Gluten is Not a Food Group

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Gluten isn't a food group- and why you might not want to eat it
Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Gluten is Not a Food Group

One of my more controversial posts is how grains are killing you slowly and despite the continually emerging evidence about the potential problems associated with consumption of modern grains, many people are still unsure.

While I personally know that I feel better when I don’t eat grains (especially gluten) and that my kids do better without them, I’m not in the business of trying to force a particular diet on anyone. At the same time, I wanted to address one common objection I get, especially from people in the nutrition field- (I’ve heard this twice this week):

“Unless you have Celiac disease, it is dangerous to avoid an entire food group and this puts you at risk for nutrient deficiencies.”

To clarify:

Gluten is not a Food Group!

Though grains did form the base of the outdated “food pyramid,” even the food pyramid did not define gluten as a “food group” by itself. Additionally, there are not any nutrients in gluten that can’t be found in higher amounts in other foods.

What exactly is gluten? (definition from Chris Kresser):

“Wheat contains several different classes of proteins. Gliadins and glutenins are the two main components of the gluten fraction of the wheat seed. (They’re essential for giving bread the ability to rise properly during baking.) Within the gliadin class, there are four different epitopes (i.e. types): alpha-, beta-, gamma- and omega-gliadin. Wheat also contains agglutinins (proteins that bind to sugar) and prodynorphins (proteins involved with cellular communication). Once wheat is consumed, enzymes in the digestive tract called tissue transglutaminases (tTG) help to break down the wheat compound. In this process, additional proteins are formed, including deamidated gliadin and gliadorphins (aka gluteomorphins).”

In other words,  gluten is a small part of a small group of foods, and it doesn’t provide any specific health advantages by itself.

Gluten is found in grains including wheat, rye and barley (as well as some others). Whole grains, including those with gluten, are often considered part of a healthy diet even though the same nutrients found in whole grains can be found in equal or larger amounts in foods like vegetables, fruits, and meat or organ meat. It frustrates me to hear things like this from the Scientific American:

“For most other people, a gluten-free diet won’t provide a benefit, said Katherine Tallmadge, a dietitian and the author of “Diet Simple” . What’s more, people who unnecessarily shun gluten may do so at the expense of their health, Tallmadge said.

That’s because whole grains, which contain gluten, are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, Tallmadge said. Gluten-free products are often made with refined grains, and are low in nutrients.”

You know what else is a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals? Vegetables.

You know what also has MORE fiber, vitamins and minerals? Vegetables.

You know what also doesn’t have the potential to cause gut damage (in most cases)? Vegetables.

If we are feeling really brave, we can even add in foods like liver, broth, fermented vegetables and eggs (if tolerated) and blow the nutrition profile of grains completely out of the water.

Do We Need Grains?

Let’s break down the reasons that we are often told that we need grains: fiber, vitamins and minerals. Do grains really have spectacular amounts of these substances that are hard to find elsewhere?


I think Mark Sisson summed this up perfectly in this post when responding to the assertion that “You need the fiber!”:

“Okay, for one: no, I don’t. If you’re referring to its oft-touted ability to move things along in the inner sanctum, fiber has some unintended consequences. A few years back, scientists found that high-fiber foods “bang up against the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, rupturing their outer covering” which “increases the level of lubricating mucus.” Err, that sounds positively awful. Banging and tearing? Rupturing? These are not the words I like to hear. But wait! The study’s authors say, “It’s a good thing.” Fantastic! So when all those sticks and twigs rub up against my fleshy interior and literally rupture my intestinal lining, I’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s all part of the plan, right?

Somehow, I’m not convinced that a massive daily infusion of insoluble grain fiber is all that essential. And that “lubricating mucus” sounds an awful like the mucus people with irritable bowel syndrome complain about. From personal experience I can tell you that once I completed my exodus from grains, the IBS completely stopped. If you’re not yet convinced on the fiber issue I’ll refer you to Konstantin Monastyrsky’s Fiber Menace. Anyway, there’s plenty of fiber in the vegetables and fruit I eat.”

