Where does Coffee Chocolate and Alcohol fit with a Paleo Diet?


If you are looking for the simple answer as to whether any of these three are Paleo, then NO, you can stop reading now.  Chocolate, coffee and alcohol are pure cheats that are often enjoyed by people following a Paleo diet, the real question you should be asking is whether they are healthy for you?  We’re talking in moderation too, not a gallon of coffee with 10 shots of booze chased by a block of chocolate.

There are health benefits and downfalls to each of these substances and whilst I will list many of the pros and cons I’ll leave it up to you to decide where they fit for you.  In my opinion, the occasional inclusion of each of these is more help than hindrance.  They offer diversity and enjoyment in your diet and are much less toxic to your body than other foods like grains and sugar.

Chocolate:

Chocolate is the product of fermented and processed cocoa beans (nibs), these are the seeds of the cacao tree. Cocoa solids and cocoa butter are the two main ingredients derived from the fatty cocoa bean. Cocoa solids are used mainly to prepare dark chocolate along with some cocoa butter. Cocoa butter on its own is primarily used to prepare white chocolate (the furthest thing from Paleo in the chocolate arena).

Varying amounts of sugar and flavorings are often added to chocolate to improve its palatability, as cocoa solids on their own are quite bitter; many cheap chocolates will contain hydrogenated oils as a simple way to improve mouth feel too.  Health savvy people tend to appreciate the taste of dark chocolate and prefer choosing a chocolate made with a high ratio of chocolate solids, without much added sugar.

Milk chocolate falls into the category of ‘cheap’ chocolate and is often composed of more sugar and milk solids than actual cocoa, this is obviously a BAD choice.

Chocolate Consumption

Pros

Cons

Dark chocolate is a good source of iron, magnesium, copper and manganese.

 

Dark chocolate is usually low or very low in sugar.

 

It can be used effectively to fill a craving for sweet foods.

 

It is a source of antioxidants and can help repair free radical damage.

 

Cocoa butter on its own is a healthy fat as it’s highly saturated and low in polyunsaturated fat. It features a mild chocolate taste and is great to prepare healthy desserts.

 

Chocolate is high in phytic acid, which binds to minerals like calcium, iron and magnesium and make them unavailable to the body.

 

Even very dark chocolate contains some sugar, which is a toxin if consumed in high amount.

 

Many chocolate preparations contain soy lecithin as an emulsifying agent

 

Lots of chocolate is processed in the same plants as many grains so the potential for cross contamination is high

 

Chocolate is a highly craved food and for some people, one piece is not possible.

 

 

Best choices

When it comes to chocolate, as discussed earlier, the darker is usually the better. Try to go with a dark chocolate made from at least 70% cocoa solids.  Also choose a chocolate that hasn’t come in contact with any gluten containing grains and a chocolate produced organically by people working under fair conditions.

Raw cocoa nibs can also be enjoyed on their own for those who like the bitter taste. Cocoa powder can be sprinkled over fruits or used as a spice in meat stews, it is especially good in chili.

Coffee:

Coffee is a staple for most people in the morning and if you were told to get rid of it you may well consider getting your handgun license… The one thing that we all must at least reconsider is the amount we consume.  It has a stimulating effect mainly from its caffeine content and this is where dependency and withdrawal problems can emerge. Many people in Western societies rely on coffee for energy to start the day and without it they feel sluggish.  This creates an unhealthy energy debt and an addiction to coffee often materialized as grumpiness and fatigue when coffee is not consumed.

There are numerous studies on the health effects of coffee and many have shown benefits from moderate coffee consumption over no coffee at all. Peoples response to it is different too some show little effect whilst others release unhealthy levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone and become over-stimulated and dependent.

Coffee Consumption

Pros

Cons

The caffeine in coffee improves cognitive performance, reaction time and short-term recall.

 

Coffee stimulates peristalsis and can help those who suffer from constipation.

 

Moderate coffee consumption has recently been shown to be protective against cardiovascular disease.

 

Coffee contains beneficial antioxidants.

 

Coffee has been found to reduce the incidence of liver cancer.

Caffeine can trigger the release of unhealthy levels of cortisol in some people. This can possibly lead to weight-gain, disturbed sleep patterns, depression and immune system suppression.

 

Coffee hinders iron absorption because of its tannin content.

 

Regular coffee consumption seems to decrease insulin sensitivity; simply translated it means fat gain.

 

Coffee is a diuretic, which means that it makes you lose free water and can therefore lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

 

Coffee irritates the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract and can exacerbate those with ulcers, IBS, gastritis or other such gastrointestinal disorders.

 

 

Alcohol:

Alcohol is made by fermentation and is a depressive drug. There are 3 categories of alcoholic beverages: wines, beers and spirits. Wine and beer are the direct product of sugar or starch fermentation from plants like grapes in the case of most wines and grains like barley or wheat in the case of most beers. Barley contains gluten proteins. Spirits, for their part, are the product of a fermentation followed by a distillation, which is why their alcohol content is much higher. Spirits often come from the product of grain fermentation, but the distillation process eliminates any residues or proteins from grains, which make them completely gluten-free.

Unlike chocolate or coffee, alcohol has probably been consumed by some of our ancestors, although only very sporadically. It wouldn’t be unusual, to consume some alcohol by eating fruits that have already started to ferment (watch this video of animals eating the fermented fruit of the marula tree). In that sense, wine is probably the closest of all alcoholic beverages to being Paleo.

Alcohol Consumption

Pros

Cons

Moderate alcohol consumption is a good way to wind down, relax and have a good time in a social environment.

 

Small amounts of alcohol have been indicated to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

 

Moderate alcohol consumption improves insulin sensitivity.

 

Alcohol may reduce the risk of infection with Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes ulcers.

 

Alcohol, like fructose, is a toxin for the liver. In excess, it can causes damage to the liver cells.

 

Obviously, alcohol is a drug that causes drunkenness and loss of inhibitions, coordination and fine motor skills. This can mean all sorts of trouble, from accidents to inappropriate behaviors.

 

Alcohol consumption can lead to addiction and become a serious problem for some people.

 

Alcohol acts as a diuretic and can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

 

 

Most beers are out of the question as they contain proteins and residues from the grains used in the fermentation process, which is often barley, a gluten-containing grain. Of course, gluten-free beers can be an option to enjoy beer.

Wines is probably the best option to enjoy some alcohol. It is relatively low in alcohol and our body’s are more likely adapted to the level of alcohol found in them, red wine is also a source of antioxidants and has been show to improve digestion.

Clear spirits come a close second as they as they don’t contain any toxic grains or added sugar. Keep in mind that their alcohol content is usually very high so a little goes a long way. Some people have no problem drinking wine, but can’t seem to control themselves with spirits because of the higher alcohol content.

Stay away from mixed drinks and drink your spirits ‘neat’ or with ice and or water.

 

Most of these foods are not necessarily unhealthy but have the potential to be toxic if consumed in great quantities.  Use them sparingly and let it always be a conscious decision rather than just habit for your consumption.

 

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