For today’s edition of Dear Mark , we’ve got three questions to cover. First up is a question from a reader who feels paralyzed by too much health information. Whereas before the basics might have made sense to him, digging further into the literature and the blogs is only making it harder and harder to make the right choice, or any choice at all. I totally understand and can relate. Next, I discuss the possible negative health effects of beer. Is it just the gluten that’s a problem, or are there other issues as well? Finally, I explore liquid coconut oil , or coconut oil that’s been altered to remain liquid at any temperature. Is it safe? Is it Primal ? Is it actually worth using? Find out the answers to all these questions in today’s Dear Mark.
Your link to the Bulletproof coffee guy in your article about Primal Coffee lead me to his article about the downsides of raw kale. After I read that, now I’m worried about oxalates and goitrogens. More broadly, the more I read on sites like MDA and others, the less I feel like I know about how to live healthfully. Between Omega 3:6 ratios, calcium:magnesium ratios, mycotoxins in coffee and chocolate, and all the other “if you eat this, it should be paired with this otherwise you’re screwed”, it really is hard to know how to live.
Thanks very much!
Don’t sweat the small stuff, dude. Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good . It’s usually far more trouble than it’s worth.
Some people actually enjoy sweating the small stuff, and that’s cool, too. They like geeking out on nutrition. I’m that way to a certain extent, but once I feel like it’s impeding on my life, once it’s worming its way into my brain and getting in the way of just being, I back off and tell myself not to sweat it. Since significant numbers of the Mark’s Daily Apple readership do qualify as nutrition geeks, I tip my hat to them (you!) quite often, but I try to maintain an undercurrent of relaxation. It can be hard to do, I’ll admit, which is probably why you sometimes feel you’re paralyzed by over analysis.
The key is to figure out what the “small stuff” actually is. That way, you can discard it and focus on the information that actually deserves your time.
Look: the bulk of your body comp  comes from what you eat, and you get by far the most bang for your dietary buck by tailoring carbs to your activity levels  and avoiding grains , seed oils , and refined sugar . Seriously, that’s the big takeaway from all this and for most people, it’s probably enough to get you most of the way to your goal.
I employ the 80/20 system  for just this reason: eating Primal 80% of the time is good enough for most people. Heck, unless you’re celiac or highly sensitive to gluten , you can probably get away with eating bread at a restaurant or having a slice of pizza every now and then. I’m not saying it’s “healthy,” per se, but I am saying it’s not going to make you “unhealthy.” Obviously, if you have a bad reaction to that slice of bread, it’s probably “unhealthy,” but it’s self-correcting; you’re not going to do something that makes you feel bad. That’s kinda why we feel bad in the first place, to dissuade us from the pursuit of unsafe behaviors. Is there a chance that every slice of bread  takes ten days off your life? Maybe. I highly, highly doubt it, though. Personally, it always makes me pay for it the next morning, so I avoid it. That’s me, though.
(Please don’t construe the preceding paragraph as “Mark Sisson says we can eat pizza!” It’s just a built-in anti-stress mechanism.)
He who tries to be perfect (based on someone else’s analysis of what exactly constitutes “perfect”) runs the risk of incurring massive amounts of stress , all for a few potential upticks in health/performance/body comp/whatever-metric-you’re-shooting-for. To me, it’s just not worth the effort.
Some examples of small stuff, as I see it?
Most people can sauté some kale  without pre-steaming and squeezing all the oxalate-laden water from it and be okay. If you suspect you have oxalate issues , and taking steps to minimize oxalates seems to make you healthier, then go for it! If you’re doing fine, don’t stress about it.
Most people can just have a cup of regular coffee . Sure, if you drink coffee brewed from wash-processed, single-origin microlot beans grown at the perfect altitude, handpicked by canopy-raised howler monkeys, and roasted at the local 3rd wave roasters who have a time machine that lets them roast beans in the future and therefore ensure the freshest coffee possible, it’s going to be really good and probably healthier and more antioxidant-rich, but I don’t think everyone needs to drink it to enjoy coffee. After all, the preponderance of the evidence for the health benefits of coffee  is based on regular people drinking “regular” mainstream coffee like Starbucks, Peet’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts, not standing in line for pour-over coffee served up by bearded guys in flannel. Same goes for dark chocolate .
Not everything is small stuff, of course. The omega-3:omega-6  issue really does matter (perhaps the biggest change to people’s diets in recent years has been the astronomical rise in the amount of omega-6-rich seed oil we eat), as that affects our inflammatory response  to stressors and injuries and illness – it basically changes the available substrate for the various inflammatory cytokines, biasing an exaggerated inflammatory (O6) over an anti-inflammatory (O3) response. Since low-level, chronic inflammation characterizes many, if not most, of the degenerative diseases afflicting us today, I’d say we should heed our omega-6 intake as it relates to our omega-3 intake. But shooting for a specific ratio? I don’t know that it matters all that much. Avoiding seed oils and eating oily fish  (or take fish oil supplements  when good oily fish is unavailable) is good enough and will likely get you close to the “optimal ratio.”
Same for calcium-magnesium. While people generally need to eat more magnesium, they don’t need to obsess over the specific ratio of calcium to magnesium. Just eat more leafy greens , incorporate some nuts and seeds  now and then, take epsom salt baths , make (and rub onto your body) magnesium oil, swim in the ocean, and drink mineral water , preferably not all at once. Take a good magnesium supplement, even.
