On Paleo Baking

Too bad there’s no such thing. But first, some background.

The Paleo-sphere was alive with some feistiness this week between Paleo Parents and Whole9 over this article. The gist of the argument seems to be that some people are okay with making and consuming things like baked goods with ingredients that are Paleo/Primal approved, while others think that making and consuming foods that harken back to our old ways of eating (and failing) is rife with trouble.

(I’m really using this scuffle as a jumping off point, because as far as I can tell, the whole thing is mostly a misunderstanding. Whole9 are not absolutists. The article is specifically about why these foods, like pancakes for instance, aren’t good to have during a Whole30, even if all the ingredients are Whole30 approved. End of my two cents.)

If you’re a semi-regular reader of the Periodical, you know I partake in the occasional baked yummy treat from heaven (see here! and here! and here! and here! and here!). I’ve also talked about these types of substitutions and how to go about incorporating them responsibly (here). One of my favorite food finds since going Primal is Elana Amsterdam and her website and cookbooks.

But. We have to stop calling it Paleo. We can call it grain free, dairy free, gluten free. But we can’t call it Paleo. Sorry, Elana.

After nine months on the Primal wagon, I’ve come to see the designation “Paleo” as being pretty specific and not really open to much interpretation. Sure, we can quibble about whether or not it’s okay to eat green beans occasionally, but baked goods and pancakes are an entire class of foods removed from hunter-gatherer-style eating. Some people draw the line at the addition of baking soda or baking powder.


I see Whole9’s perspective as being more about the psychology than the physiology, about knowing yourself and being able to make food choices with integrity. But many people have trouble with this, and if you’re one of those people, then substitutions will only allow you to groove that rut a little deeper. From my own experience as someone who never battled sugar cravings pre-Primal, that sugar monster has sneaked up on me a few times since, and the answer is never to give into it. In order to keep it under control, you have to break the pathways in your brain that have made it habit: dessert after every dinner, fruit in the afternoon, or whatever your pattern happens to be. Otherwise you may find yourself stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle. Trust me, sugar begets more sugar.

But if you’re not aiming for double/triple digit weight loss or battling food issues, then a few sweet potato almond flour muffins as part of a healthy Paleo or Primal lifestyle probably won’t kill you. Especially for those of us with kids, these treats can go a long way toward making them feel less of a pariah and fend off a full-on gluten- and processed sugar-filled cupcake bomb. Besides, there’s something really cool about the fact that we humans have figured out how to transform such strange ingredients into delicious masterpieces. It ties us to our culture, which is also an important element of human life that shouldn’t be overlooked.


9 Responses to “On Paleo Baking”

  1. I agree with you Karen and I try to avoid calling anything with on Dessertstalker “Paleo”…”primal” maybe, but unless it’s some fruit and pretty much nothing else, it’s not “Paleo” in my eyes.

    • Yes, I think Primal makes more room for this, seeing as how they have coconut flour treats in their cookbook. I feel like Sisson himself is pretty wary of them, but understands their place in our lives.

  2. Great post. i like to eat paleo partly because it is so easy when it comes to prepare meals : some meat, some fat, some veggies, and you got it !
    Baked ” paleo approved ” goods can be usefull during the transition though.

  3. Really?! Someone thumbs-downed me?! But I agree with both sides! :)

  4. I call these substitution foods. At heart, we are still talking about taking something fairly processed as the base ingredient.

    If it’s still a regular part of your diet, it needs to change to be successful if you have big goals.

    • I agree with you about 89%. That’s partly why I’m doing the Whole30, to get reacquainted with food in a “pure” way. Sometimes missing those things can only be made worse by having a substitution.

      But I feel like where I’m at now, I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m not a performance athlete. I’m not fighting an eating issue or disorder. So an occasional (probably 2-3 times a month) treat isn’t throwing me into the pit of despair. It’s especially helpful for entertaining folks and showing them that this lifestyle is sustainable and possible.

      • Very true- I call em “gateway drugs;” almond flour cookies & crackers lured me in & helped me to be more optimistic about paleo, and I do like to make them for people who are curious about the lifestyle. I was having way too much almond flour stuff in the beginning though, and eventually I was able to cut down pretty easily and focus more on the healthy stuff.

  5. This was a timely post for me. I’m just getting my feet wet in Paleo living and the grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free baking options are tempting.

    Unlike you I have always had a problem with sweets and baked goods. They are my nemesis. Over the years I’ve kept them (and the pounds) at bay by not having sweets in our home and only baking occasionally. When I do bake cookies, etc (aka, the Devil) I try to give most of it away.

    Now that I am eating Paleo the baking options with Paleo ingredients are tempting. I’ve made coconut flour pancakes once and thinking about making some again this morning (with pumpkin and cinnamon – should be good). Do I think making these things and consuming them is a step back in eating Paleo? Yes.

    Completely agree with the Whole 30’s take (must go and read posts for more background). I’m trying to make a habit of a diet that is mostly vegetables, a small amount of fruit and meats. I would like to lose approx 15 pounds of scale weight so am trying to limit nuts and seeds right now. Having a “Paleo” baked treat does not support my efforts in changing my lifestyle.

    While I agree, I am going to make some Pumpkin Coconut Flour pancakes for me and my son. The good thing about these pancakes is they are very filling and satiating (I will eat 2-3 sand dollar size pancakes). Unlike regular pancakes which I could eat a stack of and then want a bowl of candy after.

    Enjoying your blog – thanks for writing!


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