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Is a Grain-Free Diet Right For You?

Is a Grain-Free Diet Right For You?

Grain-free diets are getting more and more attention these days. Many people rave about their benefits for autism, allergies, autoimmune diseases and various digestive disorders. Here is a brief explanation of three of the most popular grain-free healing diets.

Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet was explained in Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet, published by the late Elaine Gottschall, the mother of an eight year old daughter with “incurable” ulcerative colitis. Her daughter’s condition was continuing to deteriorate after years of conventional treatment when her new doctors shared the details of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet with Elaine. Elaine’s daughter was symptom free within 2 years and returned to eating normally a few years after that. The basic idea behind this diet is to starve out microbes so that the gut can heal by eliminating disaccharides and polysaccharides. This means that only very specific carbohydrates that are easy to digest are consumed along with proteins and fats. This diet forbids grains, starches and refined sugars and allows many healthy proteins and vegetables, most fruits and nuts, honey, certain beans, and certain forms of dairy. This diet is known to treat irritable bowel, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, chronic diarrhea, ADHD, autism and schizophrenia.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS)

The GAPS diet was designed by Natasha Campbell-McBride and explained in her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It was based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, but as a Neurologist and the parent of a child that is now recovered from autism, Dr. Campbell-McBride focuses in her book more on the physiology and the psychology and the connections between the brain and the body. This diet allows and excludes almost exactly the same foods as SCD. One very notable exception is that on GAPS cocoa powder is allowed (once digestive symptoms have subsided and as tolerated). The GAPS diet emphasizes Weston A. Price/Nourishing Traditions principals such as homemade bone broths and fermented foods. This diet is recommended for all forms of autoimmunity and inflammatory diseases and conditions. GAPS is a little more liberal with supplementation, allowing probiotics containing bifidobacteria and other strains of bacteria that are forbidden on SCD.

Paleo or Primal Diets

Paleo or Primal Diets are big in health and fitness communities these days. This diet is also known as the caveman diet, the stone age diet and the hunter-gatherer diet. The basic idea is to eat the way Paleolithic man ate. They eat fish, pasture-raised animals, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. They exclude grains, legumes, sugar, processed oils, and (usually) dairy. There are disputes over whether certain foods, such as butter and potatoes are truly “paleo” within the community. This is a good option for clients that want to remove the harder to digest grains but keep some starchy vegetables as well as some wiggle room (as this tends to be a more flexible lifestyle without the strict rules of SCD and GAPS). Keep in mind that SCD and GAPS tend to be better accepted as effective within the IBD and autism communities for starving pathogens, but Paleo might be a better fit for your family. There are variations on this diet referred to as “autoimmune paleo” that many people use and report great results.

Potential Problems with Grain-Free Diets

All diets have their potential problems and grain-free is no exception. Excessive protein could result in ammonia problems in susceptible people. Long-cooked broths and fermented foods contain glutamates which some predisposed people may react to. There is also the potential to overdo high oxalate foods, usually by trying to recreate typical SAD (Standard American Diet) baked goods with a lot of nut flour. Like any other diet, there is also the potential for salicylate or phenol reactions. A grain-free diet can be a wonderful tool but it is worth mentioning from the beginning that it is important to consume as wide a variety of foods as possible and not to overdo any one food in order to avoid these issues. As explained in my post Diets that Heal, any diet as written in a book may allow foods that are not suitable for all. Careful observation of physical and behavioral symptoms and food detective skills can go a long way toward personalizing the diet to achieve the results you want.

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This post is featured at Real Food Forager’s Sunday Snippets, Allergy-Free Wednesdays, and Everything Healthy Naturally.

This post is linked to Seasonal Celebration Sunday, Monday Mania, Mondays Link-Up, Make Your Own Monday, Gluten Free Monday, Natural Living Monday, The Gathering Spot, Traditional Tuesdays, Hearth and Soul Hop, Domestically Divine Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Wednesday, Wheat-Free Wednesday, Real Food Wednesdays, Merry Merry Munchies, Gluten-Free Wednesdays, Simple Lives Thursday, Tasty Traditions, Keep it Real Thursday, Natural Living Link-up, Thank Your Body Thursday, Fresh Bites Friday, GAPS Friendly Friday, Fight Back Friday, Freaky Friday, Mop It Up Monday, and TALU Tuesday.