I always suggest that people in your predicament take a step back, revisit the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws , and get a handle on what really matters. Is there fine-tuning to be done? Sure. But if you stick to the basics – you know, the stuff that initially attracted you here – and view the nitty-gritty details as interesting data to think about and experiment  with, you’ll probably do okay.
If it’s any consolation, what my years of research into all the nitty-gritty details have taught me is that the basics will get you most of the way there.
I have scoured your site for info on how bad beer is. I have found it doesn’t effect me negatively after a period of removal and reintroduction, but I am concerned there might be more to it than feeling the effects. The only info I found is from your section on alcohol that states the carb count isn’t worth it. Are carbs the only real concern when drinking a craft beer since most beers I could find info on were in the range of 5-25ppm of gluten (excluding wheat beers)? Or is the gluten a concern as well at such a low ppm. As a homebrewer I have options for final carb count and final gluten levels, but just wanted to see a more in depth look at beer and its effects since I believe it is a common vice among your primal followers. Thanks!
There are a few potential concerns with beer.
The alcohol, first and foremost. Alcohol is a toxin  (with some potential dose-dependent benefits), after all. Beer usually isn’t very high in alcohol by volume (although even that’s changing with the influx of higher ABV craft beers), but folks tend to drink enough volume to reach harmful levels. Having a meal in your belly before cracking the first beer can help here, as can following best practices for harm reduction/hangover prevention .
The phytoestrogens. Hops, an almost universal beer ingredient, are an incredibly rich source of phytoestrogens , or phytochemicals which interact with our estrogen receptors. Soy  is often maligned and avoided for its phytoestrogen content, but the hop phytoestrogen has “an activity greater than other established plant estrogens.” Is this a problem? Potentially, depending on how much beer you drink and how hoppy you like it. Ultra-hoppy IPAs, for example, should have more estrogenic activity than milder lagers. And, depending on where you look, phytoestrogens are both good and bad for us . Claimed benefits include relief from menopause (due to the estrogenic activity, phytoestrogens may act a bit like hormone replacement therapy), protection from osteoporosis  (though RCTs have been mostly inconclusive), and a reduction in LDL levels (an effect that may be attributed to the soy protein, rather than the phytoestrogens). Claimed detriments, which I find to be both more persuasive and worrisome, include disrupted neuroendocrine development and ovulation, increased breast cancer for predisposed women, and abnormal sexual development. All that said, beer isn’t consumed like soy-eaters consume soy – as a staple food. The occasional beer – even an IPA – should be okay. Just be careful with the dosage.
The gluten, as you alluded to. Though most beer is made from barley, a gluten-containing grain, current testing does indicate minimal levels of gluten present in the finished product. One problem with this? Depending on the method used to test the beer, you get different results. For example, using ELISA, the standard method, a beer might show up as gluten-free. Using mass spectrometry, that same beer could test positive for moderate levels of gluten . Heck, according to Aurochs Brewing , a gluten-free beer maker, “no test effectively (and definitively) determines gluten content in beer.”
Beers are somewhat carb-dense when compared to other alcohols, but at between 10-20 grams per 12 ounce serving (and less for light “beer”), they’re not exactly in the realm of sodas, candy bars, and cupcakes. It’s only when you start drinking two, three, six beers, along with the wings and the pizza and the breadsticks, that beer-related carbs  become an issue.
Overall, beers are pretty unPrimal. But if you can drink them without ill effect, I don’t think the occasional glass or bottle will do you much harm. Celiacs and gluten-sensitives should definitely steer clear, or opt for wine , cider, or other choices.
What’s your take on liquid coconut oil (such as NuCo)? What do they do to the coconut oil so that it remains a liquid at room temperature?
Thanks for any insights you may provide.
Coconut oils are liquidized by removing the long chain fatty acids and leaving the medium chain triglycerides. The removal process is entirely physical and uses no chemicals or solvents. No mutant fats  are created, and the medium chain triglycerides remain intact and unaffected. This is similar to MCT oil, which is usually made from a combination of coconut and palm  kernel oils. MCTs have a number of benefits:
- They require less bile acid to digest , so people with impaired fat digestion can digest them more easily than longer-chained fats. MCTs actually increase the ability of a person to oxidize longer chained fats , too, making them especially useful for improving an impaired fat digestion (as well as burning body fat).
- They are converted readily into ketones  regardless of the carbohydrate content of the diet, so people on a ketogenic diet  can use MCTs to generate ketone bodies without having to eliminate most of their plant foods. If you know someone – a grandparent, perhaps – who could probably use some ketones in their lives for the cognitive benefits , it’s a lot easier to slip some MCTs into their morning coffee than it is to get them to switch to a ketogenic diet.
- They increase the metabolic rate , an effect that persists for about a week after ingestion.
- They seem to have beneficial effects on lipid  and metabolic profiles. For instance, in men with high triglycerides, MCT-feeding improves blood lipids and reduces abdominal and overall body fat , and in type 2 diabetics, MCTs improve insulin sensitivity .
If there’s anything to worry about here, it’d be that since MCTs always naturally occur in the presence of other, longer-chained fatty acids and never in isolation, the doses found in these refined oils may be supraphysiological with undesirable or untoward metabolic effects. There’s the oft-reported intestinal upset and subsequent diarrhea that comes with large doses of medium chain triglycerides, but that’s also been reported with straight coconut oil and usually clears up after several days of eating it. While I doubt there’s anything else serious enough to worry about, especially with the proven benefits, it’s something to keep in mind. Myself, I prefer coconut oil to MCT oil.
That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to sound off below!