March 05 2012

Dear Mark: Do Perfect Foods Exist?

By Mark Sisson
167 Comments

Today’s Dear Mark post touches on a concept that many of us have pondered: the perfect food. That is, does such a thing even exist? What with phytates, lectins, easily-absorbed fat-soluble vitamins, allergenic proteins, and all the rest, it sometimes seems like every good food has a crippling downside. If you read too many health and nutrition blogs that delve into these relatively arcane topics (my own not necessarily excluded!), it often feels like you can’t eat anything at all without risking some horrible illness, deficiency, or excess.

The following is an excerpt from a longer email in which a reader expressed concern over the apparent scarcity of “perfect foods.”:

Dear Mark,

I’m getting very frustrated. I don’t know if it’s a case of over researching things, but I’m beginning to feel that there are very few perfect foods. That there is something bad in everything. Beef, pork, and fish have creatine. Nuts, grains, seeds, and legumes have phytates. What are we supposed to do, just live on veggies, chicken, and eggs? How is it that Grok got enough magnesium, not too much phytates, etc, etc?

Brad

No food is perfect. You are correct. But you are incorrect to despair over this unavoidable, inescapable reality. For one, you have to eat something. You can’t live on sunlight and water (although both are vital to health). Two, just because a food contains something “bad” doesn’t mean the food itself is “bad.” To show this, I thought it’d be fun to put together a list of the “downsides” of undoubtedly Primal foods that most of us probably consume on a regular basis. Within many of these Primal darlings lurks a dark side, a “negative” nutritive trait that threatens to topple its favored status… but are you going to stop eating these foods just because they aren’t “perfect”?

Liver – Awesome superfood nature’s-vitamin status aside, it has a “problem.” It’s high in retinol, which is the animal form of vitamin A and the most easily-absorbed. Too little dietary retinol is bad for testosterone production, vision, bone metabolism, and gene transcription, but too much dietary retinol can lead to hypervitaminosis A, especially with insufficient vitamin D. Explorers who ate polar bear liver, which contains upwards of 15,000 IUs retinol per gram (an insanely high concentration), have been sickened and even killed from hypervitaminosis A (PDF).

Red meatProtein, loads of healthy fats, plenty of zinc, what’s not to love? Well, for those with hemachromatosis – excessive iron absorption – the iron content of red meat can be problematic.

Eggs – Eggs are great. They are bite-sized, easily-transportable, delicious repositories of everything you need to build a fully grown chicken, but they also contain potentially gut-irritating proteins (mostly in the egg white) that can exacerbate autoimmune conditions. Lysozyme appears to be the most problematic of these egg proteins, and it’s found in large amounts in the white.

Butter – Good old butter. You’ve yet to fail anyone. Except for that guy with an intense casein intolerance.

Ghee – That means ghee is all clear, right? All of the good fat, none of the offensive proteins. Maybe not. An older study from 1987 found that ghee had a significant amount of oxidized cholesterol, presumably due to the clarification process (which involves heat). That sounds bad. So ghee’s bad, right? Maybe not (again). It turns out that the ghee from the 1987 study was “heated in an electric oven in a stainless steel mug at 120 degrees C for 50 hours.” So, while some ghee has “bad” qualities, some does not, and it all depends on how the ghee was produced.

Shellfish – Delicious, nutritious, briny, mineral-replete though they may be, shellfish can be highly allergenic in certain people. Also, because you’re eating the entire animal, including that animal’s last meal, often raw, there is an elevated risk of getting sick. Norwalk virus (not serious), vibro (pretty serious), and various shellfish toxins are all potential complications. I love raw oysters, mind you. I’m just putting this out there.

Brazil nuts – I recently mentioned these as a great source of selenium. And they are. But they’re also pretty high in phytic acid and radium.

Spinach – I love spinach, always have. It’s a great source of magnesium, calcium, manganese, vitamin K… and oxalates. Yes, oxalates – those tiny organic crystals that compose the most common type of kidney stone – are found in spinach (as well as other leafy greens). 100 grams of spinach contain 750 mg of oxalates. And though dietary oxalate has never been conclusively or strongly linked to the development of kidney stones, the theoretical risk remains.

Dark chocolate – It’s evidently a big favorite among my readers, and it has tons of benefits, but it’s also high in phytic acid, and some sources may be high in cadmium and/or mycotoxins (like aflatoxin).

Bacon – I don’t think listing the benefits is necessary here, so I won’t. How about the negatives? Pork fed on corn and soy (which even organic pigs usually eat) display high levels of omega-6 fats in their tissues, while pork fed on coconuts display almost none. If you’re eating bacon (almost all fat) from pigs fed mostly corn and soy, you’re likely consuming a fair bit of omega-6 (same goes for any high-fat pork product, really, as well as poultry). Oh, and don’t burn that bacon, or subject it to high heat for very long unless you love eating carcinogenic nitrosamines with your eggs!

Cruciferous vegetables – I just posted an article extolling the virtues of sulfur-rich cruciferous veggies, but they can also act as goitrogenic inhibitors of thyroid function. Goitrogens interfere with iodine uptake by the thyroid, so excessive intake of cabbage, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables might necessitate a bit more iodine in the diet.

My point, after all this, is not to keep you from eating these foods. It’s to show that there are no perfect foods and that there’s nothing wrong with that. Every food, even the “good” ones, has something that someone can legitimately complain about. Does that mean you can’t eat these foods, or even that you should always keep the vitamin A content of grass-fed beef liver or the possibility that your square of dark chocolate could contain cadmium in the back of your mind? No; it would drive you insane and cause unnecessary stress.

