Alcohol and Paleo

I typically end up writing blog posts about things that are on my mind, and since today I awoke with my second hangover of the week I decided to wax poetic about drinking. How does alcohol fit in with the Paleo lifestyle? DOES it fit in the Paleo lifestyle at all? Well, this week it fit into my Paleo lifestyle, so I’m going to give that a definitive yes.

I don’t usually drink. I find it to be a waste of calories and a hindrance to my driving abilities. It has, in the distant past, precipitated headaches, skin flushing, and of course some injudicious choices in sleepover partners. So it came as a surprise to even me when last night I found myself pouring a Paleo margarita into a flask to sneak in to a concert while intermittently sipping at the tequila bottle. I imbibed some fabulous wine and other tequila mixers this week, too, and it’s only Wednesday?

Anyway, I actually have to say that I was lying when I told you in paragraph one that I experienced two hangovers because of all this debauchery. I would have experienced two hangovers a couple years ago, but this morning, after drinking as much tequila as my stomach would allow last night, I hardly felt it at all. And yesterday morning after drinking way too much the night before, I woke up almost chipper. I don’t usually wake up chipper, or anything resembling it, so it occurred to me that maybe the thing my diet has been missing all these slow mornings is alcohol!

The point of me divulging my indulgent, weekday behavior to you is that I think two things about it are notable.

1. I can handle alcohol better than I used to before I was Paleo. It’s weird because a lot of people have a harder time with alcohol now that they’re Paleo because their system is so clean. But maybe that’s because people go out and drink wheat-laced beer all night and have a glutenous hangover the next morning. For some reason, I didn’t have the hangover I would have before. My liver seems to be better at this now that it’s not being hammered with poisonous foods all the time anymore.

2. I came out of my Paleo hermit hole to go out and it was really good for my soul. Eating Paleo can feel like being in culinary jail, albeit where the jail has really awesome food. It’s hard to go out to eat without coming home poisoned by sweet potato fries you didn’t know were battered in wheat flour. Or something along those lines. Paleo people often end up just not going out anymore and it can really put a serious damper on our social lives. Going out this week made me remember why I used to go out a lot more. I vowed to go out and get drunk at least five nights a week starting next Monday. No, just kidding.

So where does drinking fit in? I was having a really interesting conversation yesterday with one guy, who’s always been a very social person. Happy hour and even drinking during the workday have always been integral parts of his life and social happiness. Drinking is one way of bonding. That and drugs. I remember my first year of college I couldn’t make any good friends because I didn’t smoke pot. And if you’ve ever been to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, you’d know that not smoking pot is a major social faux pas.

So this guy I was talking to went Paleo. Well, Paleo-ish besides all the drinking, which leaves you at hardly Paleo at all when you’re drinking pints and pints of wheat ales every day. But should he have stopped drinking? One thing he realized recently is that he just got into the habit of drinking something, whatever it was, if it was in front of him. So he started ordering a drink, then 2 waters in a row, then another drink. That way he was always drinking something, but not even half the alcohol (and calories) as before.

Beer is on the list of “consume in moderation” in Loren Cordain’s book and all the other guys’ lists of Paleo foods. It’s an international and timeless pastime to drink, whether it’s beer, wine, mead, whiskey, or whatever. But some alcohols are better than others.

Despite the adoration it commands, it has its shortcomings. Mainly that it’s usually made with gluten grains, and that’s the non-Paleo food that most people have the hardest time with. You need to figure out for yourself how beer affects you. You can do that by NOT drinking it for a month, or even a couple weeks. Then drink some beer and no other kind of alcohol and watch how you feel that day and the next. If you get a rash, feel really tired, get a headache, or feel hungover the next day you should reconsider drinking beer. Or try one of the gluten free beers that are made with sorghum.

Whiskey, Gin, Vodka, Rum, etc.
All these spirits might affect you differently. A certain father of mine is known to get into bar fights if he has whiskey, and generally say nasty things. But that same man with rum? Sweet as can be. If you need to avoid corn or wheat, you’re taking your chances with that screwdriver, or really any other alcohol. But wait, you thought vodka was made with potatoes, and rum with sugar cane?! Not always. Now a lot of spirits are made with grains.

If you make sure it’s distilled, your chances of avoiding grains are better. When something’s distilled, it means that it has turned from liquid to gas before reaching its final destination in the bottle, meaning that there couldn’t possibly be any gluten in there. BUT check this article out that says one study found gluten in distilled products. It may be something they added to the products (coloring, etc.), but either way, you just don’t know what you’re getting when you drink these spirits. Drink at your own risk of getting gluten poisoning, and take note of how you feel when you drink whiskey as opposed to, say, gin. You just might be able to avoid those bar fights, after all.

Tequila and Mezcal
If you get 100% agave tequila, it’s not made with grains. Even if you don’t get 100% agave tequila, it was probably made with a mixture of agave and cane sugar. It’s cheaper that way. Tequila is made from the agave plant, which is a plant that looks like a cactus but isn’t a cactus. It’s found in Mexico, and everyone knows that most tequila and mezcal comes from there. Mezcal comes from the maguey plant, which is in the agave family. It has a smoky flavor and often has an eyebrow raising, psychedelic trip-inducing worm at the bottom. It doesn’t actually cause hallucinations – I was peer pressured by an ornery German and an uptight Basque guy to try it once. Interesting fact about mezcal – some recipes call for a chicken breast to be put in the fermenting solution “for flavor”.

Paleo margarita? Here’s a recipe.

