From our general reading around the web, we’d seen a few people asking whether Guayusa tea would be allowed as part of the Paleo diet. This is a diet we didn’t really know much about, so we decided to look into things.
Have you tried the oldest diet in the world?
The Paleo diet is about eating like our ancestors. You may have heard it called the ‘prehistoric’, ‘caveman’ or ‘stone age’ diet, and for good reason. The argument goes that by cutting out modern foods, digestion is improved. The Paleo diet is built on the premise that newer agricultural foods put a strain on our digestive systems.
So what exactly is a ‘modern’ food? It’s anything from the time that humans started farming. Which is thought to be about 12,000 years ago. But what is considered modern might surprise you. It’s not just processed supermarket food, but also includes potatoes, legumes, cereal, dairy and salt.
So why avoid something as innocent as a potato? According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tangible biological evolutionary changes take a million years (!). So even if we’ve eaten certain foods for 1000s of years, there’s research to suggest our bodies haven’t fully adapted to them.
Which is why even though some follow the Paleo diet to lose weight, it’s often followed by people wanting to improve gastrointestinal problems.
But what role does tea play in the diet?
Well, it depends on who you ask. There are three major proponents of the diet - Dr. Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson. Dr. Cordain recommends that followers of the Paleo Diet avoid caffeine, so regular tea is out. However green tea is allowed due to it’s relatively low caffeine levels. Guayusa (based on the usual 2g or so per cup serving) falls into the same caffeine level ranges as green tea per 8oz cup (35-70mg), so it’s a good candidate for a green tea alternative in the Paleo diet - especially considering its lack of tannins and increased antioxidant levels.
Although Guayusa possesses more caffeine than a cup of black tea, it has less than a cup of coffee. It contains theobromine, a mild stimulant also found in chocolate. Theobromine is said to be one of the key compounds that help us enjoy chocolate, by positively affecting our mood and state of alertness. Better yet, as a ‘vasodilator’ theobromine also reduces reduces the chance of heart failure and high blood pressure by widening the blood vessels.
As Guayusa is reported to contain up to double the antioxidants of green tea, it’s lauded for this health benefit alone. But, in addition, for athletes or those with pain, the leaves of Ilex guayusa are a “good source of dietary phenolic compounds with cellular antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties”, so may be of interest and benefit.
Guayusa has long been considered to have curative properties by the indigenous populations of Peru and Ecuador, yet more research is needed to expand on the properties of this incredible Amazonian plant. Either way, it’s no surprise Guayusa is so highly prized. Drink a cup and as well as feeling more focused and energised, you’ll also experience a feel good effect similar to chocolate, which is due to the presence of amino acids - for example, tyrosine, found in Guayusa - that trigger dopamine, the chemical which improves your mood.
So although Guayusa naturally contains caffeine, it’s considered a clean and healthy substitute. The Paleo diet is based on the behaviours of hunter gatherers, who would harvest or hunt the food from their immediate surroundings. It’s very likely that for ancient people of the Amazon rainforest, Guayusa would have been used. Therefore it could well be considered as part of a Paleo diet, albeit a South American version.
So should you use Guayusa if you’re looking to eat and drink like a hunter-gatherer? The answer depends on how strict you want to be. Some people follow a relaxed version of the diet, and as always there is rarely a one size fits all approach when it comes to your individual health. The American Paleo Association have an article that speaks very highly of Guayusa, and they appear to be a very credible source of information.
But if like many people you’re looking for a caffeine alternative and want mood boosting clean energy with proven health benefits, Guayusa could be a perfect complement to anyone looking to follow the oldest diet in the world, or indeed any diet.