Is It Primal? – Non-Alcoholic Beer, Non-Alcoholic Wine, Gluten-Free Beer, and Other Foods Scrutinized

by Mark Sisson Mark's Daily Apple

Recently by Mark Sisson: How the Primal Blueprint Helped Me End My Struggle With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

I suppose you could call today’s “Is it Primal?” the alcohol edition, because we’re dealing with three alcohol-related inquiries. Actually, two of the inquiries relate to non-alcoholic beverages, one to an alcoholic beverage, one to a substance that can potentially facilitate alcohol-induced activities, and one to a substance that can help relieve sunburns that you get after passing out in the sun from too many alcoholic beverages. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but I think you get the point. I dig into the suitability and Primality of non-alcoholic beer, non-alcoholic wine (the horror!), gluten-free beer, the Andean aphrodisiac known as maca root, and the humble but ubiquitous aloe vera.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Non-Alcoholic Beer

Although I think alcoholic beverages can be a sensible vice for PBers (I’m partial to wine), alcohol is undoubtedly a poison. Most people can handle a bit of this particular poison without doing any real damage – particularly if they take some steps to support their detoxification systems and choose alcohol with beneficial secondary compounds – but not everyone responds well to or wants to consume alcohol. If you’re in that boat but still want to enjoy a drink, you generally have but one option: nonalcoholic beer.

Before you laugh, know that nonalcoholic beer is actually alcoholic beer up until the last couple steps where the booze part is removed. Removal is done either via vacuum distillation, which changes the pressure to allow boiling at a lower and less disruptive temperature, or reverse osmosis, which doesn’t require any heating at all. Sure, nonalcoholic beers generally won’t taste as good as your favorite brews, but that’s mostly because the better breweries aren’t really bothering to make nonalcoholic beer. If your favorite craft brewery did decide to remove the ethanol from your favorite brew while leaving everything else the same, it would probably be almost as good. There’s just not a large enough market to drive the brewing of high-quality craft non-alcoholic beer. At least, not yet.

For the most part, I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying a non-alcoholic beer. I still have a beer from time to time, just because I enjoy it that much, and if you’re not overly sensitive to the gluten in most beers, you’ll probably be okay. Plus, non-alcoholic beer has some health benefits.

The only thing that might keep you away is the gluten content. The market for good gluten-free beers is somewhat limited, and the market for good nonalcoholic gluten-free beers is even more limited. Luckily, the brewing process generally removes most of the gluten from beer, and, at any rate, the gluten content of beer pales in comparison to the gluten content of something like bread. One test of fifty beers found that 35 of them contained between 1 and 200 ppm of gluten, and 15 had less than 1 ppm. As a comparison, wheat bread has roughly 75,000 ppm of gluten. According to the World Health Organization, food with less than 20 ppm can be labeled “gluten-free,” though your mileage may vary.

Verdict: Not Primal, but perhaps worth a cheat if you’re not sensitive to gluten.

Non-Alcoholic Wine

Just like non-alcoholic beer retains the health benefits of its alcoholic counterpart, non-alcoholic wine retains many of the benefits associated with real wine. Unfortunately, non-alcoholic wine just doesn’t seem to taste very good. Actually, scratch that: it tastes just fine, just not like real wine. You see, more so than with beer, the alcohol content of a good bottle of wine ties the flavors all together. It provides the body, the mouth feel, the “thickness.” Without the alcohol, wine ends up tasting thin, rather than big and thick. Experts say the best non-alcoholic wines are the sweeter, bubblier ones, the ones that attempt to ape champagne and riesling and the like, rather than the bigger reds.

Taste and mouth feel aside, non-alcoholic wine will contain all the same polyphenols as alcoholic wine made from the same grapes, under the same conditions, given the same amount of time to develop, and aged in the same barrels. I’ve spoken about the anti-oxidative benefits of using wine as a marinade or cooking sauce (it reduces lipid oxidation and the formation of carcinogenic compounds during cooking), which is dependent on the polyphenols – not the alcohol; non-alcoholic red wine retains all the polyphenols and should have the same effect. And one recent study found that non-alcoholic red wine lowered blood pressure in human subjects, while alcoholic red wine did not.

Verdict: Primal.

Gluten-Free Beer

If you are celiac, gluten-sensitive, or just react poorly to gluten-containing foods, you’re probably going to want to reach for a gluten-free beer. As stated above, a gluten-free beer will have a gluten content lower than 20 ppm. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, and you want to have something to compare it to, let’s look at the gluten content of another common food.

Naturally fermented soy sauces that contain wheat register under 20 ppm. That said, you generally don’t drink 12 ounce bottles of soy sauce (or do you?). By sheer volume, you’ll be ingesting more gluten, but far less than comes from even that tiny crust of bread you love to sneak at the restaurant. Unless you’re confirmed that you react to miniscule amounts (around 1 ppm) of gluten, gluten-free beer will probably be fine.

Regarding the silicon effect mentioned in the non-alcoholic portion of this post: although barley is the most common source of silicon in regular beer, hops are also rich in silicon. If you want a silicon-rich gluten-free beer, look for hoppy ales – pale ales, India pale ales, etc. Sorghum also tends to absorb silicon from the soil, so any sorghum-based gluten-free beers should contain sufficient amounts of silicon.

Most of the polyphenols in beer come from the hops, rather than the barley, so gluten-free beers that contain hops (a gluten-free component) should have the same antioxidant activity as regular beers.

Verdict: Not Primal, but a better alternative than regular beer and a nice option for an 80/20 situation.

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