Monday, May 31, 2010

The "Paleo" Cookie...

Sorry, this isn't going to be a recipe post - it's a "time to face the reality of what eating Paleo really means" summary.  The short definition of what the Paleo diet includes is lean meats, lots of vegetables, heart healthy fats, and some fruit.  But, many people follow what I like to call a "Pick and Choose Paleo Diet", justifying feasts of 20 ounce ribeyes, dried fruit and nuts, frequent LaraBars, 'Paleo' versions of cookies, bread, ice cream, etc. by saying "it's Paleo friendly".  It's these same people that wonder why, even though eating 'Paleo', they are unable to get lean, improve performance and reap all the benefits of a truly 'Paleo' diet.
I am going to tell you about one of my former athlete clients, we'll call him/her 'Pat'.  Pat wanted to lean out for the upcoming racing season.  I provided Pat a meal plan and put A LOT of time and effort into helping Pat get 'dialed-in'.  Nothing seemed to be working based on the feedback I was getting.  So, I had Pat keep a very detailed food and training journal for me and guess what??  Pat was in fact eating 'Paleo', but decided that vegetables were over-rated and traded some of them with fruit.  Additionally, Pat drank the 'Post-workout recovery' smoothie, for breakfast or sometimes an evening snack, AND substituted LaraBars, 'Paleo' pancakes, cookies, etc., for protein and fat in snacks.  Ummm... To make a long story short let's just say... "Houston We Have A Problem."
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I'm fairly certain Paleolithic men and women were not whipping up smoothies, batches of 'Paleo' cookies, pancakes, ice cream, etc.  In fact if you dig into the research you'll find that our Paleolithic ancestors only got 'treats' (fruit and nuts), seasonally, and then there's the harvest and preparation factors.  Have you ever tried to break open a coconut, dried fruit without a dehydrator, or eaten nuts out of the shell?  That's right, no 5# bags of walnuts from Costco sitting on the shelf...  It was a harsh world back then...
All that being said, a 'Paleo' cookie, Larabar, or other 'Paleo' friendly 'treats' aren't necessarily off limits.  But remember these are 'treats' and should be eaten as such - in MODERATION!!  So next time you find yourself questioning if this 'Paleo thing' is actually working, try living like a real caveman and we'll talk.



  1. I think we'll see more and more of this as paleo goes commercial.

  2. I agree. I used to have smoothies almost every day x 2, lara bars x 1, and more fruit through the day. It wasn't until i switched to more fatty foods, eggs, bacon, fish, some nuts, and seeds with loads of veggies when I began to see & feel an immediate positive change in my energy, body comp and ability to fight the cold & allergies.

    I will have a lara bar once a week at most, my waffles are more paleo friendly with nut butter and eggs, and I will make a treat once in a while, but for the most part the diet is 85-95% paleo friendly on most days.

    Your posts are always so short and to the point, I like reading your blog...thanks.

  3. Great Post Amy! I went to Loren Cordain's web site to find this some time ago in regard to dried fruit and glycemic index - until this I was a dried fruit addict and loved a snack of dried fruit and nuts daily.

    "However, this being said there are some important exceptions. Dried fruits are not only concentrated calorie sources, they also represent high glycemic loads and have a high potential to cause weight gain, particularly when eaten in unlimited quantities. In addition, high-fat foods such as nuts, seeds, or fatty meats, if consumed in excessive quantity along with fruits, can also promote weight gain."

  4. I totally agree with everything you said, "Pat" was obviously making some comprised substitutions, but I have to say I don't agree with the coconut, dried fruit and nuts comments (aside from their obvious seasonality of course - best in cold winters only).

    If monkeys can get the suckers open using a choice rock out cropping, and learning through trial and error where the sweet spot in the coconut is -- and there always is one (young coconuts that is) -- then that electrolyte rich water and flesh would be an easy score. Same for nuts. Got a rock? bash it open. Each one has a sweet spot where the "hinge" will release. Maybe not walnuts, but then there aren't a lot of walnuts along the equator, instead there would be some form of macadamias, brazil, cashews, or their predecessors.

    As for dehydrating without a dehydrator... well that's easy: the sun. Traditional cultures still do it. In Italy, they used to sun-dry their tomatoes on the roof. And Polynesians dry fish on rocks or hand made racks. Why do we assume that paleo-man was a moron? Or had no instincts or skills of observation?

    Furthermore, hiking up a tree to get a load of mangoes or fruit was often an easy source of calories all year round in the tropics; I just don't think he was of a mind that was counting his carbs.

  5. Lindsay you make some really great points which are along the same lines as what Amy was saying - Getting nuts and fruit would be seasonal but also clearly more work. However what Amy is pointing out is that even thought the Neanderthal may have enjoyed these foods it wasn't easy, in fact if you think about it it was work.
    Do you live near the equator? Cause if you do not then your ancestors were not simply climbing a tree to get their fruit they were waiting until it was in season and eating it. They may have dried some out but doubtful that they harvested enough via drying to last the fall/winter/spring (about 9 months of the year) for daily snacks.
    In regard to nuts, I suggest to you that next time you want some nuts you go buy a bag but walk to and fro the grocery store and buy them shelled - then go outside get yourself and rock or two and bang them open. I doubt you will eat more than 5- 10 nuts at best verses a handful or handfuls.

    I have a home in Dominican Republic with several coconut trees in my yard. Let me tell you getting them open is no joke - I use a machete - a very sharp one. Sometimes the gardener cracks them open for me, several at one time. I watch him - I have yet to see him find some sweet spot or a magic hinge as you state. It takes skill to open and not spill the delicious milk and a damn sharp knife oh and some amount of muscle. If you do know of this really perhaps you could take a video of yourself cracking coconuts and put it on YouTube as this would be extremely helpful to many many cultures and peoples who have access to coconut trees.

