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How Much Is Too Much?

Posted By Mark Sisson On March 31, 2010 @ 9:29 am In Carbs,Diet,Fat,Protein,Sleep | 237 Comments

Although the Primal Blueprint [7] leaves ample room for individual determination, I do try to offer folks a clear picture of the impact different dietary and lifestyle choices have on their overall health picture. At times I even offer specific recommendations or ranges that readers can tailor to their particular needs and situations. I’m often asked, however, about the upper ceilings I would set for various elements of the PB (fat, fish oil, etc.) I thought I’d take on those questions today and cover good ground by applying a rapid fire approach for several of the most common “excess” inquiries. Enjoy, and be sure to share your thoughts!

Protein

My general recommendation [8] is one gram per pound of lean body mass on an average day. If you IF [9], it might weigh in at half that or less on your fasting days, whereas special occasions like Thanksgiving or your uncle’s annual steak fry might tip the intake scale [10] at 1.5 grams per pound or so of lean mass. For the average active person, these amounts will be well utilized and fully sufficient. Any more than that, however, and you run the risk of excess protein being converted to glucose, which of course defeats the purpose of a low/lower carb diet. If you’re adequately hydrated (which doesn’t take much [11]), eating an overall alkaline diet and ensuring adequate intake of bone supportive nutrients like magnesium, calcium and vitamins D and K, the common (but generally outdated) concerns about kidney load and osteoporosis aren’t significant issues.

Fat

Eating Primally will almost always mean that more than half of your calories will come from fat, and there’s no reason to be concerned about that – in fact it’s a reason to rejoice [12]. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate at least that and, in some cases, considerably more. There isn’t really an upper limit for fat intake. For the vast majority of us, a useful way to approach the fat question is to first dial in your protein intake and then look at what carb intake you’re shooting for. (Check out the Primal Blueprint Carb Curve [13] for a good summary of ranges.) You could potentially go zero carb [14] – although the prospect is extremely impractical (and boring) for most people and must be well thought out and rather meticulously executed. After accounting for adequate protein and desired Primal carbs [15], you can fill out the rest of your caloric needs with fat, prioritizing the cleanest saturated fats [16] you have financial and logistical access to, then monounsaturated fats and then healthy, intact polyunsaturated fats [17] like certain nuts [18] and fish oils [19].

Conveniently, that brings me to our next category in question….

Fish Oil

I generally recommend 1-3 grams of fish oil each day to counter inflammation and balance out dietary omega-6 content toward a healthier ratio approaching 1:1. The more Primal and clean you’re eating, the less you need. As for upper limits, it depends. More than three grams a day on an otherwise healthy diet (and/or in conjunction with certain medications/high alcohol intake) can thin your blood too much and impair its necessary clotting ability. Keep in mind not everyone is affected equally by a higher dose. Some people do fine with higher amounts. Other people notice excess thinning at well below three grams. For people with certain medical conditions, dosages above three grams have served as effective therapeutic treatment options [20]. Of course, just because a certain dosage has been used in scientific studies doesn’t mean it’s necessary or advisable to take that much if you have a given condition. Talk to your doctor, and keep in mind that quality fish oil isn’t the cheapest thing in the world. One-three grams is nothing to sneeze at. It’s potent stuff. There’s no use taking more than you’ll fully benefit from. Better to take an adequate dose and spend the extra money on better quality food than to down megadoses of fish oil you don’t need.

Chocolate

I don’t want to rain too much on anyone’s parade here, chocolate lovers being a uniquely passionate lot. Nonetheless, I’ll be straight with you. First, there’s the obvious: carb content. (Check the sugar and total carb content on your respective package and decide how it will figure into your Primal plan.) Those of us who have a penchant for the highest cocoa contents (or even the raw nibs) have a longer leash so to speak. Less sugar equals fewer carbs equals more chance to enjoy more chocolate. Yes? Well, yes, but there’s a little more to the story. One small study found that cocoa powder elicited more insulin release than other flavorings – irrespective of the macronutrient breakdown of the food. Researchers didn’t know what to make of the results [21], but postulated that the Pavlovian principle may be at work here. (I’m seriously not making this up.) The more we love our chocolate, the more our bodies evidently betray us. Although it’s hardly enough to get me to forgo a good piece of chocolate, it does underscore the need for personally instituted moderation.