In other words- you can get fiber from fruits and vegetables without the potential harm to your digestive system.

Vitamins and Minerals

Grains are often suggested for their vitamin and mineral content, specifically for B-vitamins and Magnesium. Just as with fiber, thees things can be easily found in other foods. Health Habits takes on the assertion that grains are a great source of these nutrients:

“Hmmmm…why don’t we take a look at the nutrition info again and see if that’s true.

  • Thiamin … And the winner is fruits, vegetables and once again…bran.
  • Riboflavin … veggies win again
  • Niacin … and again
  • Folate … and again
  • Iron … and again
  • Magnesium … and again
  • Selenium …and last but not least, it’s a tie between veggies and grains!!!

So, except for the fine showing in the selenium category…

Fruits & vegetables are the best source of vitamins and minerals.

The Bottom Line

Gluten is not a food group.

Grains do contain some nutrients, but these nutrients can be found in larger amounts in fruits, vegetables and meats/fats.

I will agree with many nutritionists that going gluten free isn’t going to do much good if you just replace the gluten with gluten free processed foods. These gluten free processed alternatives often have more sugar and chemical substances to balance out the lack of gluten.

If, however, you replace the gluten containing foods (and all grains) with vegetables, fruits, fermented probiotic-rich foods, homemade broths, organ meats and humanely raised animal meats, you will not be missing out on vitamins and minerals. In fact, according to the latest statistics I’ve seen for food consumption in the US, you’ll be head and shoulders above the rest of the population on vitamin and mineral intake.

Since grains are often fortified with additional nutrients, it is important to make sure that you are eating a varied and nutrient rich diet when you go grain free. I’ve also found that rubbing magnesium oil (here is the recipe) on my feet at night is an easier way to absorb magnesium and replace the magnesium that is often added to grains.

Additional Reading

Chris Kresser on the Gluten Thyroid Connection

Mark Sisson on Fiber, Vitamins and Minerals

Chris Kresser on Toxins in Grains

SCD Lifestyle on the Problems with Gluten Free  Food

Sarah Ballantyne on Gluten Cross Sensitivity

The Paleo Parents on Gluten Sensitivity and Gall Bladder Disease 

Where do you stand on the gluten/grain issue? Share below!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


96 responses to “Gluten is Not a Food Group”

  1. Ashley Avatar

    Reading this article came at the perfect time for me. Starting last night I decided to try a gluten-free, dairy-free diet due to a possible endometriosis diagnosis (still waiting for the test to confirm). I have many of the symptoms and had an early miscarriage last summer. Since then, I haven’t been able to get pregnant. I’ve read many success stories of women who gave up gluten and experienced success conceiving, as well as reducing the symptoms of endometriosis. I also read that it can help with skin issues, which my husband and I both suffer from. Hoping this works! Thanks for another great article. 🙂

  2. Sandra Avatar

    Whilst i have known about some of this information through my husband reading Mercola many moons ago and him being better to stick to minimum sugar and no gluten, it has taken me to find this site to finally follow through. I can only thank you for being such an inspiration Katie. I think what finally made me follow through is being able to relate to another mum. If she can do it with such a work load. I can too. I found it hard before to give up the croissants and toast. Now a month later I have lost weight, i feel great, positive my skin looks good. I am making my own toothpaste, I eat coconut flour mini pan cakes and or almond flour on weekends. We are nearly at 8 cups of vegetable a day. I am organising myself better and ahead of time for the next two to three meals. I have a long way to go and aim to have at least two weeks of meals planned out.

    Yes meat can get expensive but do your research. Here in Australia you pay $30 at Aldi (German store like costco ) for scotch fillet. Now i have found this site for all cut for $16.95. There is bound to be a place like this for you and if not create it, use the model this Aussies have done and everyone wins.

