When I first tell people I’m on a Primal Blueprint diet emulating our ancient ancestors, the witty ones are usually quick with a clever comment or two, usually referencing the Flintstones, heavy brow ridges, monosyllabic grunts, or some combination of the three. A hearty laugh is shared (mine being exceedingly polite), and they’ll go on to ask if I’ve experienced increased hair growth, whether or not I met my wife by clubbing her over the head, and if I’ve got caveman breath (always accompanied by a theatrical, exaggerated step backward). What would I do without such comedians?
I gotta admit, though, they might have a point about the caveman breath. Although I don’t have a problem with it personally (unless my wife has kept quiet all these years), bad breath is a common complaint I hear about low-carb dieters. Strangely enough, I rarely hear it from actual low-carbers, but rather from overly critical skeptics. Still, bad breath does happen to everyone, and I for one would be wary of engaging Grok in a close heart to heart talk over some fermented mammoth milk. Even on our own comment boards, reader madMUHHH complained about having constant bad breath. Of course, he was also eating loads of garlic and onions, which are notorious causes of bad breath (regardless of the overall diet), but it does go to show that just because we’re eating healthy Primal foods, it doesn’t mean we’re immune to the ravages of bad breath.
But are we Blueprinters especially susceptible to bad breath? First, let’s examine the most common causes.
Most bad breath you encounter is probably due to poor dental hygiene. Brushing isn’t enough for some people; sometimes you need to physically remove chunks of food from between your teeth. I doubt Grok was a big brusher, but he probably picked his teeth with bones or sharpened sticks (I think the annoying sensation of meat stuck in between your teeth is universally hated). Still, he ate a lot of meat, and he didn’t gargle, so it’s quite likely that stringy bits of meat got lodged between his teeth. Meat rots, and rotting meat stinks, especially when it’s bottled up in a hot, fetid environment (like the mouth). Pick your teeth or floss, especially after ribs, and don’t play spin the bottle with Grok after he’s just eaten.
Tooth decay is a more insidious cause of bad breath, but that wasn’t an issue for Grok. In fact, Stephan from Whole Health Source posted a great write up discussing the (now out of print) book Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture. In the book, anthropologists compare dental and skeletal records from both Paleolithic hunter-gatherers and Mesolithic agriculturalists and determine that with intense agriculture “incidence of carbohydrate-related tooth disease increases.” As long as you’re eating like Grok and avoiding sugars and starchy carbs, tooth decay probably isn’t the cause of bad breath.
Burning ketones for energy has a reputation for causing bad breath. In reality, it’s a “different” smell than most are used to, but not necessarily bad. In fact, the slightly sweet scent that sometimes results from ketosis is probably pretty close to how Grok’s breath smelled (provided he had picked his teeth, of course). That is, ketosis breath might actually be “normal” on the meat-and-plant-heavy Primal Blueprint eating plan. I sometimes notice an odd scent when I’m fasting, and I’m guessing it’s just those ketones at work.
The good news is that most bad breath caused by food is relatively short-lived. Once you eat, brush, and floss, for the most part you’ll have taken care of the bad breath. The bad news is that some of the best foods – like fish, garlic, or onions – can linger on your breath for days. If you eat a can of sardines, your breath is probably going to stink for a while. Add some garlic to the mix and you’ll have issues – like our friend madMUHHH (just kidding!).
Bad breath can stem from digestive issues. If your body reacts poorly to certain foods, eating them can cause bad breath. For most of the world, lactose-intolerance makes eating dairy a recipe for awful odor. Others react terribly to garlic or onions (more so than even poor madMUHHH), and there’s not much than can be done to avoid it.
Okay. Bad breath in some form or another is pretty much inevitable, even if you’re eating the right foods (sometimes because you’re eating the right foods!), but there are some pretty easy, natural ways to fight it.
Floss or pick your teeth. For extra authenticity, use a bone shard, a sharpened flint arrowhead, or a tendon from a rival tribesman.
If you want to avoid the artificial sweeteners and fluoride that make up most toothpastes, go with a natural brand. Most health food stores, or grocery shops like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods will have natural toothpastes. Or you could just brush with baking soda, though that might not clear up any particularly pungent food odors.
Chew mint, or put a few drops of mint oil on your toothbrush and go to town. Mint smells great, plus it naturally cools your mouth. Be warned, though – the mint oil is intense stuff.
Reader E M suggests ginger. I love ginger, but had never tried it as a breath freshener. I can safely report that it does cut through bad breath – provided you like the smell of ginger in the first place (which I do).
Chewing on a lime or lemon wedge can freshen the breath in a pinch.
For bad breath caused by gut issues, chlorophyll is said to help.
Try chewing parsley, fennel, or anise seeds to take care of superficial bad breath.
As long as you’re eating Primal foods, you shouldn’t have any systemic issues causing the bad breath and the above methods should take care of any temporary problem.
What are your thoughts? Any tips on how to fight bad breath?
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.