Bacon

There’s no such thing as too much bacon.

Butter

Ditto.

Fruit

The above principle applies here as well. Fruit can play a healthy role in the PB, but too much can backfire. This is one area to watch – especially if you’re trying to lose weight [22]. Tailor your fruit intake to your desired Primal carb intake. As luck would have it, higher ORAC level fruits also tend to be lower on the glycemic scale [23]. Berries and cherries generally offer the most antioxidant bang with the least carb buck. Check out this carb chart [24] (PDF) for useful carbohydrate estimates on all your favorites.

Alcohol

I say none is best. However, research generally supports the health benefits of 1-2 drinks a day (1 for the average woman and 2 for the average man). More than that, and the benefits begin to plummet pretty quickly [25]. Certain alcohols can be reasonable Primal indulgences, and some like red wine can offer unique and potentially therapeutic health benefits [26]. That said, moderation is key. That extra indulgent Saturday night at your cousin’s wedding won’t do much harm beyond that splitting headache the next day, but making a habit of it won’t do you any favors. (Think impaired brain and liver functioning [27].)

Sleep

The Definitive Guide [28] last week got people talking about the suggested ceiling for sleep. A number of studies connect several downsides, including higher obesity [29] and diabetes risk [30], to longer sleep duration (9-10 hours or more). The consensus seems to support the average of 7-8 hours a night as optimal. However, people have legitimate differences in sleep need. The vast majority of folks probably fall into the average need range, but there are always outliers. If you keep a healthy lifestyle and a genuinely good sleep schedule, but have to drag yourself through the day with less than nine hours of shut eye, you’re likely in this group. I think the key here is quality over quantity. Remember that college roommate who slept through his classes until noon or later? He was likely up well past midnight (doing who knows what). When you miss out on those early hours of deep sleep, it’s tempting for the body to stay in bed and try to make up for the deficiency. If you’re healthy and consistently in tune with your circadian rhythm [31], you’re likely in tune with what your body really needs.

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think. What are your upper limits for the above – and other – Primal matters? What logic and experiences tell you how much is too much?


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[7] Primal Blueprint: http://primalblueprint.com/

[8] general recommendation: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/dietary-protein/

[9] IF: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/fasting/

[10] tip the intake scale: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-context-of-calories/

[11] which doesn’t take much: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/8-glasses-of-water-a-day/

[12] rejoice: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/eat-rejoice-repeat/

[13] Primal Blueprint Carb Curve: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-primal-carbohydrate-continuum/

[14] zero carb: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/zero-carb-diet/

[15] accounting for adequate protein and desired Primal carbs: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/definitive-guide-to-the-primal-eating-plan/

[16] saturated fats: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/saturated-fat-healthy/

[17] polyunsaturated fats: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/polyunsaturated-fat/

[18] nuts: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/nuts-omega-6-fats/

[19] fish oils: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/fish-oil-health-benefits/

[20] effective therapeutic treatment options: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-993-FISH+OIL.aspx?activeIngredientId=993&activeIngredientName=FISH+OIL

[21] results: http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/133/10/3149

[22] especially if you’re trying to lose weight: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1256509/Eating-fruit-make-fat.html

[23] higher ORAC level fruits also tend to be lower on the glycemic scale: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/best-fruit-choices/

[24] Berries and cherries generally offer the most antioxidant bang with the least carb buck. Check out this carb chart: http://www.marksdailyapple.com../../best-fruit-choices/

[25] plummet pretty quickly: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/alcohol-consumption/

[26] red wine can offer unique and potentially therapeutic health benefits: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/low-carb-alcohol/

[27] brain and liver functioning: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm

[28] The Definitive Guide: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-definitive-guide-to-sleep/

[29] including higher obesity: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/sleep-weight-gain/

[30] diabetes risk: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090608071800.htm

[31] circadian rhythm: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/how-light-affects-our-sleep/

[32] 7-Day Course on the Primal Blueprint Fundamentals for Lifelong Health: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/subscribe-to-blog/

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