Q&A: What Should I Drink on a Paleo Diet?

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.

Glass water with lemon
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
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.

Diet drinks
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.

Herbal Teas
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 foodsRaw 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.


    1. How could I forget to mention coconut water! My opinion of coconut water is that it’s good if there’s no sugar added to it. However, it’s VERY high in sugar naturally. One of those tall cans has about 52gm of sugar in it, which is more than a 12oz soda has. Just be mindful of that when you drink it if you’re watching your sugar or calorie intake. For very active people who are fine with their weight and/or trying to gain weight, I’m all for it. Thanks for the reminder!

  1. Is almond milk part of the paleo diet? Also, I’m a huge fan of soda but I also like sparkling water. Can I mix fresh squeezed juice with sparkling water as a sort of substitute for soda?

    1. Caffeinated drinks, in my opinion, are not the greatest thing for most of us, since our blood sugar has been shot to hell by years of overconsuming sugar and other refined foods. Some people can handle it better than others. I suggest that you try to go without caffeine at all for a few weeks, then reintroduce it to see what kind of an effect it has on you. Then decide for yourself whether or not, or how often it should be a part of your life. Good question – thanks!


    1. Kombucha is a tough one. Cordain and others think that fermented foods contribute to leaky gut. However, there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that fermented foods HELP the gut, especially in that they contain probiotics. This one is still up in the air, so I leave it up to you to decide whether you can handle the acidity of kombucha, and whether the caffeine in it is a good thing for you.

  2. I disagree with the idea of no coffee. Coffee comes with a whole heap of health benefits and other amazing things. Its not overly processed (Decaff is so i wouldn’t recommend that) As long as you’re only drinking one a day there is no reason to stop it. The caffeine content in both tea and coffee is one of the reasons why humanity became as intelligent and focused as we are now. I recommend drinking black espresso. Don’t drink instant or decaffinated coffee and if espresso is too strong turn it into a long black with a bit of hot water.

  3. I’m a week late but I have to plug two of my favorite drinks. Tap water infused with mint is entirely Paleo-friendly, isn’t it? As is tap water with a squeeze of lemon or lime? (That’s even better than your 4:1 ratio.) And they’re both delicious, dirt cheap, and environmentally friendly.

    1. Hi Kathryn – Soy isn’t part of the Paleo diet for many reasons, so the short answer is no. Here’s an excerpt from a blog post I wrote about soy. Here’s the link to that entire article: http://www.paleoplan.com/2011/05-09/what-about-protein-powders/

      Dr. Mercola, alternative medicine’s monger of fear and anxiety, had this to say about soy. A lot of his information was taken from the Weston A. Price Foundation, which has Sally Fallon at its helm. Sally Fallon, in a word, hates soy.

      Here are some highlights:

      1. Soy is very hard on your digestive system.

      2. The phytic acid in soy inhibits your body’s absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.

      3. Soy contains isoflavones that are phytoestrogens (literally “plant estrogens”), which act like estrogen in your body. One researcher “estimated that an infant exclusively fed soy formula receives the estrogenic equivalent (based on body weight) of at least five birth control pills per day.” (1) This, they argue, can cause anything from smaller testicles in males to earlier puberty in females.

      4. “Soy phytoestrogens are potent anti-thyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease.”(2)

      If that’s not enough to make you think twice about consuming soy regularly, think about this: Soy is the second most common food allergen in this country. I do a lot of food sensitivity blood testing using the LEAP test by Signet Diagnostic Corporation, and almost all of my LEAP clients are sensitive to it. Not to mention that most of the soy out there is genetically modified. Soy also has one of the highest pesticide contamination levels of any crop.

  4. What about decaf black tea? Is that heavily processed and does it still containing some caffeine? I had been starting my day with one cup of black tea every morning and sometimes a cup of coffee later in the day. Since stopping all caffeine for a week, I feel that I have more energy and feel much more energetically stable. I do, however, miss the taste of black tea and therefore wonder about your thoughts on decaf black or green tea. Thank you for all your valuable advice on this site.

  5. How about grain based coffee substitutes like Kaffix and postum? It seems obvious that they are grain and should be a “no”, but I enjoy my coffee substitute in the morning.

