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

Is It Primal? – Smoked Salmon, Nutritional Yeast, 5-Hour Energy Drinks, and Other Foods Scrutinized

Smoked SalmonIt’s about that time for another round of “Is It Primal?” Today we’re covering smoked salmon, a surprisingly stable source of omega-3s. After that, I finally get to nutritional yeast, a food that many of you have been asking about for many moons. I hope you’re happy with the answer. Next up are 5-Hour Energy Drinks, which aren’t quite as bad as you might think. After that, I cover the edibility of brines – olive, pickle, sauerkraut, cocktail onion, and so on. The final object of scrutiny is Kremelta, a kind of coconut oil shortening.

Let’s take a look:

Smoked Salmon

Smoking is one of the world’s oldest food preservation techniques, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: subjecting strips, cuts, and pieces of animal to smoke from wood fires until they are “cooked.” Today, we can preserve our foods by refrigerating, freezing, or applying industrial-scale methods using mass-produced antioxidant compounds, so we tend to eat far fewer smoked meats. Most would agree that this is a good move, as fresh meat tends to be, well, fresher and therefore better for us.

But what about smoked salmon? People love the stuff – I know I do – and it retains an elevated status in modern food culture. It’s become a luxury, a treat, rather than a staple food that we have to eat because it’s all we’ve got and we have no refrigerators. Does smoked salmon hold up to scrutiny? I mean, all that smoke and heat can’t be good for the fragile omega-3s, right?

Actually, salmon does appear to hold up to smoking. Better yet, it gets even more stable. A 2009 study found that smoking salmon at 95 degrees Celsius made the “fragile” fish fats even more oxidatively stable, with a lower peroxide value, fewer TBARS, and fewer free fatty acids, than fresh salmon. That’s right: smoking salmon at a high heat protected the omega-3s from oxidizing to a greater extent than leaving it alone, even if antioxidants were added to the fresh salmon oils. That said, when heating the smoked salmon fat past 75 degrees C, peroxides formed at a faster rate than in the fresh salmon fat.

Oddly enough, cold-smoked salmon (where the fish is smoked without added heat) appears to be more susceptible to oxidation. You’d think the hot-smoking would be more damaging, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

For the double-whammy of salmon preservation techniques, you might want to try fermenting your smoked salmon, as smoked salmon grows even more stable upon fermentation.

Not all smoking is the same. The cheaper outfits use sawdust as the smoking medium – yes, sawdust – while more traditional salmon smokers use actual wood, like hickory, oak, or alderwood. Some Scottish producers even use old Scotch barrels. Since wood (like all plant materials) has bioactive components which manifest in the smoke (smoking, after all, is a traditional method of plant ingestion), the type of wood used probably matters as much as anything.

Verdict: Primal.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a darling in the vegan set. They’ll sometimes proclaim that since nutritional yeast is a fungus, not an animal, and it contains B12, an animal-free source of vitamin B12 exists. Except it’s not true. Nutritional yeast, an inactive (dead) form of the same yeast that bakers and brewers use, only contains vitamin B12 if its producers decide to add it. So yes, while dotting your bowl of popcorn with the carcasses of a million fallen yeasts is arguably more nutritious than not, it’s not an endogenously-formed, “natural,” cruelty-free source of B12. There remains no naturally-occurring source of B12 that doesn’t involve sweet, sweet animal flesh.

That said, nutritional yeast is certainly interesting. I’ve had it a few times on store-bought kale chips as a sort of cheese replacement. It was tasty. It is a good source of (fortified) vitamins, the utility of which I question beyond the correction of blatant deficiencies.

Nutritional yeast is also a strong source of RNA, specifically the nucleotide uridine. You may not usually consider the ingestion of dietary genetic material, but dietary RNA from yeast can increase uric acid levels in humans. Hyperuricemia, as you probably know, is a strong cause of gout. Of course, that study gave 8 grams of brewer’s yeast nucleotides to the men, a huge amount; most sources suggest that brewer’s yeast (and therefore nutritional yeast, which is the same species) is 3% nucleotides. To get 8 grams of nucleotides, you’d need to eat around 266 grams of nutritional yeast. That’s roughly 33 tablespoons. Good luck with that. Besides, Primal darlings, sardines and organ meats are also high in RNA, so I don’t think we can condemn nutritional yeast on the basis of RNA.

In the amounts the average Primal person who just enjoys the flavor is likely to consume, I don’t think nutritional yeast is a problem.

Verdict: Primal. Just don’t rely on it as a source of vitamins.

5-Hour Energy Drinks

I’d never really looked into 5-Hour Energy Drinks before writing this post, and until now, I’ve always sort of assumed they were sugar-laden caffeinated liquid beasts that truckers and club kids resorted to when they ran out of meth. I was wrong. 5-Hour Energy Drinks are caffeinated, but they only have a hair over 200 mg of caffeine, which is a bit more than a cup of coffee (but who drinks just one “cup of coffee”?). They are sugar-free, but contain sucralose, also known as Splenda. I’m not a sucralose fan, seeing as how it may reduce beneficial gut flora.

Most of the effects of the energy drinks are attributed to the bevy of nutrients they dose the thing with – vitamin B6, niacin, vitamin B12, folic acid, taurine, citicoline, tyrosine, phenylalanine, malic acid, caffeine, and glucuronolactone. Their “energy” blend totals 1870 mg and is proprietary, so beyond the first four vitamin ingredients, we don’t know how much of each nutrient is contained in the drink. We can look at the efficacy of each ingredient, though.

Those vitamins are all important for health and a Primal eating plan of meat, greens, fruits, offal, and other whole foods will be replete in them. Caffeine’s effects are known (and loved). What about the others? Are they safe and/or effective?

Taurine – Paired with caffeine and glucuronolactone in a 5-Hour Energy Drink-esque drink, taurine appears to be “stimulate cognitive performance and well-being.” Another study, which controlled for caffeine withdrawal, also found a beneficial effect. Large doses of taurine are safe.

Citicoline – A recent review found that citicoline can improve cognitive function, particularly in stroke patients. Citicoline is safe.

Tyrosine – Tyrosine is a naturally occurring amino acid, so if you eat animals, you’re eating tyrosine. In supplemental form, tyrosine is somewhat effective when a person is stressed or under duress (like fatigue). In healthy, alert, otherwise chipper individuals, tyrosine doesn’t seem to do much. It’s safe, though.

Phenylalanine – Phenylalanine is the precursor to tyrosine, so this should just become tyrosine in the body.

Malic acid – Malic acid provides the sour flavor of tart apples, like Granny Smiths. It’s a byproduct of human metabolism, but it doesn’t seem to do much as a supplement (unless you’re a dairy cow, in which case it can help you make more milk – PDF).

Glucuronolactone – This is also safe in the context of an energy drink, and, in the first taurine study cited above, it may even work synergistically with caffeine and taurine to improve mental performance.

Verdict: Not exactly Primal, but neither is falling asleep at the wheel. And the nutrients within are pretty solid.


A reader asked about drinking brine. As in, the liquid that olives, cocktail onions, pickles, pickled peppers, and sauerkraut comes swimming in. Is it safe? Is it nutritious?

It depends on the brine. Pickle juice and sauerkraut brine are world-renowned hangover cures, probably because of the electrolyte replenishing action of the incredible salt content. Football teams are even using pickle juice to defeat cramps, and they have a double-blind study out of BYU to prove it. Real pickle and sauerkraut brine – the fermented kind – will also offer probiotics. I’ve seen stands at farmers markets selling (and selling out) sauerkraut juice for more than the kraut itself.

Most brines are just water, spices, and salt. Olive brines will often have a few slugs of olive oil added. The point is – they’re edible and relatively safe. I don’t know if they’re exactly nutritious in the absence of sodium deficiency, dehydration, hangover, or exercise-induced cramping, but there’s nothing wrong with them.

Replacing all your normal fluid intake with brine will likely throw your potassium-sodium balance way off, so I wouldn’t recommend that. Instead, sip a bit when you’re parched, add some to salad dressings for flavoring, and keep a small bottle for grueling athletic endeavors. I would avoid drinking the Thanksgiving turkey brine, but that’s probably just me being picky.

Verdict: Primal.

Kremelta (Coconut Oil Shortening)

Kremelta is hydrogenated coconut oil, albeit hydrogenated coconut oil with 2% soy lecithin (a nice source of choline, which keeps our brains and livers running smoothly). But it’s hydrogenated coconut oil, which has that bad word (“hydrogenated”) in it.

The thing is, Kremelta is fully-hydrogenated, rather than partially-hydrogenated. This means the coconut oil, already a highly-saturated fat, is completely saturated. The few percentage points of PUFA and MUFA become SFA, with a little lecithin tossed in for emulsion. As I’ve written previously, fully hydrogenated fats do not contain trans-fats, so they are going to be better than partially-hydrogenated fats.

I’ll admit I’m a little suspicious of full hydrogenation. Since Kremelta is used in a lot of candies and other processed foods and it has to be as shelf-stable as possible, the total and utter hydrogenation makes sense. You wouldn’t want those few grams of linoleic acid to go bad. Still, though – I’d opt for real butter (probably grass-fed, since Kremelta is big in New Zealand) or mail-ordered coconut oil. And you can always get your choline from egg yolks.

Verdict: I’m on the fence, but leaning not Primal.

That’s it for today, guys. Thanks for reading, and be sure to leave a comment.

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 doubt there are many vegans reading page 2 of the comments, but my question is, How do vegans get DHA, EPA, K2-mk4?

    Bobert wrote on January 22nd, 2013
  2. Mark,

    Is taking caffeine in pill form (like No-Doz) any better or worse that getting caffeine from coffee? I’ll use the pill when I’m in a pinch like driving. Thanks!

    Chuck wrote on January 22nd, 2013
  3. I can’t believe you is-it’ed 5hr energy drinks! Those things are so gross, the smell of them turns me off. Ew!

    PaleoGirl wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  4. I’m not so crazy about smoked fish (tasty as it is!) ever since I’ve read an article stating that in most of the commercially available stuff smoking involves dipping the fish in lots of chemicals (and some nasty ones)… which is where the taste comes from…
    To be sure, I live in Poland and it was in a Polish newspaper, so maybe you guys in the US have it better, who knows? Seeing though how lots of the modern big food practices come from the USA I’d be wary. I guess buying from local and small-scale producers is as always a good idea.
    Does anybody know what chemicals are involved?

    Magda wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  5. What about brines that are salt and vinegar based? In Bangkok, I make dill pickles with a water/salt/vinegar/spice brine. Some of my customers drink the stuff. Safe? Primal?

    Linda wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  6. Another comment on 5-hour energy drinks, specifically directed at hypothyroid folks: If you are on a thyroid replacement med (Synthroid, levothyroxine), tyrosine can cause you some issues. You can google tyrosine and hypothyroidism, or you can check here or here for starters. I took some tyrosine supplements over the course of a couple days and felt so awful I stopped–it took over a week for me to start feeling right again. So 5-hour energy drinks may be fine for most, but maybe do a little research and use some caution if you have thyroid issues, just to be on the safe side.

    Beth wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  7. You had me worried here…I have several smokers in the back yard and we eat smoked salmon all the time!

    Michelle wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  8. I was just wondering about nutritional yeast the last few weeks, so, thank you for that. My husband favors the five hour energy drinks so I’m glad you didn’t bang too hard on those. I don’t like the sucralose aspect, though, and have tried to talk him out of drinking them.

    Speaking of briny & fermented things, a grassfed bunless beef burger with house-made sauerkraut and spicy mustard is AMAZING. I was a doubter (seriously, sauerkraut on a burger?) but am here to say I have seen the light.

    Tina wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  9. The thing I don’t like about 5 hour energy is those little bottles are littered everywhere.

    Diane wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  10. I can’t have dairy, so I enjoy nutritional yeast for the cheesy flavour on veggies, etc. It tastes good and any added vitamins are a bonus IMO.

    Maranda wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  11. Love smoked salmon — actually, I never once thought it WASN’T Primal, I just aimed for the ones prepared without sugar. Good to know about those 5-Hour Energy shots. Now I know that maybe those days where I had to stand watch from 3:45-6am and then continue with my normal working day, surviving entirely on 5-Hour Energy, weren’t totally turning my blood into sludge! And yeah, making your own fermented foods is super-easy. You don’t even need a starter if you’re patient. Enough salt in the brine will take care of it.

