keto friendly foods are gluten free, but gluten free products are not necessarily keto friendly and are often high in carbs.
- Grain free foods are usually gluten free, but not necessarily sugar free. Grain free foods are sometimes keto friendly but not always and can be high in carbs.
- Paleo foods are grain free, are usually gluten free, sometimes keto friendly, but not always.
- Products labeled grain free, wheat free, gluten free or keto friendly are not usually low calorie products.
- Carnivore may or may not be a keto diet, but a keto diet is not a carnivore diet. Stay tuned for the new ketovore diet.
Confused yet? Let me help you navigate these food trends.
What Does Gluten Free Mean?
It means just that, no gluten whatsoever. Gluten is most commonly found in breads or anything made with wheat, but can be found in other products like soy sauce. This tart crust is gluten free, made with rice flour, but it is not grain free or keto.
Gluten is found in many grains, including wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. Wheat is the most common, making most bread products and baked goods off limits, unless they are made with alternative flours. The two main proteins in gluten are glutenin and gliadin.
Other foods that contain gluten include soy sauce, beer, ale and stout.
Gluten and Health Issues
It seems that eating gluten free is trendy, however, gluten can have serious health implications for certain people, especially those with autoimmune diseases.
People with celiac disease (an auto immune disorder) cannot eat any gluten whatsoever. Gluten will damage the lining of the small intestine and prevent the absorption of nutrients.
People with gluten sensitivity may not be diagnosed as having celiac, but may experience adverse affects from consuming gluten. Two of the most common adverse effects people report are joint pain, rash, brain fog and gastrointestinal issues.
People with hashimotos, like myself, cannot eat gluten, as studies have shown gluten may cause an inflammatory response that attacks the thyroid.
I can no longer eat gluten without suffering gastrointestinal issues or joint pain. When I gave up gluten, my chronic hip pain completely disappeared.
The most popular post in my gluten free recipes is the gluten free biscuit recipe. It’s not grain free, not keto, but has no gluten, made with rice flours.
Gluten Free Products: Are They Good For You?
If you have to eat gluten free for your health (celiac, gluten sensitivity, thyroid issues), you need to know which products actually contain gluten.
Read labels and moderate your intake of processed gluten free products. Many of the rice flour/tapioca flour laden products spike blood sugar and are not diabetic friendly, keto friendly, or paleo friendly. They can also make you fat if you consume too much of them. This doesn’t mean they don’t have value and aren’t the answer to prayer for those who must avoid gluten for health reasons.
In the last ten years, gluten free products hit the processed food market attracting millions of consumers wanting to improve their health. Products can claim they are gluten free as long as they don’t have the grains mentioned below. The grains and starches typically used in gluten free products are rice flour and tapioca starch.
These types of breads, cookies, cakes are not diet products, and are often mistaken as healthier. They can be considered healthier if you suffer from Celiac disease, but they are high in starch, often high in sugar and can spike blood sugar. These types of products are NOT keto friendly or low carb, but can certainly be enjoyed periodically.
Foods that Contain Gluten
- Wheat (found in breads, cakes, cookies, pasta, gravy, sauces)
- Oats (unless specified processed in gluten free environment)
- Soy Sauce
- Some condiments (read labels)
Grains Considered Gluten Free
- Gluten Free Flours (usually contain rice, potato starch, tapioca starch).
If you are gluten sensitive, these are the better choice, but they still need to consumed in a balanced fashion. Much of the processed gluten free cookies and cakes found in the grocery store are full of sugar and should be eaten in moderation.
My favorite gluten free flour is from Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Flour.
Quinoa is a seed that acts as a grain and is gluten free. I love this red quinoa breakfast.
What Does Grain Free Baking Mean?
Grain free is often, but not always, gluten free, so read labels. Products labeled grain free are usually, but not always, keto friendly.
This doesn’t mean these types of products should be completely avoided. It means that if you are diabetic, counting carbs, or trying to lose weight, you need to read labels and be aware of the ingredients and macros.
Grain free baking usually means replacing wheat flour with almond flour and/or coconut flour. Nut flours are lower in carbs, are grain free and what I use in my bakery. Almond and coconut flours have a texture very similar to wheat flours. You can even make grain free tortillas with these flours. They fit a gluten free, paleo and keto diet plan.
The Paleo Diet
Grain Free Products and the Paleo Diet
The diet most associated with eating grain free is the Paleo diet and in some cases, the Keto diet.
The Paleo diet suggests a complete avoidance of all grains, which include rice, wheat, barley, spelt, rye, corn, based on the assumption that ancient man did not eat these. The paleo diet also avoids all refined sugars, but allows for maple syrup and honey. The Paleo diet avoids dairy, legumes and peas, allows for nuts and proposes only grass fed meat. White potatoes are not considered paleo, but you can eat sweet potatoes, all fruits and other vegetables.
The Paleo diet, if done in the most purist of terms, is expensive, strict and dairy free. A paleo diet is a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. However, in reality, no one does the Paleo diet in this true historic fashion. It’s used more as a model.
We cannot get the carrots of yesteryear. Carrots thousands of years ago didn’t have the sugar content or color they do today, so there is no real way to eat a true paleolithic diet.
Ancient people didn’t have the year round access to the foods we have today.
For example, honey is allowable, but keep in mind that not all ancient people had access to honey and when they did, it was limited. No one was eating honey and maple syrup every day, nor making paleo brownies.
However a diet of meats, seafood, vegetables and fruits that replaces the grocery store processed foods is a very sound diet and not un-similar to the healthy Mediterranean diet.
No on Paleo
- No sugar (honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar)
- No dairy (some do dairy and this is called Paleo/Primal
- No grains (recipes often substituted with baked goods made from almond and coconut flour)
- No corn (some say no white potatoes)
- No legumes
Yes on Paleo
- Wild seafood
- Grass fed beef
- Grass fed butter
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Paleo mayonnaise (made with avocado oil)
- Fruits/vegetables (no corn)
- Sweet potatoes
- Seeds, nuts
Is the Paleo Diet Healthy?
Healthy is a subjective word. It can be extremely healthy if you don’t overdo on the sugary fruit, nuts, nut products and the sweeteners.
If you have existed on processed foods most of your life, and you are making a switch, the paleo diet can be a game changer and bring abut positive health changes.
However, if you overdo the honey and maple syrup, you are still over-doing carbs and sugar. This can take your diet in an unhealthy direction.
Strictly speaking, the Paleo diet is gluten free, but is not necessarily keto friendly because high sugar content in most fruits, maple syrup, honey and higher carb vegetables are part of the Paleo lifestyle. However, you could follow a keto/paleo type plan by avoiding those foods, but adhering to grass fed, beef and keeping your net carbs to around 20.
My favorite Paleo meatballs are here.
The Keto Diet
This is the biggest food trend right now, mainly for weight loss, but also because it’s diabetic friendly. A general keto friendly diet eliminates the foods that spike blood sugar. You can read about it here.
Most keto experts will tell you that you still have to count calories, although it’s not really the calorie deficit that makes this diet work so well. There are many keto calculators that help you figure this out.
If you are on the keto diet and you are losing weight or inches, you know you’re on the right track.
In basic terms the keto diet is one that puts the body in ketosis, using fat to burn fat. It’s the lowest of the low carb diet plans, usually 20 net carbs or 50-60 carbs per day.
What is a Net Carb?
A net carb is a carb count minus a fiber count. For example, a cup of broccoli has 6 carbs, 2.4 grams of fiber. The net carbs would be 3.6.
Do Calories Matter on a Keto Diet?
We haven’t talked calories yet, and I am a firm believer that calories count no matter what. You can be on zero carbs and consume thousands of calories beyond what is good for you. You will probably not lose weight or your weight loss will stall if you are eating excessive calories.
Is the Keto Diet Gluten Free?
Grain free or keto breads may not mean gluten free. You do have to read labels if you’re avoiding gluten.
Usually the answer is yes, but you have to read labels. Typically the keto diet is gluten free as there are supposedly no grains allowed. Don’t make this blanket assumption.
Buyer Beware: THERE ARE KETO PROCESSED FOODS THAT CONTAIN WHEAT PROTEIN
Buyer Beware: There are Keto Processed Foods that Contain Wheat Protein.
There are processed keto products being sold right now on line and in stores that qualify as keto friendly because of their low carb count, but they still contain wheat and or gluten. I have seen a low-carb bread at Aldi’s that contains wheat protein. I ordered keto cookies on-line that also contain a wheat protein. Soy sauce contains gluten, but tamari and coconut aminos do not. You must read labels if you are striving for keto products that are gluten free.
Misconceptions about Keto Foods
The misconception about the keto diet is that no dish can ever contain any grains or starch whatsoever. However, if those ingredients are very minute and the overall carb count is still low, doesn’t spike the blood sugar, or kick one out of ketosis, it’s okay.
This flexibility is not true for a gluten free diet. Even a very small amount of gluten contaminates a dish and is not acceptable for those who are on a gluten free diet.
What this means is that on a keto diet, it’s not the specific food. If that food kicks one out of ketosis, it’s not keto friendly. A bite of wheat bread or a carrot may not kick a person out of ketosis. You can use a blood monitor like this to test your ketones. Keep in mind ketones vary throughout the day, so testing at different times may result in a different number.