    1. Noel – I’m not a fan of whey or whey protein drinks. I think we can do better with that with just a little planning and tupperware. Meat, fish, and eggs are less processed and not dairy, so I think they’re much more desirable than powders. Just my opinion, though…

    1. Barbara – There are many ways to get pure, filtered water. You can buy a filtration system and hook it up to your kitchen sink, you can buy a portable water filter that you just poor water into and let it trickle through a filtration system. Or you can get big jugs of filtered or spring water delivered to your house in most cities. Or you can buy big jugs and fill them up as you need them at the grocery store with filtered water. I’d try to stay away from plastic as much as possible, but it’s pretty hard to avoid when you’re trying to get clean water. I have a filtration system connected to my sink that I really like.

    1. Frankie – In my opinion, yes. Just make sure it doesn’t have any added sugar. Mineral water like San Pellegrino is great.

  6. Really? They’ve been advertising it like crazy in Texas. It contains: water, malic acid, propylene glycol, citric acid, potassium citrate, etc. 0 fats, carbs, etc. But, if you haven’t heard of it, you haven’t heard of it. Thanks for all the great guidance for the Paleo lifestyle. Take care.

    1. Marshall – I don’t watch TV, so I haven’t seen any of those commercials. I looked it up, though, and here’s my honest opinion: There’s no way I would ever tell anyone to drink it. Sucralose and another toxic artificial sweetener make up the bulk of it, plus it has preservatives and artificial colorings. All of those ingredients are potentially super harmful, more for some them for others.

  7. Hi. I really enjoyed reading all this, it was really helpful. I wanted to know if drinking green tea (like home made from a tea bag) is part of the diet?

    I usually stick to water and almond milk but I heard green tea is good for your metabolism ?

    1. Jill flanney – Raw honey is great in moderation, and only if you don’t have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or are otherwise metabolically challenged. And as long as you’re not pouring a quarter cup of it in your tea while you’re trying to lose weight (as I’ve seen numerous people do). Otherwise, I don’t see any problem with a healthy person having a little honey in your tea.

  8. Your posts are so helpful- thank you! You might have already covered this but I just wanted to clarify, is chai tea with almond milk paleo? I know the caffeine isn’t great for me but I need the boost some mornings.

    1. Tess – What kind of chai tea? If it’s just herbs and black tea then yes, it’s fine. But if it’s the one that has a ton of sugar in it then no :)

    1. Sarah – Green tea does contain a lot less caffeine than most coffee. Caffeinated beverages are not non-Paleo. I’m actually one of the few Paleo proponents who suggests trying to live without caffeine for a few weeks to see if it’s negatively affecting you because I’ve seen it hurt so many people. Green tea is full of antioxidants and if you find that you can tolerate caffeine, it’s up to you whether you drink it or how much you drink.

    1. K – Sure! Just be careful of the ingredients in the canned broth. Definitely consider making your own. It’s really cheap and easy.

  9. What about Tonic Water? My doctor is having me drink it to help prevent the horrendous feet cramps that I am prone to getting. It really has helped.

  10. Just curious if your opinion in the last year has changed on Kombucha? I Have a sluggish digestive system and it always seems to help. I am hypo, not sure whats causing it Graves or hashi. So I am moving to Paleo potentially going with an Autoimmune protocol, thinking that the hypo and digestive issues are related to it…….any thoughts?

    1. BC – No, my opinion hasn’t changed on kombucha. Try drinking Inner Eco, a fermented coconut water kefir that has a ton of probiotics in it and it’s not caffeinated. It changes people’s lives :)

  11. Neely , my question is I had gastric bypass 8 years ago and had a baby last year which has resulted in 40pound weight gain . Is the paleo diet safe for me & should I only eat a 1,000 calories a day for optimal weightloss ? Thanks

    1. Jayda – I almost never recommend super low calorie diets for weight loss, so no, I don’t think that’s a good idea. It can really mess with your blood sugar and metabolism in the longrun. Yes, Paleo is totally safe for most people, and in my opinion way safer than low calorie crash diets… Good luck to you, and remember I do personal Paleo coaching if you need some personal help. Just email me at neely@paleoplan.com for more info.

    1. Al – There’s really no exact science to this, as everyone is different. But you could use the Mayo Clinic’s rule of 3 liters for men and 2.2 liters for women. I think it’s pretty arbitrary, but it might be a good start. Mostly, you want to use your body’s cues. If your urine is dark (and not because you’re taking B vitamins), then drink more. If you’re fatigued and hungry all the time, drink more water. If your mouth, lips, and skin are dry, drink more water.

