Can Exposure to Non-Primal Foods Actually Help?

Are we shortchanging ourselves by complete elimination of potentially allergenic or sensitizing foods like wheat, peanuts, or dairy? Do we become even more sensitive to “bad” foods by avoiding them entirely? This question stems from two things I recently encountered. The first was a recent rewatcing of The Princess Bride. The second was the recent peanut allergy study.

If you haven’t watched The Princess Bride yet, go do it (the book is also good) because a small spoiler is coming. The hero Wesley spikes the wine he and the villain Vizzini are sharing with iocane powder, a fictitious ultra-lethal poison that kills instantly. But because Wesley has spent the last several years ingesting incrementally-larger doses of the poison, he has complete resistance to its effects. Both men drink. Only Vizzini dies. What else can this apply to? I wondered.

Then there was the study last week describing a new way to prevent food allergy in kids: feed them the offending foods during infancy. For years, we’ve been told to avoid potentially allergenic foods when introducing solids to our babies. Stick to supposedly safe stuff, like rice cereal. But this paper, and several other recent findings, turns that old advice on its head. Exposure to peanuts before turning one appears to confer protection against allergies later on, even with subsequent peanut avoidance. This has also been strongly suggested for other commonly allergenic foods like eggs, wheat, white fish, sesame seeds, and yogurt. In that study, breast-fed infants who were regularly exposed to allergenic foods in the first year of life were less likely to be allergic at age 3, compared to exclusively breast-fed infants with no exposure to allergenic foods.

We aren’t infants. If any of you are, incredible. I’d love to hear how you learned to read at such an early age, assuming you can also use a keyboard to type. But for the rest of us, that developmental window in which future desensitization is established has passed. We can’t return to the breast. We can’t recapture that magic time when our immune systems are being primed for the rest of our lives.

But is it possible that we can still benefit from exposure to certain non-Primal foods?

Certain sensitivities can definitely be overcome with exposure to the food. With dairy, for example, we can change our ability to digest lactose with careful consumption of fermented dairy because fermented dairy contains the very same probiotic bacteria that can digest lactose. That’s how dairy ferments—the bacteria consume the lactose. If you want to try this, start small. Eat a tablespoon at a time and check for symptoms. Any discomfort—gas, bloating, diarrhea—means you’ve passed the threshold of tolerance. But it’s not going to hurt you, just feed your bacteria and toilet bowl, and the next time you eat yogurt or drink milk you (and your bacteria) should be able to handle a little bit more without crossing the threshold.

Introduction of specific bacteria (whether through yogurt or probiotics) who set up shop and digest the food component responsible for your sensitivity clearly works, but that’s a specific example. Any others?

Milk and egg allergy can be treated, too. In one study, children who were otherwise intolerant of milk and eggs were given milk and eggs that had been subjected to extensive heating. Not only did they tolerate the baked milk and eggs, the baked milk and egg diet accelerated the children’s development of regular milk and egg tolerance. Overall, researchers find that most kids intolerant of milk and eggs can tolerate heated milk and eggs. Between 69% and 83% of milk allergy patients can eat baked milk. Between 63% and 84% of egg allergy patients can tolerate baked eggs. They have to start with a modified (heated) version of the foods but can eventually graduate to normal versions.

Consumption of problematic compounds that can negatively affect everyone, not just the allergic or intolerant, might also confer benefits.

4-HNE is a toxic byproduct of oxidized linoleic acid implicated in oxidative stress and found in arterial lesions. French fries cooked in refined seed oils are probably the best (worst?) source, having up to 32 micrograms of 4-HNE per serving. Large concentrations of 4-HNE and other similar toxins are responsible for tissue damage stemming from ischemic heart attacks, but low concentrations of 4-HNE activate NrF2, the same resistance pathway activated by phytonutrients like blueberry anthocyanin. In the right dose, 4-HNE actually primed cardiac cells to develop resistance against the damaging effects of 4-HNE and increased glutathione synthesis. More glutathione improves your overall ability to deal with oxidative damage and inflammation, including the inflammatory effects of eating refined seed oils.

Your gut bacteria can learn to break down the phytates found in grains and other foods, thus liberating any bound minerals and creating helpful new compounds in the process. Certain gut flora actually turn phytic acid into inositol, a nutrient involved in mood regulation and insulin sensitivity (one of my favorites, in fact). The more phytate-rich foods you eat, the better your gut bacteria get at breaking it down.

What about wheat?

Anecdotes abound of lifelong wheat eaters going gluten-free or Primal for a year, having a bite of bread one day, and feeling like they’re hit with a ton of bricks. I’m sure many of you reading this have experienced the same thing. I was like that in the early days of the Primal Blueprint. I’d figured out the grains were largely responsible for my decades-long battle with irritable bowel syndrome, so I gave them up and remained strict for a year or two. Felt great. When I decided to see how it felt to eat wheat again, I was destroyed. Headache, diarrhea, all that good stuff came roaring back. But in the last five years or so, I’ve been more lax on occasion. If I’m in the mood, maybe I’ll have a crust of bread at a restaurant. I’ll nibble on dessert at a friend’s dinner party. I don’t worry about getting gluten-free tamari at sushi joints. And those periodic dalliances never bother me. I seem to have built up a tolerance.

There’s some indication that how and what you eat can affect your response to wheat. There’s the most obvious one: sourdough. The fermentation process makes gluten somewhat less allergenic, depending on the sourdough cultures used and the duration of the fermentation. Though I’m not sure if eating sourdough can help you adapt to non-fermented wheat.

There’s the fact that gluten-degrading bacteria exist in the mouth and survive passage into the duodenum (first part of the small intestine) where they may reactivate and continue acting on gluten. Those same bacteria may even colonize the duodenum itself, where they can work on any gluten that passes through. Many other species that live in human guts show potential as gluten degraders or mitigators. This is just preliminary, of course. Most research concerns farming those bacteria for gluten-cleaving enzymes to be used in celiac drugs. But the anecdotes are numerous and compelling. Once I started using probiotics and resistant starch and other prebiotics regularly, my tolerance of wheat seemed to increase.

The nocebo effect.

You read how grains contain harmful lectins, mineral-binding phytates, and are far less nutritious than we’ve been led to believe. You catch up on the latest data about gluten sensitivity and the problems with modern wheat. You read how superior organic produce is and how some of the pesticides in non-organic produce really do matter. You stop eating pasta and bread. You cook all your meals and switch over to grass-fed meat and leafy green vegetables. You do everything right, and you feel fantastic. The weight melts off, your energy levels skyrocket, you get stronger and think quicker. Given the powerful evidence for the deleterious effects of many non-Primal foods, you can think of no good reason to eat them ever again.

When you do encounter a slice of cake or crust of bread, you’re convinced it’s “bad” for you. You take a bite and imagine the gluten molecules entering and perforating your gut lining, leaving you vulnerable to all manner of dangerous pathogens and compounds. You go out for fast food and can’t help but notice that the fries smell really, really good, so you order another lettuce-wrapped burger to keep you from eating any oxidized PUFA-laden potatoes. You’re at your kid’s friend’s birthday party and get a cold sweat at the thought of eating the cake.

The placebo effect describes our ability to derive medical benefits from inert compounds or therapies through sheer belief. If a doctor gives you a sugar pill and tells you it’s an anti-hypertension drug, it may very well lower your blood pressure. If an orthopedic surgeon puts you under for knee surgery but doesn’t actually cut into your knee, studies show your condition will improve.

The nocebo effect is like that but flipped around: a mostly innocuous intervention harming your health because you think it will. Many of those non-Primal foods are problematic, particularly if consumed on a daily basis. That’s the standard Western diet, a chronic load of inflammatory foods and dietary toxins. Eating non-Primal foods every once in awhile is a different thing. I don’t just recommend the 80/20 principle for fun and flexibility. Those are major reasons why it’s important to let loose, but I also want to avoid people turning their way of eating into a pathology. I want people to make choices without feeling guilty about it.

So listen up: you’re going to be okay. I’m serious. You’re probably fine.

Eat the slice of birthday cake the cute towhead with freckles and a My Little Pony shirt offers you. Unless you’re celiac or full-blown gluten-sensitive or treating a known autoimmune disorder, you won’t be undoing all the good your normal Primal diet confers.

Have a couple fries when you’re at happy hour after work and your manager offers. Maybe the small dose of 4-HNE will upregulate glutathione synthesis!

If you plan on getting into any battles of wits with balding evil geniuses, build up resistance to the tasteless, odorless poison of your choice.

Mostly, know that—absent blatant allergy or intolerance or active/serious autoimmune condition—consumption of these foods is not a death sentence. You’re not letting yourself or anyone down. You’re not a failure. And you might just help solve the problem preventing you from eating them in the first place.

What do you think, folks? What’s your experience with non-Primal foods?

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TAGS:  immune health

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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80 thoughts on “Can Exposure to Non-Primal Foods Actually Help?”

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  1. I only have wheat in baked goods, once in a while, so it’s hard to say what hits me, the sugar or the gluten. Bread just doesn’t seem worth it.

    I will say, though, that my reactions can be damned weird. I completely pigged out on my birthday, had cake and wine and everything divine… I slept like the dead and woke up the next day feeling GREAT! And yesterday I had pie for pi day, weighed myself this morning and I’m down 3 lbs?

    Don’t ask me.

  2. About a week ago, I had a slice of pizza and was delighted when I felt fine the next day. So, I had a half a cheeseburger and another slice of pizza within the next several days, along with some Chinese food of unknown origin and a gluten-filled communion host at church on Sunday. Lesson: one slice of pizza not and then is okay, but I can not tolerate eating like that regularly. Or perhaps I need to spend more time on building up my tolerance. Don’t forget, the Dread Pirate Roberts (Wesley) spent several years building up his tolerance! (PS, I love that movie; good analogy!)

    1. Would you *want* to build up tolerance to a non-essential food that you’ve felt better from cutting out, though? Serious question, not snark. 🙂

      I don’t think anyone could pay me to eat gluten knowingly again, I feel so awesome without it, so I freely admit to being very biased here.

      The two exposures (that I know about) that I had within 12 months of eliminating gluten hit me pretty hard, but the one I know about in January had no noticeable effect – I actually took that as a sign of healing, but not a green light to start on the bagels, because the longer I’m away from that stuff the better I feel.

      So, that makes me think that with gluten, for me, it’s more like “hitting myself over the head with a brick” than “building up tolerance,” and that less is therefore healthier and better than more. Obviously, we’re all different, so I’m not presenting this as a universal fact of life or anything.

      The line between a beneficial effect from hormesis or acclimatisation is going to vary between foods and different people, for some the the less intake we have, the better we handle that rare accidental exposure because we’re not creaking under the load of daily or weekly intake.

      For others (like allergies to otherwise nutritious and beneficial foods) there’s a much stronger a case for building up tolerance. But I’m certain wheat will never fall into that category for me, that there’s nothing about it I need, and it’s really easy to cook (and buy) healthy gluten-free food. Just my 2¢, based on what I think is a risk/benefit analysis in my own life.

    2. For me one bite (or sip) inevitably leads to another as you noted above, ‘ah that slice of pizza was fine, no problem… half a cheeseburger… Chinese …’

      There is something about the hit it has on the brain wiring that means I’m better off abstaining completely. I found this to be the case with alcohol and stopped all together about a year before Mark did his n=1, just too easy for half a glass to become half a bottle.

      With baked goods I think it must be the combination of sugar (almost always present) the fats and the grain chemicals that hit those dopamine pathways, for me anyway. Some of us are just wired for all or nothing and in its ultimate expression… addiction.

      I’m happiest when I accept this is part of my character and am strong enough to resist those around me pushing the ‘just one bite won’t hurt you’. Because actually it does by triggering seeking behaviour patterns all over again.

      1. Ditto, for me. It’s not the dose, its the chain reaction that ensues.

      2. Kelda, I so agree. I don’t enjoy alcohol but I am (I’d say “was” except that I don’t know if it ever goes away) a sugar fiend. I ate a bit of cake at two separate 90th birthday parties for my father-in-law, and it turned into three months of cheating. Not to mention (math geek warning) that 80/20 would mean 20% of my daily 1600 calories, or 320 calories could be junk, or at least non-Primal. Looked at another way, 2 whole days out of 10 could be Pop-Tarts and Caramel corn. That would never work for me. I can moderate on the bread (98/2), a few bites at an Italian restaurants, but I can’t moderate on the sugar. So I abstain as much as I can. For me it’s not others pushing “just one bite”, it’s my own cravings which, happily go away after a week or two.

        Incidentally, after experiencing my usual hay fever this spring for a few weeks, I have eliminated sugar (again) now for 10 days and it’s completely gone. That’s a good motivator.

  3. You will be exposed to enough non-primal ingredients simply by how prolific they are in todays society, no one needs to “allow” a certain amount of this garbage into their systems.

    You will be told that margarine is butter at restaurants. Your grilled fish will be dusted with flour by the chef without telling you. Rice starch is used on your flash frozen “100% wild caught Alaskan Salmon filets” to keep them from sticking to each other. Your glass of red wine has been chaptalized and pumped with Mega-Purple. Sorry, it’s true.

    No one needs to add bits of non-paleo ingredients into their life…shooting for 100% will unfortunately end up 80/20 anyway…

    Sorry Mark, disagree on this one.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking! The important part is that you accept those I’m perceptions and be happy about it.

    2. Yep. Also, how did Grok allow all the industrial crap into his diet?

  4. “Mostly, know that absent blatant allergy or intolerance consumption of these foods is not a death sentence. You’re not letting yourself or anyone down. You’re not a failure. And you might just help solve the problem preventing you from eating them in the first place.”

    Has anyone else seen a movement toward Purism going on? Is it just me? But many of the forums (fora?) I’ve visited have turned me off recently because of the multitude of comments such as “I had a snack, do I need to beat myself up?” or “I had three cups of coffee instead of two? Should I sprint an extra day this week?”

    Obviously I am exaggerating but I’m thinking (and there could be grant money in this for me) that the Puristic Movement may be a mentality that is substituting rules for guidelines and due to a dearth of regulation in our lives…or possibly just the fact that survival (at its most elemental) isn’t really taking up a lot of our time.

    It just seems that many are seeking a Path to Perfection by shouldering a backpack full of rules and carrying it forward in life.

    Lighten up.

    Debbie Downer

    1. I see this a lot too. Not from primal/paleo bloggers and authors as much as from the folks in the comment sections or the paleo subreddit. People seem to want to wallow in their perceived failures.
      I’ve always used the philosophy of “don’t let the way you eat turn you into a complete weirdo”. So Christmas cookies, thanksgiving mashed potatoes, and the odd beer during grilling season are just fine with me. Although, until now, the thought that occasional ingestion of these things could be helpful was… inconceivable.

    2. I totally agree. Lightening up is in order here. I suppose that, if we truly look at the ancestral life, as lived,would sometimes include semi toxic food.
      And yes, if I can avoid such semi toxic food, I will. I will agree that a dogmatic position is even more toxic then the semi toxic food, baring true life threatening instances.
      So, lighen up folks.

  5. I think you have to know your lifestyle, weaknesses, and what will work – with kids, the cake thing probably makes sense, with our lifestyle right now it’s ignoring the use of veg oils (2g/tin) in some of the nicer tinned soups, Patak’s pickles, or the occasional gluten-free baked products we buy.

    Cutting those out completely would be way too much hassle because even though I love cooking, they’re too complex to make my own from scratch for the small amounts we use, so provided it’s not a daily thing, they stay.

    Too much “perfection” isn’t good in any area of life, even when I was eating CW “healthy” I’d still have the odd bag of chips or slice of unhygienic street-vendor’s pizza, just on principle!

  6. Great article on the wisdom of remaining flexible. A rigid mindset can become more detrimental than the occasional cheat meal. For one thing, the minute you tell yourself you can never, ever eat another slice of pizza or piece of birthday cake, you’re already in danger of permanently falling off the wagon. 80/20 is a much easier goal to attain and live with.

    1. In the UK you can get all of these made from certifiied gluten-free ingedients to within parts per miliion, and they’re NICE as well, so people who want to avoid knowing intake of gluten can easily do so and still have cakes, pizza, toast, whatever.

      The upside is, the more people who avoid gluten without a medical DX, the larger the market and the more incentive to create quality gluten-free foods, so diagnosed celiacs who get annoyed at people with no DX really need to rethink that one, because it’s their money that’s expanding the range of food available, and also driving manufacturers to remove unnecessary wheat and gluten from other products.

      1. The gluten-free breads made commercially in the US are, IMO, pretty godawful, and the weirdo ingredients are nothing to write home about either. I’m not sensitive to gluten so I prefer to indulge in the real thing on an infrequent basis. Obviously, for those who are sensitive to gluten, this is not a good idea. However, it’s an equally bad idea to think it’s okay to freely consume gluten-free/sugar-free substitute foods, which, in most cases aren’t any healthier.

    2. That’s entirely individual. Some people find 80/20 easier, others abstinence. Also, if you’re phrasing it as “can’t”, you may well be setting yourself up to fail – see it as “won’t”, as in “I won’t hit myself in the head with a hammer”, and it’s just that easy.

  7. Thanks for this, Mark. I gave up dairy almost a year ago to see if it would improve my skin (I didn’t see any significant change). When I tried to reintroduce dairy after a month, my body definitely couldn’t handle it. I’ve had small amounts of cheese now and again with no major problems, as long as I’m not eating it on a daily basis. Now I’m thinking I might be able to gradually work it back in to my diet, as long as I do it slowly.

  8. I’m an “abstainer” and find it easier to categorically reject whole classes of nutrient poor foods than to have them in moderation or on occasion. I feel better for that. Haven’t had pizza, bread, pasta or sugary desserts in years and at 45 I look better than I did at 25. Love Mark Sisson!!

    1. I’m with Christy, Mark. From the way you write you definitely sound like a ‘moderator’. I’m an ‘abstainer’, like Christy, and it’s just more attractive to me to forego the birthday cake in general. Do I flip out at sushi joints if my roll has tempura? No. Do I stand in cold sweat trying to resist birthday cake? Nope. I don’t feel deprived, it’s just not interesting to me.

      1. Ditto

        Good to see those of us abstainers are feeling able to stand up and be counted too.

        One size doesn’t fit all!

        Interestingly I’ve noticed among friends that were strict and have taken the more ‘relaxed’ approach that they have drifted more and more from the Paleo/Primal eating principles – few seem able to truly ‘cheat’ and return quickly or as fully.

        1. Part of that may be the “cheat” concept. I don’t have a forbidden food list. I have a scale from eat everyday to eat a couple times a year. Everything fits somewhere on that scale. French fries are a couple times per year. Eggs, nuts and leafy greens are everyday. Bread and pasta is a once a week thing.

    2. I am with you Christy. Mostly because this regimen works so well for me and is easy to maintain, but also because those other foods no longer appeal to me. Baked goods are way too sweet. I will occasionally have a bite of a friend’s pizza with no ill effects. And one bite is fine with me. I am 58 years old and regularly get compliments about my physique. My energy is better than ever and I live an active, rich life. I see no reason to change something that works so well.

  9. Recently I have been tested allergic to eggs and dairy. Wondering if baked eggs and milk is worth trying. Baking eggs in the oven is one way of cooking them and eating them without allergy reaction. Maybe cooking the eggs at 350 degrees may do the trick?

    I have learned that eating goats cheese is safer too than cow’s milk cheese.

    1. At 5 my grandson was anaphylactic with dairy having been breastfed his first year and then loving almond milk. The allergist had my daughter prepare a sponge cake made with milk that was baked at least 25 minutes, and Jacob had to have a small piece every day. This was to go on for an entire year. But 6 months into this treatment, he accidentally had dairy at a school party and did fine. So the allergist tested him again, and he had no allergy to dairy. It does work.

  10. I don’t mind having a burger w/ a bun, pizza, burritos or sushi – every now and then. One because its fun and different and two I exercise more than the blueprint plan and like having the carbs for energy in addition to fat and ketones. I am typically 90/10 in terms of eating adherence so I don’t feel any guilt or ill effect of grains. And I just like the primal eating style better then the standard american diet.

  11. I’m a believer in Primal, but my actual progress towards the goal is at about 50%. But I feel healthier already! I’m not a purist, so my goal is 75/25, so now guilt for me!

  12. I’ve been gluten sensitive all my life. Went GF 8 years ago and grain-restricted (occasional rice and non-GMO corn only) 5 years ago. Much better!

    I WILL NOT knowingly eat gluten products, but lately I have eaten out and forgotten to ask for no croutons on the salad. I pick them off, but the crumbs remain. Turns out I can eat them with no problems…something that would never have happened in the past.

    I may have healed enough to be able to eat minuscule amounts, but I doubt I will ever get far enough to have cake or bread. Fine with me. 🙂

  13. I’ve been gluten free for 7 years. In the beginning, very strict made a huge difference for me. But for the past few years, although I don’t eat bread, pasta, cake, etc…. I eat the “soy” sauce at restaurants with my sushi and if there’s crumbs I don’t worry about it. Never had issues with dairy, except milk. Quit drinking milk years ago but eat all other full fat dairy. This past year I’ve gotten a good source for raw milk and decided to try it. Two seperate occasions drank 4oz a day for several days in a row – no problem. For me, it seems once I was healed (gut issues), sporadic exposure to small amounts do not phase me.

  14. Mark, I cannot tell you how much I APPRECIATE your level headedness in the primal “field.” It’s refreshing to have a voice of “grace” and understanding that it’s not the end of the world to allow occasional use of those foods into our diet. Thank you for the laid back mindset you share here. Wendy.

  15. “…but I also want to avoid people turning their way of eating into a pathology.”

    Amen, Father!



  16. Don’t confuse us with common sense Mark, we want to be 100% compliant or else beat ourselves up when we sample a bit of this or that on occasion lol.

  17. I’ve actually never been on the primal diet but I do like the primal blueprint and actually recommend it to people seeking a healthy lifestyle. I follow certain principles of the primal blueprint (mainly the exercise regime). Out of all the doctors and nutritionist I’ve talked to or have listened to on the internet Mark is the only one I’ve seen make a case against “chronic cardio”. I’ve always felt like excessive cardio is counter-productive and could even be damaging to the cardio system but was a belief it seemed for awhile I only believed, until finding the PB. brisk walking and push ups are my main thing. As to why I don’t follow the diet part it’s because I’ve been following the Weston Price diet for years with great results. I see no need of changing that, the diets are nearly identical besides the exception price makes for grains and legumes, eat them sprouted or fermented. I really don’t even do this except with occasional sprouted lentils or fermented oats. At any rate I guess I could be considered under the 80/20 category.

  18. One of the things that I learned when I went Primal was that I was actually *allergic* to grain. (I had just thought I had year-long seasonal allergies.)

    By eliminating the grain all my allergies went away. Period.

    Now, when I go out to eat, within twenty minutes after eating I can tell if a restaurant was lying about using wheat or corn in their cooking. My eyes start watering, my sinuses get congested, I start sneezing, etc.

    Going Primal was one of the best things I ever did. Possibly I could build up more of a resistance to wheat and corn. I’m not convinced it’s worth it. (I have two brothers who have also discovered that they’re allergic to wheat and corn to some degree, so I honestly believe it’s hereditary in my family.)

  19. Inspired by today’s post, reminded of the 80/20 principle, and because I’ve had no junk food for a week, I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Man, was it good. I don’t feel so hot right now, but the memory is awesome. I’d say I’m net positive on the deal. 🙂

  20. I’ve had an interesting experience with this lately. When I first went paleo, I both felt much better and noticed significant reactions to any gluten when I encountered it. After being paleo for a while, I got pregnant (5 months right now!!) and had really bad food aversions to both protein and vegetables during a really tough first trimester. I started eating sourdough bread and found that I tolerated that really, really well – lived off grilled cheese sandwiches for 6 weeks, I think! While we were travelling to visit family for the holidays, I ended up having to eat a lot of regular non paleo items- gluten, etc- and found that I had no reactions at all. I don’t know if my years of paleo had healed my gut sufficiently that I could handle it, or if the sourdough had upped my ability to tolerate gluten, or if it’s just a strange pregnancy symptom (i’ve read that lactose intolerance can disappear during pregnancy, so maybe the same goes with gluten?) but now I find I can handle the occasional gluten-rich item. I don’t go crazy with it, but it does make going out easier – and I do like eating one of my old favourite dishes from time to time- a spicy sardine pasta, as the health benefits of the sardines outweigh the risks from gluten for me. Anyways, something to think about!

    1. First, congratulations on your pregnancy! 🙂
      I’ve had a similar experience just yesterday and today. I’ve been breastfeeding for almost 13 months now, and somewhere along the way I developed a sensitivity to eggs, I ate them frequently, and suddenly my stomach would react with intense burning pain everytime I ate them. I’ve tried every couple months to eat them again since then, with the same reaction. I’m now almost 2 months pregnant, and I ate eggs yesterday again just to give it another shot, and had no pains at all, did the same today with no issues either (which I’m SO happy about, I love eggs!). I don’t know if my gut has healed from all the kimchi I eat, or if it’s because I’m pregnant and my body maybe wants something in the eggs so doesn’t react… I don’t know, but it’s awesome! I’ve been off gluten for 13 months so I don’t know how I’d react to that and I’m too afraid to try at this point (and I have this crazy fear of gluten getting into my breastmilk lol, that’s what caused me to give up gluten to begin with the day I went into labor).

  21. I’ve been eating Primal and following a CrossFittish like workout plan for 90 days… I started at 208 lbs and am now down to 185. I can pump out 160 push-ups across a 15 minute EMOM workout with ease and now wear size 34 pants (38s were snug 90 days ago). And my energy level and mental focus is incredible.

    All this to say I have never felt better in my entire life (I’m 42). This even includes the days of being a far more ripped stud back in my 20s when I could bench 405 lbs. Yes, I was stronger back then… but I was breaking my body and burning out which is why this new Primal way of living has changed my life.

    So, have I cheated at all? Yes. I’ve eaten some rice and beans here and there. And the salad dressing I had my salad today definitely contained some sugar… but I have’t eaten fried foods or blatant junk food.

    And, so what if my reply to my 4-year-old when he offered me birthday caked was, “Get behind me satan!” He got over it… ha!

    Right now I have zero desire for bad food or laziness… I feel too good. But, perhaps the time will come when I just need a Big Mac. That time just isn’t now.

    Grok on!

  22. And of course you’d need bread for a nice
    “MLT, mutton, lettuce & tomato sandwich. When the mutton is nice and lean… and the tomatoes are fresh… There so perky! I love that!”

  23. I love the balance, Mark. And I agree with you. I have to be strict because I’m not completely sure what I’m sensitive to. I have a pretty good idea, though. If I’m not strict about certain foods, then I mess up my experiment in finding out. Although I avoid gluten, other grains aren’t as problematic as foods like dates, apricots, blueberries, onions, garlic, tomatoes….ok, I think I’ll stop at those for now. And dairy seems to cause swelling and severe constipation, but the swelling part is partly anecdotal, even I’ll admit. Sometimes I wonder I long I’m going to have to be so restrictive. Your perspective is appreciated and something I look forward to experiencing again. It goes against my nature to eat like this.

  24. I changed my diet to Paleo two years ago. No grains, dairy, industrial seed oils, processed food or added sugars at all since then. No regrets. I had already previously given up dairy due to lactose intolerance but once in a while it would slip in on something. Now I’m a strict food nazi. It’s easy. I have a chronic autoimmune condition as a strong motivating factor. Giving up bread and baked goods was the hardest at first but it became easy. I still have my autoimmunity but I immediately lost 15 pounds of fat and best of all my gut health improved almost immediately with no more diarrhea or irregularity.

  25. Are you acquiring tolerance, as in your body can process gluten/milk/whatever; or is your gut healing and then a healthy gut/blood barrier is able to exclude gluten/milk/whatever so your body doesn’t have to deal with it?

  26. I saw a long thin empty bag on the kitchen counter yesterday and I immediately thought, “baguette” even though I haven’t had one in a long time. It just reminded me of one and I missed it. But then I realized that I had had a revelation about bread, 3 years ago. I now look at bread like cardboard or wood. Something edible but not a real food. I have sure come a long way in the past 4 years.

  27. I’m really curious to know what you think about leaky gut in this perspective. Maybe I’m wrong but I think that what you’ve said only apply when you have a healed gut.

    I’ve never had any fear of eating gluten, it’s dairy that I fear but I don’t fear it for fun, I fear it because it gives me horrible migraines and I want to avoid that at all costs. Maybe I should ask my husband to slip me some dairy that I wouldn’t notice to test the nocebo effect?

  28. Such a great post!! For me, dairy (except butter and ghee) is not worth it because I break out. And wheat makes me feel bloated and puffy. But stuff like beans and peanut butter I really don’t stress about. They don’t seem to have an effect on me, but since I ate so much of them in my 30+++ years as a vegetarian I just don’t want them that much.

  29. Ok, seems like everyone is doing testimonials.
    I go low carb as possible. The closer I am to ketosis, the better I feel. So I avoid grains, but do consume some, sometimes, with little if any affect. Fermented diary is on the menu for me without any problem. Raw dairy, not a problem, in small amounts. Pastuized diary, yes a problem. Peanuts, give me a headache, but I will eat things that have peanuts in it with little effort.
    The point is this, knowing one’s body,and what you put into it is good. But to be dogmatic about it is actually counter productive. How are you going to know if what you eat is good, or bad, or if now you can, or can’t eat something.
    There are so many variables. Our ancestors had to have many, many different foods to have survived. Adaptability was the key to human success. That said, eating as close to the way we evolved gives us a roadmap, not the territory.

  30. This is what I love about Paleo-like people… they are flexible and intelligent. They are mutable. It’s awesome!

    Dr. Weil also says that you may not have to be on a super paleo-like diet (anti-inflammatory diet) for a very long time. I think a lot of our bodies just get worn out and messed up (metabolic syndrome). Some people don’t have this problem.

    However, I have a theory that aging and years of consuming bad forms of wheat (even in the VERY Active thin runners) will put them at health risks (especially diabetes). That’s how some people who are otherwise “healthy” discover they may have a problem with wheat and grains because they have consumed low quality wheat & grains for years and never had indigestion. Boom! Your a very active 60 year old who has 5-10 pounds of extra weight on occasion), you have diabetes! Why? It makes no sense, right? You never had a problem before! You run. You exercise. You say you have ED as well?

    I think gluten is very dangerous stuff in the low quality form that we mostly eat it in. I think gluten and grains has to be eliminated for a period before it is slowly brought back into the diet. The gut has to be repaired. And, we may reach an age where we just can’t tolerate it at all. I don’t know about that last one.

