Q: What should I drink on a Paleo diet?
Can I only drink water, or can I have water with artificial flavor like Crystal Light? Can we drink fruit juice, coffee, and how can we prepare it? How about soda or tea?
A: Pure, filtered water is king.
Water satiates thirst like nothing else. It’s free of toxic chemicals if it’s filtered properly, and it doesn’t contain thyroid-compromising chlorine like most tap water does. It contains no added sugars, artificial sugars, toxic dyes, preservatives, fake vitamins, or caffeine. It’s good for you, and it’s definitely what our ancestors imbibed. Let’s take a look at the alternatives:
Fruit juice is often highly sweetened with extra sugars, and even if it isn’t, it lacks the fiber and other parts of fruit that help to buffer the high glycemic response of just the sugary juice. If it’s not fresh juice – I mean freshly juiced vegetables or fruits – it’s also likely pasteurized, which means it’s heated up to kill all the potential bacteria floating around in it. The heat also kills many of the beneficial enzymes and other nutrients that are naturally found in fruits and vegetables. If you insist on drinking juice, try diluting it 4:1 water:juice.
Coffee and Other Caffeinated Drinks
One of the best things this diet does for you is to balance out your blood sugar by providing complete, protein and fat-rich meals, instead of the standard American high-carbohydrate snacks and meals. Coffee is often a byproduct of people having unstable blood sugar, and therefore low energy; they use the coffee as a pick-me-up to keep them awake through their days. You may find that you don’t need coffee anymore after a while on this diet. If you are a coffee or other caffeinated beverage (tea, decaf coffee, soda, etc.) drinker, I encourage you to give your adrenal glands and your hormones a rest by giving it up for a few weeks to see how you feel.
Sodas, Gatorade, Sweet Teas, and Other Highly Sweetened Drinks
You didn’t mention them, but I’ll just let you know that because they’re so full of refined sugar, they’re not Paleo. Besides the sugar content, they usually have weird, poisonous dyes, preservatives or artificial flavoring in them, too. “But I need my Gatorade for my workouts!” you may be exclaiming. No, you don’t. Squeeze some lemon in your water if you feel like you need some electrolytes. The sugar and calories in your “sports drink” will usually do nothing more than negate the caloric deficit you just created by working out. Even if you’re an über athlete, you shouldn’t need to resort to high fructose corn syrup or sucrose to replenish you – fruits and starchy veggies in your normal meals should work just fine. Maybe Gatorade in its early years would have had some benefit, but it wasn’t sweet enough for kids, so they loaded it with high fructose corn syrup. It also wasn’t colorful enough for kids, which is why you can now buy fluorescent green and dark purple “flavors”. Yellow #5 alone could be contributing to you or your kid’s ADD, among other things.
They’re full of synthetic, toxic, artificial sweeteners like aspartame and Splenda. Artificial sweeteners are generally not good for you, as they’re usually made from synthetic chemicals that are either known carcinogens or neurotoxins (cancer causing or bad for your brain). Aspartame alone has been linked with cancer, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, migraines, and many other heinous conditions. Artificial sweeteners create sugar cravings and can contribute to obesity. Even though Loren Cordain says that diet drinks are allowable some of the time, I don’t agree, and I don’t think he had the proper evidence at the time the book was written to know any different. Know that that there is also a lot of research (some flawed, and some paid for by the manufacturers themselves) to support the safety of artificial sweeteners, and that some people are more reactive to it than others.
Stevia and Sugar Alcohol-Sweetened Sodas
I will admit that I sometimes share a can of Zevia with my boyfriend, which is a soda sweetened with stevia and erythritol. Stevia is actually good for blood sugar control, increasing insulin sensitivity. But don’t be fooled by some products that tout stevia as a sweetener; always read the ingredient labels, as they may have just added stevia to an arsenal of other toxic sweeteners. Sugar alcohols seem to be alright, although they do have a slight effect on blood sugar and insulin levels, and they may cause diarrhea in some people.
Like chamomile, nettle, peppermint or ginger? Yes.
Since our distant ancestors would have had an, er, exciting time trying to milk a wild horse or a mastodon, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that they didn’t drink it unless it came from their human mother. There’s a lot of research that says pasteurized cow milk products (which is what most of our milk products are nowadays) are insulin-spiking, cancer-causing, acne-provoking foods. Raw milk (unpasteurized, non-homogenized) may be a different story. Read my blog post, “Is Dairy Paleo?” for more information on the ins and outs of pasteurized vs. raw milk.
Last but not least, I’ll touch on alcohol. All of the Paleo gurus agree that the occasional drink isn’t going to kill you. I agree. Animals, including us, have probably been getting drunk on naturally fermented (alcoholic) foods (think apples that have been sitting on the ground for way too long) for a very long time. Drinking feels good sometimes – it can be fun. However, too much alcohol creates beer bellies and off-kilter cholesterol levels, among many other things, so watch yourself. Also, when you’re on this diet for a while and then you drink, your liver will let you know about it the next day (Read: your hangovers may be worse). And since many alcohols are made with grains, you may get the same symptoms you get when you eat bread. Just watch your body’s responses to different alcohols as you start eating Paleo and figure out what works for you. I like tequila and mead because the high quality kinds are not made with grains, but I only drink them once or twice a month because I get so tired the next day.
In conclusion, drink water — and drink lots of it. Stay away from plastic bottles, since they are ridiculously wasteful, leach hormone-disrupting plastic chemicals into your water, and usually come from a tap water source, anyway. Drink the other things we covered as seldom as possible, and listen to your own body to find out how much of each you can tolerate. If you’re a heavy drinker of anything but water, I strongly suggest that, to get the most out of the Paleo Diet, you STOP drinking your favorite beverage for at least a few weeks to see if you feel any different/better. Then drink it again and see how it makes you feel. You may be surprised by what you find. As with food, make sure you can conjure an image of each of the ingredients on your drink’s label before you pour it into your body.
So there’s the breakdown on Paleo beverages. Are there any drinks I missed? Has anyone noticed any differences in their need for caffeine after being on the diet for a while? Or in the way alcohol makes you feel? As always, your experiences are really helpful for other readers.