I simply wanted to show the inherent silliness of worrying about “perfect foods.” Every food has something “wrong” with it. As I’ve always said, it’s not just about the constituent parts that compose a food. The individual components don’t always tell the whole story. Whole foods do tell that story, though. You simply have to eat them to figure it out.

That’s it for today, but what about you, dear reader? Do you worry about the dearth of “perfect foods”? Do you think any foods actually are perfect, after all? Leave your thoughts in the comment section. Thanks for reading!

TAGS:  is it primal?

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167 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Do Perfect Foods Exist?”

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  1. Thanks for the useful list Mark. We are omnivores. Our ancestors adapted to changing seasons and climate, explored new regions and grabbed whatever food they could find.

    It worries me when someone in the forum says they eat the same six foods day after day.

    1. Someone actually does this?

      I think I would go crazy if I ate the same 6 foods daily. I would give it a shot for a few days but that’s all.

      1. Eating the same 6 foods isn’t all that bad. Due to budget restraints, I don’t always have the best selection. It’s all about preparation though. You can use eggs, chicken, sunflower seeds, olive oil, onions, and collard greens so many different ways, you can eat for a week and only repeat one or two meals. Although, doing for any longer than a week or two….now you’re losing me.

    2. I have eat the same foods every day all week and haven’t felt better. My numbers have gone up in my crossfit workouts. I even ran a half marathon with a 20lb vest without even training for it to show how nutrition is so important. Same idea that all other animals on earth eat the same things every day. Do they get sick? How about your dog? same idea. My trick? You would have to ask me but in general i’ve found foods that give me a ton of energy, allow me to recover quickly, keep my blood sugar down and allow me stay full, which is important since I’m a school teacher and a tennis instructor working 12 hour days. If you’re an athlete, you would understand that you treat food like a fuel so variety is not important to me, I love my results and the food I eat is great anyways!

  2. I do sometimes get caught up in worrying too much about the details, when it comes to food. In those moments, it’s always helpful to stop, breathe, and remind myself that by eating a whole foods/real foods diet I’m already way ahead of the game, and that that kind of worry is missing the forest for the trees.

  3. One way this is taken care of in nature is through fasting.

    When an organism is fasting, its body gets a chance to clean itself up, get rid of excesses, and basically balance the biochemistry of the body.

    Intermittent fasting can go a long way toward mitigating the imperfections found in food.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve felt the benefits of I.F. It literally feels like you’re cleansing yourself (at least that’s what my body feels like it’s telling me). My stomach doesn’t hurt AT ALL when I.F. – strange though I’d imagine it would have but maybe if I was still eating grains it would. No dizzy spells or low levels of energy and no pain (acid reflux, starving feeling, etc.).

      I’ve argued with my wife and the in-laws about this ever since I started PB. They don’t know what they’re missing. Lol my wife thinks I’m starving myself.

      The whole point for me is the ‘reset’ feeling – it’s pleasurable and makes me feel better overall.

      1. Agree on the IF. I’ve been doing 16-18 hour daily fasts for the last 3 months, and I feel very lucid and alert during work. The other day I caved and had a sandwich during the day. The combination of the mid-day meal and the bread (i knew better) made me crash super hard. Like that reset button.

      2. I have had the same experience with IF, right down to the arguments with my wife! I was pleasantly surprised when I first started trying it. I expected to feel hungry and agitated, but instead I feel peaceful and calm. It is a great ‘reset’, as you say.

      3. haha, yup. Nobody knows I IF because most people balk at the thought of missing breakfast. There are days when I haven’t gotten hungry until 5 PM and I think most people would think I was developing an eating disorder… Naw, just getting rid of one!

      4. When I fast for over 17 hours, I get stomach cramps even though I don’t eat grains. Any other ideas why this could be?

    2. I agree fasting is nature’s way to balance the body.

      I also think that worry,guilt and fear ingested along with the not-so-perfect food actually magnifies the “toxin”. You know the old saying what you think about you bring about. To paraphrase Henry Ford “If you think it’s toxic or you think it’s perfect, You are absolutely right!”

      As an example I reckon it does me less harm to have a piece of white chocolate because I love it than if I force myself to eat dark chocolate because it is the “better” option even though I don’t like it.

      Knowledge is power but only if it doesn’t paralyse you.

  4. Awesome post. There are always positives and negatives, and if we all got stuck on finding the perfect anything then we would get nowhere.

    1. Creatine isn’t dangerous, I looked into this quite thoroughly when I tried creatine supplements.

      We synthesise creatine in large amounts naturally, so the amount in meat isn’t significant. This is why if you want to boost creatine levels in your muscles you need to take several grams of the pure compound every day.

  5. this is great for the orthorexic crowd, overly concerned with ‘nutritionism’ as michael pollan calls it. eat real food, and trust your appetite. everything is toxic at some potin.

    1. Hear, hear. I was just thinking about Michael Pollan while reading this article. Totally agree. Eat real food and listen to your body. Guess what – nobody gets out of here alive.

      1. Great point… really! We are all going to die at some point. Stressing out about all the little problems in food is the wrong way to live.

        Educate yourself but don’t stress about the details. There is no such thing as perfection unless you believe everything the way it is is perfect!

        1. I agree, and if we aim towards perfection [wellness] we are much better off but being evangelical about what you believe in turns others away. There is a shadow side to all things.

          I saw a Fruitarian and a Raw Foodist being interviewed and the raw meat eater looked healthier and seemed much calmer to me. But then again I also saw a Raw Vegetarian in her late 70’s and she looked like she could be her husband’s youngest daughter. It’s all so confusing.

          Be the Good Example not the Horrible Warning.

          If research is to be believed if the pregnant woman doesn’t have enough protein her unborn child will have an increased risk of diabetes. It would be interesting to look at the global increase of diabetes in that light. When did the high carb, low fat, low protein diet come into vogue?

      1. love that article. some in the forums could probably benefit. but i DID like the forum message i once saw that talked about a vegan boss who ate buttery cookies at christmas who shrugged off questions with, “it’s not a religion.” and amen! 😉

      2. I just got around to reading that article. Good stuff. Watching what you eat can have good benefits, but there’s no point to extending a life that you can’t live.

        I was on a roadtrip and decided that I was going to shout “screw it” to my diet. (I’m on a variation of SAD where I try to cook as much as I can from scratch, never add salt except when it’s part of another condiment, and actually focus on grains that are considered harder to digest.)

        By the end of the trip, I’m not sure if I was carsick, over-salted, over-greased, sensitive to whatever makes normal bread fluffy, or just missing vegetables. But I had fun, and now I can get my system back into balance.

  6. Thanks, Mark- I really enjoyed your article.
    One thing that specifically stood out to me is the concern with a food I could eat all day, Brazil nuts and concerns with selenium (a mere ounce of them have almost 800% daily recommended value).

    That being said, I find it very important to point out something that you and most of your readers already know–that these foods work synergistically to give an overall benefit when consumed together, and that practically any food can have negative physiological effects when consumed in isolation, or with no other foods.

    1. Indeed.

      As Voltaire’s observed: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

      There’s no Shangri-La in the real world, we can dream but then again we have to wake up one day.

      Go Grok!

    2. Mike,

      I buy sprouted brazil nuts. Fermenting and sprouting the nuts before eating them helps reduce the phytic acid content. I get mine from either Wildnerness Family Naturals or Blue Mountain Organics.

      Cheers,
      Pamela

    3. I wonder about RDAs, as the selenium example of 800% you quote, Doctor.
      Are toxicity points determined when RDA levels are set? It would, I imagine, require extended testing, possibly far beyond finding a recommended level.
      Or maybe my vision of the lab procedures is totally whacked.
      The point I am interested in is the risk of exceeding RDAs occasionally. I like to eat nuts, but the mixes I can find have few Brazil nuts; almonds and cashews predominate. My problem is that I tend to graze when a bag is in the house….

  7. good stuff. I’m wondering if I should limit, or eliminate egg whites on occasion.

    1. I think the point of the article is that you shouldn’t unless you’re legitimately allergic to eggs.

    2. I actually avoid egg whites out of preference. I just crack the eggs into a bowl, then scoop out the yolks, and cook them in a skillet with some butter. Deliciousness! I don’t even miss the whites. I do it because I enjoy it, not because I’m afraid of the whites.

      However, I think egg whites are suspect for various reasons. Just think about the biological/evolutionary function. It is a clear, viscous liquid that serves a protective role, providing a cushion from mechanical damage, and surrounding the developing embryo with anti-bacterial substances (like lysozyme). The white has virtually no vitamins. And it’s not surprising that the white is the part that has the most allergenic compounds, since by definition, it is there as a defense mechanism.

      On the other hand, the yolk’s function is to serve as the primary source of all of the vital nutrients, macro and micro, necessary to nourish the developing embryo. This is why it’s packed with such a beautiful ratio of vitamins, proteins, and yummy fats.

      I’ll eat whites when I’m eating out and don’t want to seem weird. But when I’m cooking for myself, I just toss the whites, and feel no shame. To me its kinda like throwing a way the pit of an avocado, kind-of a nuisance. I already get plenty of protein from other sources anyways, like whole meat.

      Milk falls in a similar category to me. Sure, like egg whites, it’s a great source of protein – but from a paleo perspective, its got some baggage that makes me wary of it.

      1. I love the taste of the yolk best too, but as whole food is the name of the game I eat the whites for filling.

      2. Is not the white the part of the egg that becomes the bird? The yolk, as you point out, is the nutrient package.
        I seem to recall seeing that explanation recently, and being surprised at it; nevertheless, it is logical.

  8. Good post. The answer is to be omnivorous and rotate a variety of foods to the maximum extent possible. That will take care of most of the “problems” in foods.

    1. Exactly what I was about to post. Eat a wide range of foods and those “problems” are spread so thin as to virtually disappear.

    2. Excellent point – it is best to eat a broad diet containing a variety of foods.

    3. YES!
      The fact that there’s something problematic in almost every food we can imagine is the best argument for eating a VARIED diet and not depending on only a few different veggies and meats.

      Not sure what the policy is here for posting links, but if you go on Robb Wolf’s site and search for “Antinutrients,” a guest post I wrote a few months ago will come up. It addresses some of these issues and we should *not* freak out about them too much. Missing the forest for the trees, really.

  9. I second the question of why the poster is concerned with creatine??

  10. Thank you for addressing this. Over in the forums, people worry over eating chicken because of the n-6 content. It’s good to know each food has its advantages and disadvantages. Maybe “everything in moderation” carries a CW stigma, but how about “anything Primal, but nothing to excess?”

    1. I like that. Instead of moderation… “nothing to excess.”

      Liver is great but eating it daily is ridiculous. This is where thinking about how our ancestors lived can really help us. Liver would not be available every single day. We have not adapted to consuming that much vitamin A.

      Same thing with sunlight… it’s essential but if you are burning yourself like crazy then you will run into problems.