    Deanna wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  12. I don’t think cavemen/women were behind the wheel, so they never had the opportunity to be behind it, lol! 😉

    GiGi wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  13. Mark, I’m very grateful that you analyzed 5 hour energy drinks. Sometimes I’ve used them, and for me they work with no ill effects. I’m not so happy with the reference to “truckers…who run out of meth.” I’m a attorney, my husband is a truck driver. And a fine person who does everything he can to remain primal on the road, including spending the weekend, when he needs to relax, preparing food to take on the road the following week. Don’t insult people you don’t even know, please. And don’t be elitist.

    Julie wrote on January 24th, 2013
  14. There’s a lot of hype about “trans fats” which were found in the big nurses study to cause heart disease. Hydrogenation involves heat and heavy-metal catalysts to rearrange fatty substances. Trans fats are just one kind of change. Hundreds of new molecules are in fact formed, which is way more than researchers have been able to study. Fully hydrogenated fats will contain no trans fats–but they will contain even larger quantities of other deranged lipid substances.
    When the research is done, I expect fully hydrogenated stuff will turn out to be somewhat worse than partially hydrogenated.
    Nothing fully or partially hydrogenated is what God or Nature made. Absolutely NOT primal.

    Esther C wrote on January 26th, 2013
  15. While 5 hour energy may technically be considered safe, I still don’t use it or agree with it because it is far from natural.

    will wrote on January 31st, 2013
  16. A lot of people who are overweight are tormented by their self-image. Some know they need to lose weight but don’t have the motivation and commitment to do what it takes. Many understand the health risks and continue in their bad eating habits. There is good news for these types of people. You can eat a lot and still lose weight! You need to eat the right kind of food though. What are some healthy foods to lose weight with? Let’s take a look at a few.

    Healthy foods wrote on February 5th, 2013
  17. Regarding pickle brine, I make own brined pickles and when the jar is empty I strain the brine into a bottle and drink every drop in shot glasses. I think it is delicious and I have no intention of wasting all that precious bacteria I cultivated. That stuff is expensive in pill form.

    Since it is in small doses I don’t worry about the salt. Seems that the whole low salt thing is another fairy tale that is disproved by science. So as long as it doesn’t taste too salty I consider it okay. And I drink water primarily and play racquetball three times a week which would offset the salt.

    Kristin wrote on February 7th, 2013
  18. I like very much smoked food, including smoked salmon, as well as some pork cuts produced in Black Forest Germany (area where the Danube springs are), heavily smoked. My younger daughter (7) also loves those smoked foods, the rest of the family are rather against them. We are probably eating around 300g/week of (heavily smoked) food. (hopefully because of the smoke they don’t get so many taste enhancers and preservatives)
    Nothwithstanding the omega 3 content, ve read multiple reports saying the smoked food is carcinogenic (stomach, intestine, liver and colon cancers primarily).
    What is your stance on this, should we avoid those alegedly “poisonous” foods ?

    george wrote on February 17th, 2013
  19. You should have noted that nutritional yeast and 5-hour energy are NOT paleo, b/c they are not even naturally derived. The added synthetic vitamins in these products make them a science project, which is the furthest from paleo that you can get. I contacted Bragg’s, via email, to inquire about the added B vitamins in their nutritional yeast product (they tout themselves on being “natural” ya know?!) with no reply. I then called them to ask if the added B vitamins were “synthetic or naturally sourced” and was informed that they are all “scientifically formulated”. Studies have determined that synthetic folic acid is NOT healthy and can lead colorectal cancer. I don’t recommend this product if you are wanting to stay on a truly natural and organic diet, as it’s just another source of manmade chemicals in your body.

    Iamnotsam wrote on January 9th, 2014
  20. I think we are all overloaded with too much data! Eating smoked food is 100% healthy provided the meet/vegetables are organic and the techniques used during the smoking process are standard.

    Steve wrote on January 9th, 2014
  21. There are more organic versions of energy shots if you use them:

    I used to drive 2 hours to work and back everyday in the dark most of the year, in a climate too cold to just pull over and sleep. I also didn’t want to be dependent on coffee or other caffeine that tax my adrenals, so I just kept a couple of the organic energy shots in the glove compartment of my car, in the very rare case I got sleepy (maybe 1x per year). I agree it might not be paleo, but it was good for me in emergencies.

    leigh wrote on January 22nd, 2014

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