Two of the most popular diets often heard are the gluten-free and ketogenic diets. While they can have similar benefits, they are entirely different eating styles. You can combine them to create a gluten-free ketogenic diet, but it is essential to learn the distinction.
In this article, you will learn everything related to a gluten-free and a keto diet. Learn the similarities, differences, benefits, side effects, foods permitted, and costs of each diet.
A gluten-free diet is where you exclude all foods that contain the molecule gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Coeliac disease is when a person cannot tolerate this molecule. Once ingested, the body thinks of it as a strange object and creates an immune reaction. People with coeliac disease cannot eat any gluten, as consuming even a small amount can cause both short and long-term damage to the lining of the small intestine, which is critical for the digestive process and the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.
Gluten intolerance or sensitivity are conditions that do not damage the small intestine, but can cause discomfort and pain as the body creates an immune response in reaction to gluten. While some people might have minor symptoms, others experience more severe symptoms like diarrhea and stomach pains. People with gluten sensitivity can have varying amounts of gluten depending on the severity of their individual situation.
When following a gluten-free diet, you need to check for the certifications of each food you buy to ensure that you are not consuming any products with this molecule. This is especially essential for coeliacs to do.
Although some foods (like chicken or meats) don’t naturally have this molecule, after the industrial process (when stabilizers or thickeners are added), they might contain traces of gluten. Thus, it is always important to check and read the nutrition label.
Not all carbs are restricted in this type of diet. You can consume it as long as it doesn’t contain any gluten. For example, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, edamame, quinoa, and beans) don’t have this molecule, so they are good options for people with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance.
On the other hand, products like bread, beer, crackers, pasta, cereal, and baked goods are typically out of the question since they are usually made from wheat, rye, and/or barley, which all contain gluten.
What do these ways of eating have in common?
The primary purpose of a diet without gluten is to decrease the symptoms seen in people with coeliacs disease or gluten intolerance or sensitivity.
Since most products high in simple carbs and saturated fats (like pastries, cakes, and cookies) are made with wheat flour, when you eliminate them from your diet either due to a ketogenic approach or a gluten-free one, you can experience a decrease in the risk of chronic disease.
Reducing the intake of simple sugars can reduce your chances of diabetes, and the low saturated fat intake can lead to better heart health.
Another thing both diets have in common is avoiding many unhealthy simple carbs, like ultra-processed baked goods, packaged cookies, and breakfast cereals. While the reasons are different (keto dieters are avoiding sugar and carbs, while people on a gluten-free diet are avoiding flour because it contains wheat), the end game is the same.
However, nowadays there are many ultra-processed foods made with alternative ingredients, so it is up to the person to choose healthier sources of carbohydrates like non-starchy veggies, legumes, fruits, and root vegetables.
Let's see where these two approaches part ways.
You might experience some weight loss when following a gluten-free approach, but it is not the goal of this type of eating plan. If you do shed some pounds, it is likely due to eating less because of cutting out foods you regularly eat and not replacing them with other foods.
On the other hand, weight loss is one of the main benefits of following a ketogenic meal plan. Low carb intake makes your body go into ketosis, so it starts burning fat for energy instead of glucose.
A diet without gluten doesn’t have a set macro range. On the other hand, a ketogenic diet is very specific about how much of each nutrient to eat each day. You get 5-10% of your calories from carbs, 20% from protein, and 70-80% from fats.
Since a diet without gluten doesn’t require any certain macro guidelines, you can always combine it with a low-carb plan. For example, you can end up doing a gluten-free keto meal plan.
Due to carbs being limited in the ketogenic diet, you might experience a decrease in your performance during the first few weeks. This might be challenging for athletes or people who constantly exercise.
When your body is adapted to keto, you get your strength and energy back, but it could be a hassle during the first weeks.
There are several advantages of following either one of the diets, especially when whole foods are chosen instead of highly processed foods.
While these ways of eating have different approaches, you may experience the following benefits:
The ketogenic diet is the one that is most likely to produce negative side effects. While there are some that can also be seen in a diet without gluten, they are less common. Here are the possible side effects that you might experience.
There is a significant difference between these two ways of eating when it comes to the types of foods that you can eat. The following table compares which foods are permitted and avoided in each diet.
|Beans and legumes||In moderation||Allowed|
|Condiments and sauces||Allowed (low-carb)||Allowed (gluten-free)|
|Dairy||Allowed (low-carb)||Allowed (gluten-free)|
|Sugar-sweetened beverages||Not allowed||Allowed|
|Alcoholic drinks||Allowed (low-carb)||Allowed (gluten-free only, excludes most beers, excludes malted beverages or those containing malt)|
|Fish and seafood||Allowed||Allowed|
|Grains and starches||In moderation|| |
Allowed: potatoes, rice, cornmeal, polenta, millet, flour made from rice, soy, corn, potato, or beans. Read label to confirm.
No: wheat, barley, rye, triticale, couscous
|Herbs and spices||Allowed||Allowed |
|Meat and poultry||Allowed||Allowed|
|Nuts and seeds||Allowed||Allowed|
|Oils and fats||Yes. Clean keto recommends avoiding refined seed and vegetable oils.||Yes, except refined seed or vegetable oils|
|Processed foods||Not allowed||Allowed as long as no gluten|
|White and brown sugars||Not allowed||Allowed|
|Starchy vegetables||In moderation||Allowed|
The ketogenic diet has a more restricted approach. Since you need to limit your carb intake, you find more foods not allowed compared to the other diet. If you have any doubts about whether you can have a specific food on keto, you can always check ketogenic food lists.
You can eat almost any food on a diet without gluten (and in any amount) as long as it doesn’t contain any wheat, barley, or rye.
Compared to a standard wheat diet, a gluten-free approach is often more costly if you buy specialty products made with alternative types of flour (like garbanzo-based pasta). However, many keto products are also more expensive than traditional dishes.
Thus, either diet will likely be more expensive than a conventional diet where you can eat more carbs or things made with wheat.
To reduce costs, eat more natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and legumes and less packaged specialty products. It may also be cheaper to buy alternative flours and make your own pasta or bread (for example) rather than buying it ready-made. However, keep in mind that some alternative flours are lower in carbs than others, and just because a flour is gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ok for keto.
Both are great alternatives that can encourage people to avoid overeating junk food and have a healthier lifestyle. However, there are still heavily processed products that are keto or without gluten, so it’s up to you to make good food choices.
A good thing to aim for is to have 80% of your foods from natural sources, and only 20% from processed foods. If you stick to these percentages, either one of these diets is a great choice.
The most important thing is to do the one that you find sustainable, meaning that instead of doing it for a couple of weeks, you can do it for a longer time.
Keep in mind that if you have any gluten intolerance, sensitivity, or coeliac disease, you should not do keto instead of gluten-free. However, you can consider combining both approaches, as long as you speak with your doctor first.
For people with gluten intolerance, a gluten-free approach is the best option to manage any gastrointestinal symptoms.
However, if you’re simply looking to eat healthier, keto can also be a good choice.
If your goal is to lose weight, a ketogenic diet is a more effective and targeted approach.
You can also combine the two to have the best of both worlds. Make sure to eat food that is as minimally processed as possible, and focus on having natural ingredients in your diet.