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

Is It Primal? – Cashews, Fermented Soy, Vinegar and Other Foods Scrutinized

Last week, I scrutinized the “Primality” of ten commonly wondered-about foods. It garnered a lot of follow-up comments and emails, so I figured I’d do another round. This time I only covered eight, but I hope you’ll forgive me. If you’ve ever wanted to know about cashews, wheatgrass, fermented soy, vinegar, almond milk, hummus, royal jelly, or green coffee bean extract (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?), this is the perfect post for you.

Let’s dig in, shall we?


In all my years doing this stuff, I’ve never really properly addressed the suitability of cashews. Today that ends. Cashews are the seeds of the cashew apple, a delicacy of Brazil, and the interior of their shells are lined with a poisonous resin called cashew balm. Cashew balm is used in insecticides, so don’t go shelling your own cashews. So what’s the deal? Are they good to go, as long as you avoid the balm?

The cashew is high in monounsaturated fat (7.6 g per ounce) and, while it contains a decent amount of omega-6s (2.2 g per ounce), it’s lower in polyunsaturated fats than Primal favorites like almonds (3.5 g per ounce).

The cashew is, however, one of the richest sources of phytic acid in the nut and seed world, containing more phytate than almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and chestnuts. For that reason, I consider it helpful (and perhaps paramount) to soak your raw cashews before consuming them – especially if you’re trying to get over tooth decay or combat osteoporosis.

The big problem I see with cashews is the tendency of folks to gorge on the little guys. It’s just something about a roasted, salted, buttery cashew that promotes overeating. Be wary of that.

Verdict: Primal. Whatever you do, just don’t put the balm on!


This is a perplexing one. On the one hand, it’s wheat. We hate wheat. Wheat is anything but Primal. On the other hand, it’s grass, and aren’t we Primals always going on and on about the benefits of grass-feeding? So what’s the deal?

Wheat starts out as a “grass,” technically, and wheatgrass juice is derived from cotyledons of the common wheat plant. The cotyledon of a grass is the part of the seed that becomes the first leaves to sprout upon germination. After a chemist found that feeding his ailing chickens fresh wheatgrass improved their health and increased their egg output, the wheatgrass craze was ignited.

I’m not sure I follow. I’m all for fresh wheatgrass for chickens – heck, I’d even juice it for them if it meant more eggs – but I fail to see the relevance to human diets. Is there nutrition in wheatgrass? Sure. Is it accessible to humans if we pulverize the cellulose and extract the juices? Probably. But just check out the Wiki article, which has a table comparing the nutritional content of wheatgrass juice to spinach and broccoli. Spinach is clearly superior, almost across the board, with more magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, and beta-carotene. Plus, it tastes better (read: not like lawn clippings) and is a lot less expensive.

Is it gluten-free? Well, maybe. Since gluten is mostly found in the endosperm of a wheat grain, and wheatgrass is just the grass, not the seed (let alone the endosperm), it’s probably gluten-free. I wouldn’t recommend it to celiacs, but I doubt it’s a big issue here.

Verdict: Could be Primal, but why? It’s probably great as ruminant feed.

Fermented Soy

I’ve said my piece on soy before: it’s potentially phytoestrogenic, mildly carcinogenic, mineral-binding, and goitrogenic. Its oil is in everything nowadays, and most of our animals are a third soybean meal. Bad stuff all around. But that was about soy-based products and processed soy; what about fermented soy? What about miso, natto, and tempeh? We’re big fans of fermented foods in general around here, so it stands to reason that fermented soy might enjoy a slightly different reception. Let’s see.

Fermentation makes the much-ballyhooed soy isoflavones biovailable to humans. Without fermentation, we can’t really make use of them.

Traditionally-fermented tempeh has reduced levels of phytic acid.

Fermented soy sauce displays increased levels of antioxidant compounds (and it seems to be totally free of soy and wheat allergens).

And though you may not be aware of this fact, natto – the widely reviled sticky pungent fermented soybean – is the richest source of vitamin K2 (MK-7, as opposed to the MK-4 found in animal foods) in the food world. It’s also much lower in phytic acid than unprocessed soybeans.

So, while soy is definitely not Primal, fermentation brings it a lot closer to the fold. Perhaps a longer post is worth writing. What do you think?

Verdict: Not Primal, but pretty good (and far better than unfermented soy).


Is vinegar Primal? Well, I have a post on “how to make red wine vinegar,” so it can’t be that bad, but let’s dig into it all the same. After all, you guys like details.

The primary component of vinegar is acetic acid, a product of fermentation by acetic acid-making bacteria. Acetic acid is a corrosive agent that can cause permanent damage to eyes, skin, and (I’d imagine) various orifices. It’s even flammable. Wow. Sounds awful, right?

Not so fast. Table vinegar – the kind you put on salads – is mostly water, with around 4-8% acetic acid (which is actually a short-chain fatty acid, a la butyric acid). The dangerous corrosive agent, then, is highly diluted before it reaches your mouth. I wouldn’t recommend guzzling shots of vinegar (except on a dare, perhaps), but it’s not a problem in the context of normal consumption. Besides, there are actual health benefits to using acetic acid dilute, I mean vinegar:

In type 2 diabetics and people with insulin resistance, vinegar improves insulin sensitivity when taken with a high-carb meal.

Eating potatoes with a little bit of vinegar reduces the postprandial blood sugar and insulin response.

Both 15 and 30 mL (one or two tablespoons) of daily vinegar reduced body weight, waist circumference, triglycerides, and other symptoms of metabolic syndrome in obese Japanese subjects, absent any other interventions.

Vinegar (albeit vinegar with higher levels of acetic acid) can act as an organic herbicide.

As for distilled versus fermented vinegar (like cider vinegar), there may well be qualitative differences, but that’ll have to wait for a future post.

Verdict: Primal. Acetic bacteria have been around longer than we have.

Almond Milk

I’ve never been very impressed with almond milk. It’s extremely watery and low in calories, which makes me feel like I’m wasting money on it. It doesn’t have much taste, unless you add sugar, in which case you’ve just added a bunch of sugar. It often contains dubious ingredients, like fortified vitamins and carrageenan. It’s very much a processed food.

But is almond milk Primal? Sure, in theory. Grind up some almonds, mix with water, and strain them to produce a “milk” uses nothing but Primal ingredients and practices. There’s nothing overtly “wrong” with that. But there’s also nothing very exciting. I’d guess if you make it from scratch, there’s a good chance your milk contains a decent amount of the nutrients inherent to almonds, like magnesium, vitamin E, various phytochemicals, but there’s also a chance that a lot of it is retained in the solids.

Personally, I’d just eat the almonds.

Verdict: Primal.


It certainly isn’t Primal, seeing as how it’s pretty much just a bunch of mashed chickpeas, which are legumes. But good hummus, prepared with soaked, lightly fermented chickpeas, high quality extra-virgin olive oil, preserved lemon, tahini made from sprouted sesame seeds, pungent garlic, sea salt, and pepper? Skip the pita bread and opt for carrot sticks or celery slices (or just a spoon) and there are far worse ways to cheat.

The problem is most hummus isn’t that good. It’s made with industrial oils, which are full of rancid omega-6 fats. It’s made with canned garbanzos, which are likely rich in BPA and full of phytic acid. It’s got stabilizers and preservatives and that, while perhaps not all “that bad,” make for a subpar, processed food. And if you’re going to cheat, I implore you to use the good stuff. If you’re willing to make your own hummus, soak your own garbanzos, preserve your own lemons, etc., then hummus won’t be too bad. It’ll be free of BPA, low in phytic acid, full of healthy, Primal ingredients like olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini, and it will taste pretty darn good. Extra points for fermented hummus.

Verdict: Not Primal, but not all hummus is created equal.

Royal Jelly

I already covered fructose-rich bee vomit in a previous post in which I deemed it a relatively safe(r) sweetener, but what about one of the lesser-known products of the apiary, royal jelly?

Royal jelly is kinda like bee colostrum. When a queen is dead or dying, and the worker bees (don’t get any ideas, guys) need to make a new one, they select a few larvae and feed them royal jelly for the rest of their lives. The jelly (which workers secrete from glands located in their heads) is rich in nutrients and contains a special growth-promoting protein called royalactin (which turns larvae into queens by speeding up growth and ovary development). All larvae receive royal jelly for at least three days, but only the future queens get it indefinitely. Queens also live for as long as five years, while the workers live for perhaps a month. The only difference between a worker and a queen is that the queen gets royal jelly for life. Other than that, they’re genetically identical.

But does royal jelly make sense as a food source for humans? Probably not, as a well-run hive can only make about half a kilo of royal jelly in six months. As a supplement? Maybe.

As in bees, royal jelly can prolong the lives of other insects, like the fruitfly, via royalactin. I wonder if royalactin could do the same for vertebrates, too.

It might be good for brain health. Oral royal jelly has been shown to stimulate the production of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), a promoter of neurogenesis, in rodents. And recently, it improved cognitive abilities in mice dosed with a potent neurotoxin designed to initiate neuron death.

It might help with male infertility. In one study, vaginally applying a peri-coital mixture of royal jelly and honey improved the ability of men with lower sperm motility to impregnate their mates when compared to a control group.

A recent study, however, found that royal jelly had an adverse effect on the reproductive function of male rats. And though it’s pretty rare, royal jelly can be a serious allergen for some people.

Whatever you do, I’d be careful.

Verdict: Primal, but it’s not snake oil and it isn’t innocuous. Make absolutely certain that you’re ready for this jelly (I had to do it).

Green Coffee Bean Extract

As recently seen on Dr. Oz, green coffee bean extract is touted as a powerful weight loss supplement. Though Mehmet casts a dubious shadow on the things he endorses, I thought I’d take a look into this one. I mean, coffee beans are known sources of antioxidants, so it isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but I’m only familiar with the roasted, brown kind of coffee bean. What’s the deal with green coffee beans (and their extract)?

Coffee contains chlorogenic acids, organic compounds that have been shown to benefit glucose tolerance in humans. Green coffee bean extract (GCBE) also contains chlorogenic acids, and a recent study found that GCBE supplementation reduced body fat and resting heart rate in obese human subjects, though researchers weren’t sure whether the caffeine content of GCBE was partly responsible.

Why not just drink coffee, you might be wondering? I’m actually wondering the same thing. As noted above, coffee also contains chlorogenic acids, caffeine, and can improve weight loss. Coffee also tastes phenomenal. I see little evidence that GCBE is doing anything that coffee is not.

Verdict: Primal, but not nearly as delicious as real coffee.

That’s it for today, folks. Keep sending in your queries, and I’ll do my best to get to them. If I ever amass enough, maybe I’ll throw together another “Is it Primal?” post. Take care!

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. yay! glad to hear that cashews are primal

    doghug wrote on May 9th, 2012
    • erm. if you were reading the same article then you would have seen that they are EXTREMELY high on phytic acid..
      So technically primal but not a good idea if you want to retain your minerals.

      terri wrote on May 10th, 2012
  2. What about raspberry ketones that Dr. Oz promotes for losing weight?

    Ann wrote on May 9th, 2012
  3. i work for a supplement company so I have a little more info to share about Green Coffee Bean Extract.

    There are actually a few Doctors (not just Oz) getting excited about this product because of the early studies and trials.

    Supposedly the Chlorogenic Acid in pre-roasted (green) coffee is highly concentrated and it blocks sugar to the blood stream. It has nothing to do with the caffeine.

    I guess we will know the real results soon – because people are calling us ordering by the truck loads!

    tom jones wrote on May 9th, 2012
  4. A bit of trivia – cashews are in the same family as poison ivy (so are mangoes). Eating a lot of cashews can intensify a person’s reaction to poison ivy, should they be exposed to it.

    Regarding mangoes – given you indulge – good idea to wash the skin before peeling and not eat too many at one time.

    spicegirl wrote on May 9th, 2012
  5. So happy about the hummus! Fermented it will be…on homemade crackers. Yum.

    Kathie wrote on May 9th, 2012
  6. I would definitely like to see more on the soy variants vs the world. Not to mention the amount of GM soy that appears to have taken the industry. I can’t help wonder if like white rice in Japan, where processing and dietary habits are more at issue.

    Joe wrote on May 9th, 2012
  7. Not so sure about cashews being primal:
    Cashews are be the only nuts (well along with chestnuts) that a diabetic person would require insulin for……

    Barb wrote on May 9th, 2012
  8. Where can you buy bee pollen? None of the health food stores carry it and I haven’t heard of any beekeepers near me (in Hampton Roads VA).

    Parson wrote on May 9th, 2012
  9. That wiki on wheat grass was interesting. Did anyone click on the talk link and read this page ? Interesting discussion.
    I don’t know much about it, except that people I’ve talked with who take wheatgrass juice on a regular basis and who also consume other raw greens say that they notice an incredible difference from the wheatgrass. Maybe because the nutrients are more bio-available in that form? I’d like to see some more thorough research than one wiki page that many people agree needs editing. Time to do some digging on the net.

    Ophelia wrote on May 9th, 2012
  10. I figure apples/cider knows to turn into vinegar all by itself, so…it’s primal.

    Plus if you spray it full strength on weeds, it works better than Roundup!

    Cathy Johnson (Kate) wrote on May 9th, 2012
  11. I’m so confused about soaking cashews. I’ve heard no more than 2 hours, and I’ve heard no more than 7. I’ve heard you need warm water, and I’ve heard that overnight in the fridge is fine. And I was pretty sure about using salt, until I saw this from the FAQ at

    Q. When soaking nuts, why is the salt needed?

    A. The salt helps activate enzymes that de-activate the enzyme inhibitors. For grains, we soak in an acidic solution to get rid of phytic acid. Nuts do not contain much phytic acid but do contain high levels of enzyme inhibitors. The method imitates the way the native peoples in Central America treated their nuts and seeds–by soaking them in seawater and then dehydrating them.

    If the problem with cashews is the phytic acid, should we soak in an acidic solution? Would an acid AND salt work?? I’d love some speculation on this subject, even if there are no definitive answers. Nuts aren’t always fantastic in smoothies, but cashews are amazing, so I’d love to figure out how to make them healthy (:

    Alyssa wrote on May 9th, 2012
  12. I love these posts! Very informative. I’m glad to see that my beloved soy sauce is okay after all. Thanks a bunch, Mark!

    Michiko wrote on May 9th, 2012
  13. Hi Mark,

    I’m wondering what the nutritional differences are between various types of vinegar. In particular, we use balsamic vinegar a lot.. mostly on salads, but also as a reduction over fish, veggies, etc. Do your statements about vinegar hold true for balsamic as well? How about rice vinegar? I don’t know how it’s made, but I’m going out on a limb and assuming that rice is involved.. so probably not primal? Thanks!

    Matthew wrote on May 9th, 2012
  14. anyone though about this – wild almonds are poisonous yes? how could almonds be primal when domesticated almonds are what we eat now and we probably learned the hard way eating any amount of wild almonds earlier? there’s a german primal blogger that flatly refuses almonds as a primal food for this reason and it kinda makes sense–


    ravi wrote on May 9th, 2012
  15. You promised information on sprouts, but I didn’t see any. I’m wondering how on earth Brussels sprouts could not be primal?

