In an ideal Paleo world, you would only consume foods in their most natural form, that are free from pesticides and other chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, GMOs, and more. Your animal proteins would come from animals that were fed food appropriate for their species, having lived a happy and healthy life outdoors (as opposed to being raised by humans in confined spaces).
That’s the ideal situation, and if you’re able to buy the best quality foods, that’s great! However, this isn’t always possible for people, and it certainly isn’t a Paleo deal-breaker if you can’t source or purchase only grass-fed/pastured/organic/wild-caught food. Living in the modern word presents its challenges and eating with total adherence to these principles is not always possible or feasible.
When first starting out with your Paleo diet it can be really challenging to know whether or not various packaged and pre-made foods are Paleo. Things like full-fat coconut milk and almond flour are clearly processed foods, but are often consumed by Paleo adherents because they are still close to their whole form.
As the Paleo movement has been gaining momentum, “Paleo-friendly” or “Paleo approved” products from bacon to granola to cookie dough have started appearing in the grocery aisles. On one level, that’s great: more choices and convenience for you, the consumer. However, there are foods branded as “Paleo” when they really shouldn’t be as well as many types of products that technically follow all the Paleo rules but are not compliant or right for everyone. Because it seems to fit into the Paleo rulebook doesn’t mean it’s right for you! Furthermore, food companies can engineer a food to technically follow any set of diet rules and even foods that technically fall within Paleo guidelines can still be really high in sugars, or other ingredients you may not be wanting to consume.
When choosing a packaged product labeled as “Paleo”, it is less about whether the product is “good” or ‘bad” but rather about exploring your available options and making an informed decision about whether to eat it (or not!).
There is no regulation for how companies are allowed to use the term “Paleo” on a product or label. Unlike a “USDA organic” verification where you know there are specific rules (and regular inspections to make sure they’re followed), it is up to you to figure out whether a “Paleo”-branded product fits in with your Paleo lifestyle. Because marketing (particularly food marketing) can be so deceiving, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of reading food labels, especially the labels on processed and prepared foods.
Read the Ingredients
What you see on the ingredient list will determine whether the food is Paleo at all, and if so, whether it complies with the foods that work best for you and your body. Paleo is a template and you get to decide what is most appropriate for your circumstances.…
Check the Fat
This is not a search for the fat content to ‘count’ fat grams (following Paleo principles, you know fat is not the enemy). Healthy fats are good for you and encouraged on the Paleo diet. You are checking for the source of fat, specifically trans fats which confer no healthy properties and contribute to heart disease. Make sure you avoid them.
Identify the Sweeteners
Cane sugar, corn syrup, HFCS (high-fructose corn sugar) and other ‘natural’ sweeteners can sneak their way into supposedly healthy foods. Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols may also be added. You definitely want to stay away like sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, and corn syrup, as these additives are definitely not Paleo. Based on your needs, goals and personal tolerances you may want to avoid certain sweeteners entirely.
What is the Carbohydrate Source
Understand where the carbohydrates in the product are coming from. Is it from fruits? Nuts? Or did added sugars sneak their way into your food item? Nuts and nut flours can be gut irritating and inflammatory in high doses and you might do better limiting or eliminating them. Be mindful of how many carbohydrates are in a snack if you are trying to follow a high-fat, low-carb Paleo diet.
Look for Additives
Food additives are often used to help food stay shelf stable are included in many packaged foods. Try to avoid additives such as food colorings, MSG, artificial sweeteners, and sulfates. These ingredients are not Paleo and do not support optimal health.
Read the Nutrition Facts Label.
The ingredients list tells you what is in a product, but not how much. In some cases, the “how much” matters. Check what a serving size is and determine whether this is the appropriate amount to eat. Often serving sizes are distorted – no one eats ½ of a 40-gram bar!!!
A Paleo-friendly sweetener like honey may be on the ingredients list. Honey is particularly sweet and high in carbohydrates. If your preference involves limiting carbohydrates or sweet foods create cravings or discomfort, a small amount per serving might be more acceptable for you. If the Nutrition Facts says “5 grams of carbs per serving,” and you are aware of how many servings you will be eating, this may be a choice for you at this time.
For some delicious chef-inspired Paleo creations made with only the best-sourced ingredients, cooked for you, no apron required, check out our meal plans >>>>>
Look for Trusted Certification
Certified Paleo is the Paleo Foundation’s highest level certification for Paleo-compliant products. Certified Paleo Products are products that contain Paleo ingredients, but may have some 21st-century processing or packaging methods allowing for shelf stability. You can be safely know that a Certified Paleo product has undergone rigorous testing, stringent reviews and compiles to the highest of Paleo standards.
Fitting into YOUR Paleo diet
The ingredient lists and the Nutrition Facts will support you in determining if this food belongs in the all-the-time food, a special treat, or something to put back on the shelf immediately and forget about forever category.
This is not about an external force determining how you have chosen to make the Paleo diet work in your life and how it can benefit you and your needs. Humans eat for both nutrition and pleasure and there is definitely a place for indulgences and treats in any lifestyle. There are appropriate moments for Paleo friendly options of the non-Paleo foods you may have once eaten and savored. It is important, however, to know what you are choosing to eat and how it may or may not affect you. Certain packaged foods may serve as occasional treats or indulgences as opposed to dietary staples. You get to decide!
Paleo Treats sells some seriously delicious desserts that will instantly capture the heart and taste-buds of any chocolate-lover. They sell 6 different types of paleo cookies and bars that will satisfy your sweet cravings whilst still adhering to your Paleo Principles. A truly worthewile indulgence!
Paying the Price
Occasionally, labelling a food as “Paleo” can automatically serve as license for a premium price tag. This may not always be warranted, necessary or even deserved. The ingredients could be sub-par or you may be able to find a non-Paleo branded version of the product that is more affordable. Certain products may require higher valued ingredients and it is important to make sure those are actually present in proportions and combinations that work for you. You might discover high-quality foods that fit into your “Paleo” specifications without the branding. Be diligent in your back-of-the-package research - it’s not the “Paleo” sticker on the front you care about; it’s the food inside.
Check this out for some packaged options you may want to consider as staples or occasional indulgences.
Food manufacturers can engineer and create junk food to technically follow Paleo guidelines. Paleo ingredient based ‘junk’ food is still exactly that – ‘junk food’ and, no matter what the package may say, is not necessarily an optimal choice for YOU.
Read the ingredients, read the nutrition facts, and then decide whether the food is right for you and how it’s going to fit into your diet. Discovering a new product or a rendition of an old favorite bearing a Paleo friendly claim on the label might be really exciting, but it might not be. Do you due diligence, and you decide.
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com