Dear Mark: Budgeting, Calcium, Supplements, High Cholesterol, and Chinup Replacements

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering five questions, all coming from a single reader email. First, Rosa asks about buying high-quality produce and grass-fed meat for her family on a budget. Can it be done? If not, what should she do? Second, she wonders whether she’ll get enough calcium eating this way. It’s a valid concern, seeing as how basic Primal eating often eliminates dairy. I try to assuage her. Third, if the Primal Blueprint is such a healthy, nutrient-replete lifestyle, why do I sell supplements? How does one reconcile the two seemingly contradictory concepts? Fourth, should Rosa be worrying about eating a high-fat diet if she’s taking meds for high cholesterol? And fifth, what are some effective replacements for chinups and pullups that can be done at home sans equipment?

Let’s go:


I’ve been reading The Primal Blueprint and am very interested but I have a few questions :

– I have a family and am on a budget which makes it hard for me to purchase organic foods and grass-fed meats. What do you recommend I do to get the same benefits? I can buy lean meat at regular grocery stores but it’s not organic nor grass-fed.

– What about calcium? Will I be getting enough calcium?

– I notice you sell supplements. If we follow the program, I thought we are getting all the vitamins and minerals we need. Who would be needing these supplements and how do we know if we need them?

– I have high cholesterol and am taking medication. I’m so afraid to eat more fats as suggested in the Blueprint. And if I end up eating some carbs or cheating one day, won’t this fat end up being bad for me? How do I overcome this fear?

– In the fitness program, I don’t have anything around the home to do chin ups, what do I do?

Thank you in advance for replying. I appreciate it!

Thank you,


Thanks for the questions, Rosa. Let me address each in turn.


  • Hunt around for sales and stock up whenever something good (organic/grass-fed) reaches a price that works for you. Store in the freezer. Wrap tightly in freezer-safe ziploc bags, making sure to suck out all the air to prevent, or at least limit, freezer burn.
  • Keep your eyes out for Australian or New Zealand lamb (the former is usually pastured if not entirely grass-fed and the latter is almost always grass-fed). Uruguyan, New Zealand, and Australian beef are also widely available and usually grass-fed.
  • If you’ve got any friends or family interested, combine your funds to purchase an entire cow, or half or a quarter of one, from a local farm. This is also called cowpooling, so keep your eyes peeled for that term. You can check for local ranches that offer bulk purchases. I’ve also seen bulk purchasing listed on Craigslist.
  • Check out farmer’s markets in your area. Even the “non-organic” produce is often organically grown, just without the certification; don’t be afraid to ask the people manning the stands.
  • Frozen produce is an excellent and often affordable way to obtain high-quality (frozen right after picking to limit degradation of nutrients) organic fruits and vegetables.
  • Join a big box store like Costco, which often has great deals on organics and grass-fed meat.
  • Lately, I’m of the opinion that quality trumps quantity. Stick to smaller amounts of high-quality meat rather than loading up on cheap, CAFO-raised meat.
  • Plan ahead. Plan your meals for the week. Plan your shopping trips so you can make an extra stop or two for really good deals. Eliminate the random spontaneous stuff you pick up because you walked into the grocery store without much of a plan in mind.


Calcium can be a blind spot when eating Primal. Many people give up dairy when they assume a Primal way of life, thus eliminating the most reliable source of calcium in the average Western diet. But dairy’s not the only place to get calcium.

  • Green vegetables are excellent sources of calcium. Spinach, collards, and bok choy are probably the best.
  • Small, bone-in, oily fish. A can of bone-in sardines provides about 300 mg (plus tons of other vital nutrients).
  • Although I haven’t seen definitive evidence, it seems likely that simmering bones until they crumble would produce calcium-rich bone broth.
  • There’s also blackstrap molasses, one of the underrated Primal foods I highlighted a couple weeks back. A single tablespoon has around 200 mg of calcium.
  • And finally, there’s mineral water. I find myself beating this drum a lot, but for good reason: high-mineral content water is a great way to obtain trace minerals, including calcium.

Also, you don’t have to stop eating dairy. In fact, full-fat dairy appears to have many health benefits, assuming you can tolerate it. Now, if dairy gives you acne, destroys your toilet bowl (or makes it a barren wasteland), and clogs your sinuses, don’t eat it. If you’re intolerant of the proteins, if even a single half gram of lactose gives bad gas, don’t eat it. But don’t ditch dairy because you heard it was unhealthy somewhere. It’s a great source of calcium and other nutrients, and even if you weren’t born with lactase persistence, you can train your gut biome to digest lactose.

By all accounts, full-fat dairy is a helpful addition to the average Primal way of eating. Yogurt, kefir, good cheese — these are healthy foods. There’s no reason to avoid it if you don’t have to.


Not everyone needs supplements. But they sure can help many if not most people, and for some they’re crucial.

My supplements are designed to address the deficits common to modern diets and lifestyles. Vitamin D for the lack of sun exposure. Fish oil for inadequate long chain omega-3 intake. Primal Calm for a natural way to combat the damaging effects of chronic stress. Primal Flora for a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria that’s sorely lacking from the modern, clean, sanitized existence. And even my Damage Control Master Formula is meant to counter the oxidative stress and inflammation endemic to modern living. I take that one sporadically, as needed, to deal with particularly stressful times. Being a massive broad-spectrum antioxidant/phytonutrient blend, it’s actually more of a hormetic stressor designed to up-regulate our endogenous defense systems than a daily supplement. As far as vitamin and mineral supplements, fruits and vegetables grown today are generally less nutritious than produce grown in previous decades; supplementation can make up for the missing nutrients.

Also, people are imperfect. Though we often intend to make the right dietary choices and maintain pristine Primal lifestyles, we all slip up. We forget about the leafy greens in the fridge, and they get slimy. We skimp on the veggies. We don’t always eat as many brightly-colored phytonutrient-rich fruits and vegetables as we know we should. We go entire weeks without seeing the sun at midday, or eating fish, or consuming fermented food. And when those things happen, as they inevitably will in most people’s busy lives, having high-quality supplements on hand can really help.

Heck, I make these things to address problems in my own life. I don’t take anything every day, or even most days, but I’m glad to have something whose quality I can trust (because, well, I made it) for those days I do need the extra help. You might not, which is totally fine, but I know that many of you reading have had great experiences with them, as told in many of the success stories and elsewhere.

Fat and cholesterol

The vast majority of clinical trials comparing high-fat, low-carb diets to low-fat, high-carb diets find that the former improve cholesterol. Let’s look at two recent ones.

A 2013 study placed obese subjects on one of two diets for 12 weeks: a high-fat, low carb diet (33.5/56/9.6 P/F/C) or a low-fat, high-carb diet (22/25/55.7). Blood lipids, body composition, body weight, and inflammatory markers were all tracked. Subjects eating high-fat experienced greater improvements to blood lipids (lower triglycerides and increased HDL) and inflammatory markers (lower CRP and higher adiponectin). Body weight and body comp changes were similar across both groups, indicating that the higher-fat, lower-carb, higher-protein content of the high-fat diet was uniquely beneficial to inflammation and lipids.

And just the other day, a study was published showing that high-fat meals (whether the fat comes from cheese or meat) are less atherogenic than high-carb meals in overweight, postmenopausal women. They produce higher HDL and Apo-A1, both markers of improved resistance to atherogenesis. Both high-fat meals were high in saturated fat.

Couple those examples with the various observational studies showing a lack of association between fat intake (especially saturated fat) and cardiovascular disease:

  • A 2011 study found that “reducing the intake of CHO with high glycemic index is more effective in the prevention of CVD than reducing SAFA intake per se.”
  • From a 2010 study out of Japan, saturated fat intake “was inversely associated with mortality from total stroke.”
  • A 2010 meta-analysis found “that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.”

Ultimately, you’ll just have to see what happens. Keep your doc in the loop, continue taking your meds and check your blood lipids after a month or two on the new diet. Just keep in mind what the latest science is saying on the subject.

As for cheat days, many people discover they actually improve the effects of going Primal. The once-weekly foray into gluttony can boost leptin (which increases energy expenditure and makes fat-burning easier), satisfy cravings, and refill empty glycogen stores — all good things for your overall metabolic health.


Ah, yes, chinups and pullups are tough to do around the house.

First, look again for anything overhead that can support your weight. A ledge? A random pipe? A tree branch?

The best replacement for a pullup or chinup is probably a row. If you’ve got a sturdy table, you can do inverted bodyweight rows underneath it by grabbing on to the edge. Keeping your feet on the ground during the row will make it easier. Placing your feet on a chair will make them harder. Most people, particularly untrained ones, can get a great upper body pulling workout using bodyweight rows on a standard kitchen table. Here’s a nice video and article from Nerd Fitness showing the inverted table bodyweight row.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and, as always, help out down below with any addition input you have to offer.

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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