Chocolate, coffee and alcohol are indulgences that are often enjoyed by people on a Paleo diet, but a lot of people wonder if those food choices are “Paleo” or not. In the true sense of whether our paleolithic ancestors enjoyed them, the answer is almost always no, but the real question we should ask ourselves is whether they are healthy when consumed in moderation.
Chocolate is the product of fermented and processed cocoa beans (nibs), which are the seeds of the cacao tree. Cocoa solids and cocoa butter are the two main ingredients taken from the fatty cocoa bean. Cocoa solids are used mainly to prepare dark chocolate along with some cocoa butter and cocoa butter on its own is mainly used to prepare white chocolate.
Varying amounts of sugar and flavorings are often added to chocolate to improve its palatability as cocoa solids on their own are quite bitter. Chocolate connoisseurs and health savvy people though tend to appreciate the taste of chocolate on its own and prefer choosing a chocolate made with a high ratio of chocolate solids, without much added sugar.
Pros of chocolate consumption
- 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.
Cons of chocolate consumption
- 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 usually contains some sugar, which is a toxin if consumed in high amount.
- Many chocolate preparations contain soy lecithin as an emulsifying agent. The amounts are usually very low though.
- Some chocolates could potentially be cross-contaminated with gluten grains.
- Many chocolates across the world are produced by people who are exploited and working in very bad conditions.
- Some people can’t control themselves when eating sweet foods and chocolate can be a trigger for unhealthy sugar binge.
- Chocolate contains oxalates, which inhibit calcium absorption and can contribute to the formation of kidney stones. Keep in mind though that spinach, beets and parsley all have a higher concentrations of oxalates than cocoa nibs
Coffee contains many psychotropic compounds as a means of protection for the plant. 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 as they lack sleep and are chronically stressed. This creates an unhealthy energy debt and an addiction to coffee often materialized as grumpiness and fatigue when coffee is not consumed.
Pros of coffee consumption
- To many people, coffee is absolutely delicious and a great way to stay on tract with a paleo diet without indulging in other unhealthy choices.
- It improves cognitive performance, reaction time and short term recall.
- Coffee stimulates peristalsis and can help those who suffer from constipation.
- According to the latest studies on the subject, moderate coffee consumption seems to be protective against cardiovascular disease.
- Coffee contains beneficial antioxidants, methylpyridinium being the most well known one.
- Coffee seems to offer protection to the liver and has been found to reduce the incidence of liver cancer.
Cons of coffee consumption
- Caffeine can trigger the release of unhealthy levels of cortisol in some people. Chronically elevated cortisol levels is bad news for a multitude of reasons. Think weight-gain, disturbed sleep patterns, depressed immune system…
- Coffee hinders iron absorption because of its tannin content. It can therefore further exacerbate iron deficiency.
- Regular coffee consumption seems to decrease insulin sensitivity, which can translate to weight gain and increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Studies have mixed results about the insulin desensitizing effects of coffee, but the most coherent ones make it clear that the effect is negative.
- Many people believe that coffee is a diuretic, which means that it makes you lose free water and can therefore lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Studies have shown though that, in the long term, coffee doesn’t have a diuretic effect after you’ve become used to it. Drinking coffee only very sporadically could still bring about the diuretic effects since the body would lose its habituation to the effect.
- Coffee irritates the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract and can exacerbate those with ulcers, IBS, gastritis or other such gastrointestinal disorders.
There are 3 categories of alcoholic beverages: wines, beers and spirits. Wines and beers 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.
Pros of alcohol consumption
- Moderate alcohol consumption is a good way to wind down, relax and have a good time in a social environment.
- Alcohol is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Moderate alcohol consumption improves insulin sensitivity.
- Many studies have found positive health benefits from moderate alcohol consumption over none at all. Many of those studies are epidemiological in nature and the results can’t be taken as proven facts, but they are still a good indication.
- Alcohol may reduce the risk of infection with Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes ulcers.
Cons of alcohol consumption
- Alcohol, like fructose, is an hepatotoxin (a toxin for the liver). In excess, it causes damage to the liver and can lead to alcoholic liver disease. Studies have shown though that alcohol becomes particularly damaging to the liver when high amounts of polyunsaturated fat is consumed. The Paleo diet is already a very low polyunsaturated fat diet which makes the diet protective, to a certain extent, from the damage of alcohol on the liver.
- 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 being a drug, addictive behaviors are not rare and many people can’t keep their alcohol consumption in normal amounts. Excessive alcohol consumption causes numerous health and social problems.
- Alcohol acts as a diuretic and can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
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