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Non-gluten versus gluten free

Joy Cutrone, Wellness & Certified AIP Coach, FMCHC-Candidate

Choose non-gluten foods instead of gluten-free substitutes

Non-gluten foods are foods that are naturally free of gluten by virtue of their single-ingredient, whole-food, natural composition. All of the diets in our Diet Matrix center on non-gluten foods, except for the Gluten Free diet itself. Check out the Diet Matrix for “what’s in and what’s out” to make choices that avoid the pitfalls of “going gluten free.”

Non-gluten foods include:

  • Grass-fed meats (excluding most deli meats and including organ meats)
  • Natural, wild-caught fish and shellfish
  • Vegetables (whole, fresh or frozen; organic preferred)
  • Fruits (whole fresh or frozen, organic preferred)
  • Healthy fats (saturated fats like coconut oil, butter, and ghee, especially to cook with; unsaturated fats like olive oil and avocado oil are OK in salad dressings and other cold preparations).

Or follow three simple rules as a baseline:

  • “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” (1)
  • Grains are not present in grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish. Choose those.
  • Ask yourself, “Could it have been served at my great-grandmother’s table?”
    1. If it comes with a label, chances are it could not.
    2. Eat whole foods, and use those same ingredients to bake and make things yourself.

When you’re eating a whole-foods diet and making foods at home, you can select or make sauces and dressings from non-gluten ingredients: you would never, for example, think of dumping flour into your salad dressing. Yet wheat is in most supermarket salad dressings. Most Paleo, and all AIP-compliant, recipes will not include gluten-free “gotcha” ingredients – just keep an eye out for some gums that might show up now and again in a not-quite-compliant Paleo recipe — see part 3 in this series, “Non-gluten baking” for substitutes if they do.

Paleo and AIP foods are non-gluten foods

Here’s a list from Dr. Sarah Ballantyne of foods on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol “Yes” list which are all non-gluten foods (2):

While the above diet is for the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, the foundational Paleo diet is even more expansive, adding to the above list the following foods. These can also potentially be added back in the reintroduction phase of The Autoimmune Protocol if they’re found not to cause symptoms then:

  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, +)

Keep an eye on healthy fats

As we discussed in part 1 of this series, “Why not gluten free?”, there is increased discussion in recent years of a more informed understanding of the role healthy fats play in wellness. Nutritionist Mickey Trescott shares a good guide to good fats:

  • Fats Suitable for Cooking (Saturated)
    • Coconut Oil, Lard, Tallow, Duck and Goose Fat, Palm Oil
  • Fats Suitable for Eating Cold (Monounsaturated)
    • Olive Oil, Avocado Oil
  • Otherwise Healthy Fats Avoided on the Autoimmune Protocol:
    • Butter, Ghee, Nuts, Nut Oils, Cold-Processed Seed Oils (sesame, flax (3)

The definitive text on this is perhaps written by Catherine Shanahan in her 2017 book, “Deep Nutrition.” Worth the read (and available as an audio book, as well).

No loss of deliciousness

Either diet, by the way, yields delicious results. There are truly impressive groups of professional chefs who didn’t escape the whole autoimmune epidemic, and so apply their skills to the revised set of ingredient options. They crank out amazing treats. I’ve found, speaking from experience, that you don’t have to WANT for anything; you just have to STOCK UP your pantry appropriately and then, yes, COOK. More specifically, Batch Cook. And bake. The payoff: YUM. (Plus, you get to feel good – HUGE BONUS!). Real Plans is the way to go for meal planning to whatever your ingredient limitations might be.

Available conveniences

One of the reasons I find the Paleo diet to be so convenient is that, if you think in terms of what Paleo foods to choose, you avoid the whole “gluten-anything” debate: it is, by definition, grain free (so no gluten substitutes of pseudo-grains) and sugar free (so no exposure to amped-up sugar intake). If it’s a Paleo-compliant, whole food or even a compliant packaged food, you’re covered. The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet takes it a step further by removing other common allergens from the “Yes” list for the elimination phase, so that we can choose ingredients from among anti-inflammatory foods that also help our bodies heal.

For added convenience and to ensure compliance during those times when we’re hungry NOW and/or don’t feel much like cooking, we order in DIY-assembly meals for several times a week (great, if you can do that), and also keep good, ready-made snacks and core ingredients on hand at all times, to avoid the “hangries.” For Paleo and AIP suppliers who provide non-gluten foods, see our Resource Directory. Or go straight to Sun Basket, Thrive Market, Paleo on the Go, or Shop AIP.

Budget friendly options

And for a tight budget, check out the Environmental Working Group’s guidance for how to get “Good Food on a Tight Budget,” busting the myth that eating well has to mean costing more — note that their guidance is not aligned with the current scientific and medical understanding of healthy fats, however (see above).

Other budget-friendly options include local co-ops – and of course, growing your own vegetables and herbs, even in a kitchen garden – are as affordable and traditional as it gets.

Supermarket games

You’ll see some supermarket signs that say “naturally gluten free,” because retailers are getting hip to the marketing that gets “healthy eating” people to buy.  In one way, this helps those avoiding gluten to more easily spot foods that they can eat more safely. Once you start thinking and shopping for non-gluten foods you’ll see how vast the options here really are. The trick is to “shop the perimeter” of the supermarket to avoid processed and packaged foods as a rule.

When you do choose something that someone else has made, read the label. Especially if you’re drawn to the gluten-free packaged foods, put them through the label-reading test for the “gotcha” ingredients we discussed in part 1 of this series, “Why not gluten-free.”

There are, for example, perfectly amazing, whole-food, natural-ingredient salad dressings to be had in supermarkets that prioritize wholesome foods. There’s also a particularly wide range of garbage in that particular category, as well, filled with all kinds of things you don’t want to eat, including gluten, preservatives, sugars, and processed oils. Mayonnaise is typically a notable offender, because even when it’s organic, it’s usually made with oils that aren’t healthy. Making your own dressings at home gives you infinite options, certainty of the ingredients used, and only requires about 5 minutes to make. Pick up a glass shaker jar with measurement markings and a pour spout and you’re good to go.

Another good rule of thumb is to look for small-batch, specialty, and local brands of foods among your supermarket’s options. These food makers tend to provide fresher options, and are more responsive to the interests of local customers.  Healthy foods from the big brands are harder to find. The important bit is the quality of the ingredients, so don’t be afraid to explore brands that you haven’t heard of before.

The take home message is this: when you eat non-gluten foods, you can get higher-quality ingredients that support higher nutrient value and create a menu of health for you and your whole family.

See the Real Plans or the Resource Directory for good recipe ideas from great bloggers.

  1. Michael Pollan, Professor of Science Journalism at UC Berkeley, as quoted by Jane E. Brody in “Rules worth following, for everyone’s sake,” in The New York Times, Feb 1, 2010.
  2. Sarah Ballantyne,, “The Autoimmune Protocol.”
  3. Mickey Trescott, “The Autoimmune Protocol guide to fats.”
  4. Sarah Ballantyne, in, “Paleo AIP ‘Yes’ Foods” in “What is AIP?”

See Also

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