Last week’s post covering upper recommendations garnered so much interest – and additional questions – that I thought we’d give it another go around. While last week’s list took on basics like protein and fat as well as worthy indulgences like chocolate and – drum roll, please –BACON (break for rampant applause), this week I’ll take on a mix of specific foods and activity. Thanks for everyone’s great comments and questions last week, and be sure to weigh in on this week’s round.
Why not start off today with the typical morning ritual? Our society, many say, is fueled by coffee, and a number of us might think we’d barely be standing some days without it. For coffee lovers, a good cup of joe is a work of art. From a health standpoint, it’s not a bad deal at all. Ample antioxidants, potent anti-inflammatory powerhouse, protective factors against conditions like diabetes, certain cancers, Parkinson’s, yada, yada, yada.
Coffee’s controversy, of course, is rooted in the caffeine. Personally, I happen to like the taste, and I have one big cup every morning with a healthy splash of heavy whipping cream. But leaning on it a little bit isn’t the same as letting it become a regular crutch. Caffeine’s effect on people spans a wide spectrum. A half cup of decaf leaves some of us bouncing off the walls, animated with a manic fervor that scares small children. Others of us keep our local brew house in business with nary a hint of spastic energy. In the short term, unmistakable symptoms tell you when to put the coffee cup down: insomnia, jitteriness, anxiety, stomach issues. As far as the long term, I think the tipping point is relying on it for sustained energy levels. Caffeine can give us the occasional leg up, but if it’s keeping us upright day after day, it’s covering a larger problem. In both cases, the amount is unique to each person, although it’s known that we grow more sensitive to caffeine the older we get. For most folks, 200-300 mg of caffeine a day (100 mg being the typical content in a 6 oz. serving) – imbibed at least eight hours before bed – probably won’t cause significant problems. Once you’re downing a whole pot (500+ mg), however, you put yourself at risk for everything from heart palpitations to muscle tremors. My suggestion for upper limit: gauge your individual tolerance, but drink only what you need and keep it below 3 cups/300 mg of caffeine daily (generally when health benefits level out and negative symptoms increase). If you’re pregnant, I think there’s enough ample reason to avoid it period.
This one got people talking last week. I still stand by the Primal bacon, but there’s a good point to be made about sodium intake. Although I don’t consider myself part of the alarmist camp on sodium, I do think there’s reason to exercise moderation. Yes, salt is crucial for muscular and neurological function as well as the maintenance of extracellular volume. Salt intake around the world varies considerably, ranging from the .2 grams/day to more than 10.3 grams/day.
Upper recommendations, as offered by medical organizations, vary between 1.5 grams and 2.3 grams per day. Sure, certain populations (like those of Northern Japan) seem to be fine with higher levels, and I don’t think it’s necessary to omit healthy sea vegetables (or to give up true delicacies such as bacon). Nonetheless, I’d suggest going with conventional current in this instance and limiting sodium to the recommended range. By the way, a good Primal diet devoid of processed foods slashes sodium automatically, given that more than 70% of the average American’s sodium intake comes from processed food. Furthermore, most Primal people find that their taste for salt tends to “self-regulate” (meaning they add salt when they sense they need it and avoid salty foods when they don’t). I don’t think it’s worth stressing over every grain of Na, but use it as a general benchmark, and keep up your potassium levels to keep the full picture in balance.
As regular readers know, I love my macadamias, and I do a small handful of nuts or nut butter equivalent a few times a week. They’re powerhouses of protein, fat and minerals, B-vitamins and the like. As I discussed in a post some weeks ago, some nuts do contain a fair amount of omega-6. Although I don’t think it’s reason to avoid nuts, it’s enough to suggest the concept of moderation and a mind to overall omega-6/omega-3 ratio. If you have no sensitivities to nuts and avoid chemically treated/high heat roasted or oiled nuts, I think you can generally base your intake on the omega-6 content of the specific nut variety you enjoy. For most nuts, a small handful a day is fine. However, if you have a penchant for pine nuts or walnuts – or if you’re eating more than a couple large fistfuls of most other nuts each day – you might want to scale back. Macadamias are by far the best because they have the highest saturated and mono-unsaturated fat content with relatively low O-6.
Yesterday’s seasonality post discussed angles of “excess” and moderation. Yolks: we love you. Egg whites? They’re the rationale for taking a break once in a while. As I mentioned yesterday, Grok likely gorged when he got the chance, but it wasn’t an everyday opportunity. My suggested “ceiling” on eggs has less to do with amount and more to do with frequency. (Although I don’t think anyone should go so overboard that eggs becomes their sole protein source or edge out variety in their overall diet.) Since some folks develop sensitivities to eggs (again, the whites and their natural antimicrobial powers specifically) over time, I recommend taking regular breaks (and cutting back if sensitivities begin to appear). Skip certain days each week or take a longer “vacation” now and then – especially if you notice yourself not feeling quite the same after those crustless Primal quiches.
Another common question. If you eat a well-balanced Primal diet, you should be getting more than enough fiber to leave you in good shape. Ample and various veggies and a reasonable intake of fruits will offer your body plenty of natural and healthful sources of fiber, and I don’t see any reason to restrict these. You certainly don’t need the fiber in grains, however, and I think commercial fiber supplementation is totally unnecessary and likely detrimental in the long run. Visit GutSense.org for more info.
As with a lot of things, upper limits on cardio vary from person to person. Obviously, there are a number of factors in play here, including regularity (how many days/week), duration (how long per session) and intensity (% of maximum heart rate). It also depends on your current fitness and whether your goals include competing. As my book suggests, low/moderate level cardio is great for anyone. Although I think 3-5 hours a week can work for most folks, I don’t think there’s much need to hold back here. (More IS better to a point, but that doesn’t mean you have to be moving every second of the day either.) As for intense cardio, I have said it’s unnecessary on a regular basis, although it’s OK to do once in a while. As I discuss in the book, even a single 30-minute session of intense cardio was enough to throw off subjects’ immune function as well as raise whole body inflammation levels for three full days. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing a rigorous mountain trek every now and then (or a 10k race or whatever intense activity floats your boat), it’s not necessary to work this hard with any frequency to achieve all-around peak fitness. Do it as it serves your sense of fulfillment and adventure, but don’t force it just because CW tells you to run yourself ragged on the treadmill. Once every couple weeks is fine for longer (an hour+) intense sessions. For shorter bouts, I wouldn’t suggest more than twice a week. You’re better off working in an interval session, which leads me to…
I get the sprinting question now and then. How much is necessary? How much is too much? First off, I often do it once a week. If I’m really in the mood, I’ll do it twice (my Ultimate Frisbee game on Sunday involves a ton of sprinting, so I count that). Honestly I don’t think it’s necessary to do it more than that, and I wouldn’t recommend doing it more than twice a week. Primarily, your body wants to do its thing to recover sufficiently from the exertion. Just as significant, I think, is the unnecessary use of time. I’m all for shortcuts and efficiency. If sprinting more than twice a week doesn’t add much benefit beyond what 1-2 a week does, why waste the effort? Use the time for resistance training, some fun low level cardio/play or trying out new Primal recipes. Part of the PB’s beauty is its efficiency – using our time and efforts to give us the best return with less investment. Who’s really interested in high maintenance when there’s so much to do and so much fun to be had? Instead of “over-sweating” it, get out there and enjoy.
Have a great week everybody. Thanks for reading and for all the fantastic comments last time. I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts on this round.
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.