Ultimate Paleo Guide to Alcohol

It’s Friday night, and it’s been a long workday. You’re looking to get home as quickly as possible to meet up with some friends, and relax a little. Everybody’s looking forward to grabbing a drink … or two.

What do you do?

You’ve just started this paleo thing, and are going pretty strong, seeing great results, and feeling great. But you also feel like you’ve been a bit of a hermit, avoiding restaurants and nights out with your pals.

You’re feeling as if you need to take it easy, head out and have a good time, and enjoy the company of some good friends and a few drinks, but you don’t want to ruin the new paleo version of yourself. You have some questions:

• What are the best paleo choices for alcohol?
• How can you minimize the toxic affects of alcohol?
• What is the best way to keep the fat off while enjoying a couple drinks?
• Is alcohol even paleo?

Those cave people must have got down somehow, right? They must have let their hair down every once in a while, right?

Is It Paleo?

Do you find yourself asking, “is it paleo?” often? Check out our app: Paleo.io – the ultimate “Is It Paleo?” app

Having a few drinks here and there has become much more of a social experience and the chance to bond with friends and family members than just an excuse to down a few, and walk around crooked for a few hours.

It’s become a way for us to relax, catch up on personal relationships, and enjoy the company of others. I for one enjoy a drink with my buddies every now and again, and have often wondered how this fits into my paleo lifestyle.

Is alcohol paleo?

Long story short? Not really.

One of the main tenets of the paleo diet is removing processed foods and toxins from your diet. Alcohol happens to be both a processed food and a toxin.

Now, when I say ‘alcohol’, I am talking about the three main types of alcohol: beer, wine, and spirits.

Beer: Beer is mostly made from wheat, barley, and hops. That’s a  dead give away that this type of alcohol probably isn’t paleo-friendly.

Wine: Wine is often considered to be the closet thing we’ve got to paleo-friendly alcohol. There are various organic options – red wine in particular. Because of antioxidants such as resveratrol, which can help prevent damage to blood vessels, lower “bad” cholesterol, and prevent blood clots, when consumed in moderation, red wine is often considered to be a healthy alcoholic option in the paleo community.

On the other hand, white wine removes the skin from grapes and tannins, which gives it its lighter color but which also removes the resveratrol.

Both beer and wine go through the process of fermenting sugar and starches most often found in fruits, various plants, coconuts, sometimes rice, and, in the case of beer, wheat and barley.

Spirits: Spirits also go through the process of the fermentation of grains, but they also undergo a second process known as distillation. The gluten found in alcohol beverages is a major concern for those that follow the paleo diet, but distillation removes most of this gluten. That said, it doesn’t remove all of this gluten, as shown by the study below.

The process of distillation is also responsible for the higher alcohol content of spirits. As we all know, alcohol unleashes a psychological response in our bodies which lowers our inhibitions. Having lowered inhibitions makes it much easier for us to make poor food choices. So, although you might be able to justify what you’re drinking as paleo-friendly, those tortilla chips and salsa? Not so much.

Hard Cider: Hard cider is a fermented (awesome!) alcoholic beverage typically made from apples or pears. Has been increasing in popularity over the last few years due to increased awareness of the problems gluten can cause. As the promotion of gluten-free products and the popularity of the Paleo Diet grows cider as become a popular alternative to beers.

Most ciders on the market are naturally gluten free but you’ll want to double-check the label. Also look for preservatives like potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, both of which have been shown negatively effect immunity. These will easy to see because unlike beer Cider is governed by the FDA which requires it to list ingredients

So is cider Paleo? Yup, just be on the lookout for added sugars. When choosing a hard cider look for dry cider as these usually have lower sugar counts. Also remember that it might be Paleo but it still contains calories, so if fat loss is a goal keep it to a drink, ok? If you want to keep an eye on the sugars, check out these great options below:

Low Sugar Ciders:

  • Crispin Cider
  • Strongbow
  • ACE Cider
  • Colorado Cider

Higher Sugar Ciders:

  • Angry Orchards
  • Wyders
  • Woodchuck

Cider is a great paleo-friendly alcohol option (just watch the sugar). You can see our full post dedicated to paleo cider here.

To drink or not to drink? That is the question.

Studies have demonstrated the health benefits of red wine when it is consumed in moderation. Aside from that, and the positive social interactions that can come with having a drink (although you could just have water instead), it’s pretty tough for me to justify how consuming any alcoholic drink can be good for anyone.

• Alcohol is toxic to the liver.
• It’s an addictive drug.
• Too much alcohol in your system makes detoxification a high priority. This causes your liver to prioritize detoxification over the uptake of nutrients.
• It is hard to burn fat while detoxifying from alcohol consumption.
• The liver cannot metabolize alcohol into sugar, which can cause a dip in blood sugar and a rise in blood fats.
• As some toxins are not processed, they are stored as fat.
• Alcohol is dehydrating, which means that it can affect electrolyte balance.

