Whether you're trying paleo as a new diet in January or planning to stick with it for the long term, you'll have a lot to learn about which foods are recommended by paleo advocates and which aren't. Processed food is a huge no, but there are a lot of foods (and drinks) that are in a gray area. Even if you have a free paleo starter kit, most diet plans focus on the foods you should consume and leave beverages as a guessing game.
So, where should you start?
In this article, we're briefly covering what the paleo lifestyle entails before delving into a range of drinks that are acceptable on the paleo diet - both regularly and occasionally.
What Is The Paleo Lifestyle?
The paleolithic diet, better known as just the paleo diet, is a popular healthy diet plan that restricts what you can eat and drink to the whole foods available during the paleolithic age (over 10-thousand years ago).
Paleo dieters give up processed foods, dairy products, grains, and legumes - all the foods that farming afforded us - in favor of foods that could be hunted or gathered. Lean proteins, game meat, fruits and vegetables are the staple of the paleo community.1
But the paleo diet isn't black and white. Some people who stick to a very strict paleo diet will rule out potatoes while others consider unprocessed potatoes to be fine, for example. There is a lot of conflicting advice online concerning what can be eaten and what can't. Even though foods like potatoes, salt and some legumes (e.g. peas) may have been available during the paleolithic age, some dieters prefer to avoid them.
The main reason behind avoiding certain foods and focusing your diet on others, is for health benefits. Autism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and dementia are among the list of things that some claim the paleo diet can treat or cure. Although there is some evidence that the paleo diet could be used to control metabolic diseases, most health benefits are unfounded and require further scientific research.2
Nonetheless, switching from processed sugar-filled food to unprocessed, natural foods is a noble cause and can be used for weight loss.
Opting for the paleo diet means switching poor food choices for healthier alternatives: cutting out added sugar, increasing your fiber intake, and focusing on healthy fats. It also involves you more in the kitchen, as ready-meals are out and homemade nutritious meals are in. You may find that you reassess what you eat and lose weight as a result.
Paleo approved foods are low in sugar and salt, which can also help you reach your health goals particularly if you are diabetic or have high blood pressure. While cutting out processed foods is generally considered a positive thing, we highly recommend you talk to a doctor or nutritionist before starting the paleo diet for weight loss. Depending on your personal health and circumstances, the paleo diet may be unsuitable for you.
For example, the paleo diet cuts out dairy, which reduces your calcium intake and could potentially be dangerous for anyone with osteoporosis.
Before you get stuck into smoothies with peanut butter, measuring coconut oil and obsessing over refined sugars in your favorite drinks, don't forget that you always have access to the most paleo drink available. Whether you're on a strict paleo diet or just dipping your toes in, water is your best friend.
Pure filtered water is your go-to drink when you're thirsty (consider the list of paleo-friendly drinks below a bonus) and you should ensure you always have access to it. If you cannot install a filtration system at your home, make sure to stock up on mineral water at the grocery store.
Water is no longer just still, either. Sparkling waters, mineral waters and soda water are all paleo-friendly, so long as you check the additives for processed ingredients to ensure the natural flavor really is natural.
If plain water is hard to swallow or you're struggling to let go of your favorite energy drinks, then these 5 paleo-friendly drinks are great alternatives.
All caffeinated tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and water. Those two components are natural and paleo. But whether black tea is paleo friendly or not really depends on how strict your paleo diet is.
Most dieters consider black tea to be okay for your paleo diet plan. To make black tea, the leaves are dried and oxidized (exposed to oxygen) then cut, crushed or packaged into teabags or loose leaf. There's no ingredients included that are considered processed, artificial or not paleo.
On the other hand, some paleo dieters want to avoid consuming too much caffeine.
Our black tea blends contain 150mg of caffeine, provided by tea leaves and tea extract. We also flavor our teas with paleo-friendly ingredients, namely fruits and spices. All our teas are certified non-GMO, sugar-free, gluten free (no grains), and come in plastic-free teabags.
That's why we consider our black tea to be paleo-friendly and recommend it to any dieter that's feeling a little lethargic without their usual sugar rush. 150mg of caffeine, plus tea amino acids, create a smooth and steady energy boost.
If you want to steer clear of black tea, that's no problem - we also have a range of green teas that are considered paleo.
The first records of tea (made from the Camellia sinensis plant) date back in myths to 2737 BC, with the first physical evidence of tea being consumed dating between 200 BC - 101 BC.3 That's a long while after the paleolithic age had ended.
But it still would have been possible to create tea in the paleolithic age. If you happened to be in a part of the world where the Camellia sinensis tea plant grows wild, it's feasible that it could be foraged and brewed in water. Without the agricultural processes that tea goes through now, the tea you'd most likely consume would be closest to a modern green tea. The tea leaves are simply picked, dried and shaped (see our article about green tea for a more detailed explanation).
At Zest Tea, we have two green tea blends - Superberry Samba and Pomegranate Mojito. If you want to stick to a very strict paleo diet, these are our most suitable teas for you. They are made with Young Hyson Chinese green tea, non-GMO fruits, flower petals, mint leaves, natural flavors and tea extract.
Our green teas provide around 135mg of caffeine per cup and are designed to be consumed without milk, so they're perfect for a morning energy boost on your paleo diet.
While our teas can also be iced or cold brewed, there is a way to enjoy them without all that fuss. Our sparkling energy tea may look like a sports drink or soda (see the drinks to avoid list below) but it's actually just carbonated water, tea and the non-GMO flavor ingredients we're known for at Zest Tea.
Taking our zero-calorie Cucumber Melon flavor as an example, it contains:
All of these ingredients are non-GMO certified. There is no added sugar and it is entirely plant based. Stevia leaf is one of those ingredients that's in a gray area of the paleo diet. Some people like to avoid it, but others consider it acceptable as a natural unprocessed form is found in the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant in the wild. It could have been available to our paleolithic ancestors, if they looked out for it.
Club soda is the first of several carbonated waters that are great for the paleo diet. You can order club soda in a restaurant, at a bar, or drink it at home. It's made of carbonated water and minerals - although watch out for flavored club sodas.
It's best to buy plain club soda and add the flavor yourself. To add flavor to your club soda, add a drop of lemon or lime juice instead of purchasing pre-flavored versions that may also contain artificial colorings, sugar, or sweeteners.
Just like club soda, seltzer is a simple carbonated water beverage. The effervescent effect is created with pressurized carbon dioxide, so there doesn't need to be any additional flavors or chemicals added. However, compared to club soda, seltzer waters are more often flavored rather than plain - so make sure you check the ingredients before purchasing.
Furthermore, watch out for hard seltzer. Unlike water seltzer, hard seltzer contains alcohol which may not be paleo, as well as additional flavorings.
Herbal tea is considered paleo by the vast majority of dieters. Unlike black and green tea, herbal tea is free of caffeine. Herbal tea is made of water plus natural ingredients. Mint leaves, chamomile flowers, licorice root, and many other herbal teas are all fine on the paleo diet. All you need to check is that the ingredients within the teabag are natural and not flavored.
You can also create your own fresh herbal tea by infusing home-grown ingredients in hot water. This fits perfectly with the paleo diet and many herbal teas have additional health benefits too. We've written a quick guide to herbal teas to help you navigate the many different types available.
Along with soda water, club soda and seltzer, sparkling water is yet another name for carbonated mineral water. Made with just mineral water and carbon dioxide to create the fizz, it's a great zero calorie drink for your paleo eating plan and fat burning diet.
Don't get sparkling water or any other type of carbonated water mixed up with tonic water. Tonic water is gluten free and doesn't taste overly sweet, but it does contain sugar or sweeteners along with flavors and acids.
You are better off sticking with carbonated mineral water.
These three drinks are further in the gray area of the paleo diet.
Coconut water is paleo-friendly. If you drink it in the way depicted above, it doesn't really get more paleo than that. The coconut water you can buy from the grocery store is not always as paleo. You'll first want to find a coconut water product that isn't concentrated or mixed with flavorings, colorings, or preservatives.
Furthermore, coconut water is not a low calorie beverage. 1 cup of unsweetened coconut water provides 44 calories, just under 10 grams of sugar, and no fiber.4 This is a lot of sugary calories without the natural fiber that eating a coconut would give you. This is the same problem as fruit juices (see below) which is why you may want to save coconut water for the occasional treat.
Too much alcohol isn't healthy no matter your diet, but paleo doesn't necessarily ban alcohol consumption altogether. Many alcoholic beverages are made from fermenting natural ingredients. Some spirits, like whiskey, are made from fermented grains. Although many are distilled to remove the gluten, they are still grain-based and not paleo as a result.
Beverages such as red wine and cider are more acceptable as a paleo alcoholic drink. You should only drink alcohol in moderation, however. Too much of it isn't good for your health and if you are reducing your calorie and carbohydrate intake to diet at the same time, you may find that your tolerance for alcohol is reduced.
The one alcoholic beverage you should avoid at all costs is beer, as it's full of gluten and is made with grains that aren't paleo.
Fruits and vegetables make up the core of the paleo diet along with meats and healthy fats. Blending fruit in a blender to create a fruit smoothie is therefore paleo too. The reason they are in this gray area is because they are naturally sugary which isn't great for a healthy diet, so we recommend consuming them occasionally.
The paleo diet would certainly have included eating a few different fresh fruits in a day, however a smoothie can contain many fruits blended and compressed into a calorie-dense beverage. Still, fruit smoothies are a better option than fruit juices as they contain the fibers of the fruit rather than just the pressed liquids.
