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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...

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August 10, 2015

Dear Mark: The Latest Forbes Organic Column, Low Sodium Senior Napping, and Weston A. Price

By Mark Sisson
42 Comments

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions from readers. First up, a Forbes columnist recently penned an anti-organic agriculture screed. In it, he makes the oft-repeated claim that organic is just a scam and really no different from conventional produce. Is he saying anything new — or useful? Should we avoid the often higher price tag of organic produce? The second comes from Susan, a healthy and active 70 year-old without any complaints — except that a midday nap is starting to sound more and more attractive every day. Could her low salt intake be the cause of her midday fatigue? Maybe. Next, what’s my take on Weston A. Price? How do his nutritional guidelines jibe with the Primal Blueprint?

Let’s go:

Hello,

I am a loyal podcast listener. I grew up a 6th generation farm kid from Iowa and am a supporter of American Agriculture. I know a lot of people hear a lot of misinformation about the American Farmer and how much they make; however, I am not a farmer today simply because our farm (1300+ acres, pork production, beef production) cannot support more than one family. Since I am the third born… Anyway, as I have been studying I hear a lot regarding GMOs and Organic farming and want to eat the best for my own health. Today, my Dad sent me this article and I would love your take. Thank you so much.

Gavin

The author of the article is either dishonest or misinformed, I think.

Consider the crux of his argument: that organic produce often contains banned conventional pesticides, so much that “43 percent of the 571 samples of ‘organic’ produce tested violated the government’s organic regulations”. They’re just as bad, right? Except the article he references to support that claim says something different. The link is down now, but before it went dead it had this to say:

Of these 571 samples, 96 percent were compliant with USDA organic regulations. This means that the produce either had no detected residues (57 percent) or had residues less than 5 percent of the EPA tolerance (39 percent). Four percent of the tested samples contained residues above 5 percent of the EPA tolerance and were in violation of the USDA organic regulations. The findings suggest that some of the samples in violation were mislabeled conventional products, while others were organic products that hadn’t been adequately protected from prohibited pesticides.

The organic regulations allow for trace amounts (under 5% of EPA limits) of conventional pesticide on organic produce due to inadvertent contamination. Whether it’s environmental drift from nearby conventional crops or exposure from shipping and handling, it’s completely normal, acceptable, and unavoidable for organic produce to have a tiny amount of conventional pesticides. But Miller doesn’t make that clear. It’s only when he’s called out in the comment section that he amends his statement to say “43% of tested samples contained prohibited pesticides.”

Plus, he avoids hard data. If you want to look at the actual difference between pesticide residues on organic vs conventional produce, check the data yourself. This online tool allows you to compare pesticide data (including total number of residues, % samples with zero residues, specific chemicals found, and average number of residues per sample) for conventional and organic versions of the same item. Conventional celery, for example, shows up with an average of 6.28 pesticide residues per sample; organic celery has an average of 0.33 residues per sample. For conventional broccoli, just 14% of samples were free of residues, while 63.2% of organic broccoli samples had no detectable pesticides.

If there’s anything, it’s that the organic label isn’t always a good barometer of the healthfulness of the food, nor is it always accurate. But organic agriculture? Composting? Topsoil preservation and expansion? Using non-chemical means of pest control? Maximizing soil health and nutrition? These are good things. The dirt-flecked carrot plucked from the ground yesterday really does taste better than the ones you get at the supermarket.

I’ve covered the nutrient differences in previous posts. Vitamin and mineral content aren’t markedly different (although it depends on the plant), but phytonutrient content — the unique plant compounds that improve resistance to oxidative stress and elicit a host of beneficial effects — tends to be much higher in organic produce.

There are other differences as well. Organic beets, for example, have more anti-cancer activity than conventional beets. And organic produce has lower cadmium levels (an undesirable heavy metal) and higher antioxidant compounds than conventional produce.

Overall, I’m not an organics stickler. The important thing is to just eat plants. If you can eat locally-grown ones grown using organic methods, that’s ideal. There’s nothing more American than handing money direct to the farmer for produce he or she grew. But organic agriculture is decidedly not a scam.

As for GMO, more on that Wednesday.

I have been following the basic principles of the Primal Blueprint about 90% of the time for the past 2 years. For the most part, I feel great. When I do eat grains or added sugar or dairy, I can feel the difference.

One concern I have is that I might be getting too little sodium. I never thought that I would say that. But…. since I almost never eat processed food and my meals are very simple (grilled protein and steamed vegetables, fresh fruit, eggs, baked potato with butter), I realized that I am getting very very little sodium.

I have low blood pressure – otherwise, I am a very healthy and active 70-year-old. I take no medicines of any kind – just a multi-vitamin, Vit C and K and K and Magnesium. But I often get quite tired after I eat and often think a nap mid-afternoon would be nice. I had thought that it might be my age catching up with me.

But… I am now thinking that it might be too little sodium in my diet….

Thoughts???? Most people get their (excessive) sodium from processed foods, but I rarely eat processed foods anymore….

Is there a risk in the Primal/Paleo world of getting too little sodium?

Susan

First up, sometimes a nap is just a nap. And a nap can be awfully nice to take in the middle of the day. Whenever I have the opportunity to do so, I take it.

As for the salt? Maybe. Hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, is more common in older adults than younger adults. That’s usually because older adults are more likely to be taking medications that cause salt loss or cause excessive urination (which causes salt loss). Since you mentioned being healthy and active, I doubt that’s the case, but, hey, symptoms are symptoms and it does sound from your description that your salt intake is on the low side. Eliminating processed (pre-salted) junk food and bad restaurant food eliminates the densest sources of salt in modern diets.

The low blood pressure makes me suspect that low salt intake may be the culprit for your fatigue. Although the relationship between salt intake and hypertension is anything but linear (except perhaps in the salt-sensitive hypertensive), people who have low blood pressure often do need a bit more salt to normalize it.

Eat salt to taste. Start adding a little more. There’s a common misconception about salt: that it just makes food salty. Actually, salt enhances existing flavors. If you’ve ever added what looked like a lot of spices while cooking but ended up with a bland meal, try adding a bit more salt. Often, it’s just what a dish needs to really pop. And a good steak needs a solid layer of salt to truly realize its potential. Since you’ve got low blood pressure, no one could object to you eating some more salt. Or could they?

In my experience, it’s the 70 and over age group that’s really fallen for the “low salt is healthy” nonsense. And they’re the ones who, arguably, need it the most.

A number of recent studies have found that among older adults, moderate to higher (at least higher than what most people deem acceptable) salt intakes correlate to better health.

In 2011, one study showed that a low salt diet increased insulin resistance in healthy men and women when compared to a higher-salt diet. Insulin resistance can lead to sugar crashes and sleepiness.

Another study showed that while reducing salt moderately improved the blood pressure of hypertensive patients by a mere 4.18 and 1.98 points for systolic and diastolic, respectively (but not of people with normal blood pressure), it increased triglycerides and LDL and elevated stress hormones.

Another 2011 study found that eating a low salt diet (under 3 grams of sodium per day, or just under half a teaspoon of salt) and a high salt diet (from 6-7 grams of sodium per day, or well over 1 teaspoon of salt) each increased the risk of stroke and heart attack, while eating between four and six grams of sodium, or about two teaspoons of salt, each day was associated with the lowest risk of heart events.

A recent study found that salt intake followed a J-curve, with low and high intakes increasing arterial plaque formation and a medium intake decreasing it.

Sodium depletion due to “low-sodium nutrition” has been shown to trigger overtraining-like symptoms, including hypertension and sleeping disorders.

Arguably my favorite health marker of all – being alive – also has an interesting association with salt intake. It seems that folks with a “medium” salt intake live longer than people who eat too little salt or too much salt. That amounts to roughly 4000 mg of sodium, or close to two teaspoons of regular salt. In another, calculated intakes of between 3 and 6 grams of sodium (about 2.5 teaspoons of salt) were linked to the lowest rates of death and heart attacks than either lower or higher salt intakes.

So low salt is not always better, and in the case of hypotension and random bouts of sleepiness, it might be actively harmful. Eat more salt, as much as tastes good to you, and see how you feel.

But naps couldn’t hurt, either. Take ’em if you need ’em.

Hello Mark,

When I started to care about what I eat, I first discovered doc Weston A. Price. His book Nourishing Tradition seems to me like a good way of eating and lifestyle. Then I discovered your Primal Blueprint with many similar features. So my questions are whether it’s possible to combine these two styles of eating, and what’s your opinion on Weston?

Thanks very much,

Richard

Weston Price’s fundamentals are sound. Or rather, were sound (he’s not around anymore). Weston Price the man — the dentist who traveled the world observing both the stellar health of traditional cultures and their diets and the health degeneration that occurred when those cultures lost their traditions and began eating industrial foods — made enormous contributions to nutritional science. He discovered the importance of vitamins A and D in the maintenance of oral (and ultimately overall) health. He noted the destructive effects of switching from wholesome diets of fresh, nutrient-dense food to diets of refined, industrial foods like white flour, white sugar, and vegetable oil. If you want to read about it straight from the source, check out Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, the book Price himself wrote after his travels. Nourishing Traditions is based on his work.

The Weston A. Price Foundation? I like their stance on diet, most of which is right in line with the Primal Blueprint. Full-fat meat and pastured dairy, lactofermented vegetables. An aversion to industrial seed oils, refined grains, and refined sugar. Traditionally-prepared grains and legumes (soaking, sprouting, fermentation) may not be Primal, but they’re certainly a healthier way to eat them. They’ve got some great minds there, like Chris Masterjohn, whose work into how the specific interactions between fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K play a huge role in human health and the importance of eating the whole animal (offal, skin, bones, connective tissue) and not just the muscle meat have had massive impacts on my thinking (and eating).

I’m not down with their support of homeopathy, and I don’t really pay attention to their other non-diet stuff so I don’t know how valid any of it is, but they’re quite solid when it comes to nutrition.

Thanks for your questions, everyone. And thanks for reading. Be sure to help out with any additional input you might have down below.

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42 Comments on "Dear Mark: The Latest Forbes Organic Column, Low Sodium Senior Napping, and Weston A. Price"

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Erica
1 year 10 months ago

I was so anti-salt after being bombarded with the media telling me how horrible it was. During my ‘healthiest’ years of eating I ate 90% whole, unprocessed foods, and never used salt! Then I start reading articles on how some people weren’t getting enough sodium anymore! So, I’m more conscious now about adding some when I need it (although now that I’m super pregnant I’m eating enough processed junk food to not have to worry about it!)

Marge
Marge
1 year 10 months ago

Why would you eat processed junk food while you are pregnant?! Not only does your body, stressed by pregnancy, need more good nutrients than ever, but you are feeding your growing baby what you eat. Take a look at “What to Eat When You’re Expecting”, the companion book to “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”.

gwen
gwen
1 year 10 months ago

I hear ya!

Shary
Shary
1 year 10 months ago

Organic agriculture isn’t a scam, but a bit of skepticism isn’t unwarranted. Some farmers might not be as honest as others.The only way to know if something is truly organic is to grow it yourself. Otherwise you’re relying on what someone else does to your food.

Marge
Marge
1 year 10 months ago

To be labeled organic, the farm has to be certified. It’s not a simple process. Sure, the larger the farm, the more likely they are to be using merely a “letter of the law” sort of approach, but they still have to pass inspection. Organic farming leaves healthier land, and less poison. It’s worth it just for that.

framistat
framistat
4 months 9 days ago

Not all farmers can afford to be certified. That’s why talking to the farmer at the local farmers’ market is worthwhile. Their practices may be very good even though they can’t be “labeled organic”.

kelly
kelly
1 year 10 months ago

Don’t forget… pink Himalayan salt has tons of additional minerals for an added benefit of using salt!

Evgeni
Evgeni
1 year 10 months ago

If you look at the ingredients of the pink Himalayan salt you can see that the minerals are not tons, not even grams.

Dan
Dan
1 year 10 months ago

Depends on how much you buy……

Marge
Marge
1 year 10 months ago

Natural sea salts have trace minerals – which are important, even if there are only tiny amounts.

Laura
Laura
1 year 10 months ago

That’s why they’re called TRACE minerals. You don’t need “grams” of them in a day, yet they are vitally important to health and greatly lacking in modern diets.

Evgeni
Evgeni
1 year 10 months ago

Please tell me which TRACE minerals are present in the Himalayan salt and define which minerals are trace, because potassium and magnesium are not.

Mrs Rathbone
Mrs Rathbone
1 year 10 months ago

Pink Himalayan salt is reasonably high in fluoride, which you may want to research. Fluoride poisoning in India, from (naturally) contaminated well-water is another topic to do your own reading on.

webgrrrl
webgrrrl
1 year 10 months ago

The main benefits of organic are really down stream – farm workers aren’t drenched in dangerous levels of pesticides, pesticides & fertilizers aren’t washed into the water & eventually rivers/oceans to harmful effect etc. To ignore these externalities when examining organics is at best an incomplete evaulation, and at worst, deliberate ignorance of the issue as a whole.

Susan B
Susan B
1 year 10 months ago

Mark – Thanks so much for answering my question about salt / sodium deficiency. I have been measuring my sodium intake for the past week and it’s only averaging about 700 mg per day.

Clearly, I need to increase that ASAP.

It sounds like aiming for about 3 – 4 grams of sodium per day would be about right.

Why then does the Mayo Clinic (and other websites) recommend limiting sodium intake to 1500 mg per day for people over 50? Do they think that everyone over 50 has high blood pressure?

Thanks again…..

Colleen
Colleen
1 year 10 months ago

An easy way to get in some more salt in a healthy way – fermented pickles! Bubbies is a pretty readily available brand in refrigerated sections of health food and some main line grocery store.

Harry Mossman
1 year 10 months ago

I love Bubbie’s!

Susan B
Susan B
1 year 10 months ago

Thanks for the Bubbies suggestion. I bought some at Whole Foods this morning and their are delicious !!!

Cindy
Cindy
1 year 10 months ago
I have low blood pressure and often have black outs when I stand. That’s a cue to up my salt intake. Another indication is when I go into A-fib. I drink 8 oz of water with a TBSP of salt. That generally stops the A-fib within 30 minutes, an hour tops. I’m cautiously alarmed that my granddaughter’s DR suggested she not go over 1500 mg of salt a day as a part of her PCOS diet. All that being said, there is nothing more delightful than an afternoon nap My husband made us a hanging bed under a canopy of… Read more »
Laurie
Laurie
1 year 10 months ago
Susan, I think those recommendations are “boiler plate” and don’t take into consideration individual needs. They’re also that way because most people eat nothing but processed foods and so get plenty of sodium. We primal folks do not. I see a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic and he told me to drastically increase my salt intake even though my BP is usually normal. I exercise outside, sweat a lot, and then drink more water and wondered why (even when outside doing yard work) I’d start feeling “foggy headed.” Water is good, but I was leaching out salt. My doc said I… Read more »
Anna B
Anna B
1 year 10 months ago

Likely she meant 0.9% {isotonic} IV saline. I’d be afraid of 9%.

Susan B
Susan B
1 year 10 months ago
Laurie – Thank you. That’s very reassuring. It sounds like you and I are in a similar position. At age 70, I am very active and very healthy and have low blood pressure and take no medications. I found a small glass container with a lid and I’ve been putting 1 teaspoon of salt in it every morning – that’s 2360 mg of sodium – and using that to add to my cooking/foods. I’m not eating any processed foods – at all – for now (I’m in the middle of doing a Whole 30 program) so my sodium intake was… Read more »
Susan B
Susan B
1 year 10 months ago

Update:

Yesterday, I consumed about 3000 mg of sodium and I really have noticed a difference in just a short 24-36 hours. I have more energy and just feel better overall. Amazing….. I knew that I would get good advice from Mark !!! Thank you !!!

I’m going to try increasing it to 3500 mg per day and then maybe 4000…. although…… I don’t see how I can consume that much without drowning all of my food in salt………

any suggestions?

Martin B
Martin B
1 year 10 months ago

I eat more grains than Mark would approve of, but I do them the Weston Price way. I love brown rice with lentils or split peas, soaked for two to three hours in lukewarm water with a little vinegar, then washed and simmered for 25 minutes until quite mushy. Delicious! (The soaking removes some of the phytates and arsenic.)

Nocona
Nocona
1 year 10 months ago

I’m sure the Mayo clinic is using vegetable oil as opposed to Mark’s wonderful Primal Mayo…

Harry Mossman
1 year 10 months ago

Probably canola oil.

Jenny
Jenny
1 year 10 months ago
Whatever the reason is that underlies the successful use of homeopathy, less than a year than Mark’s 2011 original post re: his personal take on homeopathy, the Swiss government finished the most complete, indepth review of homeopathy done up to that date, it’s research and trials, including those of the random double blind placebo type, and determined that it should be included in their national health program. It was found to be less expensive, as effective and in many cases more effective than conventional therapies for certain conditions, and had less adverse effects. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dana-ullman/homeopathic-medicine-_b_1258607.html France and Germany also support its… Read more »
Martin
Martin
1 year 10 months ago

Jenny, just because some countries support something, doesn’t mean it’s valid. I live in Germany and you wouldn’t believe what is “supported” here. Almost every kind of quackery treatment you can think of (provided you have the right insurance).

My general physician (to which I only go if I am sick and need documentation for my job, since she is right around the corner from my place) actually has brochures in her waiting room that detail how angels help us when we are sick. Yes, that’s right! ANGELS!! Needless to say, she also advocates homeopathy…

eatsleepswim
eatsleepswim
1 year 9 months ago
Sorry to read the hit against homeopathy. It worked for me. Here’s my story. In 2006 when I was 53 and weighed almost 200 pounds at 5’4″, upon the advice of a friend I consulted with an MD who also did homeopathy. My request was, “Fine tune the engine.” Now I had spent most of my life losing and gaining back the weight. I hadn’t been below 170 in years. After 15 months of homeopathy treatments my weight settled at 125. In those 15 months I also cleaned up my diet (somewhat, I didn’t go primal until 5 years after… Read more »
AMP
AMP
1 year 10 months ago
kem
kem
1 year 10 months ago

Homeopathy… that’s why I dropped my membership. I wonder how Dr Chris Masterjohn sits with it.

eatsleepswim
eatsleepswim
1 year 10 months ago
Homeopathy may not work for everyone but It worked for me. Here’s my story. In 2006 when I was 53 and weighed almost 200 pounds at 5’4″, upon the advice of a friend I consulted with an MD who also did homeopathy. My request was, “Fine tune the engine.” Now I had spent most of my life losing and gaining back the weight. I hadn’t been below 170 in years. After 15 months of homeopathy treatments my weight settled at 125. In those 15 months I also cleaned up my diet (somewhat, I didn’t go primal until 5 years after… Read more »
Harry Mossman
1 year 10 months ago

Sodium is tricky for me. (I am 72.) Because I have had kidney stones, my urologist says at least 2 liters/day of water. Because I have mild congestive heart failure (sounds like an oxymoron), my cardiologist says low sodium and no more than 1.5 liter/day of water.

If I eat a lot of sodium, I do get a bit short of breath. My blood pressure is reasonable on a baby dose of Lisinopril (5 mg/day). The docs say it is mostly to protect my kidneys.

Naps are great. I take at least one/day. Usually more.

Marge
Marge
1 year 10 months ago

Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” has the best, clearest explanation of dietary fats, their types, and their roles in human nutrition that I have ever seen. There is a lot of good, solid information in that book. That said, I saw no reason to just accept the whole book without a bit of careful research, and found some pieces that did not convince me.

Storm
Storm
1 year 10 months ago

Salt is like the brake fluid level in your car – too much and too little are just as bad.

Martin
Martin
1 year 10 months ago

I didn’t know the Weston A Price Foundation advocates homeopathy. They have just lost all credibility to me.

Kris K
1 year 10 months ago

Awesome post! Awesome questions! Love the analysis of the article claiming organics are not worth it. I’ve forward this post to several folks because I frequently find people reading these organic nay-sayers and going back to conventional produce instead. I’m concerned for not only my health, but the soil and farmer as well.

As for the salt, I add celtic salt to my diet along with seaweed (for the iodine). Heck even tossing some sea salt into a smoothie is delicious and not a processed food with fake salt in it.

Stacie
1 year 10 months ago

I’ll be looking forward to the GMO post tomorrow…I hope it address the excellent Slate article that came out a few weeks ago.

Christie
Christie
1 year 10 months ago

Disappointing you are writing off homeopathy to your legion of followers. I am a naturopath and homeopath and get so much satisfaction from watching my patents gain vitality and wellbeing through herbs and homeopathy. We homeopaths work quietly away, helping one person at a time and cop so much from mainstream media, people who have never used homeopathy before and doctors. It’s disheartening.

Timmy Turdburglar
Timmy Turdburglar
1 year 10 months ago

You are a quack. Go away.

Robert
1 year 10 months ago

It’s important to realize that it takes 7-10 years for an organic plot to mature and produce top-notch organic produce. Anti-organic proponents know this and will often take produce from a new organic farm to show how little difference there is in nutrient content.

The farmer’s experience also has a lot to do with the quality of the end product.

Tanya
Tanya
1 year 10 months ago

I understand aversion to homeopathy, treating insomnia with caffeine, just doesn’t sit with me, however no need to be rude.
Where do people sit with regards to herbal medicine? Would be great to get level headed opinions. I’ve had success treating sinus pain with plantago and using clary sage to intensify early labour contractions (at 41 weeks) to establish labour. Homepathy and herbology seems to go together, almost confused so would like to get some thoughts.

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