I'm sure, like me, you've seen lots of question on Paleo forums, asking if a particular processed food is Paleo. Perhaps friends, inspired by your positive changes, are making similar nutritional moves themselves –asking for your guidance on what is and isn't “Paleo” along the way.
A Return to SAD Foods?
The food raising the question generally seems to be some kind of snack or sauce, perhaps a nod towards the person’s previous SAD diet. Often the first ingredient is arguably “Paleo”, perhaps some kind of meat, vegetable – or as it often the case in processed foods – water. But the further down the list you go, the ingredients become less and less agreeable. There is often some form of sugar or sweeteners, preservatives, stabilisers, my favourite “natural flavours” – which really could mean just about anything – and perhaps the catch all “spices”. So maybe there isn't a lot of wheat; but not a lot is still some wheat! Things like gluten seem to linger in the body for a long time, so complete abstinence makes a lot of sense – there’s no such thing as low-gluten.
The other issue is that nutritional information panels don’t display the quality of the ingredients. If they don’t specify that the beef is organic and grass-fed – I think we can assume it almost certainly is not. Would you have bought the ingredients yourself – and if not, why are they suddenly acceptable just because they’re in a packet or bottle?
Unless you've made something, from ingredients you've sourced and understand; can you ever really know what you’re eating?
Processed foods are, no doubt, easier, quicker and cheaper. That’s surely part of the reason we’re in this nutritional mess in the first place. As with lots of things in life, the best things generally aren't the easiest things! Yes, you can buy mayonnaise for a few dollars and use it instantly – or you can invest time and make your own Paleo Mayonnaise knowing exactly what you’re eating – and what you’re not. I know which I’d rather.
I often wonder whether the person asking the question is hoping to gain approval to revert, at least in part, to their old pre-Paleo ways. Whilst some processed foods are clearly a lot more Paleo-friendly than others, I do wonder where to draw the line. If you “allow” a mass-produced tomato sauce with a few dubious ingredients – perhaps that canned chicken soup doesn't look so bad?
So, is it Paleo?
Almost everything I buy doesn't have a nutritional label. Meat from the butcher, eggs and vegetables generally don’t come in packets with nutritional information – and if they do, they are the only ingredient – or I don’t buy it. The only exceptions in my supermarket trolley that I can think of are coconut milk (if I could grow my own, I would!) and nut butters, which I very rarely use.
As a general rule, I think it’s fair to say; if you have to ask, it isn't Paleo!
Are there some border-line foods that you consider Paleo? What do you buy that has an ingredients list?