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

Is It Primal? – Sprouts, Agave Nectar, Tapioca and Other Foods Scrutinized

Since it seems to be popular with this crowd, and we’re never running out of questionable foods, I figured I’d take the time to put together another round of “Is It Primal?” I got most of these choices from the comment sections of previous posts, along with follow-up emails. As always, feel free to fill in the blanks after the post. I have a strong feeling this will become a recurring series of posts, and I’m going to need plenty of material. Today, we’re talking about seven foods: sprouts of all kinds and origins; agave nectar, nectar of the metabolic syndrome gods; soy lecithin; coconut aminos, what hipsters have moved onto from tamari; tapioca, gummy starch; animal skin, food of the gods; and Quorn, “food.”

Let’s go:


Sprouts are a bit like sprites, in that they’re all over the place, agile, and difficult to get a bead on. Whether it’s pro-sprout or anti-sprout, solid data is tough to pin down. For one, “sprouts” is an incredibly non-specific term. Sprouts can come from legumes, grains, vegetables, and nuts. In other words, if it’s got a seed, you can get a sprout from it. And so you can’t look up the nutritional data for “sprouts,” because that would be like looking up the nutritional data for “meat.” It could be almost anything.

What we need to analyze, then, is the sprouting process. Does it do anything bad? Good? Is it neutral?

Sprouting tends to convert some of a seed’s sugar into vitamin C (to act as an antioxidant for the plant). That’s good. We no longer make vitamin C ourselves, so we need an exogenous source. Not a lot, but some.

Sprouting tends to reduce phytic acid (but not saponin content).

What about specific sprouts? I dug up a few citations:

Sunflower sprouts have anti-glycative and antioxidant effects, due to their elevated cynarin content.

Broccoli sprouts sound great, particularly for type 2 diabetics. In a double-blind placebo-controlled trial, they reduced oxidized LDL (and improved the oxLDL/LDL level) and decreased triglycerides in diabetic patients. They also reduced insulin resistance in type 2 diabetics. And finally, they reduced oxidative stress in type 2 diabetics.

If you’re making your own, note that antioxidant levels wax and wane throughout the sprouting process, at least in broccoli sprouts. Sulforaphane, the potent antioxidant responsible for many of broccoli’s benefits, declines upon germination, then increases slowly until hitting its high point at 48 hours post-germination, after which it declines. But don’t worry; glucoraphanin, which converts into sulforaphane, increases during the first 12 hours, sharply drops, then rises again, reaching the highest levels at 72 hours post-germination. Of course, glucoraphanin requires the enzyme myrosinase for conversion, but broccoli sprouts are particularly high in myrosinase, so you’re ending up with plenty of sulforaphane either way.

I see no reason why sprouted celery seeds, broccoli seeds, radish seeds, or lettuce seeds wouldn’t be perfectly Primal. Lentil, oat, or bean sprouts? Probably not technically, although even those would be far less problematic (bean sprouts go great with spicy Thai food on a hot day). Just be aware that they have been linked to international E. coli and salmonella outbreaks, probably due to the warm, moist growing conditions required for sprouts.

Verdict: Primal, depending on the starter seed.

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is a favorite whipping child of the Primal set, but we should substantiate our claims, don’t you think? We need to justify those welts, especially since a few of you guys were wondering (hoping?) about its place in the Primal Blueprint.

Agave nectar is insanely high in fructose. Of the sugar present, up to 92% of it is pure, unadulterated fructose. That’s considerably more than table sugar, most honey, and even high-fructose corn syrup. If we want to avoid fructose, agave nectar must also be avoided.

However, the recent honey post shows that not all sugar behaves the same. Honey – a “natural product” – contains a wide range of bee-based phenolic compounds that appear to render its sugar content less harmful than, say, a dose of HFCS with the same amount of fructose. Since agave nectar is also “natural” (it’s gotta be, with “nectar” and an exotic word like “agave” in the name), could it too be different than other sugars. No. A recent study found that while stuff like honey, molasses, and maple syrup all contain significant amounts of antioxidants that potentially mitigate the metabolic damage wrought by the sugar therein, agave nectar – along with refined sugar and corn syrup – has almost none. Even raw cane sugar beat agave nectar out in the antioxidant category.

Verdict: Not Primal.

