For most people, reducing carbohydrates and sugar is a difficult part of transitioning to a Paleo diet. But it doesn’t have to be. Just because all-purpose regular flour and white granulated sugar are off-limits on a Paleo diet, doesn’t mean you can never bake and eat cookies, cakes, and breads again. You can still divulge your sweet tooth while maintaining the lifestyle. There are healthy substitutes for those ingredients and a few must-have other ones to keep stocked in your kitchen.
Before you begin baking, let’s quickly go over what Paleo (The Paleolithic Diet) actually is. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a successful Paleo diet consists of "revisiting the way humans ate during the Paleolithic era more than 2 million years ago." Some major components of the diet include consuming berries, nuts, seeds, greens, fruits, meat, and fish as major food groups. While these are the basics, they’re not the only options available to you.
Whether you’re a novice, expert, or somewhere in between, Paleo baking can have you facing some challenges. To help you cook up the best batches of sweet and savory dishes, we have six Paleo baking tips you’re going to love. Read on for all the yumminess!
Substitute nut flour in place of grain flour
Flour is a big adjustment for most people to make when cooking or baking for a Paleo menu. Truthfully, regular bleached white flour just won’t do for any Paleo recipe. Lucky for you this nutritional lifestyle includes an ingredient that is the perfect substitute for regular-type flour: Nuts. Whether you’re baking cookies, cakes, breads, muffins, or pies, swap out regular flour for whichever type of nut flour you desire. These could include almond, coconut, pecan, walnut, or hazelnut to name a few. (via Cooks Info). Any are acceptable for a Paleo lifestyle but bring their own texture, consistency, binding qualities, and flavor to the dish you’re baking.
Almond flour is a highly desirable flour substitute when baking for the Paleo diet (per Academy of Culinary Nutrition). The high fiber, high protein, bland taste, yet low carb qualities make it a perfect replacement for the common wheat flour — almond flour is also better for your blood sugar, according to Healthline. For best results make sure the almond flour you purchase is extra fine — this ensures the final texture is one you’ll recognize! But also know that texture and taste can vary based on the type of nut flour that is substituted, as well as the amount you’re using. Different flours have different bake times, moisture capabilities, and taste. This may take some trial and error to perfect.
Use a natural sugar to sweeten Paleo baking
Sugar, sugar, sugar! A chocolate chip cookie, piece of banana bread, vanilla cupcake, or dark fudge brownie — while all delicious — are loaded with sugar. And, well, that’s not very Paleo. But sweet treats don’t have to be full of refined sugar when you know what ingredient will kick a sugar craving without sacrificing taste. You could make your own baked goods using alternative sugar substitutes that are healthier for you to consume.
Some readily available options are monk fruit, stevia, honey, maple syrup, and molasses (via A Sweet Pea Chef). Any of these choices are better sugar substitutes than just using refined white sugar. When baking Paleo recipes, natural sugars are the most desirable. Which one you use in your favorite sweet dish will depend upon what treat you’re baking. Each sweetener has a different level of sugary taste and consistency. Some natural sugars, such as molasses and honey, may be better suited for cookies and cakes while other sweeteners like maple syrup and stevia are best used in breads and pies.
Be wary of how much of each ingredient you use — some alternatives tend to be sweeter than sugar, so you’ll want to use less. As with any sweetener, use in moderation.
Swap out butter for a healthy fat
For those of you thinking about following a Paleo diet, butter isn’t the only option you have when it comes to baking, especially when there are healthier alternatives. Yes, grass-fed butter is recommended but exploring other options is also recommended. It’s worth noting that butter has a high saturated fat content, which seems obvious, but did you know that some people have allergies to it. As an option, try replacing the butter in your Paleo recipes with healthier ingredients.
Ingredients such as olive oil, coconut oil, or macadamia oil boast health benefits not found in butter. They are often packed with more antioxidants and healthier fats. For example, olive oil has monounsaturated fat that could have a positive impact on your body, such as lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels (per Medical News Today).
Coconut oil is found in many Paleo recipes and with good reason, according to Paleo Grubs. In comparison to other oils, virgin coconut oil is less processed. There are other healthy fat alternatives to use in place of butter — applesauce, nut butters, pumpkin puree, avocado, or greek yogurt come to mind. Choose one (or even several healthy fats) to bake with when making your next Paleo-friendly treat at home.
Find a sweet but low sugar chocolate
When it comes to Paleo and chocolate, it’s all about the cacao. Preferably 80% or higher is recommended when cooking with the chocolate ingredient in a Paleo baked dish (via Ultimate Paleo Guide). Why this percentage? Well, at this level you know you’re getting all natural cacao with all its benefits versus added sugars and fillers found in other chocolate varieties. If you can’t handle the bitter taste associated with this raw chocolate, there are a few other chocolate alternatives you can try that may better suit your tastes.
According to Paleo Leap, some of the best common replacements for milk chocolate are cocoa powder or dark chocolate. These varieties of chocolate are still bitter but with a hint of sweetness. Choose either one, as both go through less processing, which preserves antioxidant benefits. This alone makes them a healthier alternative to the traditional milk chocolate we all know and love. Both of these substitutes can also be found in the aisles of local grocery stores. Baking with these chocolate varieties does differ compared to using normal milk chocolate in recipes, however. And the lower sugar content of the darker chocolate combined with other Paleo ingredients may cause desserts to set quicker or firmer.
Garnish the dessert with berries
Berries are small yet powerful, ancient fruits. Natural berries are highly nutrient-dense, low-calorie, and contain plenty of micronutrients good for your body. When consumed in moderation they are linked to many health-saving benefits, such as improving cognition and reducing inflammation. And many people love berries for their sweet taste. The options of how to incorporate berries into your Paleo baked dishes are endless.
Several varieties of berries are Paleo approved and perfect for topping tarts, cakes, and pies for a little something sweet and healthy. So what type of berries do you bake with for a Paleo diet? Some well-known choices include blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and cranberries. Lesser known berry types may consist of boysenberries, acai berries, and gooseberries, according to The Paleo Mom.
The ripest berries will be the sweetest, so include some or several types of berry in your next Paleo baked dish. Extra tip: Most berries pair well with lemon juice, vanilla extract, or honey.
Always cool down the dough
This is not another ingredient substitution but rather a baking hack we hope you adopt. Since we’re using flour substitutes to bake Paleo treats, the dough created isn’t exactly like regular dough you may be used to. As mentioned, nut flour substitutes are best when baking on a Paleo diet. The healthier change comes with added changes, too. When the swap of flour type is made and you create a new dough, the end results in consistency and structure that may be harder to handle and cause more tearing. To prevent any damaged dough, stick it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes as recommended in this recipe from Mad About Food. This will help solidify the mixture and make it easier for you to handle before putting in the oven or air fryer.
Food from sweet to savory for breakfast, lunch, or dinner can be Paleo inspired. Make adjustments to the ingredients you normally purchase and supplement them with the healthier Paleo approved alternatives. Eating healthier comes with its share of sacrifices — but sweet treats and taste doesn’t have to be one of them. Use one or all of these baking tips for your next Paleo recipe. And, of course, happy baking!