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

Is It Primal? – Chai, Rice Noodles, Choffy, and Other Foods Scrutinized

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.

Ginger – Broadly anti-inflammatory, ginger is a potent source of antioxidants with inhibitory effects on high blood sugar, cancer, and bad blood lipids.

Cardamom – Cardamom has been shown to lower blood pressure in hypertensives and have chemopreventive properties.

Fennel – Fennel seed is another spice with antioxidant potential, including the ability to inhibit lipid peroxidation.

Clove – Clove has one of the highest levels of antioxidant activity around and contains a large number of bioactive compounds.

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 μmole 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?

Rice Noodles

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.

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).

“Gluten-Free” Real Sourdough Bread

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!

Grab a Copy of The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation and Start Getting Primal Today!

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. I guess for people who must have bread but don’t need gluten, a sourdough rye bread could be an option.Rye contains much weaker gluten in smaller amounts than wheat. Mark, do you want me to send you some bread I make for my husband? I ferment it up to 5 days.It is rather sour, but very tasty. I think in a future I will try to add some fermented buckwheat kernels there.

    Galina L. wrote on November 27th, 2012
  2. I love Marmite!

    Kitty wrote on November 27th, 2012
  3. I love Marmite too Kitty! And Marmite loves me back. I’m not primal yet so I still have mine on toast that is slathered with butter (because that part is primal).

    Vanessa wrote on November 27th, 2012
    • I haven’t had toast since I went Primal in May but I remember with fondness Marmite on toast with a sh*t load of butter – hot so it was all melting together. Mmmmm…

      Kitty =^..^= wrote on November 28th, 2012
      • And Marmite and Ready Salted potato chip sandwiches. Oh, heaven! 😀

        Kitty =^..^= wrote on November 28th, 2012
  4. Vegemite fan here – In the past it used to be Vegemite, loads of butter on Vogel’s bread for breakfast…. MMMMMMM. Or under poached eggs on Vogels. Every New Zealander must love Vogels…

    I make up the school lunches now with vegemite on celery – delicious.

    I will never forget when I was in my 20’s and living in San Diego I brought a jar from NZ with me. I don’t know how many people said “Oh Yum Chocolate spread” and dipped their finger in it (of course I wouldn’t say anything!)

    Oh the faces they made were so funny!! “Whos put salt in the chocolate spread!!” hilarious…

    erika wrote on November 27th, 2012
    • Yeah, cold Vogels with a ton of butter and Marmite. No foolin’ salivating this minute.

      Madama Butterfry wrote on November 27th, 2012
  5. Mmmm, the marmite. We love it in South Africa too. Since going Primal, I sometimes eat a little either spread on cucumber slices or straight off the spoon! And now that I live in India, chai is something I allow myself only very rarely. Of course I make it at home, but it has a lot of milk and some sugar, and needs both. I am going to try a coconut milk version to see how it tastes. But it’s not chai if it’s not a little bit sweet….

    Skate wrote on November 27th, 2012
  6. I always order my pho with steamed veggies (usually a mix of broccoli, carrots, celery, mushrooms, etc) instead of noodles – this was at the suggestion of the server at the place I normally go. That way, I avoid the noodles but it’s a little more substantial than just the meat and broth. Yum….

    Sarah wrote on November 27th, 2012
  7. Marmite is a big thing in South Africa too, was quite surprised to see it in this mail. It’s def something you have to know from childhood… one of their ad campaigns is ‘You either love it, or you hate it’ so true!

    JulesZA wrote on November 27th, 2012
  8. Oh no – I’ve been primal for well over a year without a single craving for any bread at all. Just dropped it all from meal one, and have never looked back. But the thought of real marmite (none of the imitation vegemite that’s popular here in New Zealand …)on hot toast had me nearly drooling!

    I’ve already dug the jar out the back of the pantry and made a massive mug to drink! And i’m reading through all the comments for other suggestions. I alsays used to love it on toast with cheese, so the cheese option sounds good. It’s also great with mashed avos (also on toast!), so I’ll also give it a whirl on celery – it’ll make a change from pate for my work mates who are always interested in the ‘weird and wonderfull’ things I bring in my lunchbox!

    One of the best things that I’ve ever had marmite with was Victoria sponge cake – not sure quite how I can replicate that! I don’t want to go down the gluten alternative baking road as I’ve still got a fair bit of weight to drop and don’t want to get hooked on too many treats, especially as I don’t crave them at all. Any suggestions?????

    EmilyNZ wrote on November 28th, 2012
  9. I grew up on Vegemite, but after all those emails doing the rounds a few years back about evil glutamates in yeast extract, it’s been relegated to the “non-Primal” shelf along with the stock cubes. I thought it was as bad as MSG and all the other flavour enhancers. Isn’t it?

    Elisa wrote on November 28th, 2012
  10. “I’ll sometimes feel a bit spacey, as if I’ve been drugged (not in a good way, either)”

    lolol i love this blog!

    mars wrote on November 28th, 2012
  11. Every time I hear about a tea one should drink everyday, I hear about Green Tea. Why don’t I ever hear more about White or Black?

    Or am I just not looking hard enough? lol.

    Chris wrote on November 28th, 2012
  12. MARK! Thank you so much for demystifying chai for me. I’m pretty sure I’m not being very authentic, but my version with only cinnamon, nutmeg, and anise tastes pretty amazing to me. Can’t wait to experiment with all the other spices.

    Joshua wrote on November 28th, 2012
  13. I’m a fan of Pho myself, I just order it with half the noodles to cut back on the carb load. Usually only when I’m hurting for energy after a particularly brutal workout, it makes a very nice treat.

    Jasmine wrote on November 28th, 2012
  14. I brew crio bru (a choffy clone) with coffee. I boil the crio bru then pour into a french press with a little coffee. Comes out good. The crio bru leaves an oily residue on my pot that is difficult to remove without strong detergent. I suppose there are some healthy things in that oil. Also, you can consume the crio bru grounds. They sort of taste like chocolate chips in a smoothie.

    Diane wrote on November 28th, 2012
  15. I read that “Drew’s salad dressing” was approved for the Paleo diet, however, some of the ingredients on some of the dressings include things like canola oil, distilled corn vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and red wine vinegar.
    I thought all of these ingredients were no no’s on the Paleo diet.

    Linda wrote on November 28th, 2012
  16. I am a independent distributor for Choffy. If you have any questions about the cacao, its sources or Choffy in general please feel free to contact me. also here is a GREAT link to Paleo friendly cremers to use with your Choffy

    Heather Hoog wrote on November 28th, 2012
  17. Just tried Marmite on buttery scrambled eggs. Awesome! Thanks for the idea.

    Eszter wrote on November 29th, 2012
  18. Would love to hear your response on Nutritional yeast Mark – great & interesting post again! Thanks

    Ceri @CucinaCeri wrote on November 30th, 2012
  19. pho is a great comfort food for winter!

    i do agree that most of the restaurants don’t serve it w/ enough fat but too much noodle. so i only eat half of the noodle.

    Chris Kresser just did an article on arsenic in rice.
    brown rice has a lot more. & white rice is relatively benign

    i read it somewhere in UK or AU?
    a young man who does not eat real food. (the only stuff he eats is bread, Marmite & some various junk). then became severely malnutritioned.


    pam wrote on November 30th, 2012
  20. Primal Marmite usage:
    1). Marmite roasted nuts: I use almonds. 1 tbs marmite, 1/2 tsp olive oil, 1-1 1/2 cups nuts. Mix so all nuts have sticky marmite coating, bake at 150C / 330F for about 20mins. Cool & try not to eat all at once.
    2). Marmite spread on cheddar (who needs biscuits).
    3). Flavour stews & casseroles.

    Carol wrote on November 30th, 2012
  21. I’m an Aussie kid (well still am to some degree) and I love vegemite, but have given it up in the transition to Primal. My husband is from South Africa and couldn’t stomach it, despite living in Australia for most of his life.

    You’re right Mark it’s a taste that is definitely acquired and isn’t gluten free either!

    Elizabeth wrote on December 4th, 2012
  22. I don’t know if you’ll ever get down to this comment, mark, but a couple of things.
    1. Those choffy beans are going to contain anti-nutrients unless they are fermented as chocolate is supposed to be.
    2. Sourdough can easily be made using a wild starter. You just have to feed it everyday. Also, it is true that people with gluten sensitivity can be asymptomatic, but that number goes way down once you start avoiding it and eating a more paleo/scd/GAPS type diet because your body has a chance to object. If you didn’t react to it, it probably didn’t do anything other than maybe feed some yeast, which you probably have under control by now. Wheat can be a part of a healthy diet as long as it is properly prepared (and so is your body), just like anything else. You wouldn’t eat the hull of a wheat berry, but you wouldn’t eat the fur on a deer, either.

    Summer wrote on December 5th, 2012
  23. Oooh, I love both of those. Which would you be more comfortable in? I know that you love wearing tights and those types of tops, however the maxi would be really summery!

    Latanya Massimino wrote on August 16th, 2013
  24. drinking tea made of dried “rose petals I think (in Malay language, “mawar” ) and cinnamon cn be good for women health

    nur wrote on November 11th, 2013

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!