Dear Mark: Marine Fat Sources, Not Gaining/Losing, Keto Breastfeeding

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions. First, what are some less expensive sources of marine fat high in omega-3s? Is canned salmon a good, safe, effective option? Second, a reader is training hard, eating low-carb/keto, doing IF, and feels pretty good despite not losing or gaining any weight? What should she do? What could she be doing wrong? And third, should you go keto while nursing?

Let’s go:

Marine fat. Good examples? I have tried to eat sardines, I really have. I don’t know why they repulse me so. Where else can I turn? Safe salmon is just so expensive unless you get canned, and even then, can you trust it? If it’s true satiety I’m going for, a supplement (cod liver oil?) is probably not going to give me that.

I hear you on the canned salmon. When I was first looking into this years ago, I worried that canned fish would be damaged by heat and perform worse than supplements. Turns out it’s very useful. In one study, researchers gave women with a high risk of breast cancer omega-3 fats via fish oil caps or canned salmon. Both “supplements” worked at increasing levels of DHA and EPA. Fish oil increased the EPA content of red blood cells and plasma four-fold; canned salmon increased it two-fold. The change in DHA was similar in both groups, as was the overall change in breast tissue fatty acids. Fish oil may be more potent, but it’s unclear if quadrupling your RBC EPA is necessarily more desirable than doubling. You also have to consider the two things the fish eaters got that the fish oil quaffers didn’t: all the micronutrients (selenium, iodine, astaxanthin, etc) and macronutrients (protein) salmon provides.

Canned salmon is a good option, and most of it is BPA-free these days (but verify). If you enjoy it (some do not), look for salmon that includes the bones and skin. Tons of benefits there—calcium, collagen, extra oil. Trader Joe’s used to carry one like that. They still might.

Fresh mackerel is good. Here’s a buying and cooking guide to mackerel I did awhile back. It’s affordable and full of omega-3s.

If you can find them, fresh sardines are a totally different animal. Just make sure the fish smells clean, has clear eyes, is firm, and resists sagging when held parallel to the floor by the tail.

Canned cod liver exists. It’s tastier and milder than you’d expect, canned in its own oil, and Northern Europeans have been eating it for years. Here’s smoked cod liver. Here’s regular.

Jennifer asked:

#6 is me right now. I am eating low carb (maybe even Keto), and I’m IF’ing every day (allowing only coffee w/ a splash of cream in the morning). My appetite is finally feeling quite suppressed. The nice thing is that I’m not counting. I am eating intuitively; and at the end of the day, I log what I ate as best as I know how (since I didn’t measure), to just check, and everything seems to be on point with my calories and macros. I train brazilian jiu jitsu several times a week, as well as do HITT style workouts, with strength training on my off days. I usually have a couple days a week that I don’t train.

My question is, I’m not losing and I’m not gaining – so do I keep doing what I’m doing? Or do I change things up? I feel fine – plenty of energy, and I’m not hungry. If I were hungry, I’d eat. My goal is to lose another 15 lbs, and I love the keto/IF style for me because it works well with my lifestyle.

First, make sure you actually need to lose another 15 pounds. 15 pounds of what? Fat, lean? Rather than thinking in terms of bodyweight, it’s often more helpful to have concrete goals. Is there an article of clothing you want to be able to fit into?

You’re training a ton. That’s great, it can be incredibly rewarding—I know the feeling. But that, paired with “my appetite is finally feeling quite suppressed” is a bit of a warning sign. When I trained daily, my appetite was through the roof. I couldn’t get enough food. You’re hitting it really hard. BJJ, extremely demanding, glucose-intensive. HIIT, extremely demanding, glucose-intensive. Weights, extremely demanding. You should be hungrier, not less.

All in all, the message your training and restricted eating may be sending to your body is one of scarcity. It’s good that you’re neither gaining nor losing and have plenty of energy, but that could change quickly. Try giving your body a few more signals of abundance; it may be exactly what you need, and it could help you avoid problems in the future.

Try eating breakfast, a real breakfast. Have some eggs, bacon, half a cantaloupe. If you insist on IFing, try doing a lighter/no dinner instead of no breakfast.

Try eating a few more carbs and calories on your training days, timed after your workouts. You’re burning through a lot of glycogen, and if you’re eating keto with IF you’re probably not replenishing it.

Good luck and keep us posted.

Akrol asked:

Is it safe to do a moderate keto diet while breast feeding?

If you recall from previous postsoxaloacetate is necessary for finishing the Krebs’ cycle and producing ATP from fat and glucose. Running out of oxaloacetate means we can’t make ATP from fat and glucose and need an alternate energy source: Ketones. Lactating women also use it to produce lactose, the milk sugar that provides much of the nursing baby’s energy needs. That means that lactating women can eat more carbs and protein and still remain in ketosis. It also means that eating a strict ketogenic diet extremely low in carbs and protein is likely to impair milk production.

While many women report remaining ketogenic while nursing without issue, there are a few case studies of breastfeeding women suffering lactation ketoacidosis, a dangerous condition where chronically low insulin prevents the cells from accessing blood glucose and promotes unchecked ketone production that make the body overly acidic. This can be life threatening. Triggers of lactation ketoacidosis have included starvation (don’t starve yourself or even fast while breastfeeding), twin lactation (feeding two increases the amount of lactation substrate you need to consume), and a low-calorie/low-carb/high-fat diet (bad combo).

