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I am a New Zealand registered nurse and nutritionist (Grad Cert Sci: nutrition, Massey Univ). I am a Certified Zone Instructor, and have worked teaching Zone diet principles to hundreds of clients over the last 10 years. More recently after finding that eating Paleo food choices was the "icing on the cake" health wise, I have become a Paleo enthusiast and teacher. Follow me on twitter @juliannejtaylor

Are paleo muffins and treats really paleo?

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:

The Paleo Mon: Is a Paleo Treat Really Paleo?

Paleo Sweets: They Might Be “Healthy” But They Still Might Be a Bad Idea

Everyday Paleo: My Family and Treats

Robb Wolf: Paleo is Printed on the Label but…

 

 

 

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10 Responses to “Are paleo muffins and treats really paleo?”

  1. We still have chocolate – so what more do we need?
    I will grind up nuts and seeds and mix with shredded coconut, cook in a little honey and cream, to make a desert. But not every day.
    I can understand that people are addicted to baking as a way of putting food on the table, and that it has psychological significance, so might not be an easy habit to stop.
    For some people who are naturally good at baking, it’s a hard thing that it doesn’t or shouldn’t exist in paleo land.
    I’m crap at it so I’m not going to judge them, I sympathise with their loss.

    September 2, 2013 at 3:27 pm Reply
  2. I am definitely guilty of this on my blog. That’s because it got a bit boring posting meat and veg recipes all the time, and it’s fun to mess around with paleo, vegan, gluten-free etc etc (all together being quite the challenge..). I do worry that my blogging gives people the idea that I eat these things every day, but that’s not the case, especially if I’m watching my waistline. Paleo treats (say something that is mostly nuts and honey) are very calorific. In real life, it’s standard stuff: meat, veg, fruit, some nuts, a very little fermented dairy. The usual.

    So, it’s probably the need to blogging variety that makes it ‘seem’ like people are eating a lot of these sorts of things. I look at it like people sharing dessert recipes in the non-paleo world – it’s still not something you eat every day. You might make a cake on birthdays, splurge on a special occasion.

    The other thing that keeps me, personally, making these treats is that my nieces and nephews like sweet treats and I’d hate to be the aunty that only gave them apples and nuts. It’s important to be the favourite. 😉 Very important.

    September 2, 2013 at 4:37 pm Reply
    • I don’t have a problem with people posting treat recipes. 🙂 The problem is that people call this food paleo, and eat them too often – when actually we need to reframe them as a gluten free treat.
      And I do the same – make them occasionally for the family.

      September 2, 2013 at 4:54 pm Reply
    • Another reason bloggers do this is because desserts are the most popular posts. Danielle from Against All Grain has talked about this. She has many savory recipes on her blog, but the ones that get a thousand likes and hundreds of shares are always the desserts.

      September 3, 2013 at 10:00 am Reply
      • Interesting – thanks! Just shows how sugar and treat addicted most people are.

        September 3, 2013 at 11:19 am Reply
      • This is true, and the more labels you put on it, the more hits. A dessert tagged with ‘gluten-free’, ‘paleo’ and ‘vegan’ is always a winner. You can see on the stats how many people come to the blog by searching ‘gluten-free, paleo, vegan chocolate cake’ or some such variant.

        September 3, 2013 at 6:22 pm Reply
  3. I don’t think I have ever eaten a paleo muffin or cookie tbh. I have made the odd paleo treat for the kids, but we don’t eat them all that often.
    My treat is the odd square of dark chocolate.

    September 2, 2013 at 5:15 pm Reply
  4. tess #

    😀 i SO agree with this…. I’ve said for a long time, a treat is a treat, and should be the exception rather than the rule, nutritionally….

    September 3, 2013 at 2:46 am Reply
  5. I love your last two paragraphs and couldn’t agree more. Treats absolutely have a place in a healthy diet, but shouldn’t become the bulk of the diet.

    September 3, 2013 at 9:54 am Reply

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