      1. I think it’s also worth noting that Vitamin A toxicity is usually found along with a Vitamin D deficiency (and vice versa as well). I believe Chris Masterjohn noted that when A, D, and K2 are supplemented, toxicity has never been found, but it does sometimes develop when A or D are supplemented in isolation.

        Another point on Polar Bear liver… yes, it is insanely high in Vitamin A, but who would be eating it? Arctic Explorers, for the most part. There’s probably a good chance they would have been low in Vitamin D from Sun Exposure. They might not have had good access to K2, either.

        1. The 1942 paper was apparently wrong, as a later Swedish study discovered. It was not vitamin A that caused the exfoliation and other symptoms, but Cadmium, which accumulates in the liver of this top predator. And as you say, experiments with turkeys found that overdosing with either A or D separately had bad effects, but both together had no ill effects.

  11. Yet another reason to go with a varied diet. Reason one is either whole missing food groups or lack of micro-nutrients if you’re using the same example from a category.

    The other could be to prevent buildup of any one of these substances, by letting the body shift them into the digestive tract. We eliminate what our body doesn’t want.

    Humans are marvelous creatures. The ability to puke is just one of our blessings.

  12. Any diet requires a lot of research and variety to make sure you’re getting everything you need! I’m vegetarian mostly for ethical reasons, and I feel completely healthy because I get my vitamins from a wide variety of places. Any person–vegetarian, paleo eater, carnivore, etc–won’t be healthy if he/she’s eating the same things every day.

  13. Uncured bacon and cooking it in the oven (microwave or conventional) both reduce levels of nitrosamines.

  14. I really need more posts like that! Way too often I start worrying about something like eating pork or too much cabbages. Heh.

    1. You should be concerned with eating too many cabbages, gives you horrible gas.

  15. Great post! I was thrown a curve ball when nutritional testing found that my body is not able to digest eggs. Good news – a year later my blood work and blood pressure are amazing! Breakfast “out in the world” is challenging. Selecting out foods that contain eggs is a no-brainer now that I’ve gone Grok. Fresh caught trout with bacon anyone?

  16. I’m a member of the camp who’s worries about nutrition increases the more I read about it. Been low carb since august last year and have devoured tons of blogs and books on the subject. The more I learn the more paranoid I get. I think I just have to relax and enjoy myself instead, as a previous commenter wrote, we are already far ahead of the pack and probably feel alot better than most!

    1. I’m a member of that camp too! It’s pretty hard just to ignore information, when the reason you’re here is because you obviously like to research and learn about food and health, and not just accept what is put in front of you by CW. For me it’s about where to draw the line of taking it on board, or just leaving it. Otherwise I would end up in a spiral of confusion and paranoia!

      1. Spiral of confusion and paranoia… yep, been there. But part of what brings me back to MDA again and again is the relative sanity and optimism found here, as opposed to some other sites that seem to ratchet up the fear with every post. I find that when I’m getting a little too obsessed with my diet, it’s best to stop reading blogs and start listening more closely to my body. It’s a lot easier, and I suspect more beneficial, to make adjustments to my life that grow from “informed self-awareness” rather than someone else’s experience or research.

    2. Thats exactly what I have to do. Relax and enjoy some real food with good quality.

  17. Cocoa “beans” (actually, the seed of a fruit) are fermented then roasted before being made into chocolate. No phytic acid.

    Creatine (good) is not the same thing as creatinine (bad).

    1. So you are saying that dark chocolate has absolutely not phytic acid left when we eat it? I’ve never heard this one before so I’m very interested in the truth especially if this is the truth.

      1. The combo of fermenting and roasting is very effective at significantly reducing phytic acid content; I can’t say it’s absolutely zero, but should be negligible, esp. since you should be having no more than one mouthful per day of choc.

    2. I’ve been eating raw chocolate. Don’t know whether raw chocolate is fermented (it’s certainly not roasted), so I wonder if it still contains phytic acid. Might you know?

  18. When I recently heard that rice has arsenic, my vegetarian husband replied that fish has mercury. A varied diet seems the most important.

    1. Right – I love coconut oil. I became addicted when I found out I had candida, and it’s really helping. But it’s still not perfect – it’s got something that makes some people allergic. My boss can’t have it. I don’t think it’s not the way it’s processed, either, since she’s tried different brands & versions.

  19. LOLing because the first thing I thought when I read the Q was “But chicken has too much omega 6!”.

    The answer is of course to just eat a varied diet of real foods and no worry about it. I just finished reading “In defence of food” and it made a lot of sense to me. I am sick of obsessing about how to eat, and now I know my health problems are down to a congenital problem rather than an autoimmune disease or metabolic issue, it is time to relax and learn to do the above.

  20. Do you know what effect fermentation has on goitrogens in cabbage?

    1. Ooh… good question! Homemade kimchi and sauerkraut are staples at my house, and I think they have helped a lot with my family’s gut health, but I also wonder about goitrogens (family history of thyroid goiter).

    2. Fermenting has no effect on goitrogens, only cooking neutralizes them. Having said that, fermented vegetables, even cabbage, are an incredibly powerful food in so many ways. I could care less about the goitrogens in veggies in an overall varied diet. Just eat real whole organic produce, grassfed animal products and dairy (raw) and relax.

  21. I was happy to read this. I am always fascinated by how the “experts” can never seem to decide if a food is healthy or unhealthy. One year, eggs are great because of the protein content; the next, they’re bad because of the cholesterol content. Dietitian 1 says to only consume egg white, dietitian 2 says to eat the whole egg. It’s no wonder everyone is so confused about healthy eating. I think a variety of natural foods in moderation is the way to go.

    1. The difference between truth and lie is a difference in reality, not of opinion. Just because one person says something, then another person says something else, doesn’t mean the two statements are equally valid; the public is easily confused by competing claims because science education in the USA has been under vicious assault by both Conservatives and Liberals (each for their own reasons) for 50 years.

      Most credentials – esp. in “health” or “nutrition” – don’t require understanding the scientific method, only obedience.

  22. Even though it would drive me mad to second-guess every one of my perfect foods, I AM bringing my polar bear liver back to Costco.

  23. I smoked for 40 years. I quit a year and a half ago. (Cold turkey with help online.) I’ve been cleaning up my diet for about a year.
    After 40 years smoking up t0 4 packs a day and consuming large quantities of alcohol regularly, the last thing I’m worried about is finding “Perfect food” I’m happy with 80% perfect. I think I usually do a lot better than 80%. I figure that if I eat a variety of healthy things and avoid very unhealthy things, then my diet is good enough. I’m not trying for perfect.

      1. I’m lucky. Never got addicted to alcohol. I can enjoy one or two drinks a week. 80% IS perfect. (Not gonna risk any nicotine. That was definitely an addiction.)

    1. Good for you for eliminating cogs a and alcohol. I didn’t find it easy and after 25 years I still feel deeply grateful to have done with it!

  24. I wonder if human egg cells or zygotes would make the best food for humans. It could also solve the teen pregnancy problem.

    1. Brings to mind the Jonathon Swift essay, A Modest Proposal, wherein he suggested that the English essentially set up feed lots for young Irish girls (where Ireland was in dreadful famine conditions). The resultant meat could be sold as a delicacy to English aristocracy, while helping to ease the famine.
      This is the kind of satire writers wish they dared to produce!

  25. I recently came across your website, bought your book, and literally “devoured” every single word of it.
    I’ve been contemplating giving up vegetarianism for some time now, and I have never felt better!
    I also agree with the fact that no food is perfect. When I was a little kid, it was easy for me to identify “good” foods versus “bad” foods, but now with researching mixed opinions on the internet, I get really confused.
    Every food does have something bad it in – fruits are high in sugar, eggs have too much cholesterol, etc.
    What I’m learning is to eat intuitively – that is what I feel like my body needs when it is hungry, and so far it is working pretty well for me!
    Thanks!

    1. One or two cups of (whole, raw) fruit is NOT a diet “high in sugar”. Almost nobody is fat or sick from eating a couple servings of fruit per day.

      Eggs are NOT “high in cholesterol”; your body needs chol so bad it makes more than you get even from a “high” chol diet. Zero reason to avoid chol in food, it was always a combo of idiocy and $.

    2. Amen! I could have wrote this same comment minus the vegetarianism.I devoured the book too. Once I understood the science behind all the foods I was amazed. I have been primal for 10 months now and my health has never been better. Oh and I am also down 40lbs.

  26. Hi All,

    I am 49 in April, have had 4 kids and spent most of my life eating meat, chicken, fish, veggies etc. Never stressed about it, never counted calories. My weight lives at 55k and I’ve been the same dress size for almost 30 years. We eat primal probably 80-90% of the time and probably have for years not giving it a name. Honestly – life is WAY too short to get all wound up. Eat what you like thats fresh and clean (in moderation) and enjoy!

  27. Forgive if I repeat what previous posters mentioned, didn’t have a chance to read them all. Potential toxins, over abundance of nutrients is highly over- rated. For almost 6yrs straight I ate 6 raw eggs daily without the slightest adverse reaction. For most of the last few years I’ve gone through 6-12oz of spinach daily (think costco sized container) with no adverse reaction. And yes I do rotate my greens, spinach just happens to be my staple. So while it’s important to understand the risks, never let it deter you from what you intuitively know to be good. If you listen to your body you will have very clear signals of when you might be getting too much of a certain food or nutrient long before it becomes harmful. The only time I have ever almost hurt myself nutritionally is when I was doing very high dose ZMA. But after a few loose bowel movements I evened things out.

  28. What is important is to know IF our bodies have evolved dealing with most of these ‘toxins’ or not.
    Obviously, we have not really evolved to live on a lot of veggies high in oxalates, nor have we evolved living entirely on the part of the plant that is needed to reproduce itself (grains, legumes)

    This is what’s important : VARIETY.

  29. I’m starting to wonder if I may have some psychic ability. I just commented on an old MDA post yesterday about people stressing out over the minute amounts of toxins in some foods and how I think that may actually be worse for them than the substance itself.

  30. All you need is a little perspective. You used to live on Lucky Charms, diet Coke, and Cheetoh’s. Does an egg really seem that scary?

  31. Just been reading Lierre Keith and cross referencing some of the stuff around soil health and our good health. I enjoyed this post because it reinforces the idea that finding local foods , organically grown and outside the mega food chain system still seems to be the way to go…I won’t sweat the small stuff if I can get a varied and seasonal range of fruit vegies and free range meats, visceral or otherwise…My N=1 experiment 100% agrees that eating good foods makes you healthier..it also ties in with the epigenetic meme that eating a natural diet low in sugar and full of good stuff will result in better genetic expression of health and vitality..so far so good.

  32. But is there a good ‘munchies’ food? Something you can munch on handfuls and handfuls of and not worry about too much fat, calories, carbs etc… like celery, maybe?

    1. You can probably eat your fill of vegetables without any problems unless a huge amount of fiber doesn’t sit well.

  33. This is so simple yet causes so much confusion. Eat a variety and create balance. Consuming too much of just about any one thing is bad. Brazil nuts here, eggs there, fruit over here, veggies on the side…etc. Stay away from processed foods, artificial ingredients and anything that nature does not provide freely. You will be fine!

