Alcohol and Paleo


Cocktails.jpgI 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?