  3. jami Avatar

    I’m very confused about the carbs. I never ate whole wheat because of horrible bloating and gas. But I loved corn and brown rice. I decided to go completely grain free and get off of any sugar which was in the form of alcohol. I don’t eat anything with sugar in it but I did like a glass or 2 of wine. So I stayed on the very strict paleo diet eating lots of healthy fat. I probably was lacking a bit in proteins if anything. I ate mostly organic, vegetables, mostly raw, organic meats and eggs, healthy fats like coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, no dairy, no processed foods, no sugars, no grains. I started getting more and more tired. My hair started falling out and I couldn’t keep up in my very intense exercise classes or long distant running. Come to find out I had slowed my thyroid way down. I am 51 years old, 5′ and weigh about 108lbs, female. I didn’t gain or lose weight so much except I just very much struggled with severe lack of energy. Do you have any suggestions? What was all that about?

  4. kayti Avatar

    I love this! I have many testimonies to share but I will keep it short and just tell one. My 3 year old was born with lung problems resulting in asthma. He was on a nebulizer at less than a month old. I thought that my doc was amazing for getting him help so quickly…that was before I knew what I know now. We took him off gluten and have minimized his dairy and wow! He has not needed his nebulizer at all, even when he got the flu. A runny nose and the common cold used to turn into horrible spats of asthma and would last 3 weeks at a time. His behavior has also changed dramatically. He is a completely different kid. So happy 90% of the time with so much energy. So thankful Katie for learning so much from you and your resources ( Chris Kesser, SCD Lifestyle and more)!

  5. jeanine Avatar

    Please tell me: is cornflour also bad for my health? And brown rice flour? Thanks!

  6. Gabriela Probst Avatar
    Gabriela Probst

    I am somewhere in the middle of all this. I have been grinding my own wheat, which is chemical free and non-GMO for about a year and a half. I use this to make bread, noodles, cookies, and tortillas. I find when I eat this, I don’t have the grassiness and bloating problems that I experience with store bought bakery products. I don’t eat a lot of it, but I have four kids who take lunch every day, so they do eat sandwiches! I like knowing that our bread is simply home ground wheat, honey, olive or coconut oil and yeast, rather than preservative and additive laden. I sometimes wonder if the gluten problems so many people have aren’t due to preservatives, chemicals, processing, extra sugar etc found in so many commercial products……

  7. Laura Avatar

    I realize this is an older post, but I’m curious of your stance on introducing gluten to weaning babies and/or if you have any research to share on this topic? I cannot breastfeed (believe me I tried EVERYTHING!) and am intolerant to gluten and have food allergies myself, so I am naturally concerned about allergies in my daughter. I have a background in nutrition as well, and I’ve been following the super baby food method (mostly) about the introduction of new foods with the 4 day wait period to wait for a reaction. I’ve read some articles stating that early exposure to gluten is helpful in preventing gluten intolerance in the future, so I am currently torn. I have a husband who eats gluten (with no interest in nutrition) so we’ve been on separate diets for a long time. I’m fearful if she never eats gluten/grains and then is exposed to some beyond my control (like, with dad, or decides to eat it herself) she will react more terribly than if I expose her at a young age? Ideas or advice?

  8. Connie Avatar

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Our nine year old son was diagnosed with Celiac Disease 2 years ago. Within the past 2 years, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard what a terrible thing we are doing by depriving him of gluten. My husband was told by his doctor that he had to be gluten free because he was showing a non-Celiac sensitivity to gluten. Problem number one-getting him to switch-not a problem at all. He wouldn’t want to be shown up by his son who was taking it in stride. Problem number two-gluten free is not necessarily diabetic friendly (my husband has type-2 diabetes). I had to figure out how to make it so. The bread products that we consume are made with coconut, almond, or bean flours (which are all tolerated well by our family). They raise the protein level and drive down the glycemic index thus making a “breaded” product that the entire family can have.

    Oh, and by the way–digestive problems–not the only problems caused by gluten. We have since found out that gluten is most likely the reason that out of our 6 children, 2 children have asthma, 1 has symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome, 2 have trouble losing weight, 1 has clearly defined behavioral and mood issues, 1 has severe acne, 1 has severe migraines. And then there is me–gluten sensitivity, adrenal fatigue, thyroid issues and on and on and on.

