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

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.

Aloe Vera

Anyone who’s ever had a real bad sunburn has probably crossed paths with aloe vera gel, but did you know that aloe vera the plant enjoys a storied history as a healing herb? As far back as 2,000 years ago, physicians, healers, and medicine men have been prescribing aloe for a number of ailments. It’s been used to improve digestion, reduce constipation, and facilitate purgation. In enema form, it apparently “removed worms from the rectum” of the afflicted. In men, it was said to increase erections and sexual appetite. Women between puberty and menopause could supposedly rely on aloe to “relieve the nervous manifestations which often accompany that interesting period in woman’s life” and increase their menstrual flow. And aloe was also said to give “tone to muscle tissue” and exert “a special influence on the liver.” Sounds pretty magical, right?

But does it really do anything?

Its topical effect on burn wounds is well-known, with a recent meta-analysis concluding that aloe vera-containing products reduce burn healing time by 8.79 days on average. Since the products often contained other ingredients and weren’t standardized for aloe vera content, all that can be said is that “some amount” of aloe vera is effective against burns.

Oral aloe vera has anti-hyperlipidemic and anti-hyperglycemic effects. A recent study found that in type 2 diabetes patients with bad blood lipids and excessive fasting blood sugar levels, a 300 mg capsule of aloe vera gel taken every twelve hours for two months lowered LDL, HbA1c, fasting blood glucose, and total cholesterol. No adverse effects were reported, and liver and kidney function tests checked out.

An extract of aloe vera even shows promise as a promoter of dental pulp cell proliferation (the stem cells that “turn into” teeth) and the mineralization and formation of dentin. The study involved capping the exposed upper molars of rats in either the aloe extract (acemannan) or a control for 28 days, so it’s not as simple as swishing with aloe vera juice every night.

Aloe is certainly good as a laxative, but there’s no concrete evidence that I’m aware of for its use in healing damaged stomach tissue. You could give it a shot in an experiment of one, of course. Just note that chronic oral aloe vera consumption has been linked to hepatic toxicity in some cases. Doses of between 250 and 500 mg per day were cited – a not unheard of amount, so use caution.

Verdict: Primal, but be sure to use medicinally, not chronically.


If aloe’s supposed aphrodisiac effects are based in obscure folk wisdom, maca has actual clinical trials. Maca appears to be that rare substance that actually works as advertised. Most importantly, it increases sexual desire, function, and fertility in both men and women.

  • In men with mild erectile dysfunction, maca root increased subjective perceptions of general and sexual well-being, beating out the placebo group.
  • In men and women suffering from SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction (disinterest, low libido, inability to attain arousal), patients taking maca root experienced significant improvements. Libido increased and arousal became possible on both 1.5 grams per day and 3 grams per day, though the larger dose was more effective.
  • In post menopausal women suffering from sexual dysfunction, 3.5 grams a day of powdered maca reduced anxiety, depression, and sexual dysfunction when compared to a placebo. Interestingly, these effects were independent of any changes in hormonal profiles (neither androgenic nor estrogenic).
  • In men aged 21-56, both 1.5 and 3 grams per day of maca root increased sexual desire, with the larger dose having the greater effect. As with the previous study on postmenopausal women, the increase in libido was independent of any changes to male hormonal profiles.
  • Maca also increases sperm count, sperm motility, and ejaculate volume without affecting serum hormone levels in men.

Maca also has some neuroprotective effects, at least in rodents, but the sex angle is the most studied.

If you decide to try it, don’t necessarily rush out and buy the raw maca. Traditionally, maca root was eaten as a root vegetable in Peru – cooked, boiled, mashed, or turned into flour. It wasn’t eaten raw to “preserve enzymes” or some other such thing. Raw maca is generally less expensive than gelatinized maca, but the latter is more concentrated with the starch removed, and perhaps more effective. Furthermore, since maca is in the brassica family (along with cabbage, broccoli, and kale), it has goitrogenic qualities that increase the requirement for iodine. Raw maca is going to have more goitrogenic activity than heat-treated maca.

If I were going to use maca, I’d be interested to see if it boosted sexual desire. That’s where most of the best research has been done. I’d do about 1.5 to 3 grams daily, which seems to be the effective dose range. I’d make sure to eat extra iodine-rich foods, like seafood and sea vegetables. And I’d treat it like a medicine, taking it when and if I felt I needed it and removing it if any untoward effects were felt.

Verdict: Primal.

That’s it for today, folks. I hope I’ve given you some new things to try, or to avoid, and that you find my advice helpful.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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