The truth is that the decision to have a drink or not is entirely up to you. But, before deciding whether or not to have one, think about why you are having one.

Are you having a drink or two because you had a rough day at the office, your relationship just ended, you’re pissed at a buddy, your kids are giving you a headache, or because everyone else is drinking?

These reasons, to me, are just not good enough to justify having an adult beverage.

But, if it’s a special anniversary, or you’re celebrating your daughter’s graduation from college, your best friend’s birthday, or some other very special event, that drink might be more justified.

However, at the end of the day, you’re a grown up, and the choice is yours.

What if you know you’re having a drink?

If you plan on heading out, and grabbing a drink, there are a few things you can do to help reduce the chances of a hangover, to inhibit body fat accumulation, and to keep your blood sugar stable.

Keep blood sugar stable by using more paleo-friendly spirits like tequila with soda water, ice, and lemon or lime. Avoid high sugar juices, tonic waters, and mixers.

Try this UPG NorCal Margarita recipe.

To minimize your chances of developing a hangover, use less toxic alcohols like vodka (made from potato), gin, and tequila, while avoiding beer, wine, and colored spirits like rum.

Take 500 mg of vitamin C and 600 mg of Nac-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) to help lower liver aldehyde, a toxin that your liver creates from alcohol.

Use vitamin B1 or alpha lipoic acid before each drink, and add 4 capsules of activated charcoal after you drink, because these will bind with the byproducts of the alcohol, reducing their effects on your body.

Thanks to Dave Asprey for these tips.

To minimize any chances of extra fat accumulation, spend the day eating only lean proteins and veggies. As mentioned earlier, your body will be spending an awful lot of time trying to detoxify and metabolize the alcohol in your system, and may not have the time or the energy to process the calories from fats and carbohydrates. Those carbs and fats that are not metabolized get stored in the form of fat. Protein is safe to eat in this case because, for the most part, your body does not store it in the same way.

To sum up

The decision as to whether or not to have an alcoholic drink is entirely up to you. But really ask yourself what the reasons behind that drink are.

If you’re going to drink, stick with 100% agave tequila, 100% organic red and white wine from local sources, and Ciroc vodka, which is made from grapes and not grains.

Avoid colored spirits as they usually contain caramel coloring and fermented grains.

Steer clear of beers – even the gluten-free sorghum versions. Instead, opt for ciders like Angry Orchards.

Health and wellness shouldn’t take over your life; they should compliment it. If having a drink here and there is something you find beneficial,  that’s your call. But if you are going to have a drink, try to stick to more paleo-friendly options, and, of course, stay safe.

UPG alcohol infographic


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Rating: 8.6/10 (61 votes cast)
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  1. says

    Thanks for a great article, Justin. I’ve been Paleo for four years and have over-indulged in alcohol frequently over this time. I still manage to stay lean and perform fairly well thanks to a fairly disciplined Paleo and exercise routine. I must admit though in the months I’ve completely abstained from alcohol my sleep and productivity have improved. However, we’re social creatures and being a teetotaler is simply not conducive to my lifestyle (28 year old fashion model living in New York who likes to party). My drink of choice is tequila on the rocks. Then vodka/soda. Then white wine, closely followed by red wine (the histamines in red wine knock me about). I love beer but it’s simply not worth drinking it for the gluten and other toxins. My secret is to eat super clean when I’m drinking but to include some starchy carbs before and after a big session (sweet potato/white rice). Low carb + alcohol is a recipe for disaster in my experience. I’m not sure the exact mechanism but I believe you need some glucose to help metabolize the alcohol. I’m a big fan of milk thistle, coconut water, vitamin C, activated charcoal, and a sweaty gym session the next day to combat the hangover. I never work out before a drinking session and I always try to sleep at least 8 hours no matter what time I go to bed. I actually wrote an article on how to minimize harm from alcohol – partly inspired by Dave Asprey. Getting drunk is probably not Paleo… but we all need a vice or three!

    • says

      Dave is the man isn’t he? I don’t like to tell myself I’m not allowed to have something. It’s sort of like telling someone not to think about a pink elephant… what happens? You immediately think about a frick’n pink elephant.

      Instead I have permission to eat whatever or drink whatever I want. Measure progress and if I am getting the results I want and feeling great then I’m ok with that.

  2. lauren says

    I love this article! I just started paleo and knowing I don’t have to give up my occasional angry orchard makes me super happy! Thank you!

    • jeremy says

      Those “natural flavors” Angry Orchard lists on the ingredients equate to high fructose corn syrup. Seems like it should be illegal to mislead consumers like that, but it’s true. I’ve seen their reply to an inquiry stating as much. HFCS is apparently common in hard ciders, including Woodchuck. Crispin is the only one I remember reading doesn’t use it.

      I’m more than a little surprised this article doesn’t mention this. There’s another article on this site specifically about hard cider that doesn’t mention HFCS either.

