Ask LH: Can I Drink Coffee On The Paleo Diet?

Ask LH: Can I Drink Coffee On The Paleo Diet?
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Dear Lifehacker, I’ve recently started the Paleo diet (which is great) and have also given up caffeine. I’ve seen a lot of information recently to suggest that caffeine can reduce the likelihood of some cancers among other things, so should I start drinking coffee again? (I’m thinking black, no milk . . . go paleo!) Thanks, Paleo Man

Steak picture and coffee picture from Shutterstock

Dear PM,

For anyone who isn’t aware of it, the “paleo diet” is based around the notion that you should only eat foods accessible to our cave people ancestors. In the most widely popular version, that means no processed foods and relatively few carbohydrates. (It should be pointed out that our knowledge of what ancient humans actually ate is limited, and that diet was likely to vary considerably by region.)

We’re not massive fans really: the actual evidence for the benefits of a paleo diet is very slight. That’s not to say that it’s an utterly terrible idea, provided you ensure the right mix of proteins and vegetables, but any benefits are just as likely to come from carefully monitoring your diet rather than the specific mixture. There’s also a significant risk that you’ll miss out on the evident benefits of dairy and carb-heavy plant foods and may not have enough fibre in your diet.

So from that perspective we can’t see any particular drama with adding coffee taken in moderation to the mix, especially if you take milk with it as well, simply because the evidence for taking a stricter approach doesn’t actually exist. But are there additional health benefits to be had simply from adding coffee?

Caffeine has measurable and complex effects on your brain, and the reactions vary between individuals. We ran a post earlier this year covering in quite some detail the potential health benefits of coffee. It’s worth emphasising, though, that most studies only show a correlation between coffee consumption and improved health outcomes. That doesn’t necessarily mean that coffee is the cause of the improvement.

The bottom line? If you enjoy it, a cup or two of coffee a day isn’t going to ruin your health, and may offer some benefits. I’d spend more time reflecting on the virtues (or lack thereof) of the paleo diet and expanding the range of foods you eat.


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  • Hmmm. I don’t think that’s exactly the kind of information Paleo Man was asking but its good advice nonetheless. I’m currently in the process of trying to transition my diet to the palio diet and its probably because of what you said about the virtues of the palio diet and not the diet itself, only I didn’t realise that until now. Most of my life I have been eating most of the wrong things and very little of the right things and almost everything I eat is processed food. So the palio diet appeals to me because the diet eradicates all the bad stuff that I know I’m eating. I also consume a lot of black coffee (sometimes several pots a day) and have wondered the same thing as Paleo Man. After thinking about it the way that you put it Angus… just confirms what I already knew but wasn’t exactly convinced, and that is I don’t need to eliminate coffee. I just have to drink it in moderation. 🙂

    • If you’re concern was that you have been eating too many processed foods or too much sugar.. why not just cut down on sugar and processed foods? Why must people stick to some progarm or plan instead of just eating less bad stuff and more good stuff. Eliminating junk and replacing it with fresh veg, meat and carbs isn’t that hard.. and you don’t need any book or plan or system to do it.

      • Better results are always achieved when you can follow a system or a process.

        Your method of eat just “fresh veg, meat and carbs” fails to take combat the full spectrum of diets and nutrition, and the available sources of both.

        You’d be surprised at the crap misguided individuals believe constitutes “eliminating junk and replacing it with fresh veg, meat and carbs”

      • @simulacrum
        For a lot of people eating junk is hard-wired. Snacking on nuts and dried fruit is not considered, cooking healthy, unprocessed foods is “too difficult” and Coke “quenches their thirst”..

        Changing that requires a strategy and a long-term plan. Saying “eat less bad stuff, fatty” is like saying the 2 week magic weight-loss diet works. It makes it too easy to relapse. Paleo encourages a change of lifestyle and mentality, not just diet.

        • Guess its hard for me to relate… I was brought up in a house with no snacks or fizzy drinks, had salad with every meal so that’s become hard wired for me. In hindsight i was just lucky.

  • I think meals prepared with the paleo diet in mind often correlate with good nutrition and food that matches my goals. As such I often eat at a paleo themed cafe/fast food restaurant in Canberra.

    Pretty sketchy antrhopological hypotheses are no match for the awesome power of science, and while there are plenty of questions regarding human physiology, and nutrition science as relating to humans, we have a very good understanding of what affect nutrients have on our bodies. I make my decisions with this scientific knowledge in mind.

    I generally advocate a gradual marginal improvement approach to changing ones diet however if a protocol isn’t too bad (and paleo is one of the better protocols) I don’t like to get down on someone if they are finding it is helping them. I just don’t think people should pretend it is something it is not.

    It’s not the optimal diet (but claims it is), but if it helps people improve their diets I’m okay with it to an extent.

    It’s stupid to get caught up in whether something fits your protocol though. Does it fit with paleo? Wrong question. Does it pass a cost benefit analysis in terms of the totality of its effects and your individual goals? Right question. The answer; drink that coffee right now!

    • Sometimes science gets it wrong though.. Or, more specifically, the scientific truth gets lost in marketing bullsh*t..

      A large portion of the population still believe that fat makes you fat.. Since the 70s, “low-fat” has been the buzz word. Apparently based on “science”. But when they took fat out of food, they realised it tasted like cardboard, so instead replaced it with refined carbohydrates in the form of glucose/fructose to give it flavour.

      There is plenty of evidence to support a paleo diet, some of which can be read in the link in my post below..

      • I’m not defending any of that, I’m a graduate in nutrition science and know what I’m talking about. I hate the marketing bullcrap and the popular myths. Ancel Keys never said not to eat fat; people miscontstrued his message (some accidentally, some quite deliberately). The increase in refined carbohydrates makes me irritated as hell.

        I advocate for diets based on science, not whatever gibberish that people say and then claim ‘backed by science’. People speaking gibberish is not a rebuttal of the scientific method. Just to be extremely clear, the ‘people speaking gibberish’ I refer to are not the paleo people. I’m referring to the lemon detox, fat free yoghurt types.

        Thanks for pointing out the links, I’ll have a read.

  • Milk aside, black coffee is packed full of antioxidants. However, caffiene has varying results and it’s a good idea to cut it out every now and then to give your body a few days ‘reset’. Black coffee without sugar is king.

    It’s also very difficult to take any advice from seriously when they destroy their credibility by recommending against saturated fats and recommend eating grains every day.

  • I agree that Paleo in it’s purest form isn’t the best thing out there, but it’s hard to argue against it’s basic principles. I went full paleo for about 5 weeks earlier this year, and it got me into the best shape of my life (in conjunction with a whole bunch of intense exercise). These days I try to live “80% paleo, 80% of the time”… which is basically just my nice sounding way of giving myself permission to cheat. I drink a full cream milk latte every morning, and now and then I’ll destroy a pizza. 80% of the time though it’s good clean eating… It works for me 🙂

  • Hi All,

    First, thank you Angus for your insight I appreciate the article. Second, thank you to those who have commented, plenty of food for thought (pun intended). After 30 days of no caffeine I did reintroduce black coffee. The first cup I had made me feel like I was high on something and I have never been so productive at work. I now try and limit my intake to one cup a day and skip out on weekends. I have to say I really look forward to my coffee, it’s like a reward (that may not be the best attitude but it works for me).

    On paleo, I have seen amazing results in my body shape and my overall feeling of well being. Like most people paleo I’m good most of the time but life’s too short not to have treats every now and then. I am very conscious of getting enough good carbs into my diet and the fibre thing did stress me out a little when I started. I try and make sure I eat a high carb vegetable every day (pumpkin, sweet potato, etc…) and high fibre veges with every meal as well.

    If I had to single out one thing I have learn’t in doing this diet it would be the amount of sugar that is hidden in our normal diets. I check the ingredients in everything I buy now and without exaggeration 90% of the things I used to buy regularly have added sugar. I’m not just talking about cereal or lollies, I mean things like ham and pickled vegetables. When the world started hating on fat the industry responded by replacing it with sugar.

    Whether you like paleo or not I think we should all pay a little more attention to what we are actually eating vs. what we think we are eating. Australia is either the fattest or the second fattest country in the world, something needs to change.

    Paleo Man

  • First off, Congrats to the Paleo Man! I have seen the same effect on both my parents in a matter of months. Collectively, within 4 months, they have lost 120 pounds by eating “The CaveMan’s Diet”. Grass feed meats, eggs, bacon and avocado go a long way! It’s such a simple and easy diet to go on. (A good amount of the diet contains coconut…hopefully you all enjoy that). But, I will be starting my own paleo diet soon. Hopefully, there will be paleo resturants popping up all over the country!

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