The most critical point is to understand the differences between gluten free, grain free, keto and paleo and not to interchange them. It’s also important to not assume a keto processed product is gluten free if that is also important to you, as it is to me.
Low Carb Diet vs. Keto Diet
The old Atkins diet, a low-carb diet, was a bit more carnivore than keto. It was mainly meat, fish, eggs, cheese, oil, butter. Now you can find shakes, and bars under the Dr. Atkins name. The problem with this diet is that it gets boring fast. I once lost 20 pounds in one month doing this diet, but it was hard to keep it off.
I had to extend the diet well beyond that month to keep that weight off. Often what happens is that people go back to their old ways and gain all the weight back and more.
The Carnivore diet is a hot trend right now, often for reasons other than losing weight. Many have had health changes eliminating vegetables they might be sensitive to. It’s basically meat and or any food that strictly comes from an animal.
- Meat (red meat only is for the strictest carnivore)
- Cheese (if dairy doesn’t give issues and not the strictest carnivore)
- Grassfed Butter / Ghee
- Bone Broth
This article gives a little more information on carnivore diet.
I’m not an expert on this diet, but I will say that when I just eat meat (especially beef only) for a few days, I feel really good. Often vegetables or salads can cause bloating.
The carnivore diet is not the same as the Atkins diet, the low carb diet or the keto diet and that discussion requires its own article.
Gluten free, keto, paleo, sugar free, grain free are not interchangeable terms.
Gluten Free, Keto, Paleo, Sugar Free, Grain Free are not Interchangeable Terms.
When I write a recipe that is keto friendly here at Spinach Tiger, it’s always grain free and gluten free. I will also specify that to clear up any confusion. I replace soy sauce with tamari.
If, however, I write a recipe that says only gluten free, it is not usually keto friendly. You may find such recipes here before I started doing strictly grain free dishes.
How I Run My Grain Free, Sugar Free Bakery
I do not use any grains or sugar whatsoever. However, I cannot call my bakery gluten free, because there could be cross contamination.
There are times my kitchen cooks pasta or bread products that are not gluten free. These are not done at the same time and my flours are kept in separate places.
I still can say that my baked goods are wheat free, grain free and sugar free. Since I don’t have a 100 percent gluten free dedicated kitchen, nor do some of the products I add, I cannot officially label my products gluten free. Some products may say on their label “made in an environment that is not officially gluten free.”
You will notice that many restaurants now choose to say “wheat free” instead of gluten free on their menus, because they cannot guarantee that there is no cross contamination.
The Spinach Tiger Bakery is based in Franklin, TN and delivers to Nashville on Saturdays.
Vegetables on Paleo and Keto
Let me add some more confusion.
Vegetables are encouraged on the Paleo diet, but not so much on the Keto diet. While a person eating “paleo” may stuff themselves with carrots and beets, the person on the keto diet will choose vegetables low in carbs and eat them more sparingly.
This does not mean a person on a keto diet can’t eat a carrot, but at six carbs, they will probably opt for something else.
I have listed all the vegetables that are keto friendly in this post with 75 accompanying recipes.
What is the Carnivore Diet?
This is the strictest, most limiting of all diets. It’s mainly meat, poultry, fish eggs, bone broth and sometimes cheese, dairy. Salt is allowed, but black pepper is not. The idea is eliminating foods that may trigger reactions. This blog post with video will explain more from a blogger who has done the carnivore diet long term.
The carnivore diet is trending and has many fans who have tried everything to feel good or lose weight and have had positive results from the carnivore diet. It’s obviously the most limiting of all these types of diets. I love meat but could probably only eat carnivore a few meals a week, which is not truly a carnivore diet.
What is the Ketovore Diet?
You may actually come across this new term, which is a combination of keto and carnivore. Does it ever end? Probably not, so let’s discuss this.
The ketovore diet is the latest trend and suggests eating carnivore for 3 to 4 days a week and keto (mainly meat with small amount of vegetables) the remaining days. This means you do not eat any vegetables/lettuces on carnivore days. This is the diet I think will probably work the best for me, and when I do this for an extended time, I’ll come back and report on it.
How to Navigate the Food Trends
I hope I have helped you see how these popular diet plans are different and yet in some ways over-lap. I’ve tried to clear up the gluten free confusion. You can never go wrong for your health eliminating processed foods for whole foods.
If you want to lose weight, you have to decide what is best for you. Not everyone can do the keto diet and not everyone can do a very low calorie diet. The most important thing is knowing that you need a life style change, as everyone knows how to lose weight, but not everyone knows how to live a life where the scale rarely moves.
Let me know in the comments what’s worked for you or any questions you might have.
Best Keto Desserts (All Gluten Free and Paleo Friendly)
Spinach Tiger also runs a home keto bakery. New Keto Baking Classes are now being formed.