Friday recipe: Paleo cupcakes

Have you ever considered the Paleo diet? Based on the foods our Paleolithic ancestors ate for generations around 10,000 years ago, this approach emphasizes meat and seafood, vegetables, fruit and nuts. Also called the Caveman Diet, it has sparked controversy and numerous discussions. According to WebMD, supporters say today’s typical western diet has caused current epidemic levels of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more. Opposing nutrition experts say humans have adapted to a broader diet including whole grains and dairy, and they question the diet’s evolutionary logic.

Paleo and palate-pleasing! Photo: Elana's Pantry
Paleo and palate-pleasing! Photo: Elana’s Pantry

Strictly duplicating the diet of Paleo people is impossible for probably 99.9 percent of us given our lack of access to wild game and the realities that meats are domesticated and most modern plant food is cultivated rather than wild. Embracing something even close to a Paleo diet may take more effort than most modern Americans are willing or able to do. But I think these lessons of the Paleo approach can benefit everyone:

  • A diet rich in lean protein and plant foods contains fiber, protein and fluids that work together to satisfy, control blood sugar and prevent weight gain and type 2 diabetes (WebMD).
  • The Paleo diet plan also encourages people to be physically active on a regular basis, something beneficial to almost everyone.
  • Adopting even some of the Paleo diet principles – again, more lean meats, beans, vegetables and fruits, and reduced or no processed foods – can enhance the health of many people, particularly those with celiac disease or other gluten-averse conditions.

My colleagues Anna and Katie adopted a Paleo diet because of that third point. Anna was diagnosed with celiac disease in August 2012 and, per her doctor’s recommendation, immediately went gluten-free. She continued to experience hypoglycemia during work-outs, though, and wasn’t getting the health improvement she sought. She researched the Paleo lifestyle and embraced it fully in January.

“I felt a huge difference immediately as I cut out added sugar, grains, beans and legumes, any processed food – even if it was gluten-free – and dairy, and cut down my coffee intake significantly,” says Anna, whose recommended reading includes Diane Sanfilippo’s Practical Paleo. “I realized when I ate balanced, Paleo meals throughout the day, my blood sugar stayed completely level, I had no hypoglycemic episodes when I CrossFIt, I had lessened or no digestive symptoms, and my mood and outlook improved.”

Katie was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) more than four years ago and has since struggled with daily pain, unexpected flare-ups and extreme fatigue. Among the many tidbits of “unsolicited recommendations” for cures was her friend Lauren’s suggestion, The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. It sat on her bed table, ignored, for almost eight months.

“Finally I became so fed up that I reached for the book and read the entire thing from start to finish,” she recalls. “Although the thought of giving up all grains, legumes and dairy seemed impossible to me at the time, I was determined to try the diet for the recommended 30 days to see if I found any relief. What did I have to lose?”

Using Anna as a resource, Katie struggled with giving up her two-a-day energy drinks. As her third week of the Paleo diet ended, though, she “was happier, more energetic and hadn’t complained about a single RA pain in weeks.”

Katie says she also was able to ramp up her work-outs while losing weight, even while still getting to eat bacon. “After sticking to the plan for 30 days, I knew Paleo was the solution I had been looking for,” she adds.

Just remember: Gluten-free does not automatically equal “healthy diet.” Elana Amsterdam, the author of several books on Paleo and gluten-free cooking, notes on her website, Elana’s Pantry, “The best path to wellness is a well-rounded diet which includes many foods – it is far more work than simply bastardizing one ingredient, such as gluten. What does eating healthy entail? Consuming a diverse array of nutrient dense foods every day, day after day…eating close to the earth is, and always has been, the way to go.”

At the very least, the Paleo diet sparks the opportunity to explore new and different approaches in mindful, healthy eating. I’m all for embracing parts of various diet approaches that stretch my culinary imagination, satisfy my taste buds and achieves what Anna describes.

“Every meal I eat is guilt-free and totally enjoyed, because I know what I’m putting into my body is making me healthier and stronger instead of damaging it more,” she says. “Not to mention the food I eat is delicious.”

Today’s recipes, thanks to Anna, Katie and Elana, are case in point: Who doesn’t love a good cupcake?

Paleo cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup oil or butter (coconut oil, ghee, or cooking oil)
  • 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Seeds from a vanilla bean (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine all the dry in ingredients and blend well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and use a mixer to blend, getting rid of any clumps of flour. Now, optionally, add the vanilla bean seeds and blend well. Fill 8 cupcake liners about 3/4 of the way with batter. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool and then frost. Store covered for a few days at room temperature, or refrigerate for a week or so.

Paleo chocolate frosting

  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt chocolate and coconut oil. Stir in vanilla. Place frosting in refrigerator for 15-30 minutes to thicken. Remove from refrigerator and whip frosting with a hand blender until thick and fluffy.

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