Had I a set of breasts from which an infant would be suckling, I’d just opt for a regular old low-carb diet, Primal style. I wouldn’t worry about ketone production so much as eating enough calories.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading, take care, and chime in down below with your own input!

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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18 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Marine Fat Sources, Not Gaining/Losing, Keto Breastfeeding”

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  1. Trader Joe’s does still carry the wild salmon in cans with skin and bones. It’s no beauty to look at, but if you pulse it in a food processor and use it for Well Fed’s salmon cakes, it makes for some great eating. (Especially great for heating for lunch from the fridge.) It’s a staple around here, topped with Mark’s chipotle lime mayo. (

    1. Just don’t you dare reheat that salmon cake in the microwave at work.

  2. “Had I a set of breasts…”

    Ah the age old scenario… And one that has been debated in pubs and bars across the globe by men, old and young.

    Cheers Mark for the image!

  3. Our early ancestors valued wild fish eggs as a sacred food since ancient times. In his writings, the great Weston A. Price detailed the arduous lengths that the natives of the Andes went to carry back dried fish eggs (roe) from sea level to their villages high in the mountains.

    Wild fish eggs with finely chopped onions are a staple for our tribe on Wed and Sunday. This pairs well with wild caught, bone-in, skin-on sardines, raw kimchi and sliced avocado topped with salt and real olive oil.

    No, it’s not cheap… think return on investment for strength, health and happiness. If you’re on a budget, have someone go in on a bulk order… you can save a ton of coin by buying a bunch in one go. Thank me later 🙂

  4. Great questions (and answers!) today. Regarding the canned salmon, if you can’t take the bones and skin, just mash everything up and make salmon cakes. For a large (16 ox) can of salmon, mix in one egg and maybe two tablespoons of coconut flour, Season however you like…smoked paprika is really good. Form into 6 little cakes and bake at 350 for 20 min. Amazing topping with the Primal Kitchen Chipotle Lime mayo.

  5. “Had I a set of breasts from which an infant would be suckling.”
    Even so under the shackles of Hypocaloricostopheles, though shalt’nt fasten thy womb lest you risk a pregnant void.

    C’mon, Mark.

  6. Season Brand Sardines (I get them at Costco). Skinless, boneless, and it doesn’t look like a bunch of tiny corpses in the tin. Packed in olive oil. Yum!

    1. I agree, these are my favorite! I live about three hours from the nearest Costco, so on my rare visits I buy cases of sardines. I may be the weirdest Costco customer.

  7. Whenever I eat the trader joes wild canned salmon I smell bad the next day. I don’t trust whatever BPA alternatives they use.
    fresh wild sardines at whole foods are great. very very cheap ($3.99 here in san diego- la jolla) and they come in every morning except sunday. I just fry them in butter and chew hard so that the small bones get crushed and I can eat without worrying about the bones (except for spine of course)

  8. Both Costco and Walmart sell BPA free canned salmon for a reasonable price. For Walmart, it is Tident, they have the same black and red label nationally but the name changes in different locations. You have to go to the website to verify they are BPA free.

  9. As a mother who breastfed 2 babies, and who was desperately trying to shed the extra pregnancy weight, I can tell you that not only does breastfeeding ramp up your appetite, but it also made it much harder for me to lose any weight. I didn’t lose much of that weight until after the breastfeeding was finished.
    As for keto, if you already are keto, I would bet you could hold onto it. BUT (and I follow a ketogenic diet now) I cannot imagine trying to change over to a ketogenic diet in the middle of nursing a hungry baby!! The best advice I ever got for eating while breastfeeding is to keep in mind that what you eat is feeding your baby. So you DO need a nutrient-dense diet, with plenty of proteins, calcium, magnesium, iron, and other vitamins and minerals, along with the natural fats that you need to absorb those, and to provide essential fatty acids to your growing baby. Extra carbohydrates are not terribly necessary, but your appetite, and need for ready energy may demand them. Don’t try to starve yourself – and your baby – while breastfeeding! But feel your own way, and don’t deny your appetite.

  10. Thanks so much, Mark! We grew up with canned salmon with bones and skin because in those days, that’s all there was. Once it’s all mixed up it’s no longer such a big deal. I actually liked the bones. My mom made salmon cakes with cornmeal but I have a great recipe that uses coconut flour, an egg, red onion, some Dijon, lemon juice, and other seasonings. I too have topped them with Chipotle lime mayo. I think you made my day!

  11. Thanks for sharing this post. I liked the info that you have shared about the less expensive sources of marine fat which is high in Omega-3S and also the other two questions that you have discussed very well.

  12. From my experience, do not go keto or even low carb WHILE breastfeeding. If you already are when you BEGIN, you’ll be fine, providing you’re eating the good stuff. Making that transition while breastfeeding dried up my wife with the quickness and we ended up having to use formula (blech). Well, that, and she was pregnant again six months after giving birth.

  13. I mix water-packed sardines with half an avocado, some capers, and spread on nori, then roll it up “California roll” style. The avocado and capers disguise the fishy flavor quite a bit. A bit of mustard can also help.