    Orielwen wrote on May 9th, 2012
  16. mark… seemed to have skipped right over the sprouts issue……

    james davis wrote on May 9th, 2012
  17. Please see below as to why the green coffee bean is not like drinking coffee:

    So, let’s dig into Green Coffee Bean, starting with the question, “how does Green Coffee Bean work against weight gain?” Believe it or not, the key is not the caffeine! It is a very important natural active compound called Chlorogenic Acid. Chlorogenic Acid works by inhibiting the release of glucose in the body while at the same time boosting the metabolism or the “burning” of fat in the liver. These two mechanisms combined work together to inhibit the absorption of fat and eliminate weight gain.

    You might wonder if you can get the same effects from the coffee you drink with breakfast in the morning – and the answer is no. When you roast coffee beans to give them that distinct color, aroma and flavor, you are also removing the Chlorogenic Acid, which is the key to healthy weight loss. Green Coffee Beans, in contrast, are unroasted, have little aroma, are bitter, and contain over 50% Chlorogenic Acid. Roasting Coffee Beans destroys the Cholorgenic Acid, which is the key component to supporting weight management. Remember, as I’ve always said, “bitter is better”.

    Angela Watkins wrote on May 9th, 2012
  18. Raw cashews aren’t really raw. They are steamed. They are steamed because of the poison that is on the interior of the shell. If you want raw cashews that truly aren’t cooked, you have to look really hard.

    Rick wrote on May 9th, 2012
  19. What are “lightly fermented” chickpeas? When I was eating them I would cook dry chickpeas in my crockpot. How would I ferment them? –Thanks!

    LeNeen wrote on May 9th, 2012
  20. CASHEEEEEEWWWWWWSSSSSSSSSSSS i love em! i rarely buy them, but when i do i usually eat alot! but i dont feel bad at all after it haha

    Isidora wrote on May 9th, 2012
  21. I swear sometimes that, just as I think of a new primal question, I open up the blog and there is my answer!!! I just love it.

    ari wrote on May 9th, 2012
  22. You mentioned Sprouts, and then didn’t talk about them?!

    Katie wrote on May 9th, 2012
    1. Does balsamic vinager have any gluten in it?
    2. Are macadamia nuts good for you. Are they low in omega 6
    3. What is primals stance on using beauty products with wheat in them ie does this soak into your bloodstream and effect you like it would if you eat them?

    Thanks guys

    lara wrote on May 9th, 2012
  24. Great post!
    And, vinegar and cashew is my favorite.

    yiran wrote on May 9th, 2012
  25. I have a book, called Survival on Land or Sea, that was written during WWII, and was in a waterproof container on every lifeboat. It was especially helpful to survivors of sunken ships who made it to an island. One of its statements is that raw cashews are poisonous and must be cooked. I checked that out years ago and was told that no such thing as “raw cashews” are sold. They are all cooked before release into the market.

    Jerrymat wrote on May 9th, 2012
  26. I’ve been trying to figure out why any vinegar containing dips that come in contact with my daughters skin leaves a red rash for awhile. Thank you! I now believe it to be the acetic acid and can try out making our own sauces but diluting the vinegar even more (half water, half table vinegar to start). :)

    Dawn wrote on May 9th, 2012
  27. I once read that cashews are a bad idea for diabetics,so i remember,no cash. Sometimes when my stomach gets upset i take apple cider vinegar and my stomach feels better preety quik.Its also good for diabetics who are going to eat that occasional carb type meal.Take beforehand.

    Ron wrote on May 9th, 2012
    • So….soaked, then roasted cashews with a “chaser” shot of vinegar…on an occasional basis is…”ok”?!

      Donna wrote on May 10th, 2012
  28. Coffee and cashew nuts…. mmm heaven!

    Donna wrote on May 10th, 2012
  29. I am wondering where hemp protein lies, is it primal?

