Some people go Paleo first and then move towards keto. But other people start with keto, and then gradually get interested in a more Paleo approach. If that's you, here's the case for why you should consider cutting out gluten and wheat, even if you're already doing keto.
If all you care about is staying in ketosis, you could still hypothetically eat gluten - as long as your carbs are low enough, you can eat whatever else you want. But even on a keto diet, it can still be helpful to cut out gluten as well - and the good news is that if you can do keto, gluten-free keto isn't all that hard. If you’re coming to this site from a keto perspective and you aren’t already eating Paleo, cutting out gluten can help shift your diet more towards Paleo keto.
A very quick refresher: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten itself isn't a kind of carbohydrate, but it’s found primarily in carbohydrate-rich foods. People with Celiac Disease have a genetic abnormality that makes them react very strongly to gluten, but there’s a growing pile of evidence that some people have non-Celiac sensitivity to gluten or to other components of wheat.
1. It helps troubleshoot weird nagging health issues
Got headaches? Random skin issues? Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? Other bizarre digestive problems that don’t go away after going keto? Inexplicable fatigue? All of the above?
These are super vague and non-specific symptoms. It’s hypothetically possible that they could be anything from stress to cancer. But they can all also be symptoms of gluten intolerance - yes, even the weird skin symptoms and other problems that seem unrelated to digestion.
For the gut-related problems, take a quick look at some studies connecting gluten/wheat sensitivity to:
This review (free full-text) has an overview of all the non-gut-related stuff, including pain, brain fog, fatigue, depression/anxiety, and dermatological/skin symptoms. It sounds almost beyond belief, but there's actually evidence that gluten can be one cause of these issues. Again, they could also be caused by all kinds of other problems (including other food allergies and unrelated intolerances like FODMAPs sensitivity), but eliminating gluten/wheat for a couple weeks is an easy way to test whether or not this is an issue for you.
2. It forces you to really read ingredients labels.
How many times have you heard some variation on “I had no idea _____ had so much _____ until I read the ingredients. I can’t believe I’ve been eating it for years!” There are whole crowds of people out there who legitimately don’t know that cookies have tons of salt, or that their BBQ sauce is full of sugar, or whatever else. This isn’t to shame anyone - we’re all busy, people have other things to do than read nutrition labels, and it’s not exactly gripping prose. But they are important, and a lot of times we need a nudge to really pay attention to them and read them consistently and carefully.
Reading nutrition labels speaks directly to one of the most common problems that trips up well-intentioned newbies to keto. A lot of new keto eaters accidentally overeat carbs, often because they don’t read the ingredients, nutrition information, or serving size information carefully. Hunting down traces of gluten forces you to carefully scrutinize the ingredients labels on any and all processed foods. This is good practice generally but it's essential for keto to prevent carb creep and accidentally carbing up when you didn’t mean to. Watch out for those sneaky carbs!
(Here's more on reading nutrition labels for Paleo and keto diets)
3. It steers you away from keto junk food.
Try eating frozen prepackaged food of any kind when you can’t have gluten. Even pre-made salad dressings can be a challenge. A lot of low-carb diet food is out.
Of course, gluten-free food is a huge market now, so there's an increasing amount of processed, packaged food with "gluten-free" labels splashed all over it. But the vast majority of it is high-carb (made with tapioca flour, oats, rice, or similar wheat replacements), so that's automatically out on keto.
Basically, if you try to eat keto and stay gluten free, it's a lot harder to eat a bunch of highly processed treats that shouldn't be in your mouth very often anyway. It's an easy way to steer your diet away from prepackaged processed foods and towards whole, fresh foods and single ingredients.
4. It supports your keto goals
Why are you eating keto?
If it's for weight loss, you want your gut on your side for that, and gluten really isn't great for gut health.
If you just want to be healthier - well, steering further away from junk food and reading nutrition labels more carefully does a lot for most people’s health.
Fighting inflammation? Trying to pin down weird symptoms or miscellaneous health issues that just won't go away? Might as well give it a try, at least as part of a process of elimination.
At least trying a gluten-free month or so is totally congruent with the reasons why people go keto, and it supports the benefits that keto already provides, like weight loss and better metabolic health.
5. You’re mostly there anyway
If you’re eating keto, you’re not eating bread, pasta, tortillas, cookies, most processed foods, 99% of microwaveable stuff available in the freezer section...you’ve almost completely cut out gluten anyway just by dropping the carb count so low.
In other words, most of the things that people will “miss too much” to give up gluten...you’ve already given them up! The last few sneaky gluten sources might be things like:
- Soy sauce (replace with coconut aminos)
- Frozen junk food (read the ingredients list really closely)
- Seasoning mixes, spice blends, etc.
- Low-carb gluten protein products (seitan, etc.)
And if you're buying pure gluten for whatever reason (yep, this is a thing you can buy), maybe stop buying that.
After the huge shift to keto, switching to a more Paleo-style keto diet without gluten isn't that much of an additional change. Most of the heavy lifting is already done.
Try it; you’ll like it
From a Paleo perspective, eating keto might be great for weight loss, but just cutting carbs isn’t enough for lasting health. Taking out gluten is one step towards a truly Paleo keto diet - try it; you'll like it!