These paleo donuts encapsulate everything wrong with our diet culture.
I’m not knocking this particular product, which popped up in my Facebook feed as an ad. What really grinds my gears is its implied promise (much like the implied promise of those damn Snackwells cookies in the 90s—remember those?!): The promise that we can somehow cheat the system of healthy eating; that we can have our cake and eat it, too, or more literally, we can have our cake and lose weight, too.
The paleo diet has been all the rage for a few years, with its intriguing hypothesis we should return to a diet our ancestors ate in the Paleolithic era because our bodies are not adapted to eat the foods in our modern diet. The hypothesis is unproven, and in fact there is a huge body of research demonstrating the health benefits of many of the foods excluded by paleo dieters, including whole grains, beans, and even the much-maligned potato.
But one tenet of the paleo diet very much backed by science is cutting out excessive refined sugar. The American Heart Association set the top end of added sugar consumption (not the sugar that occurs naturally in WHOLE fruit, but the kind that is added to products) for adult women at 100 calories (25 grams) per day, and about 150 calories for men (36 grams).
The average American, however, consumes…wait for it…a whopping 500 calories of added sugar per day (126 grams). When you consider a 20-ounce soda contains nearly half of that amount (60 grams), and a Venti Caramel Macchiato contains more than 40 grams of sugar, it’s easy to see how quickly those numbers add up before you even pick up your fork or spoon.
So let’s get back to those paleo donuts. The ingredients in the Cinnamon Sugar variety in order of volume are almond flour, honey, coconut sugar, egg cinnamon, baking soda, salt, coconut oil.
The product has far fewer refined ingredients than the Frankenstein monster of a nutrition label on the commercial donut, so it certainly has that going for it.
But waaaay up there as the second and third ingredients are two forms of sugar.
One of these donuts, which look an awful lot like something my cat left behind in her box, contains 11 grams of sugar—just under a tablespoon. For a point of comparison, an Entenmann’s Cinnamon donut of similar size contains 13 grams of sugar—just over a tablespoon.
Your body may process honey and coconut sugar slightly differently than the straight up refined sugar in that Entenmann’s treat, but sugar under any other name is just as sweet.
Whether it’s honey, evaporated cane syrup, maple sugar, grape juice concentrate or any other of a zillion names, added sugar is added sugar is added sugar. It provides a rush of energy—useful if you’re about to go for a run or hit the gym; not so much if you’re about to Netflix binge—drives up blood sugar, contributes nutrition-free calories, and crowds out other healthful foods from your diet.
When you pick up a box of Entenmann’s, you are not under any misconception that you’re making a healthful choice. You know exactly what you’re getting into.
The company making paleo donuts, however, is marketing them to us with one of my least favorite terms ever: guilt free. They are banking on persuading you to feel like these pastries are, in fact, a health-promoting choice. There’s an implication that you can cheat the system with these sweets. They are implicitly sugar shaming while also being made of 20% sugar by weight.
If you love these paleo donuts, hey, have at ‘em! But make no mistake: They’re sweets.
I’m no sugar shamer: There’s room for sweets in a healthful diet! I encourage my clients to eat to fill their plates with real, fresh food and to treat treats as treats, being mindful of the frequency and the amount and not letting food marketing trick us into overindulging. Let’s not let diet culture or food marketers dictate when or whether we feel guilt for our food choices.
Need support navigating misleading marketing labels and an over complicated food system? Let’s meet for a consult!