We’ve all been there. You’ve been SO good, doing your Paleo/Primal thing and loving it. Then somewhere, deep in the recesses of your complicated stomach-brain-food-craving center, an itch develops. Maybe it’s an itch for the richness of a brownie or the best melty-cheese-and-sliced-meat delivery system of all time: pizza.
And rather than do full-on nuclear damage to your progress, you want a way to scratch that itch without resorting to wheat flour, sugar, or anything that comes pre-made in a box. Fair enough. But first, let’s educate ourselves.
- Know thyself. If you know that one square of dark chocolate will lead to an all-night binge resulting in you waking up in a gutter half-naked and covered in chocolate sauce, then do us all a favor, and don’t get started. Some folks just have trouble with portion and impulse control, but acknowledging this is the biggest part of the battle. If this is the case for you, you might want to stick to food closer to what nature intended. This also applies if you’re someone who is vulnerable to the fallacy of “It’s Primal, so it’s good for me, so I can eat the whole batch!” Some people, present company included, find that the occasional substitution prevents them from demolishing their daughter’s friend’s birthday cake when the opportunity presents itself.
- Beware the Bloat. This is purely anecdotal on my part, but I’ve noticed that when we have something like coconut flour muffins around, we can eat a large quantity of them, just as was true with their gluten-y, sugary counterparts. And then we get an old familiar feeling—that post-Thanksgiving, over-full sensation. One of the greatest discoveries for us on Primal eating has been how it is literally impossible to stuff ourselves anymore, but if we have almond muffins with our bison chili, that goes out the window. The only explanation I can think of is that the texture, with its airy quality, is deceptive to our stomachs.
- Make it yourself! Sure, you can buy chocolate-covered nuts at the store, just don’t look at the ingredient list. All kinds of weird nasties lurk in there: soy lecithin, sugar, canola oil, “natural flavorings” (whatever that means), confectioner’s glaze. Buy the purest ingredients you can, make your own treats, and you’ll keep your substitution from turning into a full-fledged cheat.
- Don’t make it a habit. While almond flour pancakes piled high with butter and mashed berries is delicious and a nice break from the bacon-and-eggs routine, substitutions can be packed with calories and often feature some sort of sweetener. And, as mentioned, in many cases you can eat more than your fair share of them. So keep it infrequent. For my part, I try not to give in to a baking project more than once a week.
Still on board? Where are these yummy treats?
- Here’s a page chock-full of links to MDA-approved substitutions. Mark’s Primal Blueprint Cookbook also has a section of substitutions, and their Pumpkin Nut Muffins are awesome.
- Elana’s Pantry has many great baking projects, all gluten-free, but not all are Paleo/Primal specifically. I’ve substituted different oils and sweeteners just fine with a few of her recipes. I particularly love her Cranberry Orange Scones (without the white chocolate chips and subbing honey for the agave) and the Silver Dollar Pancakes.
- Purely Primal has an awesome Primal Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and a great approximation to cornbread with their Almond Muffins.
So while our mammoth-hunting ancestors never knew the delight of an almond flour Snickerdoodle, it doesn’t mean that you can’t occasionally partake. Besides, these are the sorts of things you can bring to your office’s holiday potluck or friend’s summer BBQ. As Paleo/Primal eaters, we’re already on the outs with much of our culture’s way of eating, so a batch of cranberry walnut almond bread shared with family, friends, or colleagues can really help bridge the gap. Plus, they don’t even have to know what is or isn’t in it.
One of the reasons I always admired baked goods was that it really showcased the ingenuity of our species. With only a few ingredients—flour, butter, water—we’ve invented hundreds of amazing creations, often from ingredients considered fit only for peasants and livestock. A multi-layered, flaky handmade croissant is truly a thing of beauty. Luckily, we can still participate in our human culinary heritage with almond flour, lots of eggs, and a healthy helping of butter.