Whole Living (October 2012)
We bet you know someone who's on the Paleo diet.
It goes by other names -- caveman, primal, hunter-gatherer. It's a fad diet that first started in the 1970s, but has exploded in popularity in the past few years. The idea behind the Paleo diet is this: For millions of years, our cavemen ancestors ate a diet of lean meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and fungi. Then, relatively recently, our ancestors began farming grains, potatoes and other refined starches. Evolutionarily speaking, our bodies haven't adapted to that change in diet. So we'd all be better off trying replicate the diet of Paleolithic man.
In other words, lean proteins and veggies are in. Carbohydrates, refined sugars, legumes and dairy are out.
Simple enough. And who can argue that modern-day humans couldn't stand to cut down their carb intake? Paleo is, at its most basic, high in protein and low in carbs. (In a lot of ways, Paleo seems like Atkins 2.0.)
We're a little torn on Paleo, to be honest. For one thing, it's always struck us as questionable to talk about "a Paleo diet" as if there was one single set of foods being consumed by cavemen the world over. We're no experts, but we're pretty sure the guys sitting around painting caves in Lascaux weren't slugging coconut water (a major part of the modern Paleo diet). And the guys who were sipping on coconut water probably didn't have access to, say, buffalo.
And we're not sure about the argument that "this is what cavemen ate so this is what's best for you." Cavemen ate whatever cavemen could find. That doesn't mean their diet is necessarily the healthiest mix of foods for human consumption.
Also, their lifestyles were so vastly different from our own that we wonder how much we should be comparing our diet to theirs. For instance, our ancestors needed as much protein as they could find. But modern humans don't "need" meat at all. In fact, a lot of nutritionists smarter than we are say we'd all be much better off eating no meat whatsoever.
We have a lot of friends who are going Paleo these days. We're not among them (as the croissants we ate in San Francisco will attest). But this is all a very, very long-winded way of saying that we're intrigued by the Paleo diet, but unconvinced about its merits.
But one night recently we hosted a Paleo dinner to see what all the fuss is about.
Picking an entree was actually rather easy. We found a recipe from Whole Living that sounded great: a roast pork loin sweetened naturally with roasted grapes. Frankly, it's the kind of main dish we make a lot anyway.
We served it with roasted brocollini and roast sweet potatoes (using Paleo-friendly coconut oil instead of olive oil). Again, that's nothing too far beyond what you'd normally find on our dinner table.
Where we really wanted to challenge ourselves was dessert.
Obviously, Paleo desserts are a lot harder. With no flour, sugar or dairy, the options are limited. Sure, we could have served fresh fruit and nuts. But that felt too easy. We wanted to push ourselves with something a little more challenging.
We came up with the idea of making a date spread and sandwiching it between two Paleo-friendly cookies. To plump up and sweeten the dried dates, we soaked them in water and honey for a little bit. We made a basic cookie recipe using coconut flour (kind of similar to this recipe for Almond Flour Paleo Cookies).
We didn't think very highly of our dessert. The date spread was good (which is to say, it tasted like dates and honey). The cookies weren't good at all. We probably should have made straight-up almond-flour cookies, but for some reason we wanted to try coconut flour. Turns out coconut flour absorbs a lot of liquid; our cookies were dense and dry.
So, our inaugural all-Paleo meal was pretty good! We all really enjoyed the main course. Drew, Ralph, Melody and BK praised the cookies (but we think perhaps they were just being gracious....that or the non-Paleo wine we were serving). For our part, we would have just preferred a dessert of fresh fruit and nuts.
We think there's a lot to recommend about aspects of the Paleo diet. Eating leaner proteins and more vegetables and fewer starches is definitely a good idea. And if it helps you organize your planning to think in terms of, "What would a caveman eat?", then that's probably helpful.
What about you? Have you tried going Paleo? Know anyone who has? Any favorite recipes you want to share? Let us know in the comments!
Prep time: 15 mins | Total time: 40 mins
Yield: Serves 4
Note from Zach and Clay of The Bitten Word:
- To make this Paleo, we used coconut oil instead of vegetable oil, and we omitted the red wine vinegar. We also omitted the couscous.
- Strictly speaking, a Paleo diet does not include salt. So if you want to make this as by-the-book as possible, omit the salt.
One 1 1/4-pound pork tenderloin, tied with kitchen twine
8 leaves fresh sage
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pound seedless grapes, separated into small clusters
1 shallot, sliced
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 cups cooked whole-grain couscous
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Tuck 6 sage leaves under kitchen twine and season pork with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Sear pork on all sides until golden, about 8 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside. Add remaining oil to pan with grapes, shallot, and remaining sage. Season with salt and pepper. Nest pork in center of pan.
Transfer pan to oven and roast until pork reaches 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 minutes. Remove pork and let stand 10 minutes before slicing.
Stir vinegar into grape mixture. Spoon grape mixture over pork and serve with couscous.
Paleo Date Sandwich Cookies
1 1/2 cups dried dates, finely chopped
1 tablespoon honey
Your favorite Paleo cookie recipe, such as these Almond-Flour Paleo Cookies
In a small bowl, combine dates, honey, and 3 tablespoons warm water. Let sit for 15 minutes.
Prepare cookies. Once they've cooled, sandwiche a layer of the date mixutre between two cookies.