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

Dear Mark: Contest Questions

For this week’s post I’m dipping into the hundreds of comments-questions I received for the Contest last month. Although I could highlight only a few for the winning set, I appreciated all your responses and will try to cover as many as possible in upcoming posts. Thanks, everybody!


As part of my more primal lifestyle I’m trying to cut out carbs and eating more vegetables. I’m currently eating 5 cups of broccoli with 3oz of shrimp and olive oil with a pinch of salt as a meal. Here’s a link to the “recipe”. That’s a whopping 56 grams of carbs a meal. Is that too much carbs even if it’s coming from vegetables? I am fairly lean but am trying to burn a bit more fat.

Fifty-six grams of vegetable-based carbs is fairly high if you’re looking to burn fat, but isn’t necessarily too much. If this is your heaviest carb count of all the day’s meals, I wouldn’t worry about the number in and of itself. However, I’d suggest rethinking the overall balance of the meal; especially if this is a dish you eat often. As much as I think vegetables should be the majority of a Primal diet, five cups of them is a fairly large amount for one meal, particularly with relatively small amounts of fish protein and fat. Are you adding that much broccoli to fill yourself up? If that’s the case, I’d cut the overall vegetable load for the meal by a cup or two and increase the non-veggie protein and fats in the meal. For the sake of diverse nutrient content (and for help cutting the carb grams), I’d suggest shaking it up a bit. Broccoli, of course, is a great vegetable source for protein as well as antioxidants. Nonetheless, you’ll inevitably get a higher carb count with 5 cups of it. Maybe throw in an extra ounce or two of shrimp for extra protein, and replace some of the broccoli with cabbage (lower carb) and a few peppers or carrots (added antioxidant variety). Reference The Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve for more guidance.

There seems to be a big void of information when it comes to being pregnant and practicing a more primal lifestyle. All the messages I get from society/culture are: rest! sleep! eat whatever you want! if you exercise don’t let your heart rate go above 140! I don’t like it. I get very strange looks when I go to the gym. I can’t imagine that Grok’s pregnant wife just quit being active and ate all that differently (I will admit to having big carb cravings but they aren’t overwhelming). What do you think? This is my first pregnancy and my husband and I are planning on more in the next few years, so I will more often be pregnant than not but I can’t find much support (at least online) for being primal and pregnant.

Congratulations on your pregnancy and on your motivation to stay healthy during this time. I agree there are a lot cultural misperceptions about pregnancy as a “fragile” state or vacation from nutritional reality. In short, let me say the following. Sleep? Go for it. Your hormonal balance changes dramatically throughout gestation. The added progesterone is enough to make anyone tired. You body is doing more work creating your child than you can imagine. Give yourself the sleep you need. As for workouts, I’d avoid spending much time above the 140 heart rate level, but that doesn’t rule out brief interval work. Doing lots of low level aerobic activity will keep you limber and help avoid or minimize some of the aches and pains that come with stiffness later. Just avoid sports and activities that include a risk of falling or abdominal pressure/impact. Although you don’t need to give up resistance training, I’d suggest retooling it to accommodate your changing center of gravity. Finally, when it comes to diet, you’re right that it’s not the time to eat anything and everything under the sun. You’re nourishing the building blocks of life for your baby and for yourself. A good Primal diet rich in vitamins and minerals, protein and healthy fats is as ideal as ever. Pregnant women require slightly more protein, iron, calcium and DHA in addition to an all around solidly healthy diet rich in antioxidants. In addition, you’ll want your diet to be as “clean” and free of toxins as possible. I’d also suggest being vigilant about resisting carb binges. Your body’s immune defenses are already naturally suppressed (an automatic physiological response to keep your body from rejecting the “foreign” being in its midst). Keeping off the carb/insulin roller coaster will serve you well this cold and flu season.

I recently convinced my vegetarian girlfriend to go Primal with me at the start of the Challenge. While I’ve convinced her to start eating fish, eggs and poultry she is flat out refusing to eat pork or any red meats. So, my question then is: What is she missing nutrient-wise? Are there any important nutrients in red meats that you can’t find in fish, poultry, eggs and high-fat dairy?

Congratulations to your girlfriend for making some healthy changes. I’d love to hear how she’s feeling these days. Although I’d say she’s made adaptations with the most significant impact, it’s true that red meats are richer sources of certain nutrients. Ounce for ounce, it’s true you get the most protein from red meat. However, dark poultry meat serves as a close second. The iron in red meat is plentiful and easily absorbed by the body, but she can include a bit of liver in her diet or (again) dark meat to boost iron intake. Likewise, red meat supplies a uniquely big boost of certain nutrients like zinc and vitamin B12, but an otherwise well balanced diet and a good supplement can certainly make up for any discrepancy. CLA, conjugated linoleic acid, is another key nutritional component of red meat, particularly grass-fed beef; however, if she can help bridge the difference with pastured dairy, particularly pastured butter. Finally, there’s creatine, the naturally occurring amino acid found in muscles. Although our bodies synthesize it naturally from other amino acids to some extent (about 50%), dietary sources fill in the rest. Red meats offer significant levels of dietary creatine, but some fish (especially salmon, herring and tuna) are considered good sources as well. With these few alterations/additions, I wouldn’t worry too much about the red meat exclusion.

What would you say to doctor’s recommendations to have large amounts of grains in one’s diet for the purpose of getting enough fiber moving through your system?

The whole fiber requirement has been blown wholly out of proportion. As I’ve said before, grain based fiber wreaks havoc on our digestive systems and only adds unnecessary carbohydrates to our diets. A doctor who recommends large amounts of grains for “system maintenance” is in lockstep with conventional wisdom, but I can tell you the advice isn’t rooted in reality. (Just like the warning saying if our urine isn’t totally clear we’re not drinking enough.) If you want your pipes to work as naturally as possible, live the basic principles that went into their evolutionary development. (Gee, how DID Grok make it through all those years without Metamucil?) The prescription is thus…. A wide variety of vegetables and fruits (complete with their own fiber, believe it or not). Healthy fats. A diet low in dairy and generally devoid of the many preservatives, additives and binding fillers in the bazillion forms of processed foods these days. Relatively low stress – or at least not chronic stress. Ample physical activity that has you up and moving around throughout as much of the day as possible. Adequate water intake. Hmmm. It sure beats Super Colon Blow flakes, squares or haystacks…whatever they’re peddling now.

Thanks as always for your questions. Check back for more Contest responses, and in the meantime, keep your comments coming!

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. Mark,
    In the brocoli example that had 56 carbs, 26 of the carbs were fiber and thus wouldn’t be digested. 30 carbs in a meal doesn’t sound like all that much, especially if the meal was the main one of the day.


    Albert wrote on September 21st, 2009
    • For simplicity’s sake The Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve is designed with total carb count in mind. But, yes, if you’re finding you’re carb count (even from vegetables) is hindering fat loss and are closely monitoring carbs as a result weighing fiber/complex carbs against sugar can be helpful. Needless to say, the lower the sugar the better.

      Mark Sisson wrote on September 21st, 2009
  2. Hardly definitive but, according to my endocrinologist, as far as carbs from fiber are concerned the whole “net carb” thing gets totally blown out of proportion. You could eat hay and have it be all “fiber” but if you are a diabetic you will still see an increase in blood glucose. For what it is worth.

    Lisette wrote on September 21st, 2009
  3. Vegetables and fresh fruits ought to provide the body with adequate fiber, even if not always reaching the recommended daily amount. Perhaps a high and chronic intake of non-fiber and fermentable carbohydrates require a greater daily amount of fiber for “damage control,” and thus the ADA’s current daily recommendation. This would be an interesting concept for further exploration.

    But regardless, grain fiber comes with extra energy not needed, as well as other toxins the body does better without.

    Ogg the Caveman wrote on September 21st, 2009
  4. It’s true that for your colon, adequate amounts of animal fat stimulate the release of bile, which is your body’s own, natural ‘laxative/ stool softener’. No fiber pills & no prescription laxatives required! 😉

    SassaFrass88 wrote on September 21st, 2009
  5. On the vegetarian girlfriend issue: I’d go easy on her. It is impressive that she has changed her diet so much in a couple months. It takes time to realize that conventional wisdom is screwed up, and if you push someone to much it can backfire! I have some vegetarians in my life that you could not force or reason with… I’d say her eyes are open, just not focused yet.

    Mikeythehealthycaveman wrote on September 21st, 2009
  6. My husband and I eat the same meats, vegetables, and fruits, but he also eats grains. He has a problem with regularity; I, who do not eat grains, have no problem with regularity.

    Bourgogne wrote on September 21st, 2009
  7. Grains will make you regular… a regular farter!

    CastleGrok wrote on September 21st, 2009
  8. Hey Mark, that was a nice Q&A post. I have a question of my own regarding dietary supplementation. Loren Cordain’s latest Paleo Diet newsletter says that for a person following the paleo diet, supplementation of antioxidants shows no substantial benefit, and in fact may do more harm than good. An excerpt from his email:

    Dietary supplementation with antioxidants may do more harm than good

    Consumption of antioxidant supplements has become widespread. It is estimated that about one third of adults in developed countries consume antioxidant supplement.

    The past decade has produced a large number of studies that assessed both the costs and benefits of antioxidant supplementation. Unfortunately, this research has shown that dietary supplementation with antioxidants may do more harm than good.

    For example, a meta-analysis (a scientific review combining results of related research) of antioxidant studies found that supplementation with beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E did not increase lifespan.

    In fact, some reviews have suggested antioxidant supplementation may increase the risk of early death. For example, a meta-analysis of supplementation with beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E suggested an increase in overall mortality among people taking supplements.

    (End of Excerpt.)

    I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this topic. Generally his advice and yours is not so diametrically opposed. I could send you the whole email if you don’t have it already.


    Apurva Mehta wrote on September 21st, 2009
  9. I’ve cut back on my intake of rice, which is the main food here in the Philippines. For the past month, I’ve been eating more veggies, meat and fish. But I still need better planning of my daily meals.

    penstalker wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  10. Re Primal fitness in pregnancy: FYI there is a version of CrossFit uniquely modified for pregnant and post-partum/breastfeeding women that focuses more on maintaining strength and mobility than on power output; none of the workouts is for time.
    If the movements are unfamiliar, find a CF trainer who is onboard with the physical and metabolic changes that take place thoughout your pregnancy.
    Checkout CrossFit Mom:

    Great post, Mark!

    PG wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  11. I love the website. I have a question for your wife. I’m not one to eat based on cravings, knowing full well that craving chocolate doesn’t always mean your body needs it. I do have a question about where those cravings come from. As is has to do with a female’s monthly cycle. It seems that at certain times of the month all I crave is veggies, meat, “earth foods” etc.. however, these cravings slowly morph, about two weeks later into an all or nothing type appetite of either I get to eat these carbs, or I’m not interested in eating at all. It’s very strange, almost as if I’m repulsed by the same meals I was eating a few weeks earlier.

    adrienne mason wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  12. I am currently pregnant and having a heck of a time keeping my carbs in check. While I don’t want to be completely obsessive about it, I also don’t want to gain a ton of excess fat that will make it that much more difficult to get back in shape later. Any suggestions? I’m hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel (end of the first trimester) to help, however I think part of the problem is in my head, that well, I’m going to gain weight anyway, what difference does it make? Ugh!

    Also, on the exercise. What is the effect of going above 140bpm, and is the reason to avoid contact sports the risk of impact / abdominal injury? I am always hearing about what NOT to do, but I need more information on why. My doc has always recommended that I should continue to do what I feel good doing. While I have stopped running (didn’t feel good anymore), I am continuing to play soccer which I love, in addition to walking and some minimal strength training (mostly body weight stuff). If the problem with contact sports is in fact abdominal trauma, I think I’m ok for a while, but is there something I’m missing? Thanks!

    CardioJunkie wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  13. Hey Mark, please give a look at this article and respond. Healthy eating and healthy debate. A bit of backlash but from a good resourse. Help a fellow Primal understand.

    Andre Chimene wrote on September 22nd, 2009
  14. Hey guys,

    Just had kangaroo for dinner, it tastes great and is apparently one of the best known sources of CLA’s.


    Joel wrote on April 20th, 2010
  15. Hi Mark

    How much fat grams is too much for one day on ths primal diet?

    Al wrote on May 19th, 2011

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