Is It Primal? – Nut Milks, Maca Root, Stinky Tofu, and Other Foods Scrutinized

Almond MilkIt’s been awhile since we’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? I had thought I’d exhausted the pool of foods and supplements for the “Is It Primal?” series, and that I’d be scraping the bottom of the barrel. Well, I was wrong. The questions about specific items have been pouring in unabated, and today it’s time to cover the next round of questionable foods. First up are nut milks, a perennial favorite of the dairy-free paleo world. Then I cover the widely used root with purported aphrodisiac qualities, maca, followed by stinky, smelly, grimy, pungent fermented tofu. There’s that word – “fermented” – that always makes us stop and reconsider a food. After that, I explore the suitability of azomite, a garden soil amendment and livestock feed supplement that some humans use as a mineral supplement. Last up are glass noodles made from mung bean starch.

Nut Milks

The nut milk area is that rare grocery store intersection of otherwise disparate dietary persuasions where strict paleos sporting Cordain print Ts (not sure if such a thing exists but it should), board shorts, and bleeding callouses awkwardly butt heads with vegans looking for something to pour over their quinoa-hemp-sprouted lentil granola. Whatever their background, most people turn to nut milks for what they do not contain – casein, lactose, saturated fat, and the like – rather than for what they contain. And let’s face it: nut milks aren’t very nutrient dense. A mere handful of almonds goes into the average jug of store-bought almond milk, and you’re not even getting everything the almond itself offers. You’re getting but a crude extract.

If you can tolerate grass-fed milk and you want a milky fluid, I say go for the milk. It’s rich in calcium, whey, healthy saturated dairy fats, potassium, and it’s actually a real food with a proven track record. If you want good nut milk, however, you’ll probably just have to make your own. Use at least a 1-to-3 nut to water ratio (or smaller if you prefer), blend, and strain/squeeze through a cheesecloth. Save the nut solids to add to smoothies (a good source of prebiotic fiber) or to use in a sauce, like one of Chef Rachel’s famous nut dips. Or heck, if you were planning on making a smoothie using almond milk, just add some water and almonds to the blender with all the other ingredients you were already going to use and cut out the middle step altogether.

Store-bought nut milk, in my experience, is just cloudy water. This could all be solved if nuts would just grow breasts, but I don’t see that happening (although that opens up a huge opportunity to GMO researchers).

Verdict: Primal, but why bother?

Maca Root

Maca root is, well, a root that hails from the Peruvian Andes. It’s actually a member of the brassica family, along with broccoli, cabbage, kale, and other similar vegetables. In Peru, maca root was traditionally used as a root vegetable (like a turnip or radish), as well as for its pharmacological properties as an aphrodisiac and subtle stimulant. Incan warriors, the stories say, would use ample amounts of maca root as a preworkout booster before battles.

Does it work?

Yeah, there’s good evidence that it’s an effective adaptogen, with habitual Andean consumers of maca showing lower levels of the inflammatory cytokine IL-6 and better general health. Adaptogens are substances that improve and support the body’s natural regulation of stress. Rather than push you in one direction regardless of your health status, they right the ship. You’re still doing the work. The adaptogen is simply helping you do it. If a heightened stress response is required for health, an adaptogen will theoretically enable that. If a lowered stress response would help more, it’ll enable that too. So maca isn’t working like Viagra. It’s not forcing the issue. It’s helping you deal with the stressors that may be inhibiting your sex drive without actually affecting the reproductive hormones.

So in addition to improving erectile function, increasing general sexual function (in both men and women) and libido, and helping to resolve SSRI-associated sexual dysfunction, maca may also:

And those are just the human studies.

Maca has an oddly malty taste that some enjoy and some find repugnant. If you add it to a smoothie, including some cocoa powder can really make the maca more bearable. I’d shy away from raw maca and opt for gelatinized (cooked) maca, since that’s how it’s traditionally been consumed.

Verdict: Primal.

Stinky Tofu

There are two kinds of stinky tofu. There’s tofu that’s been left out and forgotten underneath the dorm room bed of some college freshman “trying out” vegetarianism (and probably Buddhism) for half a semester. Don’t eat that. Definitely not Primal. There’s also fermented tofu, tofu that’s been deliberately inoculated with probiotic bacteria and left to ferment and complexify and, yes, develop a particular odor. Though it’s soy and tofu and these are usually off limits, the fermentation muddles what would normally be a cut and dry dismissal.

Fermentation changes soy in several ways. It makes the soy isoflavones more biovailable. Without fermentation, we can’t really make use of them. It also reduces the phytic acid content. And as far as soy sauce is concerned, the true fermented stuff has increased levels of antioxidant compounds.

That’s fermented soy in general. What about stinky tofu? Stinky tofu has an impressive variety of probiotic bacteria, but we know very little about the potential therapeutic (or toxic) effects of the species therein. Several novel strains have been isolated from stinky tofu brines, strains that have never been studied or found in other foods. Chances are they’re safe and perhaps even helpful, since stinky tofu is a traditional food with a solid history of safe consumption and other fermented foods are beneficial. But we can’t know for sure.

Should you eat it? Industrial stinky tofu often gets a quick one or two day vinegar brine akin to mass-produced pickles. It’s stinky but not technically fermented, so steer clear. If you’re going to splurge on some stinky tofu at a Chinese restaurant, try to confirm that it’s the legit stuff and then give it a whirl.

Verdict: Not Primal, but worth trying the real stuff if you come across it.


Millions of years ago, settling volcanic ash joined with mineral-rich river water in an ancient seabed to form azomite, a trademarked silica ore extracted from a Utah mineral deposit whose unique geologic history gives it an interesting mineral composition. A teaspoon of the stuff represents a veritable who’s who of trace minerals (PDF), making it quite attractive to certain parties interested in upping their mineral intake – especially the hard-to-find minerals that don’t come in your average supplement. The Weston A. Price Foundation calls it a superfood.

It’s not sold for human consumption, however. It is sold for livestock feed supplementation, indicating that mammals can consume it safely enough, but I don’t know – I plan on living way longer than a cow, a goat, or some chickens somewhere. I don’t base my safety assessments on whether or not a goat can eat it without keeling over. That said, it’s probably a good source of minerals, including the trace ones whose health effects we don’t know much about but which may be important and crucial. Its composition may be similar to the dirt and dust we accidentally consumed as wild humans living and eating outside, so I suppose there’s an argument for a light dusting on the salad every now and then. Then again, the real “benefit” from dirt lies in the steady exposure to low levels of soil-based bacteria; azomite is sterile and lifeless and a poor source of these probiotics.

Verdict: Not Primal. Maybe useful, probably safe, inadequate evidence either way.

Mung Bean Starch Glass Noodles

Right off the bat, this one has a few hits against it. First, they’re noodles, and noodles are usually advised against. Second, they’re made from refined starch, which we tend to avoid if we can. Third, the starch is derived from a legume, a food group that’s off the Primal menu for the most part. And yet despite all those strikes, I’m generally supportive of glass noodles while eating Primal. How can this be?

  1. The noodle is just a medium of energy delivery. It’s not inherently bad.
  2. Mung beans are an excellent source of resistant starch. You know, that starch that doesn’t really act like most starches. That starch that doesn’t spike blood glucose, that actually improves our ability to tolerate glucose and increases insulin sensitivity. If you want to hear more about resistant starch and why you should probably be eating it, just read the Definitive Guide to Resistant Starch I wrote a few months ago. Resistant starch explains why in a recent study into the glycemic index of six different Thai noodle and two rice varieties, glass noodles elicited the lowest GI response of all.
  3. Mung bean starch is just that – starch. The protein is removed during the starch refinement process and with it, the lectins, phytic acid, and other potential antinutrients. Mung bean starch shouldn’t pose any issues in that respect.

Other types of glass noodles are made from other starch sources that may not be as beneficial as mung bean starch. Just look at the ingredients. They should read mung bean starch and water, nothing else.

Verdict: Primal.

That’s it for today, folks. What do you think? Are you going rush out and try something new, or throw something out? Did I crush any dreams?

Thanks for reading.

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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58 thoughts on “Is It Primal? – Nut Milks, Maca Root, Stinky Tofu, and Other Foods Scrutinized”

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  1. People use to buy Maca supplements when I worked at GNC all the time. It seems they either did something or created a lot of wishful thinking. Personally I always though most guys just needed adequate opportunity to unleash the zippered tsunami God gave them. I mean it’s not like you could think about sex for 25 hours a day?

  2. I have missed these “Is It Primal” articles. Thanks for all the info! Think I’ll still pass on the stinky tofu if I do come across it.

  3. Oh man, funny story: I had a teaspoon of gelatinized maca powder on Sunday morning with breakