In today’s edition of Dear Mark, I cover three questions from readers. First is from Richard, who’s taking his father back to the old country – Italy, to be exact – for a two week vacation to visit the place of his birth where he’ll be immersed in pasta, sweets, and liquor and completely at the mercy of his hosts. What should he do? Second, what’s the deal with pili nuts? Are they worth including in a Primal way of eating? And finally, a reader is worried about nutrient deficiencies when fasting. There’s really nothing to worry about as long as you’re reasonable about your fasting habits, and I explain why below.
Thank you for the great public service you provide!
I’ve happily followed a Primal lifestyle for nearly two years and feel great on it.
Now, I’m considering taking my father back to the small Italian island where he was born for about two weeks. This would mean an unavoidable break from Primal food – it would be a sugar and grain fest of pasta, sweets and liquor. Opting out would be rude to our hosts, difficult to explain and not feasible (there simply won’t be many alternatives as I won’t be self-catering at all).
Will all my Primal gains be lost? Before going Primal I lived on such a regimen and although I didn’t thrive on it, it didn’t destroy me either.
Will two weeks of anti-Primal living be worth it?
Yes. It will absolutely be worth it.
Being Primal, as you say yourself, is a lifestyle, not just a way of eating. Eating informs it but does not entirely define it.
Let’s see what a couple weeks spent in the company of your father in his ancestral homeland on the beautiful Mediterranean off the coast of Italy has to offer in the way of non-dietary lifestyle – and therefore health – enhancements:
Sunshine. It’s probably going to be sunny the entire time you’re there without being overly hot. You’ll fill up on vitamin D. You’ll be in a great mood and you’ll sleep well because you’ll be exposed to tons of bright, natural light during the day (which will set your circadian rhythm).
Community. You’re going to be socializing the entire time: big lunches, late dinners, flowing wine, laughs, old times recounted. Italian culture is well-known for supporting close-knit, strong communities, and this has been associated with multiple health benefits, including protection from heart disease and deaths from all causes. Partake. Gorge yourself on community. You’re only there for a couple weeks, so make the most of it.
Gratitude. You’ll be with your father. You know, that guy who gave you life, reared you, and provided the solid foundation you’ve used to become the man you are today. We owe a lot to our parents – and they to us – and this trip is a fantastic way to give thanks and show gratitude. And you may not know this, but giving gratitude has proven physiological health benefits. Hey, it’s almost like we’re meant to be around people who support us and deserve our gratitude.
And even the food isn’t as bad as you’re thinking. It’s probably going to be well-made, handcrafted with love and artisanship. The food will be fresh. There will be pasta and bread and sweets, yes, but it’ll be the highest quality possible (if you have a choice, go with risotto (rice) or polenta (corn) instead of pasta). Everything will be cooked in olive oil or butter, I’d imagine. These aren’t vegetarian cuisines, so you’ll have plenty of meat, good cheese, and charcuterie, plus whatever fresh produce is in season. Just eat a little less of the pasta, bread, and sweets and eat a little more of the meat, cheese, charcuterie, and produce. And since you’re on an island, you’ll have access to fresh seafood.
Will your gains be lost? I doubt it. If you end up eating more carbs (or food overall) than you’re used to eating, you can offset the hits to your fat-burning efficiency by increasing your activity levels. That could be going for a long walk every day, swimming in the brilliant blue sea, doing body weight workouts, running hill sprints a couple times a week, or anything that you feel like doing. It will all upregulate your substrate oxidation machinery.
If you’re coming from a ketogenic diet or something super low carb, you might have to endure a mini (re)induction period when you return. But it shouldn’t be anything devastating.
I guess you never received my question, on whether Pili Nuts that only grow in the Philippines, are considered primal. Bummer )-:
Ah, it must have flown under my radar. Sorry about that. Let’s take a look and rectify the situation, though, huh?
Pili nuts are definitely a good choice. Fat-wise, they’re more saturated than any other nut I’ve seen with almost 9 grams of saturated fat per ounce. The rest is monounsaturated, with a small amount of polyunsaturated fat. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, an ounce of pili nuts also has almost 100 milligrams of magnesium (more than any other nut) and 69% of the daily allowance for vitamin E (probably because these nuts are grown in Southeast Asia, the Phillipines, and Papua New Guinea and need to protect their fatty acids from the warm, humid climates; it’s always fun to co-opt a plant’s natural defenses for ourselves!).
No formal research has been done on the health effects of pili nut consumption, but based on the nutritional profile I think we can assume they’d be positive. Go for it.
I will be brief
I read your fasting articles and they are wonderful, but I have a quick question that I don’t think you answered:
What about the daily recommended USDA intake for vitamins, minerals, etc.? Wouldn’t a 24 hour fast leave us “malnourished” during that day and stop the normal body functioning? (I understand that skipping the calories is fine, as we have enough reserves.)
It’s possible to become malnourished from excessive caloric restriction, sure. Long term anorexics tend to have multiple nutrient deficiencies for the simple reason that they aren’t eating enough food. And in a recent study, obese subjects ended up deficient in a variety of micronutrients after following an 800-calorie-a-day diet for 12 weeks. But these are rather extreme examples of caloric restriction that I trust (and hope) you aren’t following.
Intermittent fasting is different. It’s, well, intermittent, rather than drawn out. Acute, not chronic. The occasional lapse in eating, not a constant state of lacking that tugs at your nutrient stores. If you’re doing 24 hour fasts, you’re doing them once, maybe twice a week, and eating relatively normal amounts of food the rest of the week.
Fat-soluble vitamins, like D, A, E, and K are stored in your body fat and liver, so day to day intake fluctuations shouldn’t impact your stores of those nutrients. And because you’re already eating a ton of fat-soluble vitamins (from offal, pastured animal products and meats, egg yolks, leafy greens, the occasional handful of nuts) and getting adequate sunlight (or taking vitamin D), you’ll have plenty saved up.
Water-soluble vitamins, like C, the Bs, and folate need to be eaten more frequently, but skipping a day doesn’t make a difference. Full blown avitaminosis disorders like beriberi (thiamine deficiency), pellagra (niacin deficiency), night blindness (vitamin A deficiency), anemia (iron or B12 deficiency), hypothyroidism (iodine deficiency), scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), or rickets (vitamin D deficiency) take a long time to manifest. A missed day here or there won’t matter as long as your overall diet is replete in nutrients. Evaluate your nutrient intake using a longer timescale.
If you’re still worried, you can always pop a quality multivitamin, or take specific minerals or vitamins that you suspect your diet lacks.
That’s it for this week. Thanks, everyone!