What is a paleo treat?
A paleo treat: Take a standard treat (typically unhealthy) and remake it using paleo approved ingredients.
With the popularity of paleo we have seen the growth of numerous blogs, many by foodies posting recipes that use paleo ingredients. Large numbers of these recipes are for ‘paleo’ treat foods: muffins, cakes, cookies, cereals, puddings, pancakes, etc. (Google it – you’ll get a gzillion pages!)
Are these really paleo – or not?
We need to take a step back and ask “what is the essence of eating paleo?”
Here’s what I think:
The essence of a paleo diet is looking to evolutionary biology to discover what diet might give us the best possible health, both as a species (we are just another animal after all) and as an individual. While our history gives us clues, modern nutrition science needs to back this up. Just because we have always eaten a food, doesn’t mean it is ideal, likewise – just because it is new – doesn’t mean it is bad. An example is olive oil, which has been in our diet for just 6000 years; studies back up that it is healthy.
The list of Paleo foods – what to and what not to eat – came from the premise that foods that we are less well adapted to eat cause us harm or substandard health. They are rich in anti-nutrients and gut irritants, are likely inflammatory, and are possible promoters of auto-immune disease.
On an individual level, foods that are okay for some may not be okay for you. For example if you have auto-immune issues; nuts, seeds and nightshades could be inflammatory, and are best avoided.
Paleo is not necessarily “Eat this, not that”
Many people come to paleo thinking that it is about following a strict set of rules: eat this not that. I don’t see it like this. In the true spirit of paleo, the question is NOT “Is this paleo” We should instead be asking: “Is this food going to nourish me, is it safe for ME to eat?”
When I say safe to eat – I mean:
Is is physically safe?
Will it cause me inflammation, gut irritation, or contribute to my health issues? This might be with respect to amount of that food too. Whereas a few nuts might be fine, 1/2 a cup not so much.
Is is psychologically safe?
Is it likely to be an addictive food or food that triggers cravings and diminished appetite control? For example a sweet food might trigger a binge; those paleo brownies might be demolished just as quickly as real brownies. A treat food made with dates can trigger the same unhealthy increase in blood sugar (their glycemic index is really high) and consequent crash that sugar does. The result is hunger, overeating and ongoing disregulated appetite.
Another question to ask is – “Am I eating this food in a realistic amount?”
For example, I see many recipes using copious amounts of almond flour. If we were actually to collect almonds, crack their shells and grind them – we wouldn’t have access to the sheer amount of flour we use in many of these recipes. In a hunter gatherer setting, or if we had to collect and process these foods ourselves – would we eat this amount?
Any food that triggers overeating, causes unbalanced blood sugar, even if it has pure paleo ingredients – is not in the spirit of paleo – therefore not paleo. As best I would call this a gluten-free treat.
What percentage of your paleo diet is ‘paleo’ treat food?
At its heart – a paleo diet is eating unrefined animal and plant food; meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, vegetables and fruits, and their associated fats.
A treat in my opinion is a food eaten infrequently that gives pleasure and is to be savoured.
If your paleo diet has evolved away from meat and veg and has become a diet that revolves around muffins, cakes and other food that mimics the worst from your previous diet – it might be time to do a reset.
I have nothing against treats, and when eaten as treats, they are completely fine, there is something psychologically satisfying eating a treat, because it is just that. And in this context, in my opinion they are part of a healthy diet.
Other posts on paleo treats: