Cheat Days • January 23, 2010, at 11:47 pm
The “Paleo” Cheat Day (Coco-Cocoa-Banana Pudding Recipe)
I didn’t set out to do it, but today became my first ever “Paleo-Cheat-Day,” that is, a clear “cheat day” that was composed of completely “Paleo” foods. What I did set out to do, however, was satisfy a craving I had for a special treat. I devised a paleo version of one of my favorite desserts, the Italian Chocolate Pudding Mold I learned to make from the outstanding cookbook The Silver Spoon. (A must have for every kitchen, by the way.)
See page 1024 for the recipe for a traditional Italian “Chocolate Mold,” i.e. Budino al Cioccolato
My Accidental Paleo-Cheat Day
One thing that makes the “Paleo-Diet” so beloved by its proponents is the fact that it is sometimes called an “unregulated” or an “unrestricted” diet, meaning, so long as your food quality lines up with “Paleolithic” principles, you can eat as much as you like.
Paleo-theorists apply a lot of science to thinking about the types of food that Paleolithic humans did or didn’t eat. And it’s true that you will live a healthier life if you confine yourself to “Paleo-quality” foods. That’s fine, as far as it goes. But it simply doesn’t go far enough.
The more responsible Paleo-theorists will also think about when, why, and how much Paleolithic humans ate. The answer to this is, of course: they ate whenever food became available, they ate as much as was available, and they ate not only to stave off hunger, but to store energy for times when food would not be available.
Modern Americans who are living above the poverty level basically have access to any food they could want, whenever they want it. But Paleolithic humans weren’t Americans. They had the opportunity to hunt or gather food only periodically. Edible plants are available only in certain seasons and in certain areas. Animals live year round, but they too have life cycles and their migratory patterns are such that, in paleolithic times, they would be moving in and out of areas settled or ranged by humans. Weather patterns sometimes bring rain, sometimes drought. The food yield of the earth, in a state of nature, is in constant flux.
Thank God for evolution. Our human ancestors inherited two traits, one metabolic and the other behavioral, that allowed them to thrive in this potentially difficult environmental context. These traits evolved in mammals a long time before they were inherited by human beings, and while they were useful to Paleolithic human beings, they now happen to be some of the most frustrating aspects of our bodies. I am speaking, of course, of (a) our capacity to store excess calories as fat, and (b) our capacity to overeat in the presence of surplus food supply. These related abilities allow mammals to prepare for lean times (such as winter) by carrying with them at all times a non-perishable energy supply that doubles as a nice layer of insulation! The two capacities work together and support each other. Only our ability to eat in excess of the limits set by the hormonally triggered feelings of “hunger” and “satiety” allows us to create that surplus of available energy which our body can store as fat.
Paleolithic humans didn’t have to worry about their genetic heritage. It simply worked for them. There wasn’t any media or cultural pressure for them to have six-pack abs or be “fit,” so if they got a little bit chubby in a good year, it wasn’t a big deal to them. In any case, they were likely all pretty “fit” by our standards and they would almost certainly burn off any excess fat their bodies were lucky enough to store during lean seasons.
We, on the other hand, have to think carefully about what evolution has bequeathed to us. The ready availability of food in our society, especially when combined with a broken food culture that regularly “supersizes” portions in order to maximize industry profits, means that we are constantly offered the opportunity to overeat. And we are genetically predisposed to do so. Studies show that human perceptions of “hunger” and satiety, and our willingness to eat, are in part relative to the amount of food that is placed before us. Increasing portion sizes increases food intake. (See here, here, and here). To make it more complex, it turns out our food intake is also relative to the food choices and body type of the people we eat with. (That’s called “social contagion”).
I can hear the objections of the Paleo-theorists already! It is simply not possible, they say, to overeat if you limit yourself to high-quality, “Paleo” foods. Not true. A large number of acceptable (or nearly acceptable) “paleo” and whole foods are nutrient and calorie dense enough that they can be easily overeaten: coconut oil, coconut milk, dates, bananas, sweet potatoes, eggs, high-fat cuts of meat, dried fruits of all kinds, and nuts.
Furthermore, people who want to eat “paleo” are out there, all over the web, posting “recipes” for “paleo”-versions of your favorite dessert, breakfast treat, or what have you. These baked and fried treats use supposedly-paleo substitutes for flour like coconut flour and almond flour, and so-called-paleo substitutes for sugar like honey or “agave nectar” (an industrially processed product I prefer to call “high fructose cactus syrup”).
So, this brings me to my recipe and my unintentional cheat day.
All day long I ate normally, in a “Zone-balanced” and “Paleo” fashion. But by 9:00 pm I had eaten only about 2200 calories, and I knew that meant I could safely do some additional snacking. But what to eat?
I had been saving two bananas to let them get very ripe. These bananas were being saved in order to serve as the sugar substitute for a dish I’d been thinking up in my mind: a Paleo pudding-mold. (In very ripe bananas, the starches break down into glucose and fructose, giving them a much sweeter, and softer consistency.) Looking up at the shriveled, almost black bananas, I decided it was time to use them. My idea for the pudding was simple: use bananas instead of sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder in the place of sweetened dark chocolate, and coconut flour in the place of wheat flour. In the place of milk, I would use a combination of coconut milk and almond milk. By golly, I’m here to report, this plan worked!
This was a truly awesome “paleo” treat. The trouble was, I made it at night, and everybody else in the house was asleep. And I was hungry when I approached it. On the plate, it looked like a single serving to me. I hadn’t yet done the nutritional information calculations on it, so all I was thinking was: “it’s Paleo,” and “it’s kinda high in fat, but it has eggs, coconut, and bananas, with no added sugar!” That is, it’s like a second breakfast! So, I couldn’t stop eating my beautiful Coco-Cocoa-Banana Pudding! I ate 2/3 of the thing myself before saving the rest for my wife (who did eat it for breakfast, by the way). It was surprisingly delicious, though not as delicate or creamy smooth as its sugared, dairy based, cousin, the Budino al Cioccolato (the fiber in the banana and the coconut flour give it a more curdled texture).
When I was done eating for the day, I realized what had happened because my stomach felt the usual “cheat day” symptoms: bloating and distension, and an unpleasant feeling of being over-full. It wasn’t until later that I calculated the actual damage.
According to Fit-Day, this beautiful creation has over 1,805 calories, with a whopping 145 g of fat, 103 g of carbs, and 45 g of protein. Not quite “Zone balanced,” but reasonable. If it were used to serve 6, this would be a quite sensible low calorie, “Paleo” dessert: 300 calories per serving, each with 25g of fat, 18g of cho, and 8g of protein. But, in the presence of this caveman, a pudding like this is more like, serves 1 and a half. Because it was so light, fluffy, warm and chocolatey, I was easily able to eat 1200 calories of eggs, coconut fat, and bananas in one sitting, which, along with the 2 oz. of nuts, the date, and the dried fig I had snacked on while making my treat, brought my total calories for the day to about 4000. Which is about 1100 calories more than I need or want in a given day.
Ta da! A Paleo cheat day.
If anyone could get fat on a Paleo-diet, I could. Your comments are welcome.
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