  12. I honestly hate drinking plain water can I make my own fruit infused water I need some flavor so I guess lemons and limes squeezed in will be fine and wat bout seltzer water with natural fruit flavor that contains no sweetners

  13. I have attempted to go paleo once before and I have again started it today with better planning.

    I know for the first week maybe a bit longer there will be a transition period from your body getting used to a new way of eating. I am just looking to find out what to expect because the last time I was feeling sluggish and came across negative articles and I let them in to my head. Can you give any advice on what to expect?

    1. Vanessa – Yes, but please make sure that if he’s on any medications or insulin that he monitor his blood sugar VERY carefully and under the supervision of his doctor. It’s easy to get way low very quickly, and as far as I’ve heard it’s not comfortable. And make sure he’s getting plenty of Paleo fats to keep him satisfied and so that his protein intake doesn’t get too high. Plenty of crunchy and leafy veggies, too, of course!

  14. Can you drink almond milk that comes in a carton? It has cane sugar, bean gum, and some other things but wasnt sure. I have also been thinking about doing the paleo diet because i cannot eat gluten and have digestive issues. Since i hav ebeen eating gluten free for awhile do you think it will be an easier transition as far as detoxing goes? I still have some sort of sugar addiction and crave it often so i eat processed and refined foods still just not nearly as much as i did growing up. Also, is it any kind of butter that you can eat? Sorry for all the questions but this is the most helpful site i have found!

    1. Tamara – Here, read this blog post I wrote on almond milk: http://www.paleoplan.com/2012/07-26/is-almond-milk-paleo/. As far as whether it’ll be an easier detox, I can’t say. I was gluten, dairy, and soy free when I went Paleo and it was still a pretty painful 3 weeks :( It’s different for everyone, though! As for butter, try substituting it with coconut oil. It’s surprisingly tasty and makes everything fluffy and light.

  15. Is “Silk” coconut milk ok on Paleo? I’ve been making ice coffees with it with a little coconut sugar. Do you think this is a ok drink? If not, do you have any suggestions or ideas for substitutes?

  16. Sorry to say, I really dislike this post. It would be much more helpful to talk about what people can drink then to focus on the forbidden stuff. There’s a lot of healthy drinks that aren’t tea or water.

  17. Neely,
    I did read your post about diet drinks, does that include diet tea? Because I drink diet iced tea, I was wondering if this is okay or if I should try substituting it? I don’t like green tea so I might have an issue with the substitution.

  18. How about tomato juice? I’m having a hard time getting a definitive answer on this one. Before you say I can make it myself, i’m already making so many things from scratch and I really just want to go out and be able to buy a can of tomato juice.

  19. Enjoy the blog, 2 days in and pushing through the fog. I currently use a Brita filter. We run tap water through the filter and keep it in the fridge. Is this sufficient to be considered filtered water?

  20. I started the Paleo diet four months ago and gave up my morning coffee. I am 70 years old and have been drinking one cup of coffee in the morning for 50 years. With good advice from a nutritionist, I weaned off it without any migraine headaches. I now make chicory coffee in a french press and add vanilla almond milk (I add vanilla extract to almond milk) and a little cocoa. It is very satisfying. If there is anyone out there who wants to give up coffee, I suggest you try a chicory drink. I gave up all grains since I was born with celiac disease. I no longer eat gluten free grains (no corn, quinoa, rice, amaranth). It is fun creating ways to substitute foods.

  21. What do you recommend in place of a sports drink?

    I’m a cyclist and do a couple 2-3-hour rides a week. Water isn’t enough to take on the bike.

    I don’t do any grains or added sugars, which cuts out energy bars. I sometimes eat a little almond or sunflower butter before the ride, but on long days that’s not quite enough.

    Any suggestions?


    1. Hi Sherry,

      Salt is acceptable as long as it is sea salt and does not contain any fillers or additives. You’d be surprised how often they add those in, so read the label. It should just say “sea salt.” You can buy it to grind yourself, or you can buy already ground versions. Please note that if you have high blood pressure issues, salt should still be limited in your diet, but otherwise, sea salt can help to replenish electrolytes and can be beneficial in the Paleo diet.

  22. I workout (cardio and intermediate weightlifting) and I kind of need protein powders to function more efficiently. Are protein powders acceptable?

    1. Hi Cliffy!
      Check out our blog posts on protein powders here and here. Let us know if they don’t answer your questions!

