You only need to type the words Paleo and dessert into your search engine and your screen will instantly be filled with chocolatey, coconutty deliciousness. It could suffice to say there is little probability of these foods appearing on the plates (or spears) of your cavemen ancestors.
Click through to see a myriad of pictures of decadent cupcakes, cookies, brownies, cake bites, and candies, all positioned as healthy alternatives to junky treats made with refined flours and sugars. These are positioned as health food that are sure to make you salivate. However, before you rush off and start buying coconut flour, naturally occurring sugars and pounds of dates, take a step back and consider whether all this added sugar and these tempting sweets are actually a good fit in your diet right now, whether the ingredients are technically Paleo or not!
The whole concept of good-for-you desserts may have gotten a little off track. Obviously, Paleo salted caramel cheesecake bars are not the nutritional equivalent of Brussels sprouts, but often the healthy labels attached to less-processed sweets lure people into eating them more often than they should. Dessert is still dessert, and getting too many calories from bliss balls and Paleo avocado brownies cake can inhibit health goals, contribute to weight gain (or prevent weight loss), and replace other, healthier whole, real foods like well-sourced proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds in the diet.
In the same way that traditional cupcakes and cookies are, many of these Paleo compliant desserts are packed with sugar. Recipes will advertise that their treats contain no refined sugars, but more natural alternatives like maple syrup and raw honey are still added sugars, and all of these sweeteners have similar impacts on your health, especially if consumed in excess.
Health organizations' recommendations to limit added sugar apply to honey, maple syrup, Date syrup, coconut sugar, and others categorized as natural sweeteners, along with standard white sugar. Contrary to marketing claims, natural sweeteners are not optimal sources of vitamins and minerals; they provide trace amounts, with the exception of blackstrap molasses. While some all-natural desserts are sweetened with dates or other fruit pastes in place of sweeteners, the finished products are typically far more concentrated in sugar than a piece of whole, fresh fruit.
Furthermore, desserts and treats with a health angle are often made with nuts and nut flours, dried fruits, oils, grass-fed butter, and coconut milk which can provide a large amount of energy(calories) with very little satiety. This means they are easy to over consume. All these balls, bars, and similar treats can be incredibly dense, packing large amounts of energy into a few small bites. If you are training for a marathon or exercising intensely on a daily basis, you may need the extra energy, but if maintaining your health and/or losing fat are your goals, these treats can easily sabotage your efforts. Portion control is absolutely key.
It is true that these cookies and cakes containing nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and other healthful ingredients are an improvement over traditional recipes made with processed foods, white flour, sugar, margarine, additives and preservatives they should still be treated as indulgences. It is perfectly acceptable to enjoy a small treat occasionally, or even daily if appropriately sized, but this may be challenging if you find yourself making batch after batch of homemade sweets, despite your best intentions to eat just one tiny piece. It is significantly easier to overeat almond cookies and date brownies than whole nuts and fruit.
Whilst for some these foods can be included as a healthy treat, the key word here is treat, and these food items definitely need to be approached with caution depending on your goals.
To determine whether adding Paleo sweets is something to consider, begin by asking yourself the following questions:
Are you happy with your body composition?
If you are looking to gain muscle, a Paleo friendly indulgence might just be a great addition to your diet. The extra calories, carbohydrates to spike your insulin post training, along with some extra protein are probably all going to help your cause. For many however, this is not their goal.
If you’re looking to lose body fat, Paleo treats might not quite be the solution when hunger hits. A paleo pancake here and there is not going to hurt, and it is definitely still possible to lose body fat eating paleo pancakes for breakfast every morning. But, the energy density and higher carbohydrate content of these treats will not work in your favor. These foods still fall under the category of “treats” even though they are technically Paleo.
Can you stop at one?
Or even two? Without going into the details of the reasons we eat, suffice to say, some of people are challenged to moderate or stop and having one or a small piece. In this scenario, cooking up a big batch of any type of high energy-density sweet treats, be they Paleo or not, is probably not ideal.
If this possibly applies to you, you could try and modify the recipe to only make one serving at a time, or alternatively buy pre-made Paleo treats that are portion sized. Unfortunately, it might be unrealistic to spend the time and effort involved in making a specific treat in one small portion. Another option is to ensure you have the ability to share the fruits of your labor and not be left with too many after, or tell others you are making them and commit to giving them some.
Do you have intolerances or allergies to certain non-Paleo foods?
The discussion shifts if the choice for you is that of a Paleo sweet or a box of cream-filled donuts, as opposed to no treat at all. If you know you want a treat and you know you have food intolerances or allergies, then choosing a Paleo friendly sweet make sense. In this case one might argue that even if you are trying to lose body fat and have a track record of not stopping at one or two, the lesser of two evils is definitely the Paleo sweet.
No matter which approach you subscribe to, or how you may answer these questions, it is important to be sensible about desserts. Treats with labels like raw, organic, vegan, and Paleo do not imply ‘eat freely’ and can be deceptively high in added sugars, so be selective about when you splurge.
A few things to remember when scouring your favorite recipe website for the latest, delicious rendition of your most-loved cookie.
- Sugar, by any name is still sugar, be it coconut sugar, maple syrup , honey, date paste and the like
- High-calorie and/or high-fat foods like nuts, seeds, butter, coconut oil or milk, and dried fruit add up and when combined in a sweet morsel may not provide the satiety you are hoping for
- Many recipes don't come with a nutrition facts label. Do the math in your head and stick to a small portion as an occasional treat.
While paleo treats are definitely not for everybody all the time, there are still times for the occasional indulgence. When choosing a Paleo treat, you know exactly what the food is made of, no scary chemical preservatives or additives. From a macronutrient perspective Paleo treats tend to be lower in sugar than their traditional versions, plus from a nutrient perspective the Paleo treat is probably high in good fats, antioxidants, fiber, and lots of other good stuff. You can have your cake in any form you like and eat it too — just not every day.
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