    I really appreciate you speaking out about the fact that “gluten is not a food group” and for shedding light on the fact that even busy mommas can cut the chemicals and other things that “man” has messed up in God’s creation, and make their family healthy again. I will be visiting your site regularly for suggestions. And yes we would all do better with less bread in our lives!! 😉

  9. sophie Avatar

    The main argument (that I’ve heard/received from my doctor) is not about grains’ nutrient profile or even fibre content, but that they should be included due to the fact that they are the most important energy-giving element in our diet.

    I am grain-free, but I also have very low energy, so I’m scared they are right…even though I tend to NEVER side with the allopathic doctors because of past issues with them (undiagnosed problems, etc.)

    What are your thoughts?
    Can we get enough “energy” from a grain-free (moderate carbohydrate diet)…does this mean we have to up or maintain our level of starchy vegetables and fruits, for example?

    Thanks! LOVE your blog by the way 😉

    1. K Avatar

      I noticed when I went gluten free and attempted grain free, that my carb levels were SO LOW. Low carb seems to be good for a while, but as women, we tend to need more carbs than men to make a grain free diet work. I eat a lot of sweet potatoes! I’m happier at a mid range carb level (probably around 150 g/day?) and you might find that as you add a little bit of good carbohydrates back into your diet, your mood and energy will increase as well. I get this info from my own experimentation and from, a super great resource for primal/paleo living, and the forum associated with the site. I sometimes eat white rice, as well, not a lot and not often, but sometimes you just need that little something extra to complete your meal!

      Hope this helps even a little bit!

  10. Laura Avatar

    Oh lord! I thought I was doing good by tricking my husband into eating whole wheat noddles instead of white noodles. I have clearly underestimated the food nutrition situation… We are eating healthier than we were but now that we’re starting a family and have a house, I have a long road ahead. By the way, your posts are great (I’ve read about 50 so far). I now plan to buy ingredients and make products rather than buy them.

  11. Sara Avatar

    I just want to say that I absolutely love how you stand up for your posts. There are so many things floating around on the internet that confuse and deter people from even TRYING a healthy lifestyle and I love and appreciate reading your counter arguments and explanations. I’m a huge fan of your website and am so grateful for your insight. Thanks a billion for your time and effort and I look forward to your future posts!

  12. Christian Avatar

    The problem is people will drop grains and gluten and not add more veggies and other things into their diet to make up for it. Plus store-bought ‘gluten-free’ stuff cannot be expected to be any better for us than the regular “Food Like Products” that they try to get us to eat all the time. Besides grain is cheaper. The big food companies don’t want to add organic/non-pesticide/goo-for-you veggies to everything. It costs too much and gluten-free is too much of a buzzword/money maker. If I was going to go gluten-free I would have to make everything myself and not trust the companies to know whats good for me.

    I am currently trying to head that direction with a normal diet, gluten and all. Not buying stuff at the grocery store, just making (and attempting to grow) it myself. Not an easy feat as a college student. I’m doing a lot better. I’m not totally convinced that gluten-free is the answer. I do believe in balance, however. And balance means reducing the amount of gluten in grains in the diet. The “American diet” is just horrible and there is just too much to cover, and its impossible to focus on only one area.

  13. Heidi Avatar

    Thank you for posting this! I love your blog and it is one of the few I will take your word on things. My mom has IBS and wants to go gluten free, you are going to be so much help. I love my pasta so it will be harder for me but I hope someday I can eliminate, if not significantly decrease gluten in my diet. (I have Crohn’s so it’s one of the few things I can eat when I’m having lots of symptoms.)

  14. Nikita Avatar

    You guys are so right. About everything. Doctors have never been able to help me with anything! After paying too many of them too much money, I got fed up and researched my health issues. Of course, it all came back to diet (along with an undiagnosed thyroid illness). Paleo low carb style clean diet and t3 are all I need to fix my severe chronic acne (age 12-32), pcos, mood issues and weight. My skin glows and I have energy! I just wish my mum would see the light, she’s worse off than me. I’ll keep trying 😉

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