Dear Mark: Carbs at Night, Banana Breakfast, and Raw Milk Death

BananaFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’ve got three questions from readers. First is an interesting one from Brandon, who’s concerned about the nighttime consumption of carbohydrates spiking insulin enough to interfere with the growth hormone release that occurs during slow wave sleep. Should we be worried? Next, what’s the deal with bananas? A reader wonders whether his three-years-strong morning banana habit is introducing too much sugar into his system. I answer and explore the health effects of banana consumption in general. And finally, what are we to make of the recent death of a Melbourne toddler who drank bad raw milk?

Let’s go:

All the evidence for nighttime carbs that you and Asprey present seems perfect except….. INSULIN

Doesn’t eating a decent amount of carbs in the afternoon/before bed cause a rise in insulin, which decreases anabolic hormones (that you want in the first bit of sleep). Also won’t the glucose give you energy (thus preventing sleep and melatonin production)?

Thanks a lot man! Any short, quick answer will do 🙂


Great question. Yes, the presence of insulin blunts — but doesn’t abolish — growth hormone release. Since carbs increase insulin, it seems like eating them at night before you go to sleep could disrupt the much-beloved growth hormone spike that occurs shortly after falling asleep. Is this a problem?

In healthy people, your standard carb-induced insulin spike will return to baseline two or three hours after eating the carbs. So if you time things right, you can eat some carbs and get to sleep without impacting the growth hormone spike that occurs during the first three hours of sleep. Try avoiding a baked potato or sweet potato fries right before you go to sleep. Instead, eat them 2-3 hours before bedtime to give your insulin levels enough time to subside.

If you’re insulin resistant, of course, your body will probably produce more for the same amount of carbs and the insulin spike from eating carbs will last longer. One way to circumvent this: exercise. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity and, if it’s intense enough, can even activate something called non-insulin dependent glucose uptake, which is a method for increased glucose uptake by the muscles without using insulin at all. According to some researchers, “the effect of exercise is similar to the action of insulin on glucose uptake.” In fact, a bit of physical activity at night is helpful for anyone, even if it’s just some light movement, a brisk 30 minute walk, or a roll in the hay with your partner/spouse/etc.

And at any rate, human growth hormone secretion patterns are pretty robust. When we “miss” a planned surge in the hormone because we skip sleep or we’ve exercised heavily, the body makes up for it later with an “off-schedule” growth hormone surge.

As for the effect of glucose on sleep, you’re probably safe. A 2009 study found that high-glycemic (fast-digesting) carbs eaten four hours before bedtime helped subjects fall asleep faster than those who ate low-glycemic (slow-digesting) carbs. Quality of sleep was identical across both groups, suggesting that slow wave sleep — during which growth hormone is released — was unaffected by carb intake. Of course, four hours is enough time for the insulin spike to die down, so that could also be explaining the lack of an effect.

How about melatonin production? High-glycemic carbs increase the amount of circulating tryptophan relative to other amino acids, and that increases brain serotonin levels. Since brain serotonin is the precursor to melatonin, we can expect that a moderate dose of carbs at night — maybe some potato or a banana (see next question) — should in turn boost melatonin and make you sleepy. And that’s exactly what happens, according to the study above.

I have been drinking a couple of glasses of water and eating about half of a banana right after I get up in the morning for about 2-3 years. I drink water before I even clean my tongue and eat banana after.

Recently, reading your blog and finding out about all the bad sugar can do, I have gotten suspicious if eating half of a banana first thing in the morning is too much sugar for empty stomach.

I’ll appreciate your advice.



Bananas contain sugar, but they aren’t just sugar. Sugar isn’t all that defines them.

Just so you don’t take my word for it, let’s examine some of the research into the health effects of bananas:

Your half banana habit is fine, Munish, especially if you’ve been doing it for years without an issue. Keep doing what works! You could switch things up every now and then and eat a greenish banana instead of the riper ones. Less of the starch in a green banana will be digestible, lowering the blood glucose response, giving you a bigger dose of resistant starch to feed your gut bacteria, and improving your digestive and probably overall health. Resistant starch starts converting to sugar as the banana ripens.

But you should really watch out for that water. It’s deadly stuff. Did you know it inhibits breathing?

Hey Mark, just seen this on the Daily Mail about a child dying from drinking raw milk? What are your thoughts?


Man, what a terrible story. Very sad. I’d be careful about consuming any raw dairy not sold for human consumption because there are fewer consumer protections put in place when you’re buying “pet milk” or “bath milk.” Rather than highlight the dangers of consuming any and all raw milk, it actually highlights the health risks of raw milk prohibition and relegating the product to an illegal market. Had the milk been subjected to regular tests — commonplace wherever raw milk is legally sold for human consumption — the microbial loads would have been detected and the milk discarded. For that reason, I would avoid consuming any raw dairy not explicitly sold for human consumption.

When raw milk can be sold for human consumption, producers no longer have to operate in the shadows. They must keep up with safety inspections, quality control assurances, and regular testing. As it stands, raw milk legally sold for human consumption is still fairly safe in general. But nothing is completely safe. And yes, when raw milk is bad, you have the potential to get a really bad batch of raw milk.

This is an argument for legalization as much as it’s an argument against off-label consumption of bath milk, if anything. Without full legal acceptance, these admittedly rare occurrences will keep happening because the demand for an otherwise nourishing food like raw milk is only increasing.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Be sure to give you input/feedback below. Have a great rest of the week!

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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41 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Carbs at Night, Banana Breakfast, and Raw Milk Death”

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  1. Sorry, everyone. The comment board was accidentally disabled on today’s post. Might be a tech bug. In any case, it’s been fixed and you can comment away. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks and Grok on!

  2. >> All the evidence for nighttime carbs that you and Asprey present…

    perhaps it should be noted who really started pushing this idea and made others like. e.g. Asprey pick it up…

    Good answer nevertheless 🙂

    1. Definitely right…Carbs at night is the holy grail and let’s give credit where credit is due (not the first time Asprey ripped something off from him).

      1. Sometimes a sweet potato before bed is just the right thing. Depends on my activity level and what my body is telling me. One time I ate one in the middle of the night because my body needed it. I was so hungry.

        As for bananas, they create a damp and cool situation in the body. if you run hot and dry it’s not an issue. For someone like me, who runs damp and cool, they make my nose run right away and make me sluggish.

        Fruit in general needs to be watched if you run cool and damp. These concepts are from Chinese medicine (heat, cool, damp, dry) so most westerners aren’t familiar with them.

        So for me, the absolute worse thing to eat, especially in the morning, would be a fruit smoothie. All damp and cold. Gives me the runs ( nose and in the bum).

        I suspect there are millions of American who could instantly fix their runny nose, loose stools, and irritable bowl if they just ate a warm, fruit and dairy free breakfast with spices like peppers and ginger.

        1. Yes, sometimes oranges give me a bit of a runny nose. I wondered if anyone else gets a similar reaction.Then again spices like pepper and ginger affect me that way even more.

  3. Thanks for the carbs and banana questions. Since going primal, I cut on bananas to a minimum and resorted to eating green (for the starch) or partially ripe ones. So it’s good to know that it’s not such a devil and there’s more to it then just sugar. My favorite is a banana shake with egg yolk, coconut cream, coco powder and spirulina.

  4. Thanks for the banana info. I do eat green bananas for the resistant starch. Being diabetic, I avoid ripe ones and choose ones that are barely ripe enough to eat. Actually, I like those better than the really ripe ones.

  5. now I can truly celebrate the banana – yes! and will have to try the greenish ones..

    Also, and agree that things get better when”producers no longer have to operate in the shadows” – kinda why I am glad certain “surgeries” are legalized – not because I support those surgical procedures – but it keeps things safer and “in the light” – thanks MDA

  6. I’ve been wondering the same thing about nighttime carbs! Great post, as usual!

  7. The case of the child that died is being hyped up about the raw milk connection. The company that produces the milk was tested, and came back clear. They produce it to be drinkable, they test it regularly, drink it themselves too. I can only hope that the mass media actually reports what the ABC has already (minus the sensationalist headlines of course).

  8. I’m all for people being able to buy raw milk if they choose, but I hope that everyone who is making that choice is fully informed. The problem with listeria (which is the main concern with raw milk) is that it can come from a perfectly healthy looking animal in a clean environment. It’s not an issue of contamination, the listeria is shed directly into the milk and there’s no way to tell if the animal is a carrier. While listeria can cause nervous dysfunction in a cow or goat, it can also be complete asymptomatic. It’s not a big deal for a healthy adult since our immune systems are strong enough to handle it, but it can mean miscarriage for a pregnant mother or death for an infant or small child.

    1. Listeria can sicken or kill anyone with a compromised immune system. Also, it’s not the only dangerous pathogen that can be found in raw milk. I’m not a fan of raw dairy products for this very reason, although I do believe they should be more readily available to those who think the benefits outweigh the risks.

  9. Mark makes a good point. It is about the lack of proper regulation, not raw/not raw. I mean, meat is raw and it can harbor any number of deadly bacteria. Yet we don’t insist on selling it cooked for safety. The safety comes in the monitoring and testing.

  10. “This is an argument for legalization as much as it’s an argument against off-label consumption of bath milk, if anything. Without full legal acceptance, these admittedly rare occurrences will keep happening because the demand for an otherwise nourishing food like raw milk is only increasing.”

    It’s a good argument for the legalization of most things, but you couldn’t really expect the gov’t to be that sensible, could you?

  11. My grandmother always had raw milk from a resident cow. She kept a silver coin in the container because it,”kept the milk from spoiling.” Listeria is a nasty bug because it continues to grow under refrigeration.
    I understand silver ions under certain environmental conditions are antimicrobial. Perhaps processed foods need to be sterilized because silverware is no longer made of silver.

    1. Copper is also antimicrobial. I read they’ve started using it a lot in at least one hospital.

  12. The raw milk that was sold was subjected to regular testing. It was also tested after consumption and showed nothing…. it came back clean. Full details are not known but the child who died had terminal cancer.

    1. A few days ago someone else said the same cancer thing on another blog – my reply was :

      “I can’t find anything on the web to support this – please provide main-stream media link/s”

      No response or link given – now it’s your chance to provide a web address link.

      1. If you have a look on facebook at the group called the Australian Alliance for raw milk – there are a few statements there about it. Of course the media aren’t going to report the other side of this because it is all about fear and that is what sells.

        1. Thanks for the lead on that.

          I had a look at the site – keep in mind anyone can start a Facebook account/blog/comment-thread and state anything they wish without evidence.

          The facebook entry states:
          Dec 10 2014 “we are still gathering information on the young cancer patient who died” – no source on their cancer information

          Dec 12 2014 ” little child that passed away was seriously ill, and as I understand, his mother was advised by an alternative therapist, to give him the milk to help his condition” – no source on this either

          If it wasn’t in the media then how do they know? (nothing is explained as to how they have this information – we have to just except it as true?).

          So we know the media has a history of not reporting the whole truth (so we should be wary) – so doesn’t it make sense to question a Facebook claim?

          I have not yet seen evidence that the claim is true and I would not be perpetuating the claims until evidence is shown.

          Note: I have no issues with people choosing to drink raw milk.

  13. Hi Mark,

    I have two active children, that said my son has a very heavy build and despite his activities has a weight issue (chubby) My questions is: For school, breakfast what carbs should I be giving them if any? Most nights we have no carbs. This is quite the heated debate in my house hold and would love any guidance you can offer.

    1. Send him an email, your question might get lost in the comment section.

    2. My two cents: Experiment, experiment, experiment.

      Splitting the baby probably won’t work (one diet in the morning, another diet in the evening), at least when trying to differentiate among confounding factors.

      I’m sure everyone in your household wants to help. But, the most important thing is to find what works best for the individual (not for someone’s opinion to be proven “right”). So, perhaps you could propose something like this:

      Each person details what specific technique they think will be most beneficial. Then, everyone agrees to give a fair chance to everyone’s idea. My suggestion would be for each trial to be allowed 3 months with full support from everyone involved (i.e., even “opponents” of the “current” experiment should be fully involved in helping the person stick to the diet … maybe even helping to create delicious dishes that meet the diet). You’ll need to take before and after metrics (agreed on by everyone from the beginning to denote what qualifies as success). Then, after each experiment, you move on to try the next one.

      Hopefully, you’ll find a technique that truly works for this particular individual. Despite the upfront time costs, the time used during the experiments might pay dividends for the rest of the individual’s life.

      Experiment, experiment, experiment.

  14. “But you should really watch out for that water. It’s deadly stuff. Did you know it inhibits breathing?”


    You should sign the petition to ban it! Its now in our food, you know? they use it in pesticides too!

  15. Most of the time I would probably think “why would anyone eat a baked potato or sweet potato fries right before bed?” But I literally just ate a baked potato. And now I’m going to bed. Just felt right at the time…

  16. Bananas may have bad rep compared to darker & less caloric fruits, but even eating a ripe banana, especially half of it, especially especially if you’re not diabetic isn’t completely wrong and futile – good guy tumor necrosis factor ftw 😉

  17. Great banana post, I love bananas and was told as a child by my mom to eat bananas if I couldnt sleep, but she told me if I didnt chew it properly I would have nightmares. Never chewed a banana so well..

    1. I used to have some wild temper tantrums as a kid, lying face down on a ceramic floor while flailing my arms, kicking my legs, and banging my forehead. Somehow it was never actually painful.
      I blame how I was treated since I was a pretty good kid.
      My parents thought there was something wrong with me however and most of my life my mom was on a mission to get me diagnosed with some sort of mental illness and brought me to the doctor to get checked out with a blood test. The only abnormal result was a low level of potassium so the doctor’s prescription was for me to eat more bananas, which I hated back then, so I was given them cut in little pieces with loads of brown sugar. Wow, all I can really say as a critique to both.

  18. Healthy carb sources (fruits, unrefined starchy foods) are best in the morning in my opinion. After reading lots of stuff from Bill Lagakos at and experimenting with circadian rhythm and meal timing, I find carby food in the AM much better. A light dinner with fewer carbs is also good for one main reason:
    – insulin sensitivity of different tissue types varies with the time of day: muscles are more IS in the AM, while fat tissue isn’t, whereas the opposite is true in the evening. Apparently, circadian rhythm is VERY important when it comes to metabolic processes. In fact, if someone is rather sedentary, eating mostly in the AM-noon is better (including a light dinner so as not to be hungry when going to bed). After years of eating one meal / day mostly in the evening, I switched timing and split my food intake between AM and early evening. I feel even better that way. I also came to think it is a good thing not to stuff yourself within one short timing window but split into 2 meals well apart in time during the day.

  19. My personal experience with eating carbs at night is different than described above. If I eat fruit or other carbs before going to bed I wake up between 2 and 4 AM like clockwork. On the other hand if I eat fat before going to bed (e.g., half an avocado, tablespoon of butter or other animal fat) I fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly through the night.

  20. Raw milk for my kids has always scared me, I’m glad you addressed this question! I haven’t ever noticed a problem eating carbs at night, but of course everyone handles it differently.

    1. The “Raw milk” argument has come up before, and I think the conclusion was that the risks versus the benefits means that it just doesn’t make sense to bother with it.

      If you live on a farm and can milk direct from the cow yourself, then consider it, otherwise, I wouldn’t touch it, especially for my kids.

  21. I don’t understand most of the “insulin logic” that goes around. Insulin is one of the most important hormones in your entire body. It is crucial to survival. It is NOT a “bad guy” by any means. Having a healthy insulin response is imperative to health, and insulin needs to be spiked regularly in order to maintain insulin sensitivity. Avoiding foods that spike insulin creates insulin resistance. Insulin is supposed to go up and down after eating.

    The issue is when you have an abnormal insulin response – it goes too high or doesn’t go high enough. This isn’t caused by carbohydrate consumption. It is indicative of a larger problem. Having an abnormal insulin response is not caused by spiking it often. Because it is a ‘master hormone’ of sorts, it goes out of whack when something else is wrong. Just like abnormal cholesterol readings aren’t caused by consuming cholesterol, abnormal insulin readings are not caused by spiking insulin. It is resultant of a larger problem.

    Saying spiking your insulin is unhealthy because people that are sick and unhealthy have poor insulin responses is like saying sunlight is unhealthy because people who have vastly overexposed themselves to sunlight have skin cancer.

    1. “insulin needs to be spiked regularly in order to maintain insulin sensitivity. Avoiding foods that spike insulin creates insulin resistance”

      Would you list your source/reference for this statement?

      1. Do some research on “physiological insulin resistance.” The higher your carb intake, the higher your insulin sensitivity. The lower your carb intake, the higher your insulin resistance. This is a natural reaction – a person eating a low carbohydrate diet needs to accelerate fat oxidation to make up for the ATP disparity from the lack of carbohydrate in their diet (carbs provide more ATP more quickly than fats, which is why carbs are superior for physical activity). Insulin levels can only drop so low, so you become resistant to the insulin in your body to accelerate fat burning. With that comes higher fasting glucose (upper 90’s and low 100’s is typical to low carbers) and much higher peak BG numbers when carbohydrate is consumed.

        I’m constantly surprised by how many folks think low carbohydrate diets increase insulin sensitivity! It is the exact opposite. Low carbohydrate diets directly cause insulin resistance. The more you avoid carbohydrate, the more of a blood glucose spike you will have if you suddenly ingest large quantities of carbohydrate. This is why low carbohydrate dieters usually crash and feel terrible after suddenly eating a low carbohydrate meal. Somebody who eats SAD isn’t going to react nearly as badly to a slice of pizza as a person that has been eating <80g of carbohydrate for months on end. Ketogenic dieters will often see BG spike into the 200's after a high carb meal because their insulin resistance is so high.

        It is a never-ending loop of circular logic. Person A consumes a prolonged low carbohydrate diet. Because refined flours and sugars are incidental to almost all processed food, the low carbohydrate diet accidentally removes processed food and omega-6 oils and therefore hugely increases their intake of meat and vegetables (and incidentally protein). They feel better and lose weight as a result of their high protein, low omega-6, much lower calorie diet. But with it comes major insulin resistance. Person A eventually decides to have a "cheat meal" where they eat carbs (birthday, holiday, party, anniversary, who knows). Because they are so insulin resistant from their chronic low carb diet, their BG spikes to Type 2 Diabetic levels. They conclude carbs are bad for them or they're "carb intolerant," when really they're just insulin resistant from their lack of carbohydrate! Their low carb diet is making them react this way.

        It is a vicious cycle. It is very important to have significant carbohydrate in your diet in my opinion. Without it, your gut starves, your body temperature drops, your metabolism slows and you become insulin resistant. Proceed at your own risk. I can tell you when I started this Primal thing 5 years ago, I consistently ate 50-80g of carbs a day and as a result my fasting BG was an 89. Now, I eat closer to 250-300g of carbs a day, mostly potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn tortillas and fruit, and much, much less fat, and as a result I am usually around 75-78 fasting. It never spikes past 140, either, where it used to hit 160-180 before.

        1. I agree with this one to some extent – I don’t believe in the High Carb Low Fat or the Low Carb High fat camps – you should eat as many “Carbs” as you need. Of course, “Carbs” can come from many sources, and vegetable “carbs” come packaged with fermentable fibre, which your gut bacteria love. They don’t love the so called “fibre” found in wheat though, which is almost useless as it can’t be processed by our gut bacteria. Some people obsess so much about the “low carb” idea, that they freak out, in fact, the whole eating “half” a Banana is a classic example of this – just eat the whole Banana, or don’t eat it at all. It also comes back to the circular argument that you have to do a balanced program of exercise for any of this stuff to work – it acts as a “buffer” to help control insulin levels so you don’t have to worry as much about “getting it 100% balanced”. If your dieting and not exercising, your just pissing in the wind.

  22. I have to say – “half a banana” – lol – seriously, if I eat a Banana, I just eat a whole thing – eating a “half” banana reeks to much like Calorie counting, if your cutting it that close, don’t eat it at all.

  23. Some of the reading I have done has indicated that basically the body goes into a “fasting” state overnight as you have a large period of time until, “break fast”. If the body is low in glucose overnight, it goes to burning fat, unless you have food within 2 hours of going to sleep, in which case, all fat burning is put on hold, and it burns the newly delivered glucose instead – especially if this is something sweet like desert. Unfortunately its a catch 22 though if you are already overweight – by its very definition your leptin levels (hormone from the fat cells involved in signalling fat burning) will not be working – fixing a broken metabolism is hard, but can be done. I very rarely break the “2 hour” rule, and if I do, its just like a small handful of nuts or dried fruit.