Drink mezcal and tequila without fear of gluten poisoning on your Paleo diet. That does not in any way mean you won’t get hung over, though. Some people are just not as lucky as I am in these matters…

Mead is wine that’s made of honey. If you haven’t tried it, try it. It’s delicious and Paleo.

Hard Apple Cider
Same as mead but made with apples.

Same as mead and hard apple cider but it’s made from grapes.

What’d I miss? I’ve been out of the drinking loop for so long that different alcohols seem to have escaped my clouded memory. Anyone have any other words of Paleo wisdom about drinking?



  1. What about scotch? And the differences btwn single malt and blend?
    Also, a quick question about ciders….I’m assuming you’re talking about “cider beer?” Like Strongbow, or woodchuck, or Ace etc….I thought these were all high in sugars? (and not just fructose from the apples or pears). I could be totally wrong….but I just thought it was worth asking.

  2. Is there evidence to suggest that Paleo-man was consuming alcohol? I would guess marijuana would qualify as Paleo, as would peyote and mescaline, yet they remain, arguably, toxic to the system. How does alcohol differ from these or does it? Alcohol is certainly an American past time, but does that justify its use? What about absinthe?

    1. @Godot – I actually have had a very hard time finding information on this. I can only assume that, like animals, people would have taken advantage of naturally fermented fruits that had an intoxicating effect, but unless they were relatively static in their location, they probably didn’t spend the time making alcoholic drinks themselves. If you can find any info on it, I’d love to read it. All we know now is that some alcohols are better for individuals than others, and that some even have fantastic health benefits. But moderation is key. Great question – thanks.

  3. Claire – he said “Hard Apple Ciders” – these are the ciders that have been fermented naturally with apples, I believe. The type of cider that farmers make in their barns with apples, and nothing but apples!

    Correct me if I’m wrong, though. Since going Paleo I’m avoiding Strongbow like the plague…

  4. St Peters Gluten Free beer is the tastiest sorghum beer on the market. Most of them taste like a tin top. Make sure it’s the Gluten free version. It’s a UK brewery and they have a large variety of hop filled treats. It’s pricey and hard to find, about $9 a pint. It’s the closest thing to real beer.


    1. @The Gluten Free Kid – Thanks for the suggestions. Remember, though, that even though it’s gluten free, it’s still made with grains and a lot of people have trouble with all grains, especially after being on Paleo for a while. Probably better than normal beer, though!

  5. The secret to drinking a lot and not having a hangover in the morning, I believe, is to drink a lot of water before going to bed. Alcohol dehydrates the brain, which is where the hangover comes from.

  6. Claire9: Just looking into paleo myself, so I can’t comment on the paleo side of things, but Scotch is a type of whiskey, usually made from barley. Single malts are bottled from a single batch, blend is bottled from a blend of batches. Taste-wise it makes a difference, but it won’t from the standpoint of the diet. Best guess is this would be a “steer clear” or “only in moderation” entry, definitely so if you have issues with grains.

  7. Rebecca – For Vodka drinks there are a number of ways to go. A. if you want to be on the real safe side go with Ciroc (made from Grapes) or VuQo (from Coconuts) Other Vodka’s are fine though in my opinion. I do steer clear of flavored Vodka’s though.
    Anyways, one of the simplest and mighty delicious drinks is simply a Rocks glass w/ Ice, Add Vodka, then add Lemon or Lime (fresh, not from a bottle) Just squeeze a 1/4 slice of lime, then top it off with a club soda.
    I actually bought one of those carbonation machines to make my own club soda.

    Also, if you know a couple days in advance get a bottle of Vodka, open it up, take one shot out (drink it with something to make room in the bottle) :-) Then add in some frozen or fresh blackberries, rasberries or something along those lines. Then seal the cap and pop it into the freezer till you want some of it.
    It makes a nice flavor in under a week. When pouring into a glass as some of the same berries and it’s delcious!

  8. Don’t forget brandy, cognac &c., these are distillates of fruit wines or cider and provide grain free alcohol without as much sugar

  9. I terms of alcohol consumption, John said that drinking water before going to bed lessens the chances of a hangover. That works to some degree, but it helps much more to drink plenty of water a few hours before starting a big alcohol drinking session – and then having some water in-between the alcoholic drinks, if you can bear that. Personally, after being fairly Paleo for 3 months now, I find I am now almost as bullet-proof to alcohol as I was as a teenager. (I am 64).
    I still drink (home-brew) beer, but my next batch will include a “Dry enzyme” to further ferment any remaining carbs and sugars. I am not convinced of the presence or harmful effects of residual grains in beer. I need to do more research. i.e. keep on reading until someone says it is okay.

  10. I am on day 10 of paleo exploration. Feeling great but many questions. Very interesting to learn about alcohol. I enjoy wine, scotch and the occasional lager. I was worried that paleo lifestyle would find me a social pariah. Will surely check out the vodka recipe with the berries. Cheers.

  11. What a fantastic article. I too have experienced this sudden change. I went to a wedding last week and, well, let’s just say I drank more than my fair share of Tequila & Sambuca! The next day I felt fine! Literally amazing. Woke up at 8.00 am fresh as a daisy, much to everyone else’s complete shock! This would never have happened before the Paleo diet, it must be doing something!

  12. Tuaca is an amazing, grape based liqueur that can be poured over ice for sipping or mixed with orange juice. Good for gluten free people.

  13. Wow! Thanks for posting this. I have been a Palo for about 3 years now and experienced an ammonia sweat after a few days of vodka and orange juice. I’m typically an golden tequila drinker because it tastes great and I can hop right into cardio the next day np! But this vodka thing I won’t do again. I feel sluggish and moody. I can’t wait to dump it when I get home.

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