  34. Ahh…that’s why I threw up both my lungs last week! Tried raw oysters for the first time.

    1. We all like different things. Personally, I can’t get enough of raw oysters. I eat a few dozen for dinner at least once a week. If they weren’t so expensive, I would eat them more often than once a week.

  35. TBH breathing is bad for you, all the particles in modern air which we were never intended to breath…but hey – I’m not going to give up breathing just yet 😉

  36. Argh Mark, I love shellfish! They’re one of my feel-good foods – like liver; I always make a thai shellfish curry – green, red or yellow, depending on mood – a few times a week. I just make sure I get mine from a reputable source. And I only eat raw shellfish in places I can trust. I went on holiday to Paris this Christmas and the hotel’s specialty was raw shellfish platters. I must have consumed my bodyweight in shellfish while I stayed there…

  37. By the way, this post is so on time. There’s been sooo much bashing of individual foods in the paleosphere lately. Nuts, Poultry, avocados (wtf…?), eggs…people need to relax. Its one thing analysing crap in packages, and another thing picking apart whole foods. How can you seriously think eating a fresh avocado is the same as drinking a shot of canola oil (*shudder*)?

    1. IS there anything bad about avocados? Don’t remember reading anything (except by “regular”, non-paleo folks about the high fat content). I think all of us here are OK with the fat content of the avocado.

      1. Some people are allergic to them. Oddly enough, the allergy is related to a latex allergy. It doesn’t sound like it’s a problem for you though!

      2. While not perfect, of course, an avocado is a great food. I have even heard some people call avocado a perfect food – although obviously not perfect for everyone. Avocado is a berry.

        From wikipedia:

        The avocado (Persea americana) is a tree native to Central Mexico,[1] classified in the flowering plant family Lauraceae along with cinnamon, camphor and bay laurel. Avocado or alligator pear also refers to the fruit (botanically a large berry that contains a single seed[2]) of the tree, which may be pear-shaped, egg-shaped or spherical.

        Avocados have diverse fats. For a typical avocado:

        About 75% of an avocado’s calories come from fat, most of which is monounsaturated fat.

        On a 100 g basis, avocados have 35% more potassium (485 mg) than bananas (358 mg). They are rich in B vitamins, as well as vitamin E and vitamin K.[30]
        Avocados have a high fiber content of 75% insoluble and 25% soluble fiber.[31]

        High avocado intake was shown in one preliminary study to lower blood cholesterol levels. Specifically, after a seven-day diet rich in avocados, mild hypercholesterolemia patients showed a 17% decrease in total serum cholesterol levels. These subjects also showed a 22% decrease in both LDL (harmful cholesterol) and triglyceride levels and 11% increase in HDL (helpful cholesterol) levels.[32]

        Additionally a Japanese team synthesised the four chiral components, and identified (2R, 4R)-16-heptadecene-1, 2, 4-triol as a natural antibacterial component.[33]

        Due to a combination of specific aliphatic acetogenins, avocado is under preliminary research for potential anti-cancer activity.[34]

        Extracts of P. americana have been used in laboratory research to study potential use for treating hypertension or diabetes mellitus.[35

  38. I try to ignore the nefarious posts that spell out the “dangerous” effects of a particular whole food. Squash, most fruits…whole foods with “good for you” ingredients!
    Thanks for this post- hope it gets good circulation!

  39. Quick question on the cruciferous veggies. Would eating an excess of them without balancing with iodine cause a feeling as though the throat (on the sides of the larynx especially) were swelling? I only ask because goiter, caused primarily by iodine deficiency. is a swelling of the thyroid gland. A

  40. I particularly like this explanation from Evolvify, from the article “The Myth of Food.” He argues that there really is no such thing as food, and that “[e]verything we put in our bodies exists somewhere on a continuum from food to poison…. [T]he continuum is made up of multiple axes. Something can be 99% food on the protein axis, 83% food on the vitamin R axis, but 0% food on the “lacking cyanide” axis and 17% food on the lectin axis.” Since reading and thinking about all this, I’m much less anxious about what I’m eating having some crazy, detrimental effect that I’ve yet to research.

  41. Are sweet potatoes and yams high enough in absorbable Vitamin A to cause “overdose issues”? I sometime eat 2-3lbs a day to support high performance cycling.

    1. I doubt it.
      Sweet potatoes and yams don’t actually contain *any* vitamin A. They contain beta-carotene, which is a precursor that then needs to be converted to vitamin A by your body. Some people are more efficient than others at making this conversion, but true, actual vitamin A typically comes only from animal foods.

      So I don’t think you could “overdose” from sweet potatoes. The biggest thing you might notice a little orange tint to your skin. (No joke!) You might consider backing off at that point. 😉

  42. Just thought I’d point out that if we evolved eating these foods, then our genetics will likely be suited to expressing themselves well in their presence, and will not be natured for expressing themselves ideally in the presence of some imaginary “food of perfection.” I’m thinking hormetic effects actually, where the body may respond optimally to the low level of toxic or non-ideal components present in these foods which will act as a mild stressor to the digestive system and immune system, whereas those same troublesome elements will be actively harmful at higher levels.

  43. IMO, the fact that a food can be an allergen or toxic in large quantities does not lower its value. There are some people who develop urticaria from sunlight and/or water.

    By Mayo Clinic staff

    Sun allergy is a condition in which sunlight triggers a skin reaction. For most people, sun allergy symptoms include an itchy red rash in areas that have been exposed to sunlight. A severe sun allergy may cause hives, blisters or other symptoms. There are several types of sun allergy — including polymorphic light eruption (PMLE), actinic prurigo, chronic actinic dermatitis (CAD) and solar urticaria.

    Wikipedia:

    Aquagenic urticaria, also known as water urticaria and aquagenous urticaria, is a rarely diagnosed form of physical urticaria. It is sometimes described as an allergy, although it is not a true histamine releasing allergic reaction like other forms of urticaria. The defining symptom is a painful skin reaction resulting from contact with water. This may also be the effect of different temperatures of water, such as cold or hot and can flare with chemicals such as chlorine

  44. When I was a teenager I realized that eating eggs gave me a stomach ache. Until now, I had no idea why. Since going Primal I have no issues. I eat them at least 3 times a week no problems.

  45. excellent guide, in fact the food is not perfect, some other missing something and you can spare, but everything is properly consume and as natural as possible

  46. I worry about the “perfect diet.” I just blogged about it last night because it is SO frustrating that almost every food I consider eating has people saying it is bad and unhealthy for us. I mean, there is so much conflicting information out there. It drives me insane and then I want to say “the heck with it” and just eat cupcakes! Bad idea…

  47. Love your common sense and your balance here Mark.
    I’m new to the site and I’ve not read everything that’s been written (one hell of a lot!) so I’m not sure anyone has metioned Nourishing Traditions and how soaking overnight washes away the phytic acid in grains and seed. It also helps with cooking time the next morning.
    Keep up the great work!

  48. Darn. Guess It’s time to convert to Breatharianism. Too bad too. I really used to like meat and vegetables before I read this.

  49. We all can get a bit nutty on what, when, where and who to eat. It just happened to me a few weeks ago. There is so much information, and so many opinions from “experts” and us normal folks as well. It can be SO OVERWHELMING!! But, it really is simple…stay away from food in a box, cook your meals, make healthy choices. If you fall off your wagon, life goes on. Get back up there, and forge ahead!

  50. It’s kinda like your investment portfolio. If you have a diversified portfolio, you reduce your risks. If you have a diversified diet, you reduce your risks. It all balances out in the end.

  51. I have always thought that Avocados are the one and only perfect food. Love em and always have!

    Andrew

  52. It’s not like you Mark to be getting caught up in this “perfect food” nonsense. Just eat natural whole foods and trust your instinct. You never see a rabbit wondering what it should eat. Also cooking the eggs gets rid of any baddies according to Chris Masreson

  53. Please forgive my ignorance, but what’s wrong with easily-absorbed fat-soluble vitamins?

  54. I just munched down some dark chocolate while reading this awesome post and I must admit that while I don’t feel perfect eating this imperfect food, I feel pretty dang good! Hand me another square, please and I’ll take another slice of bacon if there’s any left over.

  55. I think it’s presumptuous to think that we already know everything there is to know about all foods and how they interact with our bodies and with other foods in our bodies. For heaven’s sake, they used to advertise pure, white sugar by the spoonful as a great source of energy for growing teenagers, and that wasn’t even that long ago!

  56. The only perfect food I can think of is breast milk. Of course it’s for babies so I don’t know if that counts 😉

  57. Glad to see oxalates mentioned. Not to many are aware of oxalates. Gotta tell you though its not a theorhetical problem here. I know a few with kidney stones and plenty of others (including myself and my son) that are on a low oxalate diet. It affects much more than the kidneys.

  58. BACON?!?!?!?!?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    seriously though, i was always told growing up that the difference beetween a medicine and a poison is the dosage. Almonds contain trace amounts of cyanide, but not many people know that small amounts of cyanide is essential to human health! ditto arsenic

  59. I have been trying to switch over to a mostly paleo diet for a few weeks now. I say mostly because I still consume a lot of dairy products like milk and yogurt and such. It is also pasturized because I haven’t found anywhere yet to get it in Oregon. I am also on a budget with a single income and two children with one more on the way. I know I am not getting all the benefits as with raw dairy products and it doesn’t seem to bother me. I was curious what exactly are the negatives about it and are they big enough to worry about?

  60. Great post . There is some irony however in saying not to worry to much about food toxins when the books I have read about paleo and primal diets have used the scare of toxins in grains and legumes to eliminate them from our diets.

    I too get very confused by all the conflicting diets and good food / bad food debates. Go to any raw , nutritarian , or vegan posts and it’s hard not to be convinced that their diet is perfect. Everyone who posts feels great , loses weight , tons of energy , and so on. Very frustrating when you just want to know what to eat!

    Of course , most people I know grew up on loads of trans fats , sugar , cholesterol, and caffeine , and yet we survived somehow , and at least some of us, in pretty good shape. While I am sure that eating that way probably isn’t conducive for a long healthy life, I find it helps me keep things in perspective when I hear about dangerous food toxins, especially in natural foods.

    Barring illness or specific allergies, I feel more and more that it is just the elimination of heavily processed foods, and excess sugar that seems to due the trick for most people. I echo the call for moderation , but I also believe that includes grains and legumes as well.

    Love these posts and all the readers comments. I always learn something new and have a great time doing so!

  61. I’m with Andy on this one. I am doing Primal 80% on and off for over a year now. I find that eliminating processed foods, exercising in moderation, not sweating the little stuff and not being obsessed really helps.

    It is a journey to learn what works for our body. I tried low-carb but due to a bad history with food I tend to binge after weeks of staying on track. I tried IF same result. I tried eating only when I’m hungry bad idea because as soon as I have cream in my coffee I’m not hungry for the rest of the day. I tried 3 meals a day doesn’t work for me. I tried 6 smaller ones great. Tried eliminating foods completely and resulted in feeling blahh…

    I am still learning but along the way I have learnt to cook and bake from scratch for my family at the ripe old age of 44.

    I find that allowing myself the 20% helps me de-stress about food and helps me choose what I do want to eat as a treat rather than stuff myself with junk.

    I also have a scale that shows me my resting metabolic rate and guess what it is low. When I IF it is close to 1000 cals. When I eat 6 meals a day it is 1300. When I binge I eat 6 times that..

    The Rambam a Jewish sage and Dr. said that you should eat till you are 3/4 full…never eat in excess as this will make you ill.

    I have often read this forum in the last year and thought about how enthusiastic people are when they start and then they sort of either stick to it and preach to us or drift away.

    Moderation and realizing that you are going to have to eat this way for the rest of your life should help keep you on track.

    Now that I’m 45 I discovered yesterday that I can finally do 10 “man” pushups. No mean feat for a 5.3″ woman with not much core strength. I have been trying to do more than one for months now…

  62. Carcinogens in burnt bacon? While growing up, as my wife pointed out the other day, my family (five kids, single income) wasted very little. If the toast got burnt (or the bacon, which we didn’t see very often), someone, usually one of the parents, scraped off the heavy coals and ate it (with margarine and honey or jam). Yet, despite the cries of cancer today, neither of my parents had displayed any signs of cancer, other than Mom, who had lymphoma, which I don’t believe is linked to diet.

  63. A little bit of what’s bad for you is good for you, aka “hormesis”. From Archevore:

    “In other words, the benefit of … the slightly toxic colorful compounds called polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables, is that both act through hormesis.

    “Hormesis is when a small stress induces a healthy response in an organism, such that the organism is healthier than without the stress exposure. Any stress that we have defenses for, that we would expect to encounter on an evolutionary basis, is a candidate to be hormetic.”

  64. NOt preaching (to the choir or the congregation) here, but yeah, Mark. As a result of the Fall, nothing is as it should be. But you know, The Big Guy upstairs still gave us all these great foods to eat, and a BRAIN to know when the body is saying, ‘Not good for YOU.’

    Common sense isn’t common, it would appear. Or else the sources quoted are merely fear-mongering. Which I ignore anyway. My 2 cents.

  65. analysis paralysis, Stop over thinking and just start eating. we need to get through each day with what is available organic or not. JUST EAT! There is such a thing as too much information. If we are active and eat right most of the time we will be just fine!

  66. About the oxalate in spinach and other leafy greens. I believe that it was Dr. Carey Reams who stated that oxalate in raw greens is not harmful, but once the greens are cooked, the oxalate turns to oxalic acid crystals, and therein lies the problem for the kidneys…cooked greens is like eating little shards of glass. So, enjoy them RAW.

  67. A half cup of raw spinach has about 160 mg of oxalate (this is from the University of Wyoming. They have a lab that tests foods for oxalate content and have tested about 10000 items). That oxalate has already bound up the calcium as calcium oxalate and rendered about 75% or more the calcium unvailable to the body. Steamed is even worse, but thats due to volume (1/2 cup cooked is about 2-21/2 cups raw)

    There was a study (Oxalic acid in foods and its behavior and Fate in the diet) that concluded “If to a diet of meat, peas, carrots and sweet potatoes, relatively low in calcium but permitting good though not maximum growth and bone formation, spinach is added to the extent of about 8% to supply 60% of the calcium, a high percentage of deaths occurs among rats fed between the age of 21 and 90 days. Reproduction is impossible. The bones are extremely low in calcium, tooth structure is disorganized and dentine poorly calcified. Spinach not only supplies no available calcium but renders unavailable considerable of that of the other foods. Considerable oxalate appears in the urine, much more in the feces. Turnip greens, mustard greens, kale and collards, greens with negligible oxalates, under similar conditions produce excellent animals that deposit four times as much calcium per unit body weight as those receiving spinach”.

    If you have a leaky gut or a history of kidney issues, any food high in oxalates, raw or cooked, isnt a good thing.

  68. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you are making healthy choices 90% of the time, that’s good enough. Variety will mean you get lots of different nutrients your body is craving. I choose organic where possible, and eat locally and in season to get the most out of the food I buy!

  69. So tell me: What is wrong with avocado! I could live of guacamole. 🙂

  70. How about eating in the season then the foods are available for maybe 3 or 6 months of the year , would very much doubt that oxalic acid for instance would be a problem with a six month break , or eggs only during spring time .
    This would be how our distant ancestors would have eaten be them cavemen or nomads .
    What are your thoughts .

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  72. Hey Mark. Great post. Thanks for all the helpful insight. In the category of nuts, will germinating them (soak & drying, and/or sprouting) neutralize the phytic acid and other toxins, as the process does with enzyme inhibitors?

  73. My nutritionist scolded me for following the Primal Diet… WHY?!?!

  74. I’ve been researching anti-nutrients a little bit, and while grains have phylates, etc, things like spinach have oxalates, which is an anti-nutrient. This article talks a little bit about oxalates, but doesn’t mention that it’s an anti-nutient. The anti-nutrient argument against grain-eating goes out the window when many primal foods have anti-nutrients and one is allowed to eat them according to the Primal Blueprint. Am I wrong? If I am, how?

  75. One food that I believe was missed that I consider a “perfect” food.
    The APPLE…………..

  76. Forget the concept of the perfect food, can you tell us, if we only had one food to eat which food would keep us alive the for the longest period of time?