The paleo diet is based on eating foods similar to those eaten by the first humans millions of years ago. As it’s unlikely they ever downed their hunted meat with a glass of wine, can modern paleo practitioners drink alcohol and still call themselves “paleo”?
The Paleolithic Age began some 2.5 million years ago. Obviously, man during that age wasn’t able to shop at a local grocery store, and the dawn of agriculture — raising and harvesting crops and grains — wouldn’t occur for about 12,000 years. Instead, people relied only on what they could gather from wild plants or what they could hunt.
The modern paleo lifestyle is modeled after this ancient diet. It relies mostly on lean meats, fish, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables. Grains, legumes, and dairy products are avoided. Advocates say that by eating what ancient humans ate, modern humans can optimize their health and undo the years of damage that highly processed foods have caused.
It’s true that our human ancestors weren’t drinkers. Archeologists suggest ancient man didn’t start drinking alcoholic or fermented beverages until the Neolithic period, or about 9,000 years ago.
So, technically, alcohol is not paleo-approved.
But as with most diet approaches, flexibility is common and many proponents of the diet and nutrition experts alike recognize devotees want the occasional glass of wine, and therefore advocate a moderate approach.
“The short answer to this question would be that, technically, alcohol is not part of the paleo diet because it is both processed and a toxin,” says health, wellness, and nutrition expert Jenny Giblin. “However, many experts — myself included — now believe that a moderate amount of alcohol is OK to have and is still consistent with the health goals we want to achieve on the paleo diet.”
Giblin says drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is OK, as long as you are cautious about the type of alcohol you choose and how much you drink.
Sticking with the paleo theory that unprocessed foods and drinks are best, paleo advocates including Giblin tend to approve of wine, hard ciders, and tequila — drinks that are not as reliant on grains and therefore have fewer carbohydrates and, hopefully, less sugar. Additionally, some of these drinks could even have health benefits.
“Wine is on the list of the most paleo-friendly drinks, and it contains antioxidants like resveratrol that may have heart healthy benefits,” explains Giblin. Red wine may be a better choice over white, as it has a higher resveratrol concentration.
Because hard cider is fermented and doesn’t contain gluten, Giblin says it’s a good alternative to traditional beer. Another option for paleo dieters who favor a more traditional brew is gluten-free beer.
Tequila is seen as somewhat paleo-friendly too, as it is often minimally processed. Giblin suggests choosing tequila made with 100 percent agave to reduce the amount of sugar you’re drinking. Avoid margaritas if you want to follow a paleo diet.
No matter what’s in your cup, limiting your consumption is key to sticking to your weight loss and health goals. Overindulgence, says Giblin, can weaken your inhibitions and allow you to make poor food choices you wouldn’t otherwise make — adding other paleo no-no’s to a night of indulgence.
Overall, all successful diets need some wiggle room: too restrictive and it won’t last, too lenient and it just won’t work.
“Keep your overall health in mind and keep your focus on how you want to feel,” says Giblin. “If you feel like you want to have a drink on a special occasion, you should be able to do so in a way that aligns with your health goals and paleo lifestyle.”