Dear Mark: Can’t Afford Good Meat, Allergy or Preference, Cold Pasta, and Protein in Pregnancy

Bunless burgerFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, we’ve got a four-parter. First up, how does a person hope to maintain a Primal lifestyle if they can’t afford pastured meats and eggs and are unwilling to eat factory-farmed meat? Is it possible? Yes; read on. Next, what’s the deal with waiters asking if we’re avoiding bread because of “preference” or “allergy”? What’s it to ’em? Third, should Primal people care about the recent study showing a reduced blood glucose response after eating leftover pasta? We should, and I’ll explain why. Finally, how should a husband counsel a pregnant wife who wants nothing to do with mammal meat? I give a few tips.

Let’s go:

I got into the paleo/primal way of eating while I was living with my boyfriend. I lived with him for a few months but he paid for all the groceries. He only buys organic produce and organic grass fed/pasture raised meats. I always knew eating organic was expensive but I didn’t realize just how unaffordable it is until I went back to living alone! Unfortunately I cannot afford to buy all organic and grass fed but I don’t want to eat conventional. I refuse to eat meat that comes from abused, factory farmed animals that are pumped up with hormones and are fed GMO grains. Not only is it a health concern, but also a moral concern. Since living alone I’ve started eating conventional veggies (except for the dirty dozen; I try my best to buy those organic) but I have drastically lowered my meat intake. Unfortunately I can only afford to buy grass fed ground beef at Ralph’s when its on sale (but when it is, I buy it in bulk!). However, I’m not eating nearly enough as I should be. My portions are all very small and sometimes I go a few days without eating meat. I try to eat eggs to fill in the protein gaps but pasture raised eggs are fairly expensive too. I’ve lost too much weight and need to find a way to eat more without breaking the bank. I simply cannot afford this lifestyle on my salary. What do you suggest?



My wife was a vegetarian for decades. Yep, Mrs. Grok herself was an avowed vegetarian and then pescetarian up until about a year ago, when she began eating land animals. She was completely healthy. She feels like she’s gotten even healthier since introducing meat, of course, but you can absolutely do it well without meat. My son is also a vegetarian (for similar reasons as you) who obtains most of his protein from ample amounts of dairy and eggs. He’s lean, fit, happy, healthy, and a natural athlete. No worse for wear in either case.

I place huge importance on personal ethics. You could force yourself to eat cheaper CAFO meat and eggs, and your body might benefit from the added protein and fat and micronutrients, but your mind and spirit would suffer. And eventually, your body would suffer, too, because you can’t neglect that other side of your being. You must be true to yourself or you’ll wither away into a husk.

Exhaust your options before giving up. Check out local farmer’s markets for deals, search Craigslist for people selling meat or eggs, look for farms near you on Eat Wild who might sell meat in bulk, try to get in on a cowpool. What you can find nearby might surprise you.

Don’t neglect organ meats, either. Organic chicken and grass-fed beef livers are usually under $4 or $5 per pound, and a little bit goes a long way. You can’t eat liver every day (too much vitamin A!), but once or twice a week is a great way to get highly nutritious and ethical animal food into your diet without going broke.

Same with dairy. If you tolerate it, grass-fed or pasture-raised dairy can be a very healthy and less expensive addition to your diet – calorie for calorie.

Of course, the Primal lifestyle doesn’t have to be a meat fest. Nor should it. Eat more safe starches. Go for sweet potatoes, white potatoes, starchy squash, fruits, beets, anything you can get your hands on. A five pound bag of white potatoes, even organic ones, isn’t more than $5 and provides a ton of calories and nutrients (more than you’d think; white potatoes are actually quite nutrient-dense, contrary to popular belief).

Should everyone go out and do Primal this way? No, especially not an overweight person hoping to lose weight. But you’re losing “too much weight.” You need the calories and the carbs won’t be a problem.

Always remember, too, that this is a lifestyle (as you mentioned) and it’s not just about the food. Being Primal is about being outside in nature, exercising sanely, going barefoot when the opportunity presents itself, getting sun and sleep and social contact with people who care about you, laughing, stimulating your mind and body. And yeah, it’s about eating good food. “Humanely-raised grass-fed meat and poultry” are important. They’re not everything, though.

Hi Mark!

Recently when I request a burger without a bun at fast food restaurants I’m asked whether this is an allergy or preference – but the cashier never knows why or what the difference is. Can you give any insight into this new phenomenon?



If it’s an allergy, the kitchen staff needs to be extremely fastidious about avoiding cross-contamination. They’ll use separate knives, pans, cutting boards, and anything else that might come into contact with the allergenic food.

If it’s a preference, they won’t bother with all that stuff. They won’t go out of their way to keep the kitchen tools separate.

I recommend going with “preference,” if you don’t have a medical issue with microscopic bread particulates. If I’m ever in that situation, I say “preference.” I’d rather not inconvenience the staff, and I want the best meal possible. After all, you’re at the mercy of the people who prepare your food. Making them unnecessarily clean a brand new cutting board and knife can really grind things to a halt, affect the kitchen flow, and convince the chef that you deserve the smallest, stringiest lamb shank in the pot or the oldest steak in the fridge.

If you’re truly sensitive to any level of contamination, go with “allergy.”

Did you see this?:


Yeah, I saw that a couple weeks back. Pretty cool. Works with bread, too. Freezing your bread increases the resistant starch content and lowers the blood glucose when you eat it. Even toasting bread lowers the glucose spike.

And even though you guys probably aren’t eating pasta, cold or not, and might be thinking, “So what if leftover pasta isn’t as bad as fresh hot pasta? I don’t eat the stuff to begin with!” – this development is still relevant. Many of you have asked about the impact reheating has on the resistant starch content of cooked and cooled potatoes. Well, if this is any indication, reheating your potatoes won’t just leave the RS untouched; it’ll actually increase it and further depress the blood glucose response.

All the more reason to keep precooked spuds in your fridge for easy peeling, slicing, and light sautéing. Nothing better than french fries that feed your gut bacteria and don’t spike your blood glucose (as much).

Hi Mark,

My wife is just a few weeks pregnant, and I want to make sure she’s getting the best nutrition possible within our/her means. The biggest issue for me is that she’s just not much of a meat eater, usually limited to [organic] poultry, eggs and the occasional bit of shrimp or crab. But she’s definitely not adverse to grass-fed butter, coconut and olive oil, which we use liberally.

Do you think it’s OK to drop the protein push if she’s getting enough good-quality fat (along with plenty of organic produce)? Or should she make sure to get a specific amount of protein? She does eat quite a bit of carbs, but overall she’s not really an over-eater by any means.



Drop the protein push. In my experience, the last thing you want to do as a husband married to a very pregnant wife is bug her about not eating this or that. And despite the incessant push for pregnant women to eat more and more protein, more isn’t always better. Studies of hunter gatherers and non-human primates have found a ceiling for protein intake during pregnancy: 25% of calories.

Studies of various protein intakes during pregnancy show that both “isocaloric protein supplementation” (where either fat or carbs are swapped out for protein) and “high protein supplementation” (where protein is increased to 25% or more of total calories) are associated with reduced birthweight and a higher risk of having a small for gestational age baby (SGA). As you undoubtedly know, underweight babies are at a greater risk for health issues, even later in life. One study even found that the offspring of mothers on a high-protein pregnancy diet were more susceptible to stress and released more cortisol when exposed to psychological stressors than offspring of mothers on a lower (but not “low”) protein diet.

“Balanced protein energy supplementation” (where you eat sufficient protein and overall calories while keeping protein under 25% of calories) is the way to go. Particularly in undernourished pregnant women, it decreases the risk of SGA.

That’s not to say that protein is bad. 10-20% of calories is probably close to ideal. A recent study even found that maternal protein intake in the first trimester was associated with bone mass of the kid by age six; higher protein intakes predicted better bone development. Of course, the population examined were ethnic Dutch, who have the 3rd highest per capita consumption of dairy in the world. For this study, high protein intake probably means high dairy intake, and dairy is extremely good for bone development, containing the pro-bone nutrients calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin K2. It’s unclear if high maternal protein intake from other sources would have similar effects on child bone development.

There are plenty of ways to get adequate protein during pregnancy that don’t involve meat. How about dairy, like the Dutch?

If your wife’s cool with dairy (the liberal use of butter tells me she is), do that. Yogurt, kefir, good cheese, milk (a glass of grass-fed whole milk with a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses provides whopping doses of critical pregnancy nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and potassium, plus the protein). Another benefit is that dairy during pregnancy seems to reduce the incidence of asthma and eczema in the offspring.

How about a sample day?

3 eggs for breakfast – 18 grams

Cup of yogurt for a snack – 12 grams

3 ounces shrimp with lunch – 24 grams

2 ounces of gouda (high in vitamin K2) with lunch – 14 grams

4 ounces chicken thigh for dinner – 28 grams

Glass of milk before bed – 8 grams

For a total of 104 grams of protein, which is more than plenty. That’s doable, wouldn’t you say? Good luck with everything and let your wife’s appetite guide her protein intake. The body knows what it’s doing and what it needs. Whatever happens, I’m sure you’ll have a healthy baby.

Thanks for reading, everyone! Be sure to include any comments, questions, or advice below!

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 more than three decades 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 flavorful and delicious kitchen staples crafted with premium ingredients like avocado oil. With over 70 condiments, sauces, oils, and dressings in their lineup, Primal Kitchen makes it easy to prep mouthwatering meals that fit into your lifestyle.

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