Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
It never ends, does it? Right when you feel like you can settle down into your way of eating, right when you’re about to draw the blanket made of plants, animals, and maybe a little dark chocolate up around your shoulders and drift off to a restful sleep in your pitch black room untainted by artificial lighting, a niggling doubt of a question worms its way into your head: is [insert food or drink that you’ve loved since childhood/wondered about since going Primal/been asked about from curious friends] Primal? And so you toss off the blanket, leap out of bed, throw open your laptop and fire away an email to me asking about the food’s place in the lifestyle. I don’t blame you, because I’m constantly doing the same kind of thing with my own question mark foods.
Yes, it’s that time again, boys and girls: another edition of “Is it Primal?” This should be a fun one with wide appeal, because today we’re dealing with a variety of foods from around the world. Chai, the famous Indian tea, gets top billing, followed by rice noodles and Choffy. Then, I finish off with my take on “gluten-free” real sourdough bread and Marmite.
I’ve written about chai before, believe it or not, because “chai” simply means “tea.” So, when you’re ordering “chai tea” and the Indian gent behind you chuckles quietly to himself, it’s because you’ve just ordered “tea tea.” What we’re really talking about when we talk about chai is masala chai, or mixed-spice tea, the aromatic, velvety, slightly (or incredibly, depending on how you take it) sweet hot beverage.
Now that we’re on the same page, let’s get something out of the way: your chai latte from Starbucks is not Primal. Your chai ice cream isn’t either, nor is the chai Belgian waffle topped with a dollop of chai whipped cream, nor is the blended iced caramel chai-atto that I just made up on the spot. But actual masala chai, absent syrupy processed sweeteners and spray can whipped cream? This is good, even great stuff.
Think about what you might get in masala chai:
Tea – Whether it’s black, green, white, oolong, or puer, tea is one of the richest sources of dietary antioxidants around (PDF). It’s strongly associated with a host of health benefits.
Cinnamon – Besides tasting great, this spice improves insulin sensitivity, improves blood lipids, boasts a strong antioxidant supply, and has anti-carcinogenic activity.
Fennel – Fennel seed is another spice with antioxidant potential, including the ability to inhibit lipid peroxidation.
Not all those spices are used in every form of chai, but some of them will appear.
However, traditional masala chai does include milk and some kind of sweetener, maybe coconut sugar or honey or even just white sugar – oftentimes lots of it. So, while the tea itself and the spice constituents are undoubtedly healthy and Primal, the sugar they add probably isn’t.
Verdict: Primal, but you might try asking them to go easy on the sugar (or just make it yourself and control what goes into it directly).
First off, what’s Choffy? It’s like coffee, only instead of roasted coffee beans being ground up and steeped in hot water, it’s roasted cacao beans being ground up and steeped in hot water to make a hot, antioxidant-rich beverage.
Unlike coffee, there’s not a lot of published research about Choffy – none at all, to my knowledge – making a solid, research-backed proclamation nearly impossible. According to the makers of Choffy, though, an 8 ounce cup has an ORAC rating of 4874.4 ?mole TE. If that’s true, it has more antioxidants than “two servings of blueberries.” And that makes perfect sense. Cacao is full of polyphenols, and polyphenols come with all sorts of health benefits. If those polyphenols shine through in the brewed Choffy, I’m all for it. I don’t see why they wouldn’t, especially seeing as how the application of hot water to another type of ground up bean – the coffee bean – extracts plenty of polyphenols with plenty of health effects.
What it doesn’t have is the considerable caffeine content of coffee (it’s got a tiny amount), but it does have theobromine, a methylxanthine. Caffeine is another methylxanthine. But while caffeine raises blood pressure in the short term, theobromine lowers it. Theobromine, on the other hand, lead to “decreased calmness,” while caffeine increased alertness and contentedness. Some people report having severe cases of “the jitters” after dark chocolate; others report severe cases of “the bliss” after chocolate. I’m one of the latter group, so I’d probably do well on Choffy. Oh, and that same study found that combining caffeine and theobromine gave subjects the improved mood without the increased blood pressure, which makes me wonder what good things would happen if you brewed Choffy with coffee.
Verdict: Primal; after all, didn’t I tell you that you should eat and drink high-cacao chocolate?
One of my secret pleasures is a really good bowl of Vietnamese pho. I don’t eat it very often – usually whenever I happen to be in Orange County near Little Saigon – and I’ll more often than not leave a good number of noodles in the otherwise empty bowl when I’m done, but I find it difficult to pass up a good bowl of real bone broth, Thai basil, and odd bits of beef like tripe, tendon, and fatty brisket just because it comes with some rice noodles. I’ve gone over why I don’t think rice is particularly problematic when compared to other grains before, and that reasoning stands with rice noodles.
