It can be challenging and it can be life-changing. For someone who has lived with irritable bowel syndrome for several years, going gluten free or cutting out dairy may be the answer to his/her prayers. It's rarely easy to completely change your eating habits, but it can certainly be eye-opening. Going "gluten free" has not only gotten a lot of press in the last few years, it has almost become trendy. From "Mom and Pop" diners to national restaurant chains, you can often find special "gluten free" menu options or entire menu's devoted to gluten free offerings. Will "grain free" be the next to take the country by storm? It's quite possible, but first let's distinguish between gluten free and grain free.
Gluten free simply means that the food product does not contain gluten. Gluten is a protein found in many grain products including wheat, spelt (faro), kamut, barley, rye, seminola, malts and triticale. Although pure oats do not contain gluten they are often cross-contaminated with wheat in fields or during processing. Individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity have to avoid eating gluten-containing grains. There are other grains including quinoa, rice, millet, wild rice, buckwheat, amaranth, and certified gluten free oats that are well tolerated by gluten-sensitive individuals.
People who are "grain free" avoid all grains, including gluten free grains. The "Paleolilthic Diet" (also known as Paleo diet, Caveman diet, Grain-free diet, Stone Age Diet) has popularized the notion of going "grain free." Individuals may gravitate towards this diet when they notice they don't digest grains very well. Some people feel nauseous, bloated, fatigued or have mental fogginess after eating grains. A grain free diet, or no grain diet, means not eating anything containing not only gluten-containing grains, but any of the above mentioned grains.
Simply going "grain free" may mean different things for different people. For some people it just means not eating grains - but other starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and legumes are fair game. People who adhere to the "Paleo Diet" typically avoid most starches altogether. Paleo folks aim to mimic the diet of hunter-gatherers, avoiding legumes, sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy products, salt, and most processed oils.
Certainly going grain free is a path people arrive on for many reasons. For some it may start off as a physical necessity - meaning, either grains or gluten are just not working for them and they notice it physically. Note: for individuals with Celiac disease, going gluten free is a medical necessity that involves autoimmunity, but that doesn't mean they will avoid all grains. Some people who are already gluten free and feeling a bit ho-hum want to take it to the next level and simply feel better on a grain free diet. People choose the Paleolithic lifestyle for many reasons. One argument is that cutting out the refined grains, cereals, sugar, refined oils, and dairy products that are so common in the Western diet, will improve overall health and prevent many of the diseases so rampant in Western society. The Standard American Diet, combined with sedentary lifestyles, has led to an epidemic of obesity and increases in type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, acne, depression, autoimmune diseases and certain cancers.
A grain free diet can certainly be quite nutrient dense. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and make up an important part of a grain free diet. Grass fed meat, free-range poultry and eggs provide healthy proteins and some omega-3 fats. Nuts and seeds provide essential fatty acids.
Talk to your doctor or certified health professional to see if a grain free diet is right for you. Also, keep a food journal so that you can track how you feel after eating certain foods and food combinations. That may be the best way to know which foods are working for you and which ones are not. The good news is that if you are at all internet savvy, there are plenty of websites offering recipes and advice for those wanting to experiment with a grain free lifestyle. As with most things in life, moderation and mentoring are always recommended.