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

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!

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. The histamine affect could just be what my husband calls a ‘cleansing crisis’ due to cleaning out the crud from former habits.

    Cecilia wrote on July 12th, 2011
  2. I just read this article about fat cravings and how they are going to try to make a pill so humans can resist wanting fat. *sigh*

    Tammy wrote on July 12th, 2011
    • Kinda like artificial sweetener?

      Remember the olestra debackle of the late 90’s? 😀

      Kenny wrote on July 17th, 2011
  3. Hey Mark! I’ve been doing P90X for over 3 years now, and I’ve seen some good friends of mine in the Beachbody community follow you and recommend your book, and just recently, one of my friends here locally just began living Paleo and loves the results she’s getting. My fiance and I are getting married in 3 months and I was thinking about following the Paleo lifestyle until then. Anyways, no questions for now, and I just discovered this site today and am looking forward to learning more about you and this way of living!

    spence8 wrote on July 12th, 2011
  4. I have been keeping my eye on Piedmontese Beef for some time now and have yet to buy some to try. It is a very natural lean and tender beef they say. You can check it out here and do some other searches on it. I haven’t looked yet but I would bet you can find some grass fed also, they have a list of suppliers here . Has anyone tried the Piedmontese Beef?

    Charlie wrote on July 12th, 2011
  5. You carnivores have to check out buffalo meat. I live in northern BC, Canada, and we have a good source of lean buffalo. Actually, all buffalo is lean. These critters won’t eat grain, they won’t go in a barn, they spurn all attempts to civilize them. They range, munch on grass, and taste great.

    I swear on a stack of burgers, once you try buff you can’t get enough!

    Andrew wrote on July 12th, 2011
    • Agreed! Just for a contrast to the bison burgers I’ve been ordering for the last 6 months, I decided to go back to grassfed beef. I was slightly disappointed. Bison is just so much tastier. 😀

      Don’t get me wrong, beef is plenty tasty, but bison is its more tasty, bigger cousin.

      Sure, some parts of it are tougher, but if you get it as burgers, it won’t matter.

      I suppose it’s the same kind of difference as between today’s homo sapiens sapiens on SAD, vs our cro magnon ancestors.

      raydawg wrote on July 17th, 2011
  6. Nice post Mark! I just want to add that lean red meat is not only a good source of protein and energy, but also has benefits in avoiding heart disease.

    And oh thanks for the info about histamines! Keep it up bro! :)

    Healthy Waist wrote on July 13th, 2011
  7. Don’t forget about the environmental aspect of eating meat. Definitely go for pastured animals whenever possible to reduce your footprint :)

    Reiko wrote on July 13th, 2011
  8. Thanks for this response Mark! I think the saying “you are what you eat eats” is interesting to consider here!

    Chuck wrote on July 13th, 2011
  9. Immortal Technique – Beef and Broccoli

    Animanarchy wrote on July 21st, 2011
  10. I was searching for info here on Histamine Intolerance and was glad to see this post! I had completely adopted primal eating, and felt a lot better in many ways, until eventually realizing I had a histamine issue. Now navigating how to do some kind of low histamine/ primal hybrid (without meat, eggs, broths, fermented veggies, or animal fats) Which is hardly primal I suppose. I’m a reluctant vegan right now, but still hoping to fix my body to the point where I can have at least the occasional meaty “treat”. Still managing a daily probiotic (primal defense) and praying that is helping. Any other info that could help would be much appreciated!

    Amber wrote on February 23rd, 2013

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