Soy Lecithin

Many of your favorite darkest chocolates contain soy lecithin as an emulsifier, promoting smoothness and a luscious mouthfeel (whatever that means). Dark chocolate? Great. Anything with “soy” in it? Bad, or so we have been conditioned to react. But is it?

In a previous Dear Mark, I made the case that a little soy lecithin in your chocolate is nothing to worry about, even going so far as to mention the choline content as a benefit. Since the influx of questions on soy lecithin, however, I’ve revisited my stance and found some new evidence. It seems that across a whole host of soy products, soy lecithin was the most estrogenic (though estrogenic activity was found in almost all foods tested, even non-soy ones). And in “frozen rat spermatozoa,” soy lecithin – but not egg yolk (another source of choline) – interfered with mitochondrial function. Contrary to my previous assertion that soy lecithin cannot trigger soy allergy in allergic people, another study found that soy lecithin could contain “hidden soy allergens.”

I would caution any soy-sensitive individuals to stay away from soy lecithin, just to be safe. If you’re worried about missing out on a great dark chocolate, plenty of legit brands contain no soy whatsoever. Just check your labels. I would also suggest that any chocolate eaters with unexplained unpleasant symptoms make sure the chocolate they favor contains no soy lecithin, and try switching to a soy-free brand for a month. If you feel better, you might implement soy lecithin avoidance as a general rule.

Everyone else, don’t shy away from good dark chocolate. Just don’t eat it too often, supplement with soy lecithin, nor feed your baby dark chocolate.

Verdict: Not Primal, but small amounts in occasional chocolate shouldn’t be too bad for most people.

Coconut Aminos

Coconut aminos are the soy sauce replacement du jour, a gluten-free, soy-free combination of aged coconut sap and sea salt that tastes somewhat like soy sauce. It’s not an exact match, but it’s not really trying to be an exact match. Coconut aminos are their own beasts, and these happen to be tasty beasts.

That said, there’s nothing really remarkable or magical about them. Its purveyors like to talk about the presence of 17 amino acids, but so what? Trace amounts of certain amino acids in a sauce that you’ll consume by the tablespoonful probably aren’t going to amount to much of anything. Consume it for the unique taste and the lack of soy and wheat.

Verdict: Primal.


I’ve covered tapioca flour in a previous Dear Mark post, in which I gave it a relatively clean bill of health. Tapioca is simply purified cassava starch, with basically everything else removed. My original pronouncement hasn’t changed much. It’s fine as far as starches go, if you’re active and using the carbs. I would’t go overboard with it, especially if it comes in pudding or boba tea form, but it’s definitely a “safe starch.”

The major downside is that it’s just starch. It’s extremely low in anti-nutrients, sure, but it contains almost no nutrients, either. The biggest claims to fame of a cup of the stuff are 2% of the RDI for folate and 2.4 mg of iron. It won’t do you much harm, but it won’t do you much good, unless all you’re after is glucose.

Verdict: Primal.

Animal Skin

I almost didn’t include this one, because I figured it was a no-brainer, but then I figured that if several people are asking about the suitability of animal skin on a Primal eating regimen, it’s likely that a lot of people are avoiding it just to be safe. I think that’s a tragedy, and I aim to rectify and prevent it.

Animal skin is fantastic. In the past, I’ve discussed my love for sockeye salmon skin (bacon) and roasted chicken skin, but not everyone shares my enthusiasm. At restaurants, I often see people delicately remove chicken skin with polite disgust on their faces. At my local seafood market, I’ll often ask the guys behind the counter to save me the Pacific salmon skin that people have removed. I think they’re nuts for doing it, but I’m happy to take advantage of their mistakes.

Although I wouldn’t recommend eating charred, crispy animal skin every day of the week (although braised, gently-cooked animal skin is fine all the time), animal skin in and of itself is highly nutritious. Salmon skin is high in omega-3s. Other animal skin is high in animal fat, plus collagen and gelatin, which are excellent for joints, nails, hair, and skin while providing a nice counterbalance to a regular intake of muscle meat. As long as the animal in question was healthy and fed a good diet, I would never shy away from a serving of animal skin.

Verdict: Highly Primal. If you’re not eating it, send it to me.


Until today, I’d always assumed that Quorn was a mock meat derived from corn, a grain. That makes perfect sense, right? I mean, it sounds like “corn.” Now that I realize it’s a mock meat derived from a fungus, I feel betrayed. I suppose I understand the decision – Fusarium venenatum doesn’t really have a ring to it – but it’s not really the origin of the stuff that turns me off (although that doesn’t help). It’s the fact that Quorn (do I have to capitalize that?) is fake meat, and people are presumably eating it despite the presence of actual, real, delicious, nutritious meat.

Vegetarians? Any vegetarian who chooses Quorn as a protein source over pastured eggs is nuts. Oh, and speaking of nuts, I’d eat nuts for protein before Quorn, too. Vegans? Sure, go ahead and eat your quorn for protein. I’m frankly not all that interested.

Before you fill your chest freezer with Quorn Tenders, Quorn Cumberland Sausages, and Quorn Tikka Masala (all real products, by the way), however, read about the allergic reactions people have had to Quorn. Some sources claim 4.5% of people who eat Quorn get sick, while other sources say just 1/140,000 report adverse reactions. I don’t think it’s a huge risk unless you’re sensitive to molds, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Verdict: Not Primal, but not because it comes from a fungus. Just eat some meat, dude.

That’s it for today, folks. I hope I didn’t crush any dreams or ruin any dinner plans (agave nectar marinated Quorn steaks, served with a soy lecithin-emulsification). I just wanted to keep you honest.

Do the same for me and leave a comment. Thanks!

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, can you please do a write up on Coconut Palm Sugar – is it primal?

    Jackie wrote on May 25th, 2012
  2. We frequently buy Lindt Chili chocolate bars, because my wife likes the ‘bite’ from what the label calls, ‘chili extract.’
    These bars are 70% cocoa, but, as pointed out several times here, contain soy lecithin.
    I have before me a 100g bar of ‘72% Cocoa Swiss Dark Chocolate’. Ingredients are: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, natural flavour. No soy of any kind, although there is the disclaimer that it ‘may contain tree nuts, peanuts and soy.’ Cocoa solids: 72% minimum. These bars are made in Switzerland, under licence, for Interprovincial Co-operative Limited, a distribution corporation for many retail co-ops across Canada. In our co-op store, the bars regularly sell for C$1.69; they are frequently put on sale at 2/$3. I like the texture of these bars, and they have quite a hard consistency, like a premium-priced name-brand bar.
    My wife still prefers the Lindt….
    This is apparently an example of a product of a plant without a ‘name’ or an advertising budget, but one whose product is equal, and often superior, to ‘nationally adveertised brands.”
    BTW, the house brand bars at Safeway stores seem to be similar, but I have not compared the bars side by side to see if the molds have the same markins, or if the labels have the same ingredients list. I would not be beyond reason to discover both distributors access the same supplier.

    Barrie Templeton` wrote on May 27th, 2012
  3. I have a question of is it primal? In the UK and I’m guessing a variation in America, there is a thing called Pepperami – a salami stick ‘Made with 37.5g of Pork per 25g finished product as some moisture is lost during curing and drying.’

    The ingrediants are :’Pork (150%), Salt, Glucose, Spices, Flavour Enhancers (Monosodium Glutamate, Sodium 5′ Ribonucleotides), Garlic Powder, Preservative (Sodium Nitrite)’.

    Is this primal? I would guess due to the glucose and preservative it would be in the 80/20? I would just like some verification because they are really nice meat snacks. thanks

    Molly K wrote on May 30th, 2012
    • I still don’t understand the full biochemistry but basically glucose will cause some damage to the PUFA in pork. Cheap pork (which I assume this product uses) will have a rather high Omega-6 PUFA content due to it being fed grains.

      See and see if you understand it :)

      The Sodium Nitrite is fine, your saliva contains way more than they’ll put in there:

      I would mostly worry about the meat quality and the flavor enhancers like MSG. If you’re prone to headaches glutamates are not a good idea I gather.

      Wout Mertens wrote on May 30th, 2012
      • Thanks for the links. I have found another brand (although I agree the downside is probably the quality of the pork) which hasn’t got glucose but dextrose:

        Ingredients: Pork, Salt, Spice Mix (Dextrose, Chilli, Pepper, Garlic, Caraway, Antioxidant: Sodium Ascorbate; Chilli Extract, Onion Extract), Preservative: Sodium Nitrite, Made using 155g Pork per 100g of finished product, Moisture is lost during the drying process.

