I love doing these “Is It Primal?” posts. For one, the supply of topics is virtually limitless, because you guys are constantly sending in new foods and products for me to research. Two, I’m learning a ton of new stuff. And it’s not just specific foods I’m learning about; it’s also forcing me to think about health and what Primal actually means in new ways. There are plenty of times where I approach a particular entry with the assumption that it’s definitely going to be Primal, or definitely not going to be Primal, only to be surprised by what a little more research shows. It can be disconcerting to have your beliefs challenged or even scrambled, but so be it. That’s a small price to pay, right?
Let’s get to the foods. We’re doing five today – Paleo Bread, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, psyllium fiber, expeller pressed refined coconut oil, and unflavored gelatin.
Paleo Bread is actually a specific product. Now, I haven’t tried it myself, and while I’m generally against using paleo or Primal approximations of neolithic foods as staples, Paleo Bread looks like an extremely solid, ideal choice. Here’s why:
Choice of either coconut or almond meal-based bread. Coconut is the Primal darling, but not everyone likes or is compatible with it. Same goes for almonds. Giving folks a choice means pretty much everyone can find something they enjoy and tolerate.
The almonds used are blanched, with the skins removed. Since one of the major problems with eating a lot of nuts (like in breads made from them) is the mineral-binding phytate content, and phytate lies in the skin of the almonds, Paleo Bread should be safe on that front.
It’s made from actual food, with a short list. Almond/coconut flour, egg whites, psyllium (more on that below), apple cider vinegar, baking soda, and water are the ingredients. There’s nothing particularly offensive or hard-to-pronounce (which isn’t definitive, but a rather useful guideline for a food’s healthfulness) there.
If you have a hankering for bread, I’d say go for it. Just don’t make it a daily thing.
UPDATE: It’s recently come to my attention that there’s some contention over whether the nutritional claims of Julian Bakery, the folks behind Paleo Bread, can be trusted. A recent post from Jimmy Moore, in which one of Jimmy’s readers reports excessively elevated blood sugar from eating a few slices, suggests that the “net carb” claims for their Smart Carb bread were misleading (or downright incorrect). Later on in the post, independent lab testing (ordered by the reader) shows nutritional data that contradicts the data on the label. Whether Julian Bakery’s Paleo Bread has the the same issues remains to be seen, but I’d caution any potential buyers to run their own tests.
UPDATE 2: This is a an email from a representative of Paleo Bread:
I wanted to contact you to set the record straight about Paleo Bread as we pride ourselves on nutritional accuracy and test all our bread. Also the blog post Jimmy Moore referenced is complete slander as that women (sic) did NOT test for Inulin in our bread so her test is not accurate. We proudly test all of our breads with Medallion Labs.
Please let me know if you have any questions and we would appreciate you fixing your most recent post about our Paleo Bread.
Julian Bakery, Inc.
Verdict: Primal. Undecided.
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
A “soy sauce alternative,” Bragg’s Liquid Aminos still contains soy as the primary ingredient. What sets it apart, though, is the production process, the lack of wheat, and the lack of added salt. So it’s a sauce made from soy, but it’s not a soy sauce.
Bragg’s isn’t fermented, unlike most soy sauces. Instead of fermentation, the folks at Bragg’s apply hydrochloric acid (the same stuff found in your stomach) to soybeans, “predigesting” them and releasing free amino acids (like glutamate). To counter the acidity, they add sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), which combines with the “chloric” part of hydrochloric acid to make the salty taste. I’m actually a tentative fan of fermented soy as a condiment (miso, natto, that sort of thing), because it seems to have different effects on humans than processed or unfermented soy. I outlined some of the apparent benefits in this older post, if you’re interested.
I’ve heard of MSG-sensitive and soy-sensitive people having issues with the free glutamate in Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. I’m not convinced that naturally-occurring free glutamate is a problem, but I can’t argue with people who report sensitivities.
That there’s no wheat is a good thing, but you can get wheat-free tamari sauces that taste great. Heck, even regular soy sauce (which has wheat) might be “free of wheat allergens,” owing to the fermentation. Personally, I don’t like the taste of Bragg’s. Not sure how to describe it, really.
Verdict: Not Primal (unfermented soy), but it doesn’t appear very threatening.
