The Paleo or ‘caveman’ diet has garnered a steady following amongst America’s health and fitness fanatics and the number of food firms directly targeting Paleo is on the rise. From frozen entrées to meat bars, Mintel data showed 190 paleo-labeled products entered the US food retail market in 2016.
Despite this, grain advocacy groups believe this latest anti-grain movement is no serious concern for bakers.
“Because it is just another fad diet, it won’t overly disrupt the industry,” claimed Tim O’Connor, president of the Wheat Foods Council.
“If it gains traction, it might cause some temporary problems but I can’t see it reaching the same level as the low-carb or gluten-free diets did,” he told FoodNavigator-USA. “Diets that force people to eat in ways that are radically different to than their normal patterns are not sustainable – people just won’t stick to them long-term.”
Cynthia Harriman, director of Food and Nutrition Strategies at Oldways Whole Grains Council, agreed: “Fad diets come and go, and we think Paleo has peaked.”
Driven by a misunderstanding of science
“With the exception of a very small percentage of the population with celiac disease, for whom a gluten-free diet is medically imperative, we think there’s a big overlap between wheat belly, gluten-free and Paleo – all of which are driven by a misunderstanding of solid science,” Harriman argued.
“There’s no scientifically-valid reason to cut out whole categories of plant-based foods, like grains and legumes, and there’s plenty of research showing the benefits of these major food groups. If whole grains and legumes didn’t contribute to good health, whole swaths of the world’s population would have died out thousands of years ago.”
She said areas like the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica were a testimony to this – better known as a ‘blue zone’ – populated by some of the healthiest and longest-living people in the world on a typical diet that included beans, squash and corn.
O’Connor said: “Any diet that is based on eliminating a food is flawed. Diets that are successful in managing weight are focused on caloric intake, not the source of calories.”
Still a hurdle…
Christine Cochran, executive director of the Grain Foods Foundation, also argued that the Paleo diet is nutritionally flawed and troubling from a health perspective, but said the trend – fad or not – still presented challenges for bakers.
“Paleo, like wheat belly and gluten-free, is a weight-loss fad. But fad diets and anti-grain movements always present a challenge,” she said.
“The Paleo trend is not unlike other low-carb or no-carb diets, and while we are accustomed to this trend, it is troubling. Promoting the goodness of our products becomes even more important.
“…Staying positive, promoting the goodness of grain, reminding our customers why they love our products, ensuring the products we put on shelf taste great – these are our best tools in overcoming such challenges.”
Stand strong or innovate?
Some bakery companies have embraced the Paleo trend, however. Julian Bakery, for example, manufactures Paleo bread mixes and crackers using almond, coconut and cassava flour, while The Paleo Baking Company makes cake and muffin mixes using nut and coconut flours.
Asked if the broader bakery sector should invest in Paleo themed product development, O’Connor said: “I would recommend against it, unless they like to invest in short-lived product development… I don’t see bakers finding a good fit within Paleo.”
The bakery industry, he said, was better off continuing to promote grains and develop new ways of featuring them in products.
“Chasing fad diets is a rollercoaster ride. Remember all the low-fat products that were introduced during then low-fat fad era – where are they now?”
'Chasing fad diets is a rollercoaster ride'
Harriman said that while bakers could take inspiration from certain aspects of the Paleo trend – minimal processing, for example – developing Paleo products would not be the best way forward.
“There’s really very little that is truly Paleo that the bakery industry can do, since bakery products rely on grains. So, we totally agree with the approach of standing strong with grains and developing delicious, and by the way healthy, alternatives and new ideas using grains creatively,” she said.
Cochran said: “As a category, we need to understand shifting consumer habits but we also need to remember grain foods have the nutrient density comparable to dairy. The healthfulness of our products is real.”