  31. My mom found some enzyme pills for dairy (Lacto) that I tried. I was able to eat a cheeseburger and escargot in Paris with no problems. I used the same pills here to have pizza and had diarrhea. So I am now confused. I avoid dairy and gluten when eating out when possible but will take the pills if I am unsure if the item might contain butter (scrambled eggs for example) Home cooking is all about paleo

  32. I’m not sure I’m going to act on the information about babies having better tolerance for gluten/dairy/peanuts/etc if they’re introduced to it early on…
    I have given my one-year-old dairy before (he LOVES cream cheese but doesn’t react to it well), but I would never give him peanut butter, and DEFINITELY wouldn’t give him anything with gluten. And honestly probably wouldn’t give him any other grains either… Why would I? If he tolerates them less when he’s older because of this, then that means he’ll be more likely to not eat those things, which is great. I want him to be as healthy as possible, and grains and peanuts and dairy aren’t necessary, so it doesn’t really matter to me whether he’ll be sensitive/intolerant to them later in life. And same goes for me actually, I really am okay with never having anything with gluten in it again. And being sensitive to those things would help me stay healthy. But that’s just me. :p

    1. Also, it seems weird to group eggs, fish, and yogurt with gluten and peanuts, considering the first three are so much healthier than the latter two. I know they’re all potentially allergenic, but I’d definitely prefer giving my baby nutritious eggs and fish and yogurt before age one rather than peanut butter or gluten, which has no health benefits at all, just for the sake of preventing an allergy. Doesn’t seem worth it to me.

      1. TF, I’m a reasonably smart adult and even with all precautions, I’ve ended up eating gluten at least 3 times since I gave it up, and only found out afterwards. I react badly to malt vinegar, as well, which every source says can’t possibly contain gluten, yet it really makes me ill, and it’s included in a LOT of things.

        IMO giving a child a degree of exposure to peanuts, at least (which seem to cause the most life-threatening reaction) is a basic safety precaution and not the same as setting him up for a lifetime of PB&J sandwiches. It’s very hard even for adults to totally avoid occasional exposure, and he’s going to have mates pressuring him, plus teenage years when there’s a chance that he’ll think anything you say or care about is wrong.

        I think fostering resilience is, in this case, more primal than trying to control his future actions by allowing for the possibility he’ll develop a life-threatening allergy to something you don’t want him to eat. Sorry if that sounds a bit harsh, not meant that way. 🙂

        1. The study about peanuts said that it prevents allergies in kids who have a family history of peanut allergies right? Considering all the peanut butter sandwiches (and whole jars of straight peanut butter) that I have eaten, and my fiancé as well, I don’t believe he’d have an issue, but I understand where you’re coming from. I may get some fresh grind peanut butter and give him a little at some point.
          I appreciate your input/opinion. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to give him anything with gluten in it (not knowingly anyway), but the other grains and legumes I could probably manage to give him without thinking I’m poisoning him. I suppose if I gave him anything with gluten it’d be einkorn wheat.

  33. FWIW, N=1: I was able to reintroduce some previously offensive foods, particularly some dairy (aged cheese and even fairly large servings of full fat cottage cheese), after about a year of fairly constant primal eating. I noticed that things like the occasional pizza slice or two really just didn’t bother me anymore, digestion-wise. That said, I still will get noticeable carb cravings the day after a big eating excursion. The comforting thing is that I know those cravings aren’t real, so they are easy to ignore, and they go away with a nice long walk (thanks Mark!) and a short (16-18 hr) intermittent fast. Overall though, I find eating more strictly primal comes with much less mental overhead, so I tend to prefer it, unless I find myself in an awkward social situation.

  34. “The first was a recent rewatcing of The Princess Bride.” …”If you haven’t watched The Princess Bride yet, go do it (the book is also good)…”

    Good to know Mark is watching, and reading. 🙂 And just a couple of weeks ago he was reminding us to know where our towel is…

  35. For me it just becomes a slippery slope very easily if I start eating foods like that again so I find it better to avoid them as much as possible. Besides dairy gives me acne and I don’t think that will ever change.

  36. Three things spring to mind.
    Firstly, at last there is someone else in the world who knows that the plural of ‘forum’ is ‘fora’ – I no longer walk the Earth alone.
    Secondly, a very good site concerning hormesis is
    Thirdly, be wary of ‘gluten-free’ food. Those of you who have read the Wheat Belly books will know that they are based on starches and may well send your insulin and/or blood glucose through the roof, neither of which is generally considered to be a good thing.

  37. Love this post! I enjoy small amounts of sourdough and einkorn almost every day, but only once a day and not a lot. When at a friends if they serve crackers, I might take a couple to be more social. This moderation seems to work very well for me.

  38. It was the Man in Black that faced off with Vizzini in the Challenge of Wits.

    See? you don’t have to spoil anything.

    Favorite movie EVER!!

  39. And when I’m travelling in Europe….I simply must partake of the local dishes! The “pan au chocolate”, croissants and red wine in France, for instance. However, I try to keep it to about once a week, or every couple of days….there is also so much delicious produce, great cheeses and lots and lots of OLIVES!!!! YUM!

  40. I read this article yesterday and decided to eat a small slice of pizza from our local Italian restaurant.
    Had loose stool and gas this morning and I overate tonight…. Almost felt like I would pass out. It’s either the wheat or I am entering ketosis again and it’s keto flu.
    I’ll be traveling to Italy this summer, if my body reacts like this to wheat maybe I should stay gluten free on my trip there. I started grain free in July

  41. You’re the best Mark. This article is superb. I have graves disease and despite all the foods I should avoid, a bit of plain old fashion living in the moment has not affected my levels in a negative manner. Just be mindful in your enjoyment. Live!

  42. Bacon is my number 1 sin followed by sausages (my kids like them). I usually eat loads of veges along with it. No real noticeable issues. I seem to have more issues with starches. I want to consume more starchy vegetables as I have increased my workout load, it’s what we Aussies call a conundrum (though I notice more Americans using it). My wife is even worse with the starches, she has eczema break outs

  43. Mark,
    In regards to the recent study…
    I have lots of kids including an 11 month old.
    She eats avocados, salmon, tubers and veggies.
    We gave her some sprouted grain bread with peanut butter the other day.
    She’s been exclusively breastfed.

    I think there’s something else at work here with the allergies and the kids
    Csection rates are through the roof. So the little fries start with comprised “advantageous buggies”. Then even most breastfed kids start their nutrition at 4 months with CEREAL. garbage food for the next 3 months exclusively. Speculating this is not optimal for gut bug development and even more …. Allergic even. As such their “allergic defense system” gets sensitive and extra vigilant. Then age 3 rolls around and BAM, new foods get introduced and now Allergic to peanuts, eggs, fish etc…
    Just my 2 cents but I think there’s something to it.
    Our little one started with avocado as first food…then onto carrots, tubers , beets and rutabagas. Then the green veggies came to play, spinach, broccoli mostly.
    Interesting side note…when I overcook salmon, little missy doesn’t like it, when made right and the fish still has a nice oily texture to it, she devours it. 🙂


  44. any life lessons learned from princess bride are for sure legit!

  45. At least 3 of the 5 Blue Zone populations eat wheat bread, specifically sourdough in 2 populations (Sardinia, Icaria)

  46. Maybe it’s more the anti inflammatory of being keto, with that crust of bread or whatever fitting into the 50gm daily carbs, so you’re not overreacting to it.

  47. Allergens are tricky business these days — thanks to Big Pharma. Chick-embryos, soy and/or peanut oil is used in numerous vaccines. Many elementary schools ban peanut butter (and related food) completely because so many kids are deathly-allergic to peanuts! These large protein molecules are injected directly into tissue, bypassing a normal digestive process.

    Also, the skin-prick allergy test may NOT be such a good idea.

  48. As always, I love the inclusivity and open-mindedness of Mark’s explorations.
    I agree, eat some cake and enjoy the parties. Sometimes the stress you cause denying yourself from partaking in social celebrations is worse for your body than the actual bite of bad food.

  49. I’ve been Paleo, for the past 7 years. I’ve been dairy intolerance since I was young and completely allergic as an infant. I realized I was gluten intolerant a few months after following the Paleo lifestyle. Recently my stomach had been upset and I developed a rash on my extremities. I took a food sensitivity test and found out I was sensitive to kale, eggs, sweet potato, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds and tomatoes. Eating paleo is difficult now, but skin cleared up, asthma and nasal congestion from allergies is gone. I have though, incorporated some pesudograins in to my diet. How bad can that be?

  50. I think an important thing to mention when referring to those studies about introducing allergens to children’s ar an early age is to temper that with your child’s risk. People who are not at high risk of having children with allergies should certainly expose their children, however if your children are highly likely to have allergies you may want to be prepared: the first exposure could be as severe as anaphylaxis and if that is the case you will need access to a children’s hospital because regular hospitals can’t intubate infants. If you or you partner has one or more of these: allergies (of any kind), asthma, or autoimmune disease; then you are more likely to have a child with allergies.
    I knew that my child was likely to have allergies because I have all the risk factors and my husband has one, I was prepared and have a father with severe food and bee allergies, I asked my pediatrician about how to approach food introduction and he had no concerns whatsoever. Luckily I lived three blocks from a pharmacy and seven minutes from a children’s hospital so I just made sure to introduce foods one at a time and give her time to digest. When she did have her first reactions they were hives on contact but wheat didn’t react until she had digested it and my baby started to balloon with hives, I ran to pharmacy to get benedryl and gave a dose. After ten minutes and her head continued to expand with hives, I gave a second dose and finally the reaction stopped and began to go down. As prepared as I was, I was still shook up and I can’t image how I would have felt if we had to get to children’s with a child not breathing. I feel that the information to introduce be heavily weighed with risk factors because many parents will not be prepared for their baby to stop breathing and go to the ER only to be life flighted to a children’s hospital.
    I am not suggesting gradual introduction won’t help, I know it does; my father worked through an allergy shrimp this way (but a crab will still kill him). Let’s just make sure we inform parents of all the risks so they can be prepared for whatever outcome.

  51. I live roughly 3 hours from the coast and quite possibly the best doughnut place on Earth. Not doing any shameless plugs here, but anyone who’s been to this place will know exactly what I’m talking about.
    On a beach trip a few years back, I bought a half dozen, and could not stop eating them. All six were gone in about 30 minutes. The thing is, I never felt horrible, didn’t put on any weight… didn’t have any negative effects at all.
    It occurred to me that to binge just that one time was probably a lot better than if I’d eaten one a day for six days. Rather than slowly reintroducing something toxic into my body, I gave it a one time WTF and then went right back to healthy living.
    This has gotten to be somewhat of an annual tradition for me, and so far, so good!