Dear Mark: Eating Meat

Folks can’t help but vilify meat. I mean, it has large amounts of animal fat, especially saturated fat. It requires the death of cute, fuzzy animals. It tastes good, almost offensively so. It’s “immodest” and “indulgent.” Oh, and even the good stuff – pasture-raised meat – displaces the local corn and soy populations and comes from animals that have the audacity to fart (enough, apparently, to bring about a global climate catastrophe). At least it gives people a nice opportunity to be smugly satisfied with themselves while displaying modest levels of indignation. Plus, it gives them a chance to talk about that Jonathan Safran Foer book. That’s always a good move at parties.

We Primal and paleo people, conversely, find meat to be an absolute delight, and most of us eat a decent amount of it. But questions do arise, as they will with any divisive subject:

Hi Mark

I’m having an intense histamine release – starting last night. Runny nose, sneezing, runny eyes… the whole shebang. I’ve never had hay fever, but that’s exactly what this looks like. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on protein and histamine?

In the last 5 days I’ve averaged 50-70 grams of grain-free carbs, lots of good fats, and, in order, 172 g, 140 g, 130 g, 113 g and 67 g of protein. (It took me a while to calculate the right number for me…)

What do you think could be happening? Have you had other people with this experience?

Thanks so much


Oftentimes when people shift toward a lower-carb diet and stop fearing animal fat, they avail themselves of formerly forbidden foods. Cured meats like salami, proscuitto, hot dogs, sausages, and bacon, along with artisan aged cheeses are admittedly delicious and easy to prepare, especially for someone who isn’t used to cooking regularly. They eat handfuls of walnuts and sunflower seeds, and stock up on smoked, canned seafood like tuna, sardines, herring, and salmon. They’ll start introducing new vegetables, or perhaps more of the old ones, like tomatoes, avocados, spinach, and eggplant. Some of these foods are more questionable than others, but a case could be made for each in a Primal eating plan. Each of those foods also has the potential to trigger histamine release symptoms in those who are histamine intolerant.

If you’ve been getting the bulk of your protein from processed/cured meat, canned or smoked fish, or cheeses, or if you’ve recently started eating more of the other foods I listed, you may be histamine intolerant which would explain your hay fever symptoms. For an idea of which foods to avoid, consult this list of high-histamine foods. Do some food eliminating and let me know if my suspicions are correct. I doubt protein is the problem.

I was under the impression that the paleo diet was pro-fatty meats? Here’s what I then thought about: Are the regimens that call for only eating lean meat referring to grain-fed meats, while those that condone fatty meats are referring to grass-fed meats?

So, in practice, if you can’t get grass-fed meat, choose a lean meat, but if you can get grass-fed, then choose a fatty one?

Thanks Mark and I’m looking forward to hearing from you!


You’ve pretty much got it right. Most people who recommend “lean meat” are assuming that you only have access to conventionally-farmed, grain-fed meat. I recall Robb Wolf mentioning that he recommends lean meat specifically for this reason, though things may have changed. I’ve said as much as well, with some qualifications. I still advise against going wild with fatty grain-fed meat, even though the commonly cited omega-6 issue is overstated, at least in red meat. Sure, grain-fed meat sports an unfavorable omega-6:omega-3 ratio (which I’ve mentioned before) but the absolute amounts are fairly inconsequential.

Where grass-fed fat shines and grain-fed fat fails is in the anti-carcinogenic conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) content, which is far higher in grass-fed meat and fat. And that’s just what we know about with a degree of certainty. I’m willing to bet there’s a lot more to grass-fed animal fat than just the omega-3 and CLA. When it comes to whole foods, reductionism rarely reveals the whole picture. I don’t think we can consider grass-fed fat and grain-fed fat interchangeable or their differences immaterial.

That said, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If all you can afford or have access to is grain-fed meat, trim the excess fat, and counter the leanness by incorporating a nice fat-based sauce. Use it as practice for that red wine and grass-fed butter reduction you’ve been struggling with. A skilled cook can make any cut work. Just do the best you can and don’t sweat the rest.

Hi Mark,

Love your website. You were my gateway to the world of paleo/primal/ancestral diet and lifestyle. I owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you!

My question: I eat a strict high-fat paleo/primal [blueprint] diet with the exception of some high-fat dairy, wine, and dark chocolate. The only sugar I ever use is when I brine meat. I admit to a deep love of brined pork chops, brined beef tongue, and corned beef. I’ve done brief internet searches on this topic, but haven’t found anything reputable that discusses the carb content of brined meat. Can you offer any insight?

Many thanks,


There’s good news and a tiny bit of bad news, but mostly good. The bad news is that your brined pork chops, beef tongue, and corned beef do contain sugar. The good news is that since you’re (presumably) making the brine yourself, the amount of sugar is completely up to you. So, yeah, brining with sugar will result in some residual sugar in the finished product. You’ll never get more than what you put in, obviously, and almost always quite less (seeing as how plenty of brining liquid gets poured off before cooking, rather than absorbed into the meat), but you’ll get a bit. The amounts are probably so minute that I really wouldn’t worry about it, especially when you consider a commercial brined product, like most bacon, contains “0 g” of sugar despite it being on the list of ingredients. Sure, that “0 g” is probably closer to 0.2 g, but that’s still inconsequential.

I’m not even convinced you need to add sugar to every brine. Although I don’t have experience brining pork, I’ve done plenty of sugar-free brine jobs on poultry and beef tongue. The best Thanksgiving turkey I ever roasted was brined overnight in a simple salt and tap water solution. I just dumped some salt in some water without really measuring. Contrast that with Alton Brown’s turkey brine, which calls for 1/2 cup brown sugar and which I found extremely disappointing. Great guy whose recipes I can usually count on, but not that time. So, if you’re still really worried about the miniscule amounts of sugar that make it into brined meats, look around for sugar-free recipes.

That’s it for today, but keep sending in your questions and I’ll do my best to them!

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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 more than three decades 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 flavorful and delicious kitchen staples crafted with premium ingredients like avocado oil. With over 70 condiments, sauces, oils, and dressings in their lineup, Primal Kitchen makes it easy to prep mouthwatering meals that fit into your lifestyle.

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