|Photo by: Robert S. Donovan|
Okay, before I get labeled as a hypocrite, full disclosure: I currently have 2 baked goods recipes on my site: crustless cheesecake and flourless chocolate cake. I’ve made cheesecake twice since going paleo and the chocolate cake once. I do not, however, have a single recipe that calls for any type of flour. And yes, I do sometimes indulge in some gluten-free baked goods. But I don’t pretend what I’m doing is “paleo”. I’ve been itching to rant about this for a while. And it’ll undoubtedly piss some people off. Oh well.
I remember when I first started blogging a year ago, the “dessert” recipes were for the most part rather crude. They were a mishmash of “paleo” ingredients that you probably wouldn’t bring to a non-paleo dinner party. Delicious? Of course. But they hardly resembled conventional desserts. I personally really liked these paleo treats. There was a rustic, and, well, primal, charm about them. Now, the “paleo” desserts on dessertstalker could be mistaken for those from any other non-paleo recipe site. No offense to dessertstalker, which is a sweet site (pun intended). I think it’s more of a reflection of the paleo community. The site “Doesn’t Do Cupcakes.” And yet… Biscotti? Muffins? Crepes? Cookies? Banana Bread? I’d say that’s cutting it pretty close. Does that mean that our recipes are now more sophisticated? Is this something to be celebrated? I personally don’t think so.
The problem with Flour Substitutes
First, although the ingredients are technically paleo, to me they’re toeing the line. I especially take issue with flours. Less so with coconut flour, which is ground up coconut meat, and isn’t the best wheat flour substitute, so doesn’t get used as often in the recipes I speak of. But still, it’s mostly just fiber. You’re not eating the whole coconut and you’re not getting any of the beneficial fats. I guess my question is, what’s the point, since it’s not really nutritious… Are we eating for the sake of eating – isn’t that kind of anti-paleo?A couple of weeks ago was my first time ever buying coconut flour. I used it for fried chicken. I don’t foresee myself using it again any time soon. Nothing wrong with it, but I just don’t really have a use for it.
The flour I take more issue with is almond flour, which seems to be the flour replacement of choice, since it behaves more like wheat flour. Why would you want to eat so many ground up almonds? They’re packed with Omega 6. Plus, when you’re baking with almond flour, you’re basically subjecting almonds to high heat. I don’t see this being healthy. It’s never good to heat Omega 6 – think of all those seed oils that become rancid when heated. Walnuts are especially high in Omega 6’s, so I’ll pass on walnut meal as well. I generally try to stay away from nuts, other than macadamias, which are so pricey that I don’t really over-indulge in those, either.
Other Baking Ingredients
As if the “paleo” flours weren’t bad enough, the main ingredient that differentiates cooking from baking is, of course, sugar (in all its forms). The more you bake, the more sugar you consume. I have enough of a sweet tooth and don’t need help with coming up with ways to eat more of it. And I don’t remember the last time I used baking powder. At least the more rustic paleo-ish treats like custards for example were mostly made of the good stuff like eggs and cream.
The Slippery Slope of Baking
As I’ve mentioned before, there’s no denying that I have a sweet tooth. In a way, going paleo was a huge relief for me. The majority of sugary treats contain flour – pastries, cookies, cakes, most things that line bakery shelves. I no longer have to try to resist these temptations. My decision-making has been simplified. They contain grain flour? Ok, that means I can’t have them. I have chosen to never again eat flour. This makes my decision making way simple. It’s got flour? Oh well, can’t have it. This has dramatically decreased my consumption of sugar. Sure, I still find other ways, but again, drastic decrease.
I totally get having the occasional treat with almond flour. I just had some macarons this past week for example. And those were packed with sugar. But I’m human. And more importantly, I recognize that such treats aren’t “paleo”. Also, I’m not going to recreate these treats at home, and they’re not very widely available, which means I’m unlikely to have them very often.
But I used to love baking, and I was rarely able to pass a bakery without buying a little somethin’ somethin’. So if I were to start baking with almond flour, and actively seeking out treats made with almond flour, well, for me it’d be a slippery slope. I could easily see it going from an occasional treat to a difficult to break habit.
Purpose of Eating
We eat to nourish our bodies, and our souls. Food should be delicious and enjoyable. But it should also serve a purpose. At best, most baked goods are empty calories. At worst, they are sugar-laden and excessive in Omega 6, and often replace more nutritious whole foods that we could be eating. What is their purpose? To feed our sugar addiction and cure our boredom? Isn’t that one of the main virtues of the paleo diet – we don’t mindlessly consume for the sake of consumption, unlike the Standard American Diet? Are our desserts really more superior just because their ingredients are technically “paleo”? It’s like we’re so focused on the substitute ingredients we’re using that we miss the bigger picture. Perhaps the ingredients are “paleo”, but what about the end product?
I get it. There are lots of reasons to eat baked paleo treats made with alternative flours. For starters:
- They’re delicious
- At least they don’t contain gluten
- You gotta live a little
- Maybe having the occasional “paleo” cookie will help people stick with the paleo diet rather than deciding it’s too restrictive
Not everyone feels the need to approach 90%+ paleo, and they’re fine with 80/20 or even slightly less. And isn’t that better than nothing? Sure. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone is entitled to their own approach and opinion. And now you know mine – no matter how you sugar coat it, baking, for the most part, isn’t paleo.
I myself am far from perfect when it comes to snacking and sugar. But perhaps that’s my point. I think we should be encouraging each other stay on track, eating as healthy as possible, rather than acting as enablers of unhealthy eating habits, under the guise of “paleo”.
What’s your take on paleo baking?