  1. Megan Eccles says:

    I am currently grain, corn, and potato free. Though I did a fair amount of cheating for the holidays, I can feel the difference when I am carb free. This was a great article!

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Thanks Megan! I definitely feel the difference too. Cheating actually gives me more appreciation for my diet. Once you realize how great you can feel, you never want to look back!

  2. darnold23 says:

    I’m coming back and printing this post if you don’t mind. Lots of good information. Thanks for sharing it. I am giving away two great prizes on my blog: a $50 gift certificate to my favorite jeweler and a copy of a new book published by fellow blogger, Kat Robinson. It is called Arkansas Pie: A Slice of the Natural State. I just know you will love either one. Come link up to enter.

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Thanks Debbie! Of course I do not mind if you print! I would love to check out your blog and I thank you for the invitation. 🙂

  3. shend says:

    Seems this is a very balanced view of the grain free diets. While I felt a lot better eating a high protein, good fat, and grain free diet, my health really started to turn around when I added seafood everyday and sometimes twice a day. The biggest difference is that my brain fog went away completely and it’s nonexistent today. haha!! Most people tell me they would rather have inflammation then to go on my diet. Most the time I feel very alone in my journey.

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Hi Shend! Thank you for your kind words! I am very happy to hear about the lack of brain fog! I am so sorry you feel alone in your journey. You are not alone. There are so many people on a similar diet and the popularity is growing. But I do understand what it feels like to be eating something different than everyone else at the table at Thanksgiving. I think it is fabulous how in tune with your body you are and I only hope more people develop that ability. Then you won’t feel so alone anymore. 🙂

  4. Great summary of the grain free diets! I am currently on GAPS and have had amazing results!
    I would love to have you share this on Thursday at Tasty Traditions:

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Thanks so much, Dina-Marie! I am so glad to hear about your results! Thank you for sharing that here and encouraging others. I will definitely share with your readers tomorrow!

  5. I love this article and have not found a description of each of these diets as neatly explained before. Thank you so much for popping by and linking this up at Seasonal Celebration! Rebecca x

  6. Doug Wallace says:

    Good Article!!! I am what I consider the healthiest eater I know (got a whole blog dedicated to it) but for whatever reason, I am not going grain free. I think we need to think a little more out of the box on this one, as in the fact that I use papaya enzymes to digest gluten proteins. The other thing that never sits logically right with me is that grains have been around for a few thousand years right? So then why are all these gluten, and gut related grain problems seemingly recent problem, as in the last 20 years. That last statement may not be fact, just observation, but that’s the way it seems to me. It has always seemed to me that no food stands the test of time that is basically bad for you, and it is “relatively” safe to eat the things eaten for thousands of years. But you’re right, there are dozens upon dozens of factors to consider when deciding on a diet type.

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Doug, grain-free is not right for everyone. I think it is important to listen to your body. You raise an excellent point about the recent increase in gut and grain problems. I think toxicity in our food, air and water supply is a big factor. I completely agree with your statement that food that stands the test of time should be fine for us to eat. I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with grains. I think some people lose the ability to digest them, have an immune system that reacts to them, etc. We are unhealthy, not the grains. We can get healthy and resume grain consumption if we choose to. Also, I think inappropriate grain preparation is a big contributing factor. I personally prepare them by soaking and/or fermenting like our ancestors and avoid all processed and refined grains. I personally feel amazing when I eat grain-free and I don’t know if I will ever consume grains in the amounts that I used to. But that is so individual. If you read my post on Excitotoxicity: When Nourishing Foods Do Harm you will get a sense for my opinion about foods and our inability to tolerate them due to our own toxicity. Thanks for bringing some interesting thoughts to the conversation. I love it when people think outside the box! 🙂

      • Doug Wallace says:

        Oh, just wanted to throw in the comment that I don’t eat a whole heck of a lot of grains anyway, I can go from Monday thru Friday during the workweek with no grains, and on the weekends have a bowl of oatmeal and a slice of Whole Foods pizza, that’s when I pop in my papaya enzyme capsules after eating. Si I do think there is some value in watching grain intake, but perhaps less of a concern for me since I eat so little. I must admit the grain free and gluten free movements got my attention when I started blogging and I couldn’t ignore them, I just had to address them for me, because I think they do have validity, but there are so many factors depending on the individual.

  7. I like how brief and to the point your post is! We’ve experienced so many benefits from a grain-free diet, but we know it’s not for everyone. Thank you so much for sharing on GAPS Friendly Friday, Dawn.

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Thanks for the sweet comments, Joy! I am so happy to hear about your results! I hope you continue to experience more and more benefits from your grain-free diet. Thank you for hosting and I will “see” you next week!

  8. […] Is a Grain Free Diet Right For You? from Peeling Back the Onion Layers. Great synopsis of popular grain free diets with some good points. […]

  9. Thank you for your submission on Nourishing Treasures’ Make Your Own! Monday link-up.

    Check back tomorrow when the new link-up is running to see if you were one of the top 3 featured posts! 🙂

  10. Thanks for putting together such a concise write-up on these diets. I too have wondered about substituting so much of the nut flours to recreate the SAD diet, it seems it would be easy to over do it. Personally we avoid grains, but not religiously, and that works for us. A good balance of healthy meats, vegetables, and occasional soaked grains does well for us. 🙂 Thanks for sharing on Hearth & Soul Hop. 🙂

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Judy. And thanks for hosting too! That is pretty much exactly how we eat in my household. I like that balance too. 🙂

  11. A great summary of the grain free diets. This is a super useful post that I can refer others to when they have questions about going grain free. Thank you!

    Thanks for linking up to Thank Your Body Thursday! Hope you’ll come back this week and share some more great posts!

  12. Alea Milham says:

    You did a great job of giving an overview of the different grain-free diets. Thanks for sharing this with the Hearth and Soul Hop.

  13. Thank you for this great post. I didn’t truly understand the difference between these diets but this makes it very clear.

    I went on a raw food diet eating fruit and veg, some nuts and seeds for 6 months and felt amazing. Now I am vegan and still feel good but not quite as good. I do use some grains such as oats but not too many and I’m gluten free. I’m currently looking into healthier ways to work with grains. I’m not too sure about fermented grains but I like the idea of making your own flour fresh as that seems a bit more natural and healthy to me.

  14. […] Is a Grain-Free Diet Right For You? @ Peeling Back the Onion […]

  15. gerrywil says:

    A very clear explanation of these diets; thank you! My son suffers from long-term neurological effects of West Nile, and i’m wondering if a grain-free diet might help him (considering that his immune system is most likely impaired). I’ll pass this info on to him. (visiting from TALU)

  16. I don’t think I could do it! Being Armenian automatically means I make a lot of Pilaf (rice) and Tabouli (wheat). That’s not taking into account all of the Farro and Barley salads, etc. I could probably manage without the farro, barley, and other grains, but I could never give up my Pilaf or Tabouli! I don’t make them as often as I used to, so I guess that’s something. 😉 [#TALU]

    • Dawn Tasher says:

      Hi Chris! It is not for everyone but it is a lifesaver for some! There are actually some great grain-free tabouli and pilaf recipes but they would certainly taste a little different. Armenian food…YUM!

  17. Anne Kimball says:

    Great post! Thanks for linking up with the TALU!

  18. […] diets such as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and GAPS. You can read more about this at my post Is a Grain-Free Diet Right For You. These diets have tremendously positive results for some people, but there are some potential […]

  19. […] diets such as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and GAPS. You can read more about them in my article Is a Grain-Free Diet Right For You. These diets have tremendously positive results for some people, but there are some potential […]

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