      • says

        Hey Jeremy,

        The “natural flavors” label is a bit misleading – it’s not super transparent on what’s included in that (which is tough). That said, if you’re already drinking alcohol -you’re not “strict” paleo. Wine / Cider / Tequila are the best of the worst – so to speak.

        I believe HFCS has to be mentioned separately if it’s included – so while natural flavors isn’t perfect – I don’t think it contains that. If you have sources to prove otherwise – please let me know.

        • Jeremy says



          After thinking their traditional dry cider was sweeter than the ingredients suggested, I googled “Angry orchard “natural flavors””, which led to me googling “angry orchard high fructose corn syrup” which led to several claims that they use HFCS and omit it from the label. The link above is to the blog of a guy with some kind of sugar allergy who posted the text of the response he recieved from AO and many other cider makers.

          I would think they would have to list it as well, but apprently they do not. I also wouldn’t consider HFCS a natural flavor.

      • says

        Thanks Jeremy for the info. I read some information about HFCS in ciders as well. In my personal opinion most people reading this article that are “strict paleo” will know that alcohol is not considered Paleo. However, most of the population is not strict and like to enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time.

        There are a lot of foods that HFCS is finding its way into (sad but true). The HFCS found in ciders is minimal and unless you’re consuming quite a bit of cider you should be ok. If cider is a staple of your diet… then there might be some issues :)

        Thanks again for contributing.

        • Jeremy says

          Thanks for the response, Justin. I agree that most of your readers understand that alcohol isn’t paleo, and many of us make the decision to drink wine, cider and tequila in very limited quantities, but I also think that most would opt for a product without high fructose corn syrup in it if they were given the choice.

          By failing to list ingredients honestly, Angry Orchard and other companies deny people that choice. I know a little HFCS isn’t going to kill me, but I prefer not to drink it. Even more so, I prefer not being misled by the companies I support.

  3. Kelsey says

    Thanks for this. I started paleo a month ago. I drank as I normally would the first time I went out (while avoiding all non-paleo food), and the night ended very badly for me. I was repeatedly sick after 1 mixed drink and 3 shots (nothing for my old self). Just the other night, I was celebrating a friend’s birthday and had a great night. I ate lean meat and a sweet potato earlier that day. I drank mainly tequila (100% Agave) and one glass of white wine thrown in there. I didn’t get sick, and I woke up with a small hangover. To anyone reading this article, I highly recommend tequila and eating some sort of starchy carb before. It makes A BIG DIFFERENCE.

  4. Nepoxx says

    This “gluten is bad” trend is stupid. There’s absolutely no research that shows that gluten has negative effect on non-gluten sensitive people (people with a colon issue).

    “[hard cider] … Has been increasing in popularity over the last few years due to increased awareness of the problems gluten can cause.”
    Yeah, says who? Gluten doesn’t cause any problem to normal people, get your facts straight.

    • Celerion says

      Why the heck is Wine on the avoid side in the graphic after you clearly stated that red wine it’s almost the best option.

      • says

        Thanks for taking time out of your day to read and comment on the article. Red wine is a pretty decent choice but this article is also taking into account how you might feel the next day..

        • mektek28 says

          I think it would have been better if you said:

          “Thanks for taking time out of your day to read and comment on the article. Red wine is a pretty decent choice but this article is also taking into account how you might feel the next day….sighhhhhhhh”

          People need to understand that it gets pretty precarious when giving advice to people seeking pleasure from alcohol.

          Do what you want and take control of your destiny. But if you want to drink, plan ahead, no one wants to feel like crap the next day. A work out and clean diet help with that.

  5. Betsy Parker says

    Appreciate the article, thank you! Just one thing, you need to adjust the end to say something other than Angry Orchard, since you say above that it is not the best option. Otherwise, awesome!

  6. Kelley says

    I am so glad that I found your site. I just started crossfit training and was still feeling like it wasn’t giving me all I wanted. So I decided to search for a diet that still let me eat well and helped me not feel tired and that I was still eating. And there it was, a friend had told me about it years ago, but I think unless your ready to try something it won’t happen.

    So I started this week and I feel great, I already feel a little lighter and I am definitely not missing out on food. And it looks like I won’t have any trouble getting my boyfriend to start it with me now that I found out Tequila is a go in moderation. So much easier to do when you have someone doing it with you and you don’t have to cook differently for everyone.


  1. […] In January of this year, I decided to make a change in my life, and that change was FOOD. After an extensive amount of research, consulting my physician,  and having my tarot cards read, I decided to go Paleo.  Okay, that’s not true. I have hypothyroidism, and a friend said when she cut out gluten (that heinous mystery evil in our food)  she felt much better. That led to internet searches, and Pinterest Recipe board stalking, and finally, the realization that I eat too much crap that just IS NOT FOOD. In the hunter-gatherer sense at least, which is the essence of Paleo. So I decided I would eliminate all grain, processed foods, and alcohol (EEK! Don’t worry, I’ve only reduced/altered this part). […]

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