I would urge the consumption of white rice noodles over brown rice noodles based on personal experience. Whenever I’ve had the “pleasure” of eating brown rice pasta, I feel somewhat unwell afterwards. Maybe it’s the increased bran. Maybe it’s the weird texture. Maybe it’s the added phytic acid.
Also, research indicates that owing to their inherent slurpability, noodles are subject to far less mastication than whole grain rice. This disparity in mastication is inadvertent on our parts, by design on noodle makers’ parts. Noodles are basically meant to slide right down the throat, nary a gnashing tooth in sight. This makes it easier to shovel in more calories, of course, but not just because you’re eating faster. Your satiety hormones are actually regulated by how much you chew your food, and a study showed that by not chewing your food sufficiently, your ghrelin levels (which make you hungry) stay higher and you eat more food. When you chew each bite 40 times, ghrelin levels drop.
Make sure your white rice noodles are made with just rice. Some places add wheat flour.
Verdict: Not Primal, but if you’re eating rice, rice noodles are the same thing (and they often come with delicious bone broth).
Awhile back, I mentioned the legend of Bezian, the man with the sourdough bread that gluten-intolerants and celiacs alike could apparently tolerate. He operates out of LA and sells his wares at the Santa Monica farmers market, so I figured I’d pay a visit and give the stuff a shot. I’m not celiac, and I can get away with the odd bite of bread at a restaurant or the very occasional beer, but I get very distinct, very noticeable effects from eating a significant portion of wheat. Diving into an actual loaf of bread would surely elicit a few symptoms.
So I got a small loaf of the “most fermented” bread he had. It was maybe five bucks and had been fermented for almost a month, according to Bezian. I got home, toasted up a slice, spread some butter on it, and had a bite. It was good bread, that was for sure, sour and chewy and dense (the butter didn’t hurt, either). I had another slice, plus a few hard boiled eggs and a small green salad, just to make a meal of it. Then, I waited. Usually, thirty minutes or so post-wheat, I’ll want to use the bathroom. I’ll sometimes feel a bit spacey, as if I’ve been drugged (not in a good way, either). This didn’t happen. Playing lab rat for the sake of this post, I proceeded to eat the rest of it over the course of a few more days with my family, and no one had anything unpleasant to report. All good then?
Not quite. We know that the right fermentation conditions can produce a bread that is technically gluten-free, but those were tightly controlled lab conditions that most bakers simply don’t have. I know that actual bread makers (like Bezian) can produce bread that I don’t obviously react to and which may be tolerated by celiacs, but then again, I’m not a celiac and there’s all sorts of other damage that could be occurring underneath the hood, unbeknownst to me (many people sensitive to gluten are asymptomatic).
If you “have” to eat bread, this kind of sourdough is the best you can probably get. But really? It’s the best you probably can’t get, not unless you’re willing to fly out to LA and buy it from Bezian, or maybe unless you figure out the specific strains of yeast used by the Italian authors of the fermentation study to degrade the gluten so you can make it yourself. Sure, there’s also the chance that someone else is doing bread the right way, but you have to find them, and in this day and age of real foodiesm, I don’t think someone making real bread that celiacs can eat would go unnoticed.
Or, you know, you could just eat everything else that doesn’t seem to cause us problems – like plants and animals.
All that said, curious Primal Angelenos could always check out Bezian’s stand themselves; I’d be interested to see their responses.
Verdict: Not Primal, but it’s definitely the best bread you can do and I’d wager that it’s less harmful than regular bread.
At first, I was going to write this one off. I mean, as an American I don’t know a whole lot about Marmite, but I was vaguely aware of it as a disgusting, overly processed brown paste that doubles as food. Since Marmite is pretty popular and I received a good number of questions about it and I trust my readers, I thought I’d take a closer look.
Marmite is made from brewer’s yeast, which is what it sounds like (the yeast used to make beer, Saccharomyces cerevisiae), plus salt and various vegetable and spice extracts. Brewer’s yeast contains naturally occurring B-vitamins, which make Marmite a pretty nutrient-dense food, but nowadays the naturally-occurring folate (folate was actually discovered through Marmite), riboflavin, and other B-vitamins are supplemented with fortified versions. They also add B12, which does not naturally occur in brewer’s yeast. And although it’s processed, that doesn’t necessarily make it harmful. You might make an argument for the addition of fortified synthetic vitamins being an issue – Chris Kresser certainly would in regards to folic acid. If that’s the case for you, too, you could always try making your own marmite.
And the UK version’s gluten-free; the Australian and New Zealand versions may not be.
Verdict: Primal limbo. It doesn’t seem all that offensive, but I’m not sure what you’re gonna eat it on if not bread and the synthetic vitamins are potentially troublesome. I guess you just had to be there (in Britain/Australia/New Zealand as a kid, that is) to get it.
That’s it for today, guys. Keep the questionable foods coming and I’ll keep on answering them as best I can. Thanks for reading!