Is Vanilla Extract Paleo?

vanilla-extract.jpgVanilla extract is often called for in baked items, even many Paleo recipes. But is it Paleo? Can you include it in your Paleo diet without compromising your health goals?

Nutritional Value of Vanilla Extract

Serving size: 1 tsp (4 grams)

  • Calories: 12
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 0 g
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 0 g
  • Trans fat: 0 g
  • Carbohydrate: 1 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Fiber: 0 g

Health Benefits of Vanilla Extract

Some might wonder if there are any health benefits for something that is used in such tiny quantities. If the vanilla extract you’re using is natural (i.e. free from sugar and other preservatives), then don’t be alarmed by the presence of alcohol. Alcohol is used to extract the scent and flavor from the vanilla beans, and dissipates when the vanilla is cooked. Even if you’re adding to items that won’t be baked, there isn’t enough alcohol contained in a teaspoon of vanilla extract to be problematic for health reasons.

Please note that there is a difference between vanilla extract and vanilla flavoring. Vanilla flavoring is artificial, and is definitely not Paleo. Real vanilla extract contains antioxidants, albeit in tiny amounts. Artificial vanilla flavoring has no health benefits, and may actually be harmful.

Where To Buy Vanilla Extract

Most grocery stores will carry vanilla extract, but all may not carry a quality product. You can find good vanilla extract from stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and from online markets or other specialty stores. The good quality stuff is often significantly more expensive than the artificial vanilla or the vanilla extracts that also contain sugar. Costco’s vanilla extract, for example, also has sugar listed as an ingredient.

Should I Eat Vanilla Extract? Is Vanilla Extract Paleo?

There may be some debate as to whether store-bought vanilla extract is really Paleo, since it comes down to the issue of containing alcohol. However, even homemade vanilla extract (which involves dropping vanilla beans into potato vodka for 6-8 weeks) will contain alcohol, and will take quite some time to brew.

Whether or not you include vanilla extract on your Paleo food plan is a personal decision, but there isn’t a right or wrong answer. As mentioned above, vanilla extract is consumed in such tiny amounts that it isn’t health supportive or health adverse when consumed in the natural form. Vanilla extract packs a lot of flavor punch for such small amounts, and often makes baked goods, raw Paleo desserts, and even smoothies have more flavor. If, however, you’re avoiding vanilla extract, leaving it out of recipes shouldn’t cause issues and wouldn’t need a replacement alternative.

Aimee McNew

Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid disorders, autoimmunity, and fertility. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: A Healing Plan for Managing Symptoms Naturally (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.