The paleo diet has a few variations, depending on the person and the community. Most who adhere to a paleo diet avoid dairy, processed sugar, and grains. Within these fairly large parameters there are several options for tweaking one's dietary intake to best meet their individual needs.
Because the paleo diet is naturally gluten-free, it is often followed by those with an intolerance to the gluten protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other heirloom forms of wheat. While many on the paleo diet strictly avoid all grains, others are open to utilizing what are known as seed grains.
Seed Grains and the Paleo Diet
Wheat is a member of the grass family along with other popular grains such as rye, barley, and oats. These grains all grow atop a stock of grass and have similar nutritional and culinary properties. These are the types of grains that many find harder to digest and are therefore strictly forbidden on a paleo diet.
There are other types of grains that exist in a different family called “seed grains”. These are grains that do not belong to the grass family and instead are classified more similarly to vegetables. The popular seed grain, buckwheat, for instance, is a member of the rhubarb family.
Seed grains are naturally gluten-free and many find that they digest more like a sunflower or pumpkin seed than a grain. They are higher in starch than sunflower and other seeds, and therefore work well in gluten-free bread options.
The grains and flours in the seed grain family include:
These grains are used in various gluten-free sourdough recipes here at Cultures for Health and can be substituted for other flours, if desired, according to their properties which can be found in A Guide to Flour Substitutions in Gluten-free Sourdough Baking article.
Note that some people include millet in the seed grain family while others insist that it is part of the grass family. Therefore, we recommend that consumers further research the properties of millet to determine how it meets their needs.
Grain-Free Sourdough and Paleo Baking
Widely speaking, paleo followers often avoid all grains, including those of the seed grain classification. In this case there are generally three flours utilized in paleo baking:
- Coconut flour
- Almond flour
- Tapioca flour (generally interchangeable with arrowroot flour)
These flours have vastly different properties. Coconut flour is almost entirely composed of fiber while almond flour is very high in protein and tapioca flour is very high in starch.
Although many individuals on the paleo diet prefer coconut and almond flours due to their low starch content, the starch from the tapioca flour actually provides the starch needed for sourdough fermentation. It is therefore recommended that any grain-free sourdough recipe utilize at least 1/3 tapioca starch as the flour for proper fermentation and leavening.
As individual flours, coconut, almond, and tapioca flours do not work well as a substitute for other gluten-free flours utilized in gluten-free recipes. However, they can be combined to create a macro-nutrient profile similar to that of a gluten-free grain.