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It’s Not Just About Substituting

One of the negative consequences of The Paleo Diet’s® popularity is that many self-labeled experts have put an inaccurate spin on what constitutes “Paleo.” Too many inflammatory, low nutrient-density products are being labeled “Paleo” simply because they have substituted a non-Paleo ingredient with a “Paleo” ingredient. That’s not how the diet works.

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So, you’re thinking about making a cake, but you want to stay “Paleo.” You think, I’ll just use almond flour. Not so fast. Replacing traditional flours or other non-Paleo ingredients with “Paleo-correct” substitutes is not eating Paleo. In fact, it directly contradicts the main tenet of The Paleo Diet: the belief that we eat like our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Do you think Paleolithic humans ate cake—of any kind?

Now, that's not to say that using almond or coconut flour is not a better option than using wheat flour, particularly if one has a gluten sensitivity. But you shouldn’t believe that the cake you’ve made is Paleo. It is still highly processed, low in nutrient-density and contributes to glycemic load. Worse, these substitute foods end up replacing healthy foods, such as clean animal protein and fresh fruits and vegetables, that provide the high nutrient density of a true Paleo Diet.

Eating a healthy Paleo Diet means we must change how we eat and get back to more basic, natural eating. Replacing sugar with honey and flour with coconut flour is not nature’s way.

So, does that mean you should never eat cake? Fortunately, we believe in an 85:15 approach, and encourage you to make 85 percent of your diet clean, true Paleo foods. This allows 15 percent to be some of the non-Paleo foods you enjoy. For most people, taking this approach will still provide the health benefits of adopting a modern Paleo Diet.

If the substitution of wheat flour for a nut flour is within the 15 percent, it is not an issue. Then you can feel good about improving the nutrition of your “Paleo-inspired” cake! Just accept that it’s part of your 15 percent. Don’t try to convince yourself its Paleo.

If, however, you have a health concern that persists after adopting an 85:15 Paleo Diet, you should consider an even greater compliance or try an elimination diet to find what non-Paleo foods trigger your condition. Autoimmune patients, for example, have demonstrated that 100 percent compliance is often required to stay in remission from their disease.

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Paleo Leadership
Trevor Connor
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Dr. Loren Cordain’s final graduate student, Trevor Connor, M.S., brings more than a decade of nutrition and physiology expertise to spearhead the new Paleo Diet team.

Mark J Smith
Dr. Mark J. Smith

One of the original members of the Paleo movement, Mark J. Smith, Ph.D., has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the benefits of Paleo nutrition.

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Ironman athlete, mom, author, and nutrition blogger Nell Stephenson has been an influential member of the Paleo movement for over a decade.

Loren Cordain
Dr. Loren Cordain

As a professor at Colorado State University, Dr. Loren Cordain developed The Paleo Diet® through decades of research and collaboration with fellow scientists around the world.