How To Determine If A Food Is Paleo or Not
I was asked by a reader why chocolate chips were considered Paleo when they clearly contain processed sugar.
I have to admit I had a hard time justifying it – I mean, I couldn’t even make the argument that raw honey is somewhat a tiny bit “better” than processed sugar since chocolate chips contained literally sugar, and we tell people not to bake with pure white cane sugar.
So, is Paleo just a hypocritical diet? Did someone just random pick a bunch of expensive foods off a shelf and say, “yep, let’s call these hard-to-find and super expensive foods Paleo, and convince these suckers to buy them believing they’ll somehow make them healthier?”
So, who determines what is Paleo and what isn’t and how?
The Paleo diet originated from the idea that we would be eating an optimal diet if we ate what our prehistoric ancestors ate. And according to historical evidence, that diet would be meat (grass-fed), fish (wild-caught), vegetables, some fruits, and some nuts and seeds.
That diet has of course evolved over the years to be a bit more mainstream and more practical so that many of us could eat it even if we’re traveling constantly, don’t know how to cook, or are super picky eaters. Of course, even in its original form, the Paleo diet made efforts to accommodate modernity. For example, food was cooked, not raw, and it was accepted that most vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds have evolved over the millions of years so that most of what we eat today did not exist in its current form during the caveman era.
In order for more and more people to benefit from a Paleo diet, bloggers, nutritionists, and doctors have made the Paleo diet more practical. We start from the great premise that what people ate millions of years ago is probably pretty healthy and then we look at modern science, as well as anecdotal evidence to see what works for us today. A Paleo diet only works if you can stick to it and even a slight switch to Paleo can help because in the end, you’re just getting rid of junk and adding in some real food.
So, which Paleo god determines that chocolate chips are ok to eat on Paleo then?
Honestly, it’s you!
All we do at Paleo Flourish Magazine is present you with the facts about how healthy or unhealthy a food is, what other Paleo folks think about it and what our opinion is of that food. In the end, you’re the one choosing to put it into your mouth or not.
But before you get bored of reading this article (or did you leave already??), let me tell you about this great Paleo scale. It’s the one I use in my daily life to determine what I consider Paleo or not and whether I would eat it or not.
How To Determine If A Food Is Paleo or Not…Try This Paleo Scale
Of course, this is a metaphorical scale – please feel free to pin and share the infographic below.
On the one side of the scale, I place all the positives of a given food and on the other side, I place all the negatives. But there are many factors to consider like:
- What vitamins/minerals/antioxidants/other great compounds are in this food?
- Would adding this food into my diet greatly help me to stay on Paleo?
- How hard would it be to avoid this food in everything?
- What harmful compounds are in this food?
- Would eating it in small amounts very occasionally be a problem?
- Is the food too easy to overeat if I start eating it?
- Does this food affect me in some specific way (e.g., cravings, allergies) that may not affect other people?
- What are the long term effects of eating this food all the time versus just once in a while?
- How accurate is the science (studies concluding the food is good or bad) likely to be on this food?
For example, let’s take chocolate chips.
When I weigh chocolate chips on the Paleo scale, I get the following positive and negative factors…
On the positive side:
- Chocolate has tons of polyphenols and flavanols as well as minerals like magnesium, copper, and manganese.
- There’s quite a bit of science suggesting that chocolate may be protective of heart disease (like this study and this study).
- Chocolate chips are sort of crucial for making a ton of Paleo treats, which always contain some form of sugar anyway (usually of the raw honey variety).
- While processed sugar is not considered Paleo generally, it’s really the overeating of sugar in any form that’s problematic.
- I don’t have any allergies to chocolate.
On the negative side:
- It’s easy to overeat.
- Eating chocolate chips can lead to sugar cravings.
- The benefits of eating chocolate are limited and you can get those same benefits by eating more green leafy vegetables.
- Some chocolate chip brands contain dairy and other questionable ingredients like “artificial flavor.”
So, all in all, after much weighing, my conclusion is that if you’re making Paleo treats anyway, then adding some chocolate chips to them is probably the last thing you should be worried about! And in the abstract, as long as you buy dark chocolate chips and don’t overeat them, the issues relating to them (at least for me) aren’t major.
That said of course, you don’t need chocolate chips in your diet to live.
Aren’t you just trying to justify why you eat chocolate chips and still call yourself healthy?
Honestly, I’ve made my peace with chocolate. And if you want to judge me, feel free. I’m not perfect. I’m not perfect in my diet, in my sleep, in my exercise. Heck, I’m not even perfect in any aspect of my life. But, I have consciously thought through whether I want to eat chocolate chips occasionally, and currently the answer is yes. That decision may change in the future however.
Whether you choose to eat chocolate chips or not is completely up to you, regardless of whether chocolate chips are classified as Paleo or not!
Give the Paleo Scale A Try!
This really isn’t a Paleo scale – it’s just a healthy living scale. So why not give it a try next time you’re wondering if you should eat something or not.
(Quick note – it’s best to do this weighing exercise when that food isn’t sitting in front of you and you’re not hungry, because chances are super high that you’re going to choose, “eat it,” regardless of what it is!)
Images: Copyright (c) gustavofrazao, Brent Hofacker from Fotolia