Dear Mark: Aussie Lamb, Salt Bathing, and CLA Supplementation

LambI hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. Since you’re likely busy with something or other, I’ll keep this week’s Dear Mark fairly brief. It’s a grab bag of questions again, beginning with a reader’s query about the grass-fededness (yep, that’s a word) of Australian lamb. Is it reliably pasture-raised, or are Australian producers beginning to load their lamb up with grains? Then, I discuss the efficacy (or not) of bathing in Epsom salts. Does the magnesium get absorbed, or doesn’t it? What about sea water in general – does spending time in it offer anything but a good time? Finally, the spectre of CLA supplementation arises yet again.

Let’s go:

Greetings Mark!

We were just wondering what your opinion was on grocery store bought lamb meat. The wife and I are new to a paleo lifestyle (a few weeks) and just recently purchased your book a week ago and are reading up on your PB. We are loving the difference this has made already in our lives. We have phased out regular beef for grass fed beef and made many other good changes. However, I can’t find a definitive answer regarding lamb meat online. It’s currently my view that since just about all of the lamb we buy comes from Australia then it must be grass fed by default. Just wondering if I’m wrong on this and what your opinion is.

Thanks and have a Great Day!

Grok On,


According to the North American regional office of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), which as far as I can tell supplies all the Australian lamb available in the United States, Australian lamb is “all-natural, grass-fed, pasture-raised and free of artificial additives and hormone growth promotants.” The only exception is during a drought, when “local feeding may, by necessity, be temporarily supplemented with grain, usually wheat and/or oats until the drought is alleviated.” Sounds nice, except when you realize that Australia has been subject to a decade-long drought which only recently ended.

I also came across this interesting page on the Sheepmeat Council of Australia’s website entitled “National Procedures and Guidelines for Intensive Sheep and Lamb Feeding Systems.” Note that these are “intensive” feeding systems, which tend to mean grain-feeding. It’s pretty tough to intensively feed a ruminant on grass, because grass simply doesn’t have enough energy density to qualify. They link to the PDF, and it’s pretty clear that Australian lamb is regularly receiving grain supplementation.

In lieu of full disclosure from the producer or vendor, you can usually tell if lamb has been grain-fed for a significant part of its life by examining it. Fully grass-fed lamb will be deep red, bordering on purple. The meat will be firm, not squishy. It’ll be leaner than grain-fed (but not “lean,” necessarily), and its fat should be a bit yellow or off-white; grain-fed fat will be closer to pure white due to the lack of carotenoids in the diet. Taste will also tell the tale. The firmness of the meat should shine through when you bite into it. It should be “cohesive” in your mouth, if that makes sense, like a solid piece of well-worked muscle (since that’s what you’re eating, essentially). Grain-fed will be more porous.

You can also compare the Australian lamb to New Zealand lamb, which (as far as I’ve been able to discover) is always grass-fed.

Hey Mark,

Tons of sites talk about epsom salts and if you do a search on MDA there are tons of user comments on how they use epsom salts in the comments section after  your articles. I’m curious on what your thoughts are. I assume that if Grok often lived by the ocean and ate salty sea creatures he must of spent a considerable amount of time in that salty water. Is there any benefit to regular dips in salty water?

Thank you!

Yeah, there are absolutely huge benefits to immersing yourself in salty water (preferably sea water) many of which have been explored in clinical trials. Let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?

Bathing in Dead Sea salts, also called Tomesa therapy, improved the skin health of patients with psoriasis and normalized the levels of Langerhans cells (a kind of macrophage that helps with tissue healing and can get out of control in certain skin diseases). A bath in regular sodium chloride (salt) had no effect. Another study found that magnesium-rich Dead Sea water improved skin hydration, skin barrier function, and reduced skin inflammation in atopic dry skin.

Bathing in the Dead Sea had a positive effect on patients with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis by reducing inflammation. In osteoarthritis of the knee, a two week Dead Sea bath treatment resulted in a 3-month abatement of symptoms. A recent literature review concluded that the Dead Sea makes for an effective resort for patients with various types of joint ailments.

Also interesting is the effect on type 2 diabetics. A single immersion in the waters of the Dead Sea lowered blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetics.

Ben Greenfield reviewed the benefits and efficacy of magnesium bath salts in a post from last year. Myself, I can vouch that topical magnesium does “something.” I’ll occasionally spritz a few pumps of magnesium oil onto my body before bed or after getting out of a shower or bath, and my skin tingles and I tend to have really vivid dreams that night. The rib cage area seems to be the best spot for application. I always like to keep a sack of Epsom salts around to add a little magnesium to my bath, too.

And of course, my favorite way to bathe in sea salts is to swim in the actual, real ocean. It certainly has evolutionary precedent, as you mention above.

Hey Mark,

I have synthesized the primal lifestyle with the protocols of leangains and intermittent fasting. The results have been great and make me feel awesome. I lift all the heavy weights and sprint, although I admit I don’t move around as much as I should.

However, I have been taking a CLA supplement for at least a year or two now. It is supposedly derived from safflower oil and I typically take about 2-3 per day with meals. I know getting CLA from dietary sources is preferable but buying all the organic and grass fed meat is difficult with my budget (I still always buy organic eggs). I was wondering if taking the supplement while eating conventional meat was still headed in the right direction. Any insight on the subject would be much appreciated.

Thanks a bunch and keep doing what you do!

CLA supplements sound like a good idea. Grass-fed dairy and ruminant meat are expensive, and part of the reason we like them so much is the conjugated linoleic acid, so why not just take the CLA and eat regular meat and dairy?

As I explained in a previous post, not all CLA is created equal. The kind that’s produced in ruminant stomachs – and the kind that you’re generally going to encounter in the wild, in naturally-occurring foods – is primarily cis-9, trans-11, with a tiny bit of trans-10, cis-12. The kind that’s produced from safflower oil is primarily trans-10, cis-12. Okay, but does that really matter?

Oh yeah. See, the trans-10, cis-12 CLA actually appears to perform really well in clinical trials. It abolishes fat mass and increases lean mass, which generally correlates well with improved health overall. That’s what you’d think, at least. But no – this time, the people (and mice) who lose the body fat and increase the lean mass, who experience the “benefits” of safflower-derived CLA do so by shunting all the fat toward an organ you definitely do not want to fatten up: the liver.

More evidence keeps accumulating: CLA supplements – in sufficient dosages – consistently increase liver fat, worsen blood lipids, decrease insulin sensitivity, and destroy glucose tolerance. But hey! At least you might get a six pack in the process!

I would avoid CLA supplementation. It might be okay, provided you stick with small doses (2-3 per day sounds like a fairly small, inoffensive dose), and it might be even better if you took a CLA supplement that mimicked the ruminant form, but I don’t think it will do you any favors. If you’re going to insist on taking them for an extended amount of time, I would get regular liver function tests to ensure you’re not doing any harm.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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60 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Aussie Lamb, Salt Bathing, and CLA Supplementation”

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  1. I just bought a Himalayan salt “soap bar”. Simply as an experiment and because I love the salt (I have the condiment and a lamp). I’ll be curious to see if daily indirect application has any effect.

  2. My little one is off at her dad’s relatives’ in another state this week, so I’m taking hot luxurious baths each day this week to take advantage of being alone and quiet and lazy. Time to buy a big box of Epsom Salts!

    1. Check out your local feedmill for a great source of magnesium sulfate (aka Epsom salts). It’s routinely fed to dairy animals to prevent milk fever due to calcium balance issues and helps milk taste sweeter. Plus animals have the same issues with insufficient magnesium that humans do.

      I buy 50# bags for $20… and it’s the exact same quality of stuff you buy in the pharmacy, pure crystalline white, stored in a strong plastic bag.

  3. As I look out my window, I see the snow falling in big, fluffy, white flakes this Christmas Eve. Looks like it’s time for some sledding (Grok play!!) and then a nice, hot bath with some Epsom salts to warm up my toes!

  4. Fascinating about the salt water immersion, I’ve never even thought about it. Incredible stuff!

      1. To be a bit more serious, I’ve seen in a mainstream grocery store (Giant Eagle) in Central Ohio, USA, so’s probably not too hard to find wherever you are.

    1. I’m not sure of your location, but if you are on the East Coast, check out Earth Fare. They carry all sorts of Australian and New Zealand grass-fed meats.

    2. Whole Foods. Currently Sam’s Club has New Zealand and Costco has Australian (at least in my area), but they vary. Sometimes Trader Joe’s. Our Whole Foods had some wonderful grass fed Icelandic lamb for a while, but they say it was a one-time thing.

      1. The Icelandic lamb is great great great! It isn’t one-time, just short supply and short seasoned. It should be annually available there.

  5. Ben Greenfield as a source? The guy who hawks piezo-electric performance encoder bracelets and “structured water”?

  6. Yup, all NZ lamb and beef is grass-fed all year round. When the weather gets too bad in winter in the south they may get hay or sillage that was cut in summer but never grains. They just live in the paddocks all year round.

  7. The fat is the tipoff. Sellers of venison and lamb commonly finish the animals on grains to address the complaint that the natural ruminant fatty tissue is “yellowish and unsightly.” Certainment! Sixty days on feedlot grains converts these fatty deposits to “white and appealing.” All such creatures sequester such omega intakes preferentially in their fatty tissues. There they coalesce, for good or ill. Other intake adulterants are often concentrated at these fatty sites. If you’re unable to buy the native ruminant yellowish grades then be careful to trim off the whitish deposits concientiously; although this won’t deliver the sought-after ideal CLAs it will largely prevent consuming the bad fats with their unnatural cargo.

  8. Sorry Mark – this one MADE me comment. I live in Perth, West Aust, grew up on a sheep farm and my family are still farming. I also spent several years living East Coast. All meat bred for eating is grass fed in Aust. When droughts do occur, you only need to feed your sheep grains in late summer and through autumn when the ground is bare. By then you are feeding your adult breeding stock for survival, and you have sold off all the lambs for eating long before. So yes, while some Aust sheep MAY be supplemented with grain – it is only the breeding stock, and only for a few months, and not every year.
    When it is culling time, sheep are loaded into trucks and taken to the livestock markets, where they are sold (and slaughtered) within days – during this time they are fed grains to maintain their condition, not fatten them further.
    Australia is a BIG country – as big as continental USA – and not all of it has been in drought for 10 years. People who HAVE had multi-year droughts got rid of their livestock years ago – you just can’t economically keep sheep alive during a multiyear drought. Watching them starve to death is inhumane, and will get you prosecuted. Being a big country, if one location is drought affected, other parts of Aust (drought free) continue to breed grass fed sheep for the market during this time.
    So – enjoy your Australian lamb, free from grain-soaked doubt.

  9. In Australia, local lamb is generally grass fed, but I can’t vouch for the export stock. I guess I would say to people, get to know a butcher who cares about this stuff. I have one who I have just introduced to Marks Daily Apple, and I am hopping he will start making mince that has fat in it! We grow our own, and there is nothing that beats that!
    Merry Christmas everyone, you are all the best I have thiroughly enjoyed your input, thoughts and comments. Thank you Mark and your team you are saving lives down under as well,

  10. Empirically, I can verify that regular bathing in the ocean has *some* sort of therapeutic effect PHYSIOLOGICALLY (apart from the obvious psychological benefits of grokin’ out seaside.)

    I also recall reading somewhere that holding your breath can significantly increase human growth hormone secretion.

    I never consciously thought about it but I regularly dive into the ocean and swim as far as I can underwater before I need air. It’s like a mini workout and maybe it’s boosting HGH too? Either way, ocean is win/win!

  11. Hey Mark,

    Regarding the “decade long drought” i n Australia.

    This refers to the whole land mass of Australia, not every part of the country has been in drought that long, or even at all in many places.

    To suggest that the whole of “Australia” has only just finished a decade long drought is like saying “America” just suffered terrible hurricanes.

    No doubt certain regions in Australia – particularly western NSW – sustained experienced drought conditions, however the “good” thing about a drought that runs for a decade – it is highly unlikely that farming in that region survived, even with grain feeding (as water is still needed for animals – no matter whether you feed them grains or grass (in fact I suspect you need to give them more water feeding grains – because grass has a natural moisture content that is higher than grains. This is obviously devastating for the farmers and their families and the local communities, so it is only “good” for us as people concerned about eating grass fed meats.

    Also as lambs require a lot less grass to get to slaughter weight, it has been my experience (in Australia) that there is a ready supply of grass fed lamb, even during the drought (although it did become expensive), because even with sparse pastures, sheep will survive where cattle won’t be able to.

    I cannot comment on what is exported to the US, however I doubt there is any effort to deliver a different product for export, unless the export market was demanding grain fed product.

    As for NZ lamb – great product – but I wouldn’t be tarnishing all Aussie lamb as grain fed on the two articles you link to.

    Merry Christmas.


  12. I just spent the weekend hunting on my uncles farm, they raise sheep.
    They are experiencing a very dry year and all the sheep are still grass fed.
    Half the reason we were hunting is to cull feral species so there is more grass left for the sheep.

    As a result I now have a freezer full of free range grass fed game meat 😉

    Really felt like a true hunter gatherer after expeiencing my first hunting trip and am looking forward to eating clean grass fed meat with a low carbon foot print.

  13. Some of the benefits of immersing in sea water may well be due to the effects of grounding yourself to the earth while doing this, also known as “earthing”. I believe you’ve written about this before.

  14. My in laws were sheep farmers (and still have some sheep although not as many as they used to) and I know they definitely supplemented their sheep with grain (oats I believe)… this was a few years back that I remember helping “feed the sheep” which meant basically pouring the grain off the back of the ute, while the sheep would follow in a long column! And it was during the drought. I’m not sure how much feeding they do these days, though, now there’s more rain. Obviously the sheep were still able to get SOME grass as they were pastured and certainly not confined at all.

    I would still say that drought or no drought ALL the sheep I have seen have been on pasture… at the very least this means they’re mostly/partially grass fed, even while being supplementally fed. I’m not sure how bad/good this is, but I’d still assume it’s better than animals kept in confinement and ONLY fed grains.

  15. Hey Mark,

    it would be great if someone could bring out a testing kit to test if meat is grain or grass fed.
    Merry Christmas.

    1. Kiwi lamb is the best.

      Hate to bash anyone within cooee, but it does rain here (in NZ) and we are better grass farmers than our mates across the ditch.

      I’d like to think my own sheep and cattle are the tastiest meat on four legs.

  16. Oh, MgCl is one cheap ($12/25kg. Its a common cattle supplement) and lovely salt to dump in the bath. Not sure of the health benefits, but for a soporific experience, one can’t go past it.

  17. It really not hard to source great grass fed beef and lamb- right here at home. Check out your local farmers and farmers markets. Get to know your farmers and don’t buy meat from halfway around the world- very unsustainable. I am a regular follower of Mark, eat Paleo, and I have posted about wild game and local meats. We run a rapidly growing Grass Fed beef business, and will be adding lambs this spring to the operation. Several of our neighbors sell great grass fed lamb. Make sure you know how they raise the animals. Are they humane operations? Do they use good grass fed genetics- not all grass fed beef or lamb is created equal. Trying to create out of the wrong breeds – on the wrong grass- is like trying to make a great wine from table grapes.

    1. Unsustainable? Imported NZ lamb (to the UK) has a much lower carbon footprint than UK lamb, grown and eaten in the UK. Refrigerated meat by sea (invented by Kiwis in the 1870’s) is incredibly effecient.

      NZ hasn’t had to show that aspect to the US as America doesn’t seem to give a rat’s a** about that sort of thing.

      1. Unsustainable compared to sourcing your meats within 100 miles of your home. Right? Support your local grass farmers….and there are plenty of folks in the US who care. I’ll take a relationship with local farms- the right local farms, over buying my meat from someone I don’t know, supporting an economy a world away and shipped 10,000 miles. So how do you calculate the fact that grass fed lamb grown- say- one hour away on a local farm is less sustainable than your worldly traveled Kiwi lamb?? I’m all ears.

        1. I also see now from your earlier posts that you are a Kiwi, so that explains the extreme bias towards your lamb. But your arrogance and attitudes towards Americans and their ability to appreciate or cultivate fine grass fed meats is pretty plain to see. It makes your meat smell rotten all the way from here.

        2. Our sheep are born, raised and grown outside. Our cattle the same. Beef cattle and sheep eat graze grass that can grow all year. Inputs are vey low, output high. We expect twins from our ewes; lambs born in the paddock. Thats why our footprint is small. Shipping (chilled meat) by sea adds nearly nothing to the footprint.

          I’m sure there are a few good animal husbanders in the US but they are dismally outnumbered by large corporate enterprise.

          Sorry if I sound arrogant, but I’m probably just defensive. We operate on a non-level playing field. The US has tarriffs and limits on imports of what we produce and we are competing with generally subsidised ag in the US.

  18. Most of the lamb down under is still grass fed. due to dry climatic times some farmers now feed lamb\sheep in minifeed lots situations. “Finishing” feeding may also sometimes be grain based. overall though lamb down here will mostly be grass fed. cheers. ob

  19. Great post! I also love the friendly competition in the comments between Aussies and Kiwis. Tee hee.

    I’m glad our Australian lamb is mostly grass fed (but will still avoid buying anything not specifically labelled ‘grass-fed”). I’ve had a whole load of discussions with my local butcher about it. For some reason butchers around here (South Australia) believe ‘grain fed’ is a ‘healthy’ selling point so I try to educate him. He does admit that most of the local meat he sells gets a bit of both grass and grain.

    There’s a whole lot of local lamb fed on saltbush (indigenous to the region). (I’d love to know what that does to the meat.)

    Also, I’m a HUGE fan of magnesium oil. It is amazing during a detox (speeds the process along). Just don’t put it on broken skin as it STINGS like crazy.

    Happy hols, everyone.

    1. PS Mark, did you know that a huge part of Australia lies above the Tropic of Capricorn? There is a LOT of beef and sheep being raised here in high rainfall areas.

    2. I find this too… when I see the “high quality” meat in the local supermarket it all says “grain fed” or “grain finished” as if this is a positive!!

    3. Hi Danae,
      Salt bush adds a different flavour to the meat. Give it a go! The bush itself is a marvel, tolerating extreme conditions while remaining palatable, and because of it’s extensive root system, able to draw minerals from well beneath the soil. Sadly we can’t grow it here, as we are too high rainfall, and get wicked frosts. Great to see some Aussie readers in the comments!

  20. According to the “Aquatic Ape Theory” there was extended period of time in the history of human race that we spent adapting to aquatic environment, possibly ocean. That could explain the benefits of salt water bathing.

  21. Just go to whole foods and buy some Icelandic lamb. Not only is it grass-fed but Icelandic sheep roams free in the Icelandic highlands during summer, eating all kinds of foliage, and is only gathered in the fall for slaughter. The breeding sheep live indoor in the winter but even then are only fed hay cut during summer.

    Now I’m off to enjoy the extremely sparse daylight at this time of year.

    Happy holidays everyone!

  22. I found local Santa Ynez Valley lamb and it is fabulous. I wish I could afford to always eat grass fed beef and lamb but it is hard. I buy leaner regular steak and use grass fed tallow for cooking when possible.

  23. Other commenters have already rushed in to point out that the whole of Australia is not and has not been in drought (I can attest to having PLENTY of rain where we live) and how economically unsustainable it would be to continually feed lambs on grain so I’ll skip adding to their points. I just wanted to comment on this:

    “The firmness of the meat should shine through when you bite into it. It should be “cohesive” in your mouth, if that makes sense, like a solid piece of well-worked muscle (since that’s what you’re eating, essentially). Grain-fed will be more porous.”

    This sounds like it’s a comparison that could be possible for larger, older factory farmed versus pasture raised animals since the latter theoretically get more exercise. However I reckon this would be a pretty big challenge even for the most refined palates to identify in lamb. The word I think this description skirts around is “tough”, pasture raised is going to be tougher but so will non-pasture raised if not cooked properly. Lamb is a fatty meat so can take quite a beating compared to e.g. a lean wild meat that will toughen very quickly if not cooked carefully.

    1. Hi Nick,
      I looked at that part of the post and wondered, as there is another variable:hanging. Supermarkets in Australia don’t hang their lamb, they buy it in from tha abotoirs and generally cut it up within 24 hours. Great tasting, tender meat is hung generally as a whole carcass for at least a week for lamb and at least 3 weeks for beef. If the meat isn’t hung, it’s tough chewy and tasteless, doesn’t matter what it ate,

      1. Hung meat is susceptible to fungi that eat meat. I’m made of meat. I don’t want that crap in my body.

  24. Mark and anyone else,
    I wanted to take a minute to note the difference between magneium sulfate (epsom salts) and magnesium chloride.

    Magnesium Sulfate contains less magnesium and is excreted faster through the kidneys. Magnesium chloride, which is what you find in sea water, has a higher concentration of magnesium and is more easily metabolized.

    If you are looking for the most overall benefit, then getting some magnesium chloride flakes is generally a better way to go. When I prep a bath for my wife to relax I mix some magnesium chloride flakes with some himalayan sea salt and a few drops of lavender oil. This is a great way to relax if you’ve been stressed out at all.

    1. I agree. we use MgCl in the form of a cattle supplement for the outside, wood fired bath. Cheap and nice. Haven’t thought of lavender oil, though. Might try it.

      Just don’t think you are going to get anything accomplished (other than sleep) when you get outof the bath.

  25. I live in South Australia.
    I asked the grain fed question to a local lamb supplier near where I live. Now the bit of South Australia where I live is quite wet and mild compared to most of the rest of Australia.
    They told me that on their farm they grass feed the lambs in winter when there is plenty of grass, and grain feed the lambs in summer when the grass on the ground all turns to dried up yellow straw.
    I expect that drier parts of Australia would be more grain dependent than here.

  26. We, in Australia have been relatively drought free for some time now, barring a few remote areas. The majority of Australian lamb is pasture fed and only augmented where really necessary. There are terms used here, and in New Zealand to describe lamb, that aren’t used elsewhere in the world. May I refer all readers to the Wikipedia entry for clarification.
    Regards to all from Downunder.

  27. Living in Queensland, Australia we are used to finding every conceivable way to save water so a top tip for epsom salt baths is to save the water and put it on your garden or water plants with it as it is very good for them.

    I have problems with cracked feet so regularly have foot baths with lots of epsom salts but I always put it on the plants and it does wonders.