Rather than adding a scoop of ice cream (no dairy on the paleo diet, remember) try vegetables, raw honey, pumpkin seeds, cacao powder, and healthy oils instead to add richness and flavor.
These 4 drinks are considered incompatible with the paleo diet by many people and may result in weight gain rather than loss when consumed in abundance.
Technically, dairy can be paleo in the sense that it could have been consumed during the paleolithic ages. Full-fat, raw and fermented milk in particular are most like what our ancestors could have had available at the time (whether it was from cows and whether they consumed it or not is a different matter). So, why do many people consider dairy not paleo-compatible?
Firstly, cow's dairy is intended for growing calves, not human consumption. Secondly, it's high in calories and for many people is a source of health and weight issues. Paleo is popular with people looking to cut out processed foods that cause irritation, allergies, digestive issues and inflammation. Lactose in dairy is a huge problem for many of these people. Cutting it out along with other problem food groups makes sense from this perspective.
Milk and dairy products, including yogurt, cheese and butter are also high in calories, which isn't great for those trying a paleo lifestyle to lose weight.
Dairy in general is a gray area for some people in the paleo community. Some ban it altogether and rely on dairy alternatives like almond butter, while others meet you halfway with grass-fed butter - what they believe is as close as possible to what was available in the paleolithic age.
The problem with fruit juice is that it's not the same as eating fruit. The juice of the fruit is mostly just sugar, even if the fruit juice doesn't contain any added sugars. Concentrated fruit juice is even worse - it's like eating multiple fruits at once, without any of the natural fiber the fruit should contain.
As a result, fruit juice is a high glycemic food which spikes your blood sugar quickly.
A better alternative to fruit juice is a fruit smoothie, where you consume all the fruit has to offer including the fiber. You can also try watering down natural fruit juices (not concentrated or with added sugars) but that still won't provide you with the fiber that our paleolithic ancestors would receive from eating fruit raw.
The only kind of soda that is acceptable on the paleo diet is the kind you can make at home. Freshly squeezed fruit juice with pulp, combined with sparkling water.
Commercial sodas are classified as processed foods. Whether they contain added sugars or artificial sweeteners, or neither. Most are made with concentrated or extracted ingredients, plus preservatives and colorings.
So, while diet soda may be drinkable on the keto diet, it's not compatible with paleo.
If you are complementing your paleo diet meal plan with an exercise plan, then you may be looking for paleo-acceptable foods and drinks that can give you a boost of energy. Unfortunately, most sports drinks will be out of reach. Many contain refined sugar in various forms and or artificial sweeteners - processed food ingredients. Even those that are made with natural ingredients will be concentrated or mixed with preservatives and colorings.
The best energizing drink that's okay for the paleo diet is tea, which naturally contains caffeine and L-Theanine to provide a steady energy stream. Green tea can even be beneficial for muscle recovery after exercise too.5
Dairy products, including milk and cheese, are not allowed on the paleo diet, but nuts that can be foraged are allowed. So, are dairy-free nut-based milks acceptable on the paleo diet? If you usually drink your Zest Tea with a splash of milk, this is important to understand.
The most acceptable paleo version of milk is coconut milk, simply because it's available to purchase nearly everywhere and finding a natural coconut milk with no additives isn't too difficult (look for the canned milk aisle).
However, other nut milks such as almond milk are not so easy to find without additives that are paleo. Preservatives are the most common additives, along with thickeners and artificial sweeteners in sugar-free options.
Cashew milk is a great paleo alternative as it can be made at home with just water, cashews and a blender. Many recipes online include salt and syrup as well, but you can leave these out for raw, natural cashew milk.
Soy foods are made from soybeans, a legume, which means they are not paleo. Soy milk is usually concentrated too, so should be avoided as all processed foods are.
Plant-based drinks that are made with fruits, vegetables and other plants combined with water are paleo-friendly. For example, that includes tea (although the caffeine content is controversial), fruit juices including pulp, smoothies, and sparkling waters.
You can drink herbal tea on the paleo diet and most paleo advocates allow low-caffeine teas such as green tea, white tea, and lightly-oxidized oolong as well. Although black tea and Zest high caffeine teas only contain paleo-friendly ingredients, the caffeine content is controversial and it really depends on which paleo meal plan you wish to follow.
Tea is also keto-friendly and suitable for the Atkins diet plan. It's only when dairy and added sugars are involved that tea becomes unsuitable for your diet.
Most paleo-experts agree that whiskey is not paleo-approved. Whiskey is made from whole grains including barley, rye and wheat. The distillation process should remove these grains (hence some whiskeys are considered gluten-free) but that does technically make whiskey a "processed food" and other flavorings may be added that aren't natural either.
Seltzer water is simple mineral water with effervescence from carbon dioxide, so it is paleo-approved. Hard seltzer and flavored seltzer beverages may not be paleo. If you want to flavor your seltzer water, try adding a drop of freshly-squeezed fruit juice instead.