        Would this version count of primal (ignoring the meat quality as less primal), I’m not sure what dextrose is and have a limited is it primal knowledge when it comes to items like this – anyway any advice or suggestions would be helpful.

        Molly K wrote on June 7th, 2012
  4. Last night I tried a cold infusion of poppy seeds in pineapple juice. I mixed them in bottles and then shook the bottles a few times over the course of maybe an hour. It tasted good and was relaxing.
    I’ve been refilling the bottles with water to stay hydrated today and it still tastes good. The second infusion, which I downed early this morning, tasted pleasant with some honey and instant coffee added.

    Animanarchy wrote on May 30th, 2012
  5. Agave nectar is great if you let it ferment first, then distill it. Great with lemon.

    John Steakeater wrote on June 18th, 2012
  6. Just eat some meat dude…HAHAHA Hilarious!

    cindyk wrote on October 31st, 2012
  7. So I g=have found green lentils to be the easiest sprouts to grow and very tasty. We ate them as a staple in the winter pre-primal and I really don’t understand why they can’t be considered primal. I am sure primal eaters would have pulled up young plants to eat if they were readily available. My understanding is that one of the ways of judging whether something is prima is whether you can eat it raw
    lentils – no
    lentil sprouts – yes
    Please tell me what is wrong with eating sprouted green lentils as a raw veggie

    LLong wrote on January 2nd, 2013
  8. Slow roasting or simmering will break down skin and sinews. Fatty pork skin is the best. So gelatinous and fatty at the same time.

    Katherine wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  9. HI, just starting out going proper primal, and was interested in whether Quorn is a legitimate nutritional replacement for meat protein.
    I eat meat, but having worked in the meat industry, and being mindful of the environmental damage of meat production, as well as the often less than optimum lifestyles many sources have (i know-get grass fed!), as well as having a veggie wife (for sensible reasons) im trying to reduce my meat intake (although I’d cheerfully munch my way through a cow), and figured that quorn might be a helpful (and cheap) substitute. It tastes pretty good, and is sustainable.
    Any thoughts Mark?

    Daniel wrote on April 8th, 2013
  10. Oh and in response to a few posts any fungus product will have a negative food poisoning effect on some people (A small percentage) who will respond badly as with any other allergy, even the humble breakfast mushroom.
    This is not a reason to avoid quorn, which Iv eaten regularly with no side effects.

    Daniel wrote on April 8th, 2013
  11. I am really bummed about agave. We bought some as it is low on the glycemic list which is very important to my wife as she is pre-diabetic.

    Nikko wrote on May 26th, 2013
    • The glycaemic index is not necessarily a list of “what’s good, what’s bad” – it’s a list of things exhibiting varying degrees of one particular physiologic reaction in reference to glucose. It’s simple conceptually, but very complicated and imprecise in practice.

      Your wife would be well off to read the “Protein Power” books, as well as “The New Atkins For a New You”, and the companion “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living”.

      I use Stevia – specifically SweetLeaf liquid, as it’s hard to meter the powders. It’s heat stable. Now I can’t stand the taste of real sugars.

      Leaf Eating Canivore wrote on February 13th, 2014
  12. Why is it, whenever I eat tapioca, that I feel giddy and clumsy and nauseated? It’s almost like a drug. It’s so weird. What causes that?

    Brandi Lyons wrote on January 12th, 2014
  13. I am SO glad that I stumbled across this today 1) because I have been wondering if coconut aminos has any health benefits in itself and 2) My mom and I were talking just yesterday (both of us chose to go Primal together almost a month ago – she talked me into it) and she was upset because she had eaten some of a Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate bar (86% cacao) thinking she was going to be okay. Well, it made her break out in some weird itchiness. Well, she got all sad thinking she would just have to cut out chocolate altogether. Until today! I came across this post and mentioned it to her, we looked up the ingredients in the chocolate and – lo and behold – soy lecithin. I instantly made her eat some of an organic dark chocolate bar that we had in the hosue (85% containing NO soy lecithin) to see what happens. That was about 2 hours ago and so far no itching! Thanks so much Mark!!!!!

    SarahG wrote on March 8th, 2014

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