The Paleo community has been trending towards an obsession with creating bakery style foods with “Paleo” ingredients. Recently, on a trip to my local grocery store I noticed an advertisement for Paleo bread. While it is great to see that eating “Paleo” is maintsteam, it is rather oxymoronic to read an advertisement for “Paleo Bread.” You can find anything from Paleo bread to Paleo pastas to, dare I say it, donuts! That’s right, a donut that is supposedly fits into the “Paleo” paradigm. It’s great to see the tremendous spur in culinary creativity amongst Paleo evangelists, but there also comes a point when the health benefits of The Paleo Diet are compromised. When individuals simply replace their whole wheat bread with almond flour Paleo bread, the nutritional value is questionable. In all likelihood, our hunter gatherer ancestors did not have access to whole wheat bread or almond flour bread. Both breads are processed foods and are a far cry from what our natural human diets would have consisted of during the Paleolithic era.
The two most common flours used in Paleo baking recipes are almond flour and coconut flour. Let’s break it down: Most recipes call for one or more cups of almond flour. One cup of almond flour is equivalent to roughly 90 almonds. Excessive nut consumption can cause a wide array of problems for people trying to achieve results following The Paleo Diet. The primary concern with almond flour is that it contains extremely high amounts of inflammatory PUFAs, or omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. The standard American diet already has a disproportionately large amount of PUFAs and consuming large amounts of almond flour could surely prevent your body from reaching a healthy equilibrium. A diet that is high in PUFAs can result in slowed metabolism, impaired thyroid function, and depletion of antioxidants in the body.
Cooking or baking almond flour results in a process known as oxidization. The PUFAs found in almond flour are not stable at high temperatures, but rather are the least stable of all the fats. Saturated fats are the most stable. When heat is applied to a PUFA, the double bond is easily broken and the PUFA becomes an oxidized fatty acid. In other words, oxidized fats are equal to free radicals and free radicals cause cell damage.
If you are going to be baking anything, coconut flour is your best bet. It is comprised mostly of medium chain saturated fatty acids, which are much more stable under high heat. Also, the majority of carbohydrates in coconut flour are fiber. People with digestive issues, like leaky gut, should avoid both coconut and almond flour altogether, as both flours can cause irritation in the gut.
The basic premise and goal of The Paleo Diet is to eat as close to nature as possible. In reality, a hunter gatherer would have not been able to cook up Paleo pancakes or bread, regardless of the type of flour used. Processed foods were completely out of the picture. The key here is moderation. A coconut flour based pastry on occasion is obviously better than eating the common alternative, which typically is loaded with gluten and vegetable oils. As long as you stick to consuming The Paleo Diet in the way that it was meant to be followed for the majority of your meals, a little dessert here and there should do you no harm.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor