Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
18 Sep

Action Item #3: Make the Healthiest Choices Across the Spectrum

organicproduceMost of us aren’t hunters. Most of us can’t take days off from work to gather some edible bulbs and silently stalk a wild beast whose pursuit might not even end in a kill and meal. No, we are modern humans who go to work, who wield income rather than spears, who mosey on down to the grocery store when we need food. We have the luxury – and some might say burden – of choosing what we’ll eat and when we’ll eat it. But strangely enough, there was a sort of freedom in the way we obtained food in years gone past, wasn’t there? When we filled our bellies solely by what we could catch, grow, and gather, there wasn’t a whole lot of junk food sneaking onto our plates. No Twinkies, no double gallon jugs of soybean oil, no golden arches looming over you.

And so now we’re tasked with making healthy choices, whereas before healthy choices were all that existed. It’s great to have the freedom to choose, but we should try to make the right choices.

How do we do it? We make the healthiest choices across the spectrum of foods as dictated by circumstance, access, and finances. Let’s see how they rank, with 1 being “healthiest.” Start with the foods with the first spot and buy those when and if you can.

Red Meat (Beef, Lamb, Pork)

Red meat, along with seafood (and derivative fats), will likely provide the lion’s share of your calories. It’s probably best that you get the best stuff possible.

1. Grass-fed/grass-finished/pastured (pork) – Before organic and before local comes grass-fed and finished. While I try to buy beef from local providers – and usually end up doing just that – I’m most concerned that the beef I eat comes from animals raised strictly on grass. Even a few weeks of grain feeding can alter the nutritional content and fatty acid composition of the resultant meat, so grass-fed and finished is the absolute best. These needn’t be certified organic, but I’ve found that many grass-finished ranchers are organic in everything but name. You won’t find grass-fed pork, because pigs aren’t ruminants, but you can find pastured pork who are allowed to forage and often receive farm waste (milk, whey, fruits, vegetables). Note that “pastured” beef isn’t necessarily grass-fed and finished. Bones, organ meat, and tougher cuts like chuck and stew are less expensive – and arguably more nutritious – ways to incorporate truly grass-finished animals into your diet.

2. Organic – According to the USDA, organic beef must come from cows who were born and raised on organic pasture, must never receive antibiotics, must never receive growth-promoting hormones, must have unrestricted outdoor access, and must be fed only organic grasses and grains. So, yeah, grains. Note that there’s no mention of the breakdown between grains and grasses; it could be 80% grains and 20% grass and still qualify as organic. So, while organic is clearly preferable to conventional meat, it’s unlikely to be superior to grass-fed and finished meat without the organic label.

3. CAFO – Most meat you’ll come across in supermarkets and restaurants will be from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, where animals are treated like mere products and maximum productivity is prized above all – even if it means pumping the animals (and their meat) full of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticide-laden feed. The meat doesn’t taste as good, it’s less nutritious, and, at least in the case of pork, it’s extremely high in omega-6 fats.

Poultry and Eggs

For when you’re not eating ruminants. Dollar for dollar, truly pastured eggs might just be the best use of your money.

1. Pastured – A pastured chicken isn’t just free range, given a patch of dirt upon which to scratch and peck; a pastured chicken is given access to pasture, to grassland teeming with a smorgasbord of delicious insects, nutritious plants, and edible seeds. The best pastured poultry gets most of its calories from the pasture, with a few handfuls of chicken feed to round things out back at the henhouse. Since poultry (and every animal we eat) doesn’t create nutrients out of thin air, its nutritional content is determined by the nutritional content of its diet. A pastured chicken (or duck, or turkey, or any bird) tastes like a different animal altogether, probably because it’s living like its primary ancestor – the jungle fowl (PDF) – and its fatty acid composition bears that out (far less omega-6 than battery-raised birds). Same goes for eggs from the same birds.

2. Organic – Organic poultry gets outdoor access and organic feed. It receives no antibiotics, no drugs, and no hormones (although that’s true for all chickens, at least in the US). It does not get access to pasture, to bugs, or to edible grasses unless otherwise specified. It’s better than conventional poultry, but it’s eating corn and soy (albeit non-GMO, organic) just the same.

3. Free range – Doesn’t mean very much. It has access to the outside, but it’s just a dirt patch. All the food (which is just soy and corn, of course) is inside, so that’s where it’ll spend most of its time. At least it gets to walk around some, rather than being crammed in a cage.

4. CAFO – Avoid if you can, unless you like eating beakless, stationary, big-breasted birds with soybean and corn oil for fat.

Seafood

Seafood and the omega-3 fats, sea minerals like iodine, and other micronutrients it provides are essential. Even if you think you “hate seafood,” check out the lists below and I’m sure you’ll be able to find something you can enjoy.

1. Shellfish, farmed/wild; oily fish, wild; coho, farmedbarramundi – Wild-caught sardines, salmon, tuna, anchovies, mackerel, and herring have the highest levels of omega-3 and, except for salmon and tuna, they’re some of the most affordable fish around. Farmed shellfish are raised essentially like wild shellfish, attached to a fixed object and allowed to obtain sustenance from the ocean; they’re also the most nutrient-dense of the edible sea creatures. And although most farmed salmon is nutritionally inferior to wild, farmed coho salmon is actually quite reminiscent of wild coho. Barramundi is fairly high in omega 3s, about the same as coho salmon. In the wild, it’s omnivorous, but it does very well on a mostly herbivorous diet and needs far less fish meal than salmon while still retaining the omega-3s.

2. Canned oily fish and shellfish - Canned sardines, salmon, light tuna, oysters, mussels, and other fish from the first category are budget-friendly ways to eat healthy seafood. Just stick to BPA-free versions, to avoid the endocrine disruption.

3. Domestic catfish, trout, tilapia, crayfish; non-oily wild fish – While trying to farm wholly carnivorous fish is problematic and usually ends up producing an inferior food, replicating the diet of herbivorous fish is easier. In short, everything listed here is fair game, whether wild or farmed, especially if it’s domestic. Neither they nor the non-oily wild fish like cod are particularly high in omega-3s, but they’re all great sources of protein with decent levels of nutrients.

Vegetables and Fruits

Plants – both vegetables and fruits – form the basis of the Primal Blueprint way of eating. They don’t provide the bulk of calories by any means, but they provide volume and micronutrients. It’s important that you eat the most nutritious, less problematic types.

Growing Method

1. Local organic – The cream of the crop. Food from your neck of the woods grown with organic methods that doesn’t have to travel halfway across the country to reach you.

2. Local conventional – Less transit time means a more recent harvest date means more nutrition. Local ranks higher than anything grown remotely, even organic. Besides, many smaller producers like the ones you’ll run into at farmer’s markets use organic methods without the official stamp of approval from the government.

3. Organic remote – Produce grown without massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides applied tend to have higher levels of polyphenols, the plant’s natural methods of protecting against pests and other aggressors. Those same polyphenols are good for us, too.

4. Conventional remote with skin that’s inedible or easy to wash – If you’re going to eat conventional produce, you best try to stick to vegetables whose skins you peel, remove, or easily wash. Avocados, onions, asparagus – these are pretty safe, since you’re either not going to be eating the skin that’s come into contact with chemicals or you’ll be able to wash it effectively. For fruits, bananas, oranges, mangoes, pineapples, and kiwis are good.

5. Conventional remote with edible or hard to wash surfaces – Leafy greens, broccoli, bell peppers, and other vegetables whose surface area is eaten or too large to effectively wash should be eaten with caution or avoided altogether. Fruits with soft, edible skin, like apples, apricots, peaches, plums, pears, grapes, berries, and tomatoes are best avoided.

Vegetable Nutritional Value

1. Nutrient-dense – Beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, garlic, ginger, jicama, kale, chard, romaine, onion, peas, bell peppers, spinach and yellow squash are some of the vegetables with the highest levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial components (like soluble fiber) available. Base your meals and your shopping around these vegetables. Choose “heavy” vegetables, which in my entirely unscientific estimation, are more nutritious.

2. Less nutrient-dense – There’s nothing wrong with stuff like cucumbers, butter lettuce, or iceberg lettuce, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on them when there’s so many more intriguing and beneficial options available.

Fruit Nutritional Value

1. Good antioxidant levels, low sugar – All berries, cherries, prunes, peaches, apricots.

2. Good antioxidant levels, moderate sugar – Bananas, apples, figs, grapefruit, kiwi, pears, pomegranates.

3. Good antioxidant levels, high sugar – Pineapple, grapes, mangoes, melons, nectarines, oranges, papayas, plums, tangerines.

Nuts

Although all nuts are highly nutritious, they are calorically dense, and many of them are high in omega-6 fats. When you’re talking about a whole food high in vitamin E and magnesium like an almond or a hazelnut, a little omega-6 isn’t anything to worry about. But when those occasional handfuls of nuts become regular, constant occurrences whose caloric content begins to approximate that of entire meals, the omega-6 fats add up.

1. Low omega-6 content – Macadamia nuts reign supreme on this account.

2. Moderate omega-6 content – Almonds, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts.

3. High omega-6 content – Walnuts and pecans.

Supplemental Carbs

These are exactly that – supplements with which to address a deficiency. If you’re a hard-charging athlete who trains daily, then you might need some supplementary glucose to function best. If you’re not, though, you may not need these supplements on a regular basis.

1. Tubers and other starchy vegetables – Sweet potatoes of all kinds, potatoes of all kinds, and winter squash like butternut or acorn are all carb-dense and nutrient-dense, making them great sources of both supplemental carbs for athletic purposes and of minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients.

2. Wild rice, quinoa – These pseudo-grains are gluten-free and relatively low in other plant toxins, especially if you soak and ferment them using traditional preparation methods. They’re fine ways to add more glucose to your diet.

Dairy

If you’re tolerant of it, dairy can be a fantastic source of fat, protein, and nutrition. Stick to grass-fed and finished, or at least pastured, dairy products for the superior nutrition (CLA, vitamin K2).

1. Raw, fermented, full-fat – Think kefiryogurt, and skyr (although it’s low-fat, it’s traditionally served that way). Raw, fermented, full-fat dairy from a trusted, pastured supplier makes for the most nutritious, best-tasting, least-problematic choice. Fermentation takes care of most of the lactose, thus eliminating a potential agent of intolerance, while providing added probiotic benefits.

2. Raw, full-fat – Think butter, cream, whole milk. Raw dairy is more nutritious, it’s fats less damaged, and the full fat content is necessary for proper absorption and presence of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and K2. Plus, full-fat dairy contains the most CLA.

3. Organic, non-homogenized, full-fat – Sure, it’s pasteurized, but at least the fat globules haven’t been damaged after undergoing high pressure homogenization treatment. The fat-solubles will be mostly intact.

Well, that should get you started for your next shopping trip. Be sure to revisit Action Item #1, where I detailed what not to buy, plus Action Item #2, where I explained how to shop and what fats and kitchen staples to buy, then let me know if you have any further questions on food choices in the comments. Take care and Grok on!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. And the database grows…

    Groktimus Primal wrote on September 18th, 2012
  2. when eating in say, a college dining hall, where everything is organic and ‘natural’ but definitely still grain fed, how does one make the best choices on what to eat? should I mix it up between deli meats, the grilled meats, and all lean and fatty cuts? I struggle to figure out what the least unhealthy sources of fat in a dining hall are.

    Max wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • I’m in college as well, and this is a tough question. Mostly, I like to focus on getting the kinds of macronutrients I want (for example during a carb refeed I may choose lean meats instead of fattier cuts), but lean cuts will be healthier than fatty cuts due to the accumulation of toxins in the fat (and there will be toxins b/c it’s not grass-fed/free-range, etc). I wouldn’t stress about it too much, because you can only do your best and adapt to the crazy dining hall foods they provide. I have invested in some fish oil to combat the vegetable oils they cook everything in.

      Adam wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • Grain fed with higher Omega 6 is ok as long as you are balancing with Omega 3′s. Get you meat, probably grilled before cold cuts, then hit the salad bar and olive oil, avacado etc. Grain fed is not “ideal” but I wouldn’t sweat it.

      MattyT wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • Skip deli meats. Go for grilled, lean cuts and then get your fats from olive oil or avocado. It’s not very exciting-sounding, but then again neither was being an actual prehistoric human!

      I’ve been know to carry around packages of Wholly Guacamole or a jar of nut butter “just in case.”

      Deanna wrote on September 18th, 2012
      • not sure i agree about it being “not very exciting sounding” – not sure what you meant either exactly – about being a prehistoric human or skipping deli meats.

        here in europe you can “hunt down” quite some varied prepared deli meats, without nitrates (gotta watch for that) and full of all kinds of parts of the animals.

        and also, why lean? the good fats from properly fed animals, the fats incorporated into excellent salami and wurst and the like are superb energy and nutrient suppliers.

        we have come to appreciate the excellence of such meats as long-lasting energy sources that keep us satisfied after a meal and thus easily avoiding snacking–

        ravi wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • and as far as being a prehistoric human not being very exciting (if that is what you meant) i kinda think it was quite exciting and very likely a much fuller experience than our tempered and boxed up little existences of the modern world.

          ravi wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • stop eating at the college dining hall. i know, i know – this is practically impossible but if you really want to control what goes into your body, i can promise you that mass feeding locations like dining halls will do what is economical, convenient and expedient.

      maybe you can somehow manage to control your own menu at least on weekends of on several days of the week that have slower class schedules?

      ravi wrote on September 18th, 2012
      • Not all dining halls are bad. Last year when attending Dickinson College the cafeteria served me grass-fed burgers and produce grown on the college’s own organic farm!

        Ben Hirshberg wrote on September 18th, 2012
      • The problem with that too is that you’ve probably already paid for the dining hall food, and would then have to spend additional money to get other food… plus not every dorm room has a good option for being able to cook or store food. But you could possibly buy your own fresh fruits/veggies and high-quality fats (coconut oil, avocados, etc) to supplement the dining hall food.

        Michelle wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • stop eating at the college dining hall. i know, i know – this is practically impossible but if you really want to control what goes into your body, i can promise you that mass feeding locations like dining halls will do what is economical, convenient and expedient and NOT healthy.

      maybe you can somehow manage to control your own menu at least on weekends of on several days of the week that have slower class schedules?

      ravi wrote on September 18th, 2012
  3. given what is involved in finding all the finest of the above items I’ve often considered what I do to procure them the modern version of hunting and gathering…I wander far and wide to get all I need…my backyard, the health food store, neighboring farms and on occasion the forest and other public lands for wild greens etc…oh…let’s not forget the internet…another terrain for hunting and gathering today…it’s no small thing getting all this fine food…

    Monica wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • +1

      A good perspective.

      BillP wrote on September 18th, 2012
      • Agreed Monica.
        Living in a (massive) city, having young offspring and collecting primal food/ingredients is a full-time job.
        I guess traffic/munter-drivers are the wild animal equivalent. Shame we can’t shoot them with an arrow and take them home for a bang-up hangi (in-ground Maori-style roast). Too many omega-6′s, hahahahahhaahahhahahaaa…
        Ahh. Sicko.

        Madame Flintstone wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • +1 agreed! My husband & I are Iull time working primal parents and spend quite a bit of our “free time” hunting, gathering and preparing our food!

          mars wrote on September 19th, 2012
  4. Great food survival guide!

    I used to be all about organic. Now, my focus is on local and pastured. I want those animals happy and eating what they were meant to eat. It doesn’t make sense to give up grains then eat animals that only eat grains!

    Our local farmer’s market is now our main stop on the weekend. We go straight to the meat stand and any money left over goes towards veggies.

    Craig Valency wrote on September 18th, 2012
  5. Biggest challenge I find is fresh veggies in the winter (we live in Canada) which are organic. While our organic produce section in the grocery stores have certainly grown, they have a long way to go.

    Best thing I found is to freeze and jar as much as I can in the summer and fall so that I have it on hand during the winter. (Except lettuce, of course. Have to buy that fresh.) :-)

    Happycyclegirl wrote on September 18th, 2012
  6. “And so now we’re tasked with making healthy choices, whereas before healthy choices were all that existed. It’s great to have the freedom to choose, but we should try to make the right choices.”

    This is something I’ve noticed since beginning college. I’ve actually found it much easier to stay primal here. At home, I had to cook a lot of primal foods if I wanted them. But at school, I kind of have everything out in front of me. There’s always meat available and tons of vegetables.

    Jordan Tuwiner wrote on September 18th, 2012
  7. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought barramundi had a fairly good omega 3 content? It’s not actually herbivorous, it’s omnivorous and a lot of farming operations give them 30% fish meal. At least, that’s what I was told.

    Diane wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • Thanks to your comment, Diane, I did some extra investigative work on barramundi. Suffice it to say, you are absolutely correct. I’ve updated the article to reflect this.

      http://www.seafoodsource.com/newsarticledetail.aspx?id=5333

      Thanks!

      Mark Sisson wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • That’s awesome to know. Barramundi is like the king fish we eat all the time in Thailand. But I always thought fish we got around there have lower omega-3 since they are not cold water.

      Gift Clumsywarrior wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • And Berramundi is definitely oily.. yummmmm

      Gift Clumsywarrior wrote on September 18th, 2012
  8. It is sad how hard it can be to find unadulterated food nowadays. By the way, don’t forget pastured lamb. I found a local supplier and oh man, that’s good stuff!

    Diane wrote on September 18th, 2012
  9. Confused by this:

    Note that “pastured” beef isn’t necessarily grass-fed and finished

    I’ve bought a whole cow every year from a tiny ranch in Maine since 2007 so I’m not all that familiar with the terms anymore, but what is “pastured” if not grass-fed?

    Kate wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • Sometimes you get animals that are grass-fed and grain-finished. A lot of bison available in the supermarket is raised like that. In many cases, it is still something to be proud of because of the nice fatty marbling that comes from grain-finishing. It does drastically change the nutritional value, though.

      If I’m missing something there, someone please fill me in.

      Deanna wrote on September 18th, 2012
      • What about pastured animals that are raised on grass and silage? The local butcher said that having the animals only eat grass was akin to having humans eat only iceberg lettuce (which seems a bit ridiculous to me, but I do want to know about the silage).

        DarcieG wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • There’s different kinds of silage. Grass silage is probably a rather different food source than corn silage (which may not be far off from just feeding them corn.)

          Beyond that, I don’t know enough about it to tell you how much the fermentation of silage might be bad for the quality of the food.

          As for the butcher claiming that humans trying to survive on icerberg lettuce (impossible) is akin to a grazing herbivore grazing on herb… yeah, that’s ridiculous. Sure, cattle that only eat grass aren’t marbled like those deliberately fattened on other food sources, but they aren’t starving to death.

          Jen wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • From what I know, silage is basically fermented grass plants (which includes grain plants, but the whole green thing). It’s like hay, except hay is dry while silage contains a good deal of moisture.

          Wafaa wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • that’s true – silage is supposed to mean pasture grasses sightly fermented due to being bailed with the proper moisture content for winter feeding. you may want to ask what YOUR farmers mean by silage cause sometimes it will mean complete plant corn (not the worst…)

          and as for your local butcher – he’s a conventional hack – TOTALLY wrong.

          ruminants are meant to eat PASTURE PLANTS – MAINLY GRASSES and a big part of the problem is that pastures are not longer the huge variety of grasses, “weeds”, herbs, flowers and other plants that they used to be (thus providing more complete nutrition for the ruminant)

          look for ONLY 100% grass fed beef or dairy ONLY – any grain feeding is absolutely wrong for a ruminant – i’ve learned all this cause i live on a farm in central switzerland and have friends that dairy farm close by Demeter style (Rudolf Steiner inspired intensive-organic farming…) they only feed corn in a mix to just-weaned cows for some months to help them build up weight for survival quicker – and corn here is NOT GMO.

          ravi wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • Hi, the fermentation process of the silage makes the grasses more digestible, by breaking down cellular walls, and the sugar content rises. Sometimes here hay is baled a bit moist and it heats up and cooks a bit, and my sheep just go ape over it, climbing over each other to get at the bale! Smells a bit like tobacco sometimes. So silage is to the farmer a feed that increases digestibility, palatability, and nutritious, as well as being able to be stored for years in times of plenty. Not to be feared if it has been made from a diverse paddock swarth which in Australia it often is, because so called native pasture can be converted to higher nutrition by the silage process.
          Cheers

          Heather wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • As far as what your butcher thinks, I recently listened to a gentleman lecturing on the nutritional content of various diets of different animals. Since cows are foregut ruminants, they do eat grasses, BUT they then ferment those same grasses to form short chain fatty acids. In fact, when you compare mammals, we all end up with about 50-60% of the calories we eat coming from fat, whether it’s fat that’s eaten ( in the case of humans or carnivores) or fermented from vegetation (in the case of ruminants or gorillas).
          So cows eating grass is NOT like humans eating lettuce, because there is no way we have the physiology to form fat from lettuce. Cows do.

          BJML wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • Grass silage is fermented grass, chopped to short length to store it in bulk..it rots under its own weight and when fresh is warm from the bacteria ..cows find it delicious, as it has sugar added it is very good nutrition for them…
          Grass padocks are not monocultures, indeed the longer the paddock is kept as such, more species of meadow plants take hold, race horses do especially well on meadows that have not been cultivated for decades..organic farms try and encourage this diversity as the more plant species the better the soil life..it is amazing stuff..check out Paul Cheks ” Dirt story”

          BT wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • “pastured” is like the term “natural” – no regulation beyond the possible enforcement of seeing that the cow once stood in a pasture (and maybe just once) –

      100% grass fed – start to finish – and if the silage is grass – that claim is still valid.

      ravi wrote on September 18th, 2012
  10. Our daily life is stressful and what we eat tend to be “fast convenient” food. This article just highlight the healthy diet habits we should follow.

    Fubao wrote on September 18th, 2012
  11. Very helpful post! This is exactly what I needed with where I am in PB right now. Keep ‘em coming, Mark!

    Christina wrote on September 18th, 2012
  12. Not doable. With 3 babies and one income, $10lb chicken and $6lb burger is not even on the radar when CAFO meat is already expensive enough. I don’t go on vacations, I work a second job part of the year, I eat about one meal a day during the week, and I already make just about everything from scratch. Anyone want to tell me how I can afford this and why even if I could come up with the extra money that this would be the place to spend it?
    I’ve lost about 35 pounds with Primal on CAFO meat, that’s going to have to be good enough.

    Joshua wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • i’m not criticizing Joshua, just want to suggest that going primal for health and weight loss may not pan out if the foodstuffs you load up on are full of toxins, poisons, and horribly out-of-balance omega 3/6 oils as grain-fed CAFO meats most definitely are.

      losing weight is only one goal/advantage of the primal life – cleaning your body of toxins, poisons and balancing your omegas is also just as important –

      and i have to say – as a father also on a budget – i’d rather me and my family eats good clean and healthy-raised meat once a week rather than unquestionably inferior and probably toxic-laden CAFO meat once a day.

      ravi wrote on September 18th, 2012
      • Would I rather? Yeah. No doubt CAFO meat is inferior. Just hoping the difference is overblown enough not to be the difference between good health and bad.
        As I see it, I have 3 dietary options that I can afford to get the calories I need to function. Typical SAD, Vegetarian, Primal w/ conventional meat and produce. Unless I have excluded an option, you tell me which is best.

        Joshua wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • Hi Joshua,

          I can’t always afford grass-fed/pastured meats, so I actually end up eating very little meat–only a couple times a month. My staples are canned wild sardines, good quality canned tuna, and organic eggs (which I can get at Costco for $6.75 for 2 dozen). And when the choice is $22 for a piece of grass-fed meat or $22 for a 2.5 qt container of coconut oil, I’m buying the coconut oil! It’ll last me far longer than the piece of meat will.

          Some weeks I survive almost exclusively on eggs and vegetables.

          Sometimes my diet ends up being near vegetarian, but that’s the way it goes when I have to skate by on pennies. It’s still a better way of eating than what most of America eats. Anyone who tells me I’m not “primal enough” (whatever the hell that means) gets the finger. :)

          Rokzane wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • Have you looked into buying and freezing a large amount of meat directly from the farmer? We’ve done this a couple of times and it’s significantly cheaper. Plus, you can share a whole side of beef with friends if you don’t have enough freezer space.

          Stephanie wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • so one more suggestion Joshua – get grass fed and/or organic beef, sheep, goat BONES and prepare them in the traditional ways (low simmer for days with a little vinegar and then some veg) – strain and make soups – we do this and can make $5 worth of bones (sometimes free depending on your source), 6-8 bucks worth of quality veg and a couple paks of grass fed burger (10-12 bucks) stretch into 3-5 family meals, all the while getting most all the excellent benefits possible. good soup is getting us through a lean spell right now starting a new family business and you’ll find bones are pretty damn cheap and packed with the primal goodies we all crave—

          perhaps not as satisfying as a nice fatty beef roast or rib eye- but super nutritious none the less–

          ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
        • I totally feel you Joshua. We struggle to afford grass fed and pastured. I make choices like not buying new clothes or shoes…no vacations etc…i eat mostly eggs, canned fish, vegetables, avocados, coconut during the week and save meat for my family few times a week..it’s not easy on a tight budget…we do the best we can and take solace in knowing that no grains/no SAD is better overall…

          mars wrote on September 19th, 2012
        • Hi Joshua, not sure what your living arrangements are (city/suburb/apartment/house etc) but you may be able to buy some chickens and grow your own pastured eggs for protein? Then can ditch the cafo meat and buy the once a month grass fed meat, or even the cheaper cuts of grass fed meat for a couple of times? Or organic green leafy vege (where it really matters). If you have even a tiny backyard can do a permaculture chicken run/garden – google Linda woodrow she has an awesome book that explains how you can do this without having to buy chicken feed and grow vege for yourself.

          Kea wrote on September 20th, 2012
  13. Oh man, do be careful! I got “spoiled” the last three years eating grass fed and finished beef, goat and lamb, and pastured pork and chicken from a local supplier that I trust. Their stock ran short a couple weeks ago and I had to buy grocery store meat. I couldn’t eat it. It smelled terrible, was mushy to handle raw and didn’t cook the same. I fed it to the family (who didn’t notice a difference) and went on a nice, long fast.

    Mamachibi wrote on September 18th, 2012
  14. This is a long list of awesome! Keep em coming…

    Ed wrote on September 18th, 2012
  15. One note about organic vs. local conventional. Some crops are so doused in pesticides and herbicides that organic is better regardless of distance.

    I’m fortunate to live in Seattle where you can get local/organic for much of the year, often directly from the farmer, if you’re willing to eat with the seasons. (Things do get a little thin from late winter through early spring, though.)

    LarryB wrote on September 18th, 2012
  16. I love the idea of all of this and Mark is right on point. I use a local farm service that provides weekly fruit and veggie deliveries mostly organic, some not and an awesome pastured all grass meat distributor that sells beef, pork, goat, lamb and chicken in bulk so I dont have to make a dozen trips and pay top dollar. My body is improving as each day goes on!

    Shannon wrote on September 18th, 2012
  17. a note on pork – it is tricky to get properly fed pork – these creatures are forest/meadow creatures and eat some surface plants but are suited for rooting around for roots – and seldom are they raised ANYTHING like this now. here on the farm where i live (as mentioned, it’s in central Switzerland) they raise these huge semi-sweet beets that they feed the pigs in the winter – but this farm also feeds corn to the pigs.

    i believe i remember an outfit in texas that raised old species and did so in forest land – THAT is the pork i would seek out in the states – here they have such operations that raise wild pig species naturally – but it will cost you an arm and a leg for a shank and a shoulder…

    ravi wrote on September 18th, 2012
  18. On the subject of free range chickens, in our area we have to keep them penned with netting over the top. There are hawks, eagles, skunks, weasels and dogs who all would enjoy chicken dinner. Many of the people around here with space do make movable pens however. I’m not sure about the commercial producers however.

    Ingvildr wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • had the same problem with our chickens when we lived in the high desert new mexico – chickens wouldn’t last the day without complete cover – we had a big greenhouse and did our best to provide daily weeding scraps from there as well as meat scraps from the butcher – and those eggs had the yellowest yolks i have EVER seen— so it can be done–

      ravi wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • I stretch 30# clear monofilament fishing line where these avian predators will likely fly to hunt my chickens. The hawks and other avian predators will learn to avoid this area. It doesn’t take a lot if it is placed in the right places. Before any one attacks me for being cruel, restaurants do this to keep seagulls and other birds from flying over outside diners. So attack them first. I also pen them up at night to keep them out of reach of 4 legged chicken thieves.

      DRK wrote on September 18th, 2012
  19. For a while now I’ve been a big believer in eating as little processed food as possible. This takes it to a whole new level, although makes perfect sense. Great article

    Laurence wrote on September 18th, 2012
  20. Bison Bison Bison! They are grass fed and finished by law, if I’m not mistaken. Tastes great too!

    Nocona wrote on September 18th, 2012
  21. How does coconut products fit in?

    oils
    olives
    coconut fruit, shreds, milk, oil and water
    dried fruit
    jerky
    seeds
    vinegars

    things that you can snack on, but also may involve some cooking and twisting up

    lauren s. wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • Coconut products are fabulous! I use (organic, expeller pressed virgin) oil to cook with, or also just to eat a spoonful if I’m hungry, but don’t want to cause an insulin spike. Coconut flour replaced rice and gluten free flours, coconut aminos replaced soy sauce.
      Coconut oil has a large amount of lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid with lots of wonderful properties. Guess what the other main source of lauric acid is? Breast milk. Medium chain fatty acids require neither bile salts nor pancreatic digestive enzymes in order to be absorbed from the gut-they are small enough to be absorbed just as they are. For anyone out there who has had their gallbladder removed, coconut oil is your new best friend.
      I use coconut kefir to make smoothies-gets some probiotic in.

      Olives are a great source of fat, plus they’re really tasty.

      Dried fruit is a pretty concentrated source of sugar, especially fructose. I limit it to very small quantities. You can get freeze dried fruit, which is kind of crunchy and has less concentrated sugars than regular dried fruit.

      Jerky is fabulous, but be careful of the source. Most of the stuff you find (like at the jerky-stand-next-to-the-highway places) are full of soy protein and HFCS, sometimes also called “factory syrup”, which I am assuming is HFCS. There are sources listed on this website for buying grass fed organic jerky and sticks.

      Seeds are great; I find that sun butter, made from sunflower seeds, of course, tastes a lot like peanut butter. My picky 11 y/o son will eat sun butter. You still have to watch your consumption , as I believe they also contain Omega 6 fats.

      Vinegars are wonderful, you just have to be careful if you have any problems with yeast.

      Hard boiled eggs, egg muffins (basically little crustless quiches) made with whatever you like, Mark has a great recipe for homemade protein bars (just search the website), nuts, jerky, coconut manna (jars of crushed coconut that includes both the meat and the oil) and a piece of 80 or 90% dark chocolate-this makes a great substitute for a Mounds bar, which was always my favorite candy anyway. These are the kinds of things we snack on at our house, although as you get more into the primal lifestyle, you may find you don’t need to snack so much anymore.
      Hope this helps.

      BJML wrote on September 18th, 2012
      • BJML +10!

        on the subject of (almost) primal treats:

        google (copy paste):

        Chilled Coconut Cranberry Crunch Treats with Xylitol

        yum!

        ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
  22. Holy mounds of info here (good great info) but a tad overwhelming! May have to read this a few more times! lol

    Joanne - The Real Food Mama wrote on September 18th, 2012
  23. Just wanted to say, this is a great guide. Thanks!

    Joseph S. wrote on September 18th, 2012
  24. Emerging research is casting some doubt on the safety of quinoa as a carb source. Certain strains (and it’s hard to know exactly which strain you’re getting or to prevent cross-contamination) have been shown to cause a reaction in celiac cells on the same order as gluten. Some people are also sensitive to the saponins present in the coating, which are reduced by processing but not completely eliminated. I would generally recommend starchy tubers, tapioca, or even white rice over quinoa if you need the carbs – especially if you are celiac or have other autoimmune issues.

    J C wrote on September 18th, 2012
  25. I heard a recent npr story about how Mexicans were having trouble with their laying hens and mentioned that they hated American eggs.

    But yeah, it looks like I’m going to eat garbage. Too often I’ve spent $6 in gas just to buy a token amount of vegetables at the farmer’s market, and a $5 budget at the closer one means that I might walk away with a $3 cabbage. I don’t even like cabbage enough to spend more than .60 on it.

    I miss my old butcher. He’d have Amish chickens at competitive prices. Grocery store roasters look weird.

    Kelekona wrote on September 18th, 2012
  26. Pastured eggs are so expensive but I can believe that its more nutrition-dense than other ones..

    MIss those days in Thailand that I could just get eggs right from their nests at grandma’s , although I felt like hens got mad at me when I took their eggs. lol

    maybe I will start buying some pastured eggs mixed with cheaper variations.

    Gift Clumsywarrior wrote on September 18th, 2012
  27. I wonder if there were ever vegan cavemen?

    Delf Enriquez wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • unlikely, but if there were, they died off before reproducing for sure. your genetics are those of a meat eater/omnivore – no question about this.

      veganism is a modern, elitist eating disorder that stems from the separation from nature that we are all experiencing in the modern world. this fundamental lack of contact/knowledge of the natural order of things and the respect that should be granted that natural order leads to intellectualized displacement of empathy (although most vegans are not so bright i have found…)

      bring in our social over-emphasis on politics and political-correctness, and our cultural fear of death and there is a kind of perfect storm of disconnect from the facts of life – that something must die for something else to live on.

      having worked extensively with plants as well as animals, i also find that species egotism is absurd – plant life is no more or less of value than animal life no matter how hard one argues for sentience. life is life and we should respect all life that give us sustenance for another day.

      ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
  28. Wow. Where do you folks get the cash? I live in the city. We can’t raise chickens. I get sticker shock when I buy meat which I rarely ate for 20 or so years. I gave up flour, sugar and don’t touch processed food. After five months I look anorectic and I eat like a hog. I crave veggies instead of junk. The cost will kill me before the toxins.

    cate wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • Can’t speak for anyone else, but for my family it was a conscious and sometimes difficult choice. We have one TV with minimum service, high speed internet only because it’s paid by the company we telecommute with, one cellphone between the 8 of us, one (old) car, no health insurance. We make our clothes, live very simply, purchase almost nothing new, cut our own hair and process our own food (grinding grains for those who eat them, making our own cheeses, yogurt and butter for those who eat dairy, grinding our own meat, etc.) We have no memberships, no subscriptions and very little debt. We live in a neighborhood with an HOA, so we are allowed no chickens and a very limited garden.

      We could cut our food bill in half by purchasing grocery store meat, but I just can’t eat the stuff. I’d rather not eat.

      Mamachibi wrote on September 18th, 2012
      • Not all of us have the desire to live like a Spartan. Nor do all of us have the time to devote to homesteading pursuits. I cook all of my meals from scratch, but seriously, what household with 2 working professionals has the time for all of that? I barely have the time for my weekly pickle making sessions.

        And there is NO way I’ve giving up my health insurance, even if it does cost me nearly $400/month for just my husband and myself. I just think that’s irresponsible. All it takes is one serious accident or illness to ruin you financially if you don’t have insurance. Not thanks!

        We all have different priorities, wants, and goals in life, and I really wish people would stop with the “Well, this is what I do!” Like your life could possibly have anything to do with mine.

        Rokzane wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • She began the whole thing with “can’t speak for anyone else” so she’s not implying that her life has anything to do with yours. I didn’t get a sense of her being sanctimonious at all. I think her comment was informative in terms of emphasizing the high cost of quality food in her area and the trade offs she feels she must make.

          I make smaller trade-offs, such as not buying nuts (expensive) or coconut butter or pea chips or any other of those expensive health food shop items that I would like. My veggies are 90% seasonal and local. I eat pork (other than nitrate free bacon) maybe 3 times a year at most and it always the best quality I can find. I also, in regards to chicken, only eat chicken breasts as these are lean enough for me to feel ok about them just being free-range and not pastured but I am able to get high-quality necks, carcasses and chicken feet for stocks for a reasonable price. I buy all my meat in massive bulk and i get the butcher freebees such as tendons and beef fat. Lamb ribs are incredibly cheap. As a result, I easily afford everything local and pastured but I will never consider organic berries- they’re about $15 for 2 handfuls around here.

          Disclaimer: I’m sure your life is very different to mine. My country even has a national healthcare system!

          SophieE wrote on September 18th, 2012
        • Roz, sometimes it takes a leap of faith to look outside the boxes we all create for ourselves. I lived my whole adult life with no health insurance – (i’m 58)and have simply paid for the few health events that cost me money.

          fear is a big motivator – and not a good one to let lead your decisions in life. $400 a month can buy a nice chunk of good food and meat for 2 people –

          there are a huge variety of people and attitudes on this blog and each of us states our priorities – no reason to be defensive unless you are not confident in your choices (reactions are about you, remember? we don’t have a clue who you are so why react when nothing was directed specifically at you?)

          i have come to realize/believe that the fuel we put in these bodies is virtually absolute – if one does not do everything possible (and spend the money) to provide the body with the best of the best – there is no insurance that will save you, no chance, hope or reasonable expectation that the body will still perform to its best and give you a good life.

          ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
        • whoops sorry – that was addressed to Rokzane…

          ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
        • I’m sorry if I offended you, Rozkane, it wasn’t my intention. Our lives are far from Spartan, they are very full…just full of other things than most people’s.

          I guess my point was that we need to approach any challenge mindfully, carefully considering our priorities. Many of my friends say they can’t afford to eat healthily, but make other things like daily fast food trips a priority. You have considered your priorities, so my comments certainly don’t apply to you!

          Mamachibi wrote on September 19th, 2012
    • maybe up the root veg slathered with butter? i think its safe to recommend upping the fat enhanced carbs in the case of needing weight gain…

      and root veg – sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, manioc (or tapioca starch) are not pricey…

      ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
  29. If one can’t get pastured eggs – how do Omega-3 organic eggs rank vs. “normal” organic eggs. Are the Omega-3s clearly better – or does it not matter? Any reason not to choose the Omega-3s?

    JM wrote on September 18th, 2012
    • Science for the Public Interest has an article for you – google (cut and paste):

      Egg Producers Deceive Consumers, Violate Law with Bogus Omega-3 Claims

      ouch….

      ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
  30. Wow – that’s a pile of information, and all good! It’s good to see this laid out in a single post, especially for those just getting started with Primal! A good overview of what the good choices are – and the reasons for each can be found in further detail elsewhere on the site!

    Mark Bosma wrote on September 18th, 2012
  31. Why are prunes and plums listed separately under different sugar contents? Prunes are just dried plums, and as such should contain more sugar by weight, no? So why are prunes categorized as low sugar and plums as high sugar?

    Katie wrote on September 19th, 2012
  32. every time these issues come up, of course the costs related to buying good food comes up as well – historically we are paying the absolute least for food (% of budget) than any time in recorded history!

    to get a little perspective, google (copy and paste):

    Re-thinking the Appropriate Cost of Food

    (at Daiasolgaia)

    ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
  33. I think it’s important not to eat too much meat/seafood though – I aim for three meat-free days a week, which is easy for me but I know some people might find that challenging.

    Amy wrote on September 19th, 2012
    • can you comment, amy, on why you would think not eating too much meat/seafood is important and what is the rationale behind your reasoning?

      ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
      • Although the primal diet advocates eating full-fat meats, I think some people have a tendency to be a little overzealous. I did the calculations for protein intake based on my lean body mass and it comes to about 4 ounces of meat a day, which is only about the size of a deck of cards. If I’m eating eggs, nuts, full-fat yogurt, on a regular basis, I really don’t need much meat as a protein source. Of course, it’s tasty and if I’m shopping right, the fats are great, but that may be what Amy meant. I had a friend who went paleo – I had dinner with him one night and he ate 4 6-inch sausages (which I’m guessing were 6-8oz each) and nothing else. Unless he’s only eating every couple of days, that’s just a huge amount of food.

        MarkA wrote on September 19th, 2012
        • why is it a huge amount of food? that sounds pretty reasonable to me for dinner.

          josh wrote on September 19th, 2012
        • Josh, so 2 lbs of meat and nothing else is a good idea? Maybe if you’re planning on not eating anything else for a couple of days, or if you are an ocelot.

