“I’ll have a tequila and soda with extra lime, please!” says a Paleo’er on a Friday night. OK, so did cavemen really sit around the fire drinking booze? That’s a big fat no, but modern day Paleo men and women seem to have made tequila their beverage of choice during happy hour.
But is it really Paleo-friendly? Some say distilled spirits can have a place in a Paleo lifestyle, especially tequila since it’s the only distilled spirit naturally derived from the agave plant. But here’s the thing, not all tequilas are created equal.
The best tequila in the world has the "100-percent agave" seal, meaning that it’s derived from the fermented blue agave plant and is free of any additives. Each tequila company has a slightly different process for creating its unique product, but it usually begins in Jalisco, Mexico. Fun fact: 100-percent agave tequila *must* be bottled in Mexico.
The agave used to make tequila grows for several years to reach its peak sugar content. Once it’s ready for tequila production, the plant is transported to a distillery and baked in small ovens for several days. This low-and-slow cooking process caramelizes the sugar of the agave plant, allowing for a smooth and sweet finish (yes, that’s what good tequila should taste like).
The baked agave is then mashed, crushed, or shredded, depending on the recipe. The juice is fermented with yeast for several days, transforming the agave from sugar to alcohol. The law requires the fermented mixture, known as mosto, to be distilled at least twice. Lastly, the distilled mixture is aged in barrels for a long period of time, typically months to years, which gives the tequila its distinct flavor profile.
While this tequila-making process is followed by the best producers in the world, some cheaper tequila brands bypass some of the steps and end up adding unnecessary additives like corn syrup or extra agave. Regardless of your diet, your taste buds (and your future hangover) will thank you for picking the 100-percent agave tequila.
How Tequila Stacks Up to Other Alcohols
Now that you know enough about tequila to open a distillery, here’s how it stacks up in the nutrition department. First, it’s difficult to know the true nutrition facts of alcohol since bottles aren’t required to have a nutrition facts label. Most company websites don’t include nutrition information either, but you can expect a 1.5-ounce shot of tequila to have about 95 calories and 0 grams of carbs.*
But guess what? Other 80 proof liquors like vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey contain almost identical nutrition facts, with 95 calories and 0 grams of carbs in 1.5 ounces.*
Beers, on the other hand, vary by alcohol content so they don’t all have the same nutrition breakdown. The standard 12-ounce beer with 5-percent alcohol has about 150 calories and 12 grams of carbs, so not ideal for those following the Paleo plan.* When it comes to wine, a 5-ounce pour of either red or white has about 125 calories with 4 grams of carbs.*
Here’s where tequila really stands out: If you’re avoiding grains (which most people on the Paleo diet are), then tequila is the only distilled spirit that fits the bill. Vodka, whiskey, and gin are often made from grains, like wheat, rye, barley, and corn, all of which are a no-go for Paleo peeps. Rum is derived from a sugarcane by-product, such as molasses. Tequila is the only plant-derived spirit, which is why it has become the Paleo beverage of choice. That all sounds well and good, but if you want to go by that logic, wine comes from Paleo-approved grapes—just saying.
So, Is Tequila Paleo-Friendly?
A high-quality tequila is nothing more than fermented agave with zero carbs and no grains. So, sure, some would say that it's the best option for a Paleo eater who still wants to party (we say it's worth paying a prettier penny for a tequila that has that 100-percent agave label).
But opinions vary, so the decision is ultimately yours. I asked a fellow registered dietitian for her take, and she said it’s not all that much different than other distilled spirits.
“I don't recommend tequila over other liquors necessarily, because a standard 1.5-ounce serving contains the same amount of alcohol and calories as vodka, rum, or any other spirit—just under 100 calories,” says Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
In other words, if tequila isn’t really your drink, she says there's no need to force yourself to drink it instead of vodka, gin, rum, or whiskey. “With any spirit, use caution with mixers—tequila is often blended with fruit juices and sweeteners, like simple syrup or sweet liqueurs, which can take a low-calorie beverage option and make it much more unhealthy,” adds Hultin.
That being said, we have to state the obvious—whether grain-based or not, alcohol should be consumed in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines suggest one drink per day for women and two drinks for men. A Paleo diet + two tequilas per day + a CrossFit workout doesn’t necessarily scream success to us, but you do you, party animal. Drink responsibly and do your best to make that tequila and soda with extra lime a “once in a while” part of your diet.
*nutrition facts pulled from USDA Nutrient Database