    Fee wrote on May 10th, 2012
  30. “You put the balm on? Who told you to put the balm on? I didn’t tell you to put the balm on. Why’d you put the balm on? You haven’t even been to see the doctor. If your gonna put a balm on, let a doctor put a balm on.” – Jackie Childs


    Rebecca wrote on May 10th, 2012
  31. I just love, love, love cashew nuts! Rightly said though, they are very easy to overindulge in..I can eat over 2 lb in one sitting and have some more later on the day..Cashew nut butter is also delicious, add a bit of vanilla and erythritol and you have white chocolate cream – unfortunately just way too delicious to stop before the whole jar is gone, hence a rare treat for me. I don’t know if it’s the quantities I eat or not, but they definitely have a negative impact on my blood sugar levels, although not immediately, but maybe a few hours after eating them.

    foxygodzi wrote on May 10th, 2012
  32. Over-brewed kombucha is what I’ve been using for a vinegar substitute in salads. It’s not worth using my good kombucha for cooking, since the good bacteria die at high temps, but for cold or room-temperature applications, it works GREAT!

    The problem with coffee beans is that the high temperatures of roasting deactivate the antioxidants. If coffee’s your thing, look for a low-temp roasting process.

    Mamachibi wrote on May 10th, 2012
  33. The debate over agave continues….my understanding is that unprocessed (i.e., raw) agave syrup IS, in fact, primal. As primal as sweeteners can be, that is. And that it would compare to coconut nectar. Any science on this from anyone out there?

    Al wrote on May 10th, 2012
    • Actually, agave is processed, highly at that. It has a fructose-glucose ratio that just doesn’t occur in nature and hence not very good for you to put it mildly. Just google agave or you can even put ‘agave processed’ and it will give you plenty of science on the matter. As a former raw vegan, I’ve done plenty of research on it myself and after an initial spell of enthusiasm I actually came to the conclusion that the stuff is more harmful than not.

      foxygodzi wrote on May 10th, 2012
  34. Amanda, I am a midwife and mother of 5 with a nursling myself. Fenugreek should be fine as long as you don’t have a chickpea allergy (they are in the same family) and as long as you are not diabetic per it’s purported affect on insulin. You commonly see recommended: 3 caps, 3x/day, for 3 days. You will probably smell like a walking pancake, as fenugreek used to be utilized as a way to flavor maple syrup. If you smell like syrup, but there’s no increase in supply, then I loooove Goat’s Rue; it’s a fast a ting herb!

    Christy wrote on May 10th, 2012
  35. Amanda, I am a midwife and mother of 5 with a nursling myself. Fenugreek should be fine as long as you don’t have a chickpea allergy (they are in the same family) and as long as you are not diabetic per it’s purported affect on insulin. You commonly see recommended: 3 caps, 3x/day, for 3 days. You will probably smell like a walking pancake, as fenugreek used to be utilized as a way to flavor maple syrup. If you smell like syrup, but there’s no increase in supply, then I loooove Goat’s Rue; it’s a fast acting herb you can use in tincture or encapsulated form. Brewers yeast is also used occasionally. Alfalfa, nettles, and red raspberry leaf are great for their nutritional/mineral value, however are not strong galactogogs.

    Christy wrote on May 10th, 2012
  36. absolutely certain that “you’re ready for this jelly (I had to do it).”

    Lol! Really Mark? A Beyonce lyric? I don’t know if it’s more frightening that I know that or that YOU know it. Hilarious and wrong on every level.

    Another great article, btw.

    Anjanette wrote on May 10th, 2012
  37. “Coffee . It lifts you up, calms you down, why, all little kids in mexico drink coffee everyday.” Mike Ditka, kicking and screaming.

    dave wrote on May 10th, 2012
  38. Aha! So eating potatoes with vinegar reduces the insulin response. In Canada, we always have a bottle of (usually white) vinegar on the table with salt and pepper. Heinz and other producers make little packs for fast-food places, and many, if not most, put vinegar on their french fries.
    We always get a chuckle when we drive across the 49th, even to a town near the border, and find a cafe or drive through, so we can confuse the clerk/carhop by asking for vinegar.
    Of course, now that I know the bad stuff about spuds, it is off the menu for us, but at least when we put vinegar on the fries, we were doing (some) good!

    Barrie Templeton` wrote on May 10th, 2012

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