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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

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.

Tapioca

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.

Quorn

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.

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