    Also you may want to read what Loren Cordain wrote on his blog that somebody anonymously posted here - 1 post above yours. Interesting that it has been proven that dried fruit has a high glycemic index and that the combo of nuts and dried fruits can cause one to gain weight - maybe not if you were doing all the "banging" work to bust the shells open. And bare in mind that if you sat down to a dried fruit snack it would be easy to consume the below listed amounts but check out the calorie content vs. the calorie content of those same fruit fresh and raw - 1 apple is 65 calories approx for example.
    Fruit and nuts are to Paleo what candy is to the modern day diet - would you eat a candy bar everyday or even two in a setting? Doubtful.
    Calories in Apples-Dried
    10 rings

    Calories in Apricots-Dried
    10 halves

    Calories in Currants
    1 cup

    Calories in Prunes
    5 medium

    Calories in Peach-Dried
    5 halves

    5 medium

    Calories in Figs-Dried
    3 medium

    Calories in Pear-Dried
    5 halves

    Calories in Raisins-Golden
    1/2 cup

    Calories in Raisins-Seedless
    1/2 cup

    However if you are able to eat loads of dried fruit and nuts and stay lean with Paleo, well, more power to you. I found that I had to cut these items in order to get the results I was striving for.

  6. Nuts in all their various forms are the most overrated and overhyped foods in the “health conscious” community. Just because it’s a natural food doesn’t mean it’s all that diet friendly or even healthy for that matter.

    Packing a higher calorie density than chocolate, it’s no big mystery that people easily overdo it with nuts. Some people rationalize a high nut consumption by saying it’s a healthy and natural snack, but this is wrong. Nuts contain an incomplete amino acid profile and consist mostly of plant fats. The westernized diet is already highly unbalanced in the omega 3: omega 6-ratio—the polyunsaturated fats from nuts certainly won’t help.

    Optimize the fat composition of your diet by kicking nuts to the curb and add more fish, that’s my recommendation. You’ll be more satiated and healthier to boot.

  7. Ok Anonymous - a few things to take into mind: how is gathering food, fruit and nuts more work than hunting or running down a four-legged meal? Isn't that the reason for the distribution of labor? Most women were gatherers because it was harder to do, right?

    Just to be clear, I do eat meat: I follow much of the primal/paleo ideology because I think it is a good one, if not entirely complete IMO ... that said:

    I went looking for a video that describes the sweet spot, the best one I could find was by a raw fooder but it describes the process well. This is how I've always done it. A Hawaiian friend of mine showed me how it was done.

    So if Neanderthal had access to his hunting spears and knives (if you have taken an archeology class or read similar books on the subject, you will have come into contact with these and how they are made)then he has the tool to peel and "knock" too. But really... you just need a good sharp and heavy, wield-able rock to strip the fiberous pulp away and tap around the top. Not to mention how the younger the suckers are, the easier they are to open and the more water inside.

    Now you also say: "They may have dried some out but doubtful that they harvested enough via drying to last the fall/winter/spring (about 9 months of the year) for daily snacks."

    Well, so long as you're in the spring, summer and early fall you would not need them -- because you still have access to fresh fruit still in harvest well through the end of October in many many places. Hence the original pagan rituals on the 1st of November. The beginning of winter and the the end of the last harvest.

    So No need to dry it them out when you got the fresh stuff. Rationally then, you need a store of dried fruits say or nuts for 3-4 months and not nine. By February and March you get spring greens and berries, unless you are at high altitude, but most nomadic tribes new to come down to lower elevations to survive.

    Fruits good thru oct: apples, blackberries, cranberries, dates, grapes, figs oranges, certain melons, pears, quince, star fruit, etc. (depending on climate of course).

    If we're talking Norway, Siberia, Alaska, etc. well it's hardly an argument for fruit is not part of the diet there anyways, but fatty meats, and organs, instead.

    I am not arguing the nutrient or calorie density of the fruit/nut issue nor it's high levels of omega 6 fats. Nor how their glycemic index affect weight gain, which would have been a useful thing to have in the cold northern winters, hence why all animals store food or fat to survive the season. Of course, this is not so much an issue for us today.

    My only argument is ultimately on the perceived difficulty and the tendency for people to see ancient or paleo man as being disconnected from how to feed himself efficiently in his environment. It seems like we project our own modern lack of survival know-how or while we want his physique and prowess, we still conceive of paleo man as the proverbial "cave-man" = not so smart, vs. the animal of the wild world he was.

    So finally, on the nut concept: I was speaking of rocks more for tropical nuts, but if that doesn't jive because of a walnuts hard shell for instance: it has been a long practice to put them in coals of fire until they crack or split. Roasting chestnuts over an open fire, isn't just a song, as I'm sure you know.

    Ancient archeological sites going back to the beginning of our use of fire show the hulls of seeds and nut debris in the ashes.

    Food for thought it seems.

  8. I'm glad I found this post and hope I'm not the only one who found it somewhat contradictory to their understanding of The Paleo Diet for Athletes. The book contains a sample meal plan for someone during the Build period during which they consume nuts and dried fruit as a morning snack and again at night.

    I certainly agree that nuts are over consumed under the guise of healthful and realize dried fruit generally contains mucho calories and sugar.

    Maybe my interpretation of that sample meal plan from the book is/was flawed but does anyone else find this similarly confusing?

  9. @Anonymous - The Paleo Diet for Athletes was written for the endurance athlete. Exceptions to the traditional 'Paleo Diet' are made in order to adequately fuel endurance workouts and to replace the nutrients lost during the workouts in order to promote recovery for a strong next workout.

  10. So how about the person who really wants to eat paleo but really hates veggies? What do I do? I don't want to be miserable every time I eat...

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