          My point (and probably Amy’s) was that the primal diet still stresses balance and variety and is not just about the glories of meat.

          MarkA wrote on September 20th, 2012
        • MarkA – saying the sausage is a huge amount of food and saying that only eating sausages and nothing else is bad are 2 different statements. you didn’t see what else your friend ate that day. i eat somewhere in the range of 1-2 lb of meat daily and i am in the best shape of my life. i also eat other things, but some meals are pretty much a plate of meat.

          and what calculations gave you 4 oz meat daily? i don’t recall a meat intake calculator on this site. if you’re using something from the FDA and then trying to reconcile that with a diet based on primal principles, it isn’t going to work. remember the FDA paradigm: fat is bad and carbohydrate fueling is good. now remember the primal paradigm (which has a lot more physiological logic behind it): high quality animal and other natural fats are the ideal source for energy for humans and should be the primary fuel. so yeah, the FDA probably says 4 oz of meat is a good idea, but i don’t see why you’re trying to insert that recommendation which was born out of flawed logic into a healthy diet born out of physiological logic.

          josh wrote on September 24th, 2012
  34. Having just started going Primal in earnest for the 21 day Challenge, I went to my local supermarket (here in the UK, Sainsburys one of the higher end players supposedly)to buy supplies for a BBQ as there were lots of non primal people. I normally buy high quality 95% Pork Sausages from the premier range as I thought they were ‘Meaty’, when I read the label I was shocked to find a huge list of other stuff in the 5% 1. Wheaty Bread Crumbs, 2. Soy-something, 3. Chemical sulphate stuff I had no idea about what the hell it was.

    OMG thought I, burgers next, they had wheat, and stuff in too! I should not have been shocked but the little round pie chart of traffic light nutrients tells me nothing I need to know but CW proportional nutrients and the 6pt ingredients list tells me to avoid the super market aisle.

    Crazily I usually go to a local butcher but now I am so paranoid I am going to have to ask him if he puts anything ‘extra’ in his burgers and sausages – which since he won the Country Side Alliance Butcher of the Year for our region last year will probably offend him lots – but I am spooked and I need to trust where I get my meaty goodness from.

    Oh I learn! Next years BBQs will be Grok Fest-astic, and the non Primal crowd will cope I am sure. And notice to Supermarkets every where – I am not buying your chemical laden meat products any more I would rather be up all night making my own or give the money to my local trusty Butcher Pete The Meat (Yes he is called Pete and Yes the shop is called Pete the Meat)!

    Pam R wrote on September 19th, 2012
    • Not sure what the state of ground meats is like in the UK, but in the US it’s pretty easy to find bulk ground beef (not burger patties) and pork sausage with no fillers. (On a side note, the vast majority of e. coli outbreaks in the US have been from pre-formed patties or the pre-packaged plastic tubes of ground beef). There’s a grocery chain in the southwestern US that grinds and stuffs all their own sausage on-site, so you can actually see them doing it if you’re there at the right time of day. They usually have at least one or two types of sausage on sale for $2.99/lb, which I think is very reasonable (Sunflower Market, which was just purchased by Sprouts Market).
      For ground beef, if you aren’t sure of the source, you can get a pretty cheap meat grinder for home use and grind your own beef – just by large cuts at cheaper prices, grind and freeze for later use.

      MarkA wrote on September 19th, 2012
      • In the UK Ground meats are from the butchers or even the supermarket on the whole, in that they are ground meat only. Sausage meat seems to be the big issue. Otherwise it is when you want to buy a product made out of them that the fun starts with added grain and rusk and other unpronounceable stuff.

        I think I am going to buy my ground meat and then turn it into Burgers myself. I am still going to try to find sausage meat with no bulking agent before I resort to buying a grinder but I have a feeling I will be posting about how much I love my new meat grinder very soon.

        Pam R wrote on September 24th, 2012
  35. Great heirarchy of goodness Mark. Thanks for posting this!

    Don L wrote on September 19th, 2012
  36. There is something elitist and luxurious about primal eating/living that rubs me the wrong way.

    Kia wrote on September 19th, 2012
    • that’s because you have need well-conditioned to believe that we are veg-carb eaters – the trick is sadly on you and many others who have been led away from your genetically appropriate foodstuffs – to cheap industrialized ag products where the corporate interests can make a bundle selling you high profit, low cost food-like substances.

      ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
      • …BEEN well conditioned… (damn fingers…)

        ravi wrote on September 19th, 2012
    • Elite: A group of people considered to be the best in a particular society or category.

      Luxury: The state of great comfort

      Sounds great – sign me up!

      MarkA wrote on September 20th, 2012
  37. Not really. Just thinking about where I come from. Single parents or two parents working multiple jobs, poor neighborhoods, poor schools, access to shitty grocery stores. Its fine not to eat grains, and get more exercise but telling people to walk around barefoot, or in a certain type of shoe eat grass fed this organic that, oatmeal and rice (things that make food spread) and to a farmers markets, co-ops and grow all your own produce etc…or demand people give up certain comforts in life to do this( work more, give up your interner, your tv, use candles instead of electricity, quit a job, give up your car, because if you dont do it this way you arent doing it right. I think
    it rejects a segment of the population. Thats off putting to me. I knew a girl in college that had an absolutist moralistic viewpoint on food and she thought she was on a higher plane of existence than everyone else (as displayed by some people that apply egotism and moralism to their food life choiced), she ended up losing a terrible amount if weight, getting sick, and dropping ou t because she couldnt “eat” anything. Not the cafeteria food, not the crappy grocery store food. There was no organic and no grassfed this and whatever. And she would still preach about her superior food choices.

    Kia wrote on September 21st, 2012
    • Wow! Thank goodness we have the freedom to make our own choices! No one is forcing any one to eat primal. It’s your decision.

      Barbara wrote on January 6th, 2014
  38. Great article! It really is all about making the proper food choices! It can be done with diligence and dedication.

    womens fitness program wrote on November 30th, 2012

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