Psyllium fiber comes two different ways, with each having a different effect on your bowels and their movements. Psyllium husk, which is the popular type of pysllium fiber found in most supplements, comes from the exterior of the psyllium seed and is almost entirely insoluble fiber. It bulks up your poop and can help move things along, but it’s pretty much an inert polysaccharide. Your gut bacteria can’t do much with it, let alone your “own” digestive system. If you need to fill a toilet bowl, psyllium husk will do it.
Psyllium seed powder, however, is mostly soluble fiber. That means it’s a prebiotic, fermentable fiber that can feed and support your gut flora and spur the creation of beneficial short chain fatty acids like butyrate. In fact, psyllium seed has been shown to increase butyrate production by 42%, an effect that lasted for two months after treatment.
Verdict: Cautiously Primal, so long as you’re using the seed powder. But I’d rather you get your fermentable fiber in whole food form. Psyllium husk? Not Primal.
Expeller Pressed Refined Coconut Oil
There’s that word: “refined.” Not so bad when you’re talking 16-year single barrel Scotch, monocles, The New Yorker, and finely oiled mustaches, but extremely suspicious when you’re talking edible fats. Most refined oils are processed using chemical solvents like hexane, some of which may show up in the finished product. Expeller pressed coconut oil, however, is physically processed. They literally press the coconut flesh to squeeze out the oil.
Refined coconut oil doesn’t taste like coconut, thanks to the deodorizing steam-treatment it receives. If you want that coconut flavor, go for virgin coconut oil. But if you’re doing a stir-fry, cooking up some eggs, maybe oven baking some sweet potato fries, and you don’t want everything to taste like Thai food, expeller-pressed coconut oil is a fantastic choice. It’s more resistant to high heat than virgin coconut oil, too, making it the go-to fat for those times you want to cook something on high.
The other benefits of coconut oil, like the medium chain triglyceride content, are not affected by the refining process. They remain intact and present.
The protein powder-, squatz-, oatz-, and gainz-obsessed online lifting culture may frown upon gelatin as a source of protein, but it has its place in a healthy diet. Sure, gelatin, with its unanabolic amino acid profile, can’t be relied upon as a primary protein source – it’s not going to get you huge – and early attempts at protein fasts using gelatin instead of more complete proteins resulted in the most permanent weight loss method of all: death. But as an adjunct to a protein-replete diet? Gelatin is great and underappreciated.
Hard clinical evidence of its benefits are scant. Anecdotes report benefits to bone, joint, and skin health. I’ve found that a warm cup of gelatin broth just before bed gets me incredibly sleepy. Perhaps its the glycine in the gelatin, which one study found to be effective for improving sleep in humans. Another study found that dietary gelatin reduced joint pain in athletes. At any rate, it seems helpful, if not essential.
Of course, I’d rather you get your gelatin through bone broth and gelatin-rich cuts like chicken feet, oxtail, ribs, and shanks. These will offer nutrients and complete protein along with the “incomplete” gelatinous protein, and they taste incredible. But if you’re not eating those cuts, if you’re not making broth, if the only meat you eat is completely free of gristle and bone and cartilage and sinew, incorporating a little unflavored gelatin is a worthy consideration to make. Before the days of shrinkwrapped sirloins, 95% lean ground beef, and discarding over 50% of the live weight of a cow carcass as “inedible,” humans utilized the entire animal – tendons, bones, feet, hide, cartilage, head, skin, and all the rest. That’s a lot of gelatin we evolved eating, gelatin that you’re no longer eating. Think of unflavored gelatin as a replacement for that.
For optimal digestion, gelatin should be dissolved in warm water before drinking (in one study, hydrolyzed collagen, but not undissolved gelatin, improved bone health in rats). This isn’t a very interesting way to eat it, though, so you might try adding a little fruit juice or tea to the mix and refrigerating it until it gelatinizes. Then you have a fairly healthy jello.
If you’re worried about the source of the gelatin, for ethical or nutritional reasons, you can always use a grass-fed bovine gelatin, like this one.
That’s it for today’s list of questionable foods. I hope I didn’t break any hearts or crush any spirits. Keep on sending more foods and I’ll try to eventually get to all of them. Thanks for reading!
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.