      Best regards,
      Kinsey Jackson, MS, CN
      Paleo Plan

  23. I am a 73 year old woman with type 2 diabetes. I have severe neuropathy in my feet and now starting in my hand. I am also a bowel cancer survivor and I am limited to the amount of red meat I eat because of this. Is Paleo for me and what modifications should I make.

    1. Hi Carole,

      The Paleo diet is an excellent dietary approach for people with Type 2 diabetes, http://www.paleoplan.com/2012/08-17/is-paleo-safe-for-diabetics/, http://chriskresser.com/pills-or-paleo-preventing-and-reversing-type-2-diabetes. Regarding cancer, the Paleo diet is full of cancer fighting foods and nutrients, http://www.cancercenter.com/discussions/blog/can-the-paleo-diet-help-prevent-and-even-treat-cancer/. In fact, the Paleo diet was recently found to be specifically preventive against colon cancer! http://thepaleodiet.com/paleo-diet-linked-decreased-colorectal-cancer/

      You can eat as little red meat and as many other foods on the Paleo diet as you want. Here’s a comprehensive list of Paleo foods, https://www.paleoplan.com/resources/paleo-plan-food-guide/.

      Back to diabetes, the Paleo diet isn’t necessarily low carb but it’s generally lower in carbs than conventional diets and therefore keeping close track of your blood sugar is essential when starting the diet. I recommend that you work closely with your health care practitioner who knows your health history and can provide guidance regarding any contraindications and/or complications that might arise as a result of any dietary change.


    1. Hi Katia,
      Pero Natural Instant Beverage” contains “malted barley, chicory, and rye”, which are all grains that we exclude on the Paleo diet for reasons discussed here and here. I personally enjoy a cup of hot tea or coffee with coconut oil in the morning, and here are a few more ideas for morning coffee substitutions!

      Best regards,
      Kinsey Jackson, MS, CNS
      Paleo Plan

  24. Wow this was so helpful I have skin problems and have taken gluten and processed foods and sugar out of my diet. I’m moving towards Pablo diet I have been also working on taking nightshade out of my diet do to my HS. It’s been 2 weeks and only drinking water. I found that adding some fresh cucumber to my water taste great. I was a big soda energy drink consumer. I have been feeling great to be honest. I have been drinking one cup of coffee with a bit of cream I have a friend who told me to use almond milk instead. Thanks for the great information it helps.

    1. Hi T.O.

      Well the article you linked is certainly interesting! The author does state that drinking horses milk goes back to the domestication of wild horses, some 5,500 years ago. The Paleolithic era ended about 10,000 years ago with the domestication of animals such as horses so I don’t think our post which mentions wild horses is likely in error.


  25. Hi guys. Love this post. I’m reading a flavored seltzer water bottle and it contains aspartame. But there are no grams of sugar on the nutrition facts label. Can I drink this whole doing the whole30?

    1. Hi Marc!
      I’m not sure what the whole30 rules are, but if it contains aspartame, I would personally not consume it!
      Thanks for your comment…best wishes to you!

      Kinsey, Paleo Plan

  26. Thought I’d mention that canned drinks, including Zevia soda, and coconut milk, coconut water and any cartons (tetrapaks) of drinks (almond milk, etc) or soups are all lined with plastic which is an endocrine disruptor, even the BPA free ones!! Those toxins aren’t particularly paleo:-(

    1. That’s absolutely right Jenny! It’s difficult to avoid all of the potential toxins out there, and the best we can do is try to minimize our use of packaged products, and rotate the foods in our diets regularly so that we aren’t over-exposed to any one type of chemical. And try not to stress out about it, because the chronic inflammation induced by stress can negate even the most perfect Paleo diet! Thanks for your comment!

      In good health,
      Kinsey Jackson, LMP, MS, CNS®
      Paleo Plan Nutritionist

  27. With regard to alcohol, I believe wine would be preferable to beer. Paleolithic hunter-gatherers may have occasionally eaten fermented fruit such as grapes, but beer is made entirely from grains, a product of agriculture. Obviously, too much alcohol of any kind is a no-no.

    1. A quick review of ingredients of Alo Exposed shows that it contains cane sugar and natural flavors, neither of which are Paleo friendly.

    1. Hi Mary,

      Yes, almond milk is Paleo-friendly. Just make sure to read the label if you’re buying it in a store, as sometimes there are non-Paleo ingredients in them.

Leave a Reply