Dear Mark: Contest Questions

For this week’s post I’m dipping into the hundreds of comments-questions I received for the Contest last month. Although I could highlight only a few for the winning set, I appreciated all your responses and will try to cover as many as possible in upcoming posts. Thanks, everybody!


As part of my more primal lifestyle I’m trying to cut out carbs and eating more vegetables. I’m currently eating 5 cups of broccoli with 3oz of shrimp and olive oil with a pinch of salt as a meal. Here’s a link to the “recipe”. That’s a whopping 56 grams of carbs a meal. Is that too much carbs even if it’s coming from vegetables? I am fairly lean but am trying to burn a bit more fat.

Fifty-six grams of vegetable-based carbs is fairly high if you’re looking to burn fat, but isn’t necessarily too much. If this is your heaviest carb count of all the day’s meals, I wouldn’t worry about the number in and of itself. However, I’d suggest rethinking the overall balance of the meal; especially if this is a dish you eat often. As much as I think vegetables should be the majority of a Primal diet, five cups of them is a fairly large amount for one meal, particularly with relatively small amounts of fish protein and fat. Are you adding that much broccoli to fill yourself up? If that’s the case, I’d cut the overall vegetable load for the meal by a cup or two and increase the non-veggie protein and fats in the meal. For the sake of diverse nutrient content (and for help cutting the carb grams), I’d suggest shaking it up a bit. Broccoli, of course, is a great vegetable source for protein as well as antioxidants. Nonetheless, you’ll inevitably get a higher carb count with 5 cups of it. Maybe throw in an extra ounce or two of shrimp for extra protein, and replace some of the broccoli with cabbage (lower carb) and a few peppers or carrots (added antioxidant variety). Reference The Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve for more guidance.

There seems to be a big void of information when it comes to being pregnant and practicing a more primal lifestyle. All the messages I get from society/culture are: rest! sleep! eat whatever you want! if you exercise don’t let your heart rate go above 140! I don’t like it. I get very strange looks when I go to the gym. I can’t imagine that Grok’s pregnant wife just quit being active and ate all that differently (I will admit to having big carb cravings but they aren’t overwhelming). What do you think? This is my first pregnancy and my husband and I are planning on more in the next few years, so I will more often be pregnant than not but I can’t find much support (at least online) for being primal and pregnant.

Congratulations on your pregnancy and on your motivation to stay healthy during this time. I agree there are a lot cultural misperceptions about pregnancy as a “fragile” state or vacation from nutritional reality. In short, let me say the following. Sleep? Go for it. Your hormonal balance changes dramatically throughout gestation. The added progesterone is enough to make anyone tired. You body is doing more work creating your child than you can imagine. Give yourself the sleep you need. As for workouts, I’d avoid spending much time above the 140 heart rate level, but that doesn’t rule out brief interval work. Doing lots of low level aerobic activity will keep you limber and help avoid or minimize some of the aches and pains that come with stiffness later. Just avoid sports and activities that include a risk of falling or abdominal pressure/impact. Although you don’t need to give up resistance training, I’d suggest retooling it to accommodate your changing center of gravity. Finally, when it comes to diet, you’re right that it’s not the time to eat anything and everything under the sun. You’re nourishing the building blocks of life for your baby and for yourself. A good Primal diet rich in vitamins and minerals, protein and healthy fats is as ideal as ever. Pregnant women require slightly more protein, iron, calcium and DHA in addition to an all around solidly healthy diet rich in antioxidants. In addition, you’ll want your diet to be as “clean” and free of toxins as possible. I’d also suggest being vigilant about resisting carb binges. Your body’s immune defenses are already naturally suppressed (an automatic physiological response to keep your body from rejecting the “foreign” being in its midst). Keeping off the carb/insulin roller coaster will serve you well this cold and flu season.

I recently convinced my vegetarian girlfriend to go Primal with me at the start of the Challenge. While I’ve convinced her to start eating fish, eggs and poultry she is flat out refusing to eat pork or any red meats. So, my question then is: What is she missing nutrient-wise? Are there any important nutrients in red meats that you can’t find in fish, poultry, eggs and high-fat dairy?

Congratulations to your girlfriend for making some healthy changes. I’d love to hear how she’s feeling these days. Although I’d say she’s made adaptations with the most significant impact, it’s true that red meats are richer sources of certain nutrients. Ounce for ounce, it’s true you get the most protein from red meat. However, dark poultry meat serves as a close second. The iron in red meat is plentiful and easily absorbed by the body, but she can include a bit of liver in her diet or (again) dark meat to boost iron intake. Likewise, red meat supplies a uniquely big boost of certain nutrients like zinc and vitamin B12, but an otherwise well balanced diet and a good supplement can certainly make up for any discrepancy. CLA, conjugated linoleic acid, is another key nutritional component of red meat, particularly grass-fed beef; however, if she can help bridge the difference with pastured dairy, particularly pastured butter. Finally, there’s creatine, the naturally occurring amino acid found in muscles. Although our bodies synthesize it naturally from other amino acids to some extent (about 50%), dietary sources fill in the rest. Red meats offer significant levels of dietary creatine, but some fish (especially salmon, herring and tuna) are considered good sources as well. With these few alterations/additions, I wouldn’t worry too much about the red meat exclusion.

What would you say to doctor’s recommendations to have large amounts of grains in one’s diet for the purpose of getting enough fiber moving through your system?

The whole fiber requirement has been blown wholly out of proportion. As I’ve said before, grain based fiber wreaks havoc on our digestive systems and only adds unnecessary carbohydrates to our diets. A doctor who recommends large amounts of grains for “system maintenance” is in lockstep with conventional wisdom, but I can tell you the advice isn’t rooted in reality. (Just like the warning saying if our urine isn’t totally clear we’re not drinking enough.) If you want your pipes to work as naturally as possible, live the basic principles that went into their evolutionary development. (Gee, how DID Grok make it through all those years without Metamucil?) The prescription is thus…. A wide variety of vegetables and fruits (complete with their own fiber, believe it or not). Healthy fats. A diet low in dairy and generally devoid of the many preservatives, additives and binding fillers in the bazillion forms of processed foods these days. Relatively low stress – or at least not chronic stress. Ample physical activity that has you up and moving around throughout as much of the day as possible. Adequate water intake. Hmmm. It sure beats Super Colon Blow flakes, squares or haystacks…whatever they’re peddling now.

Thanks as always for your questions. Check back for more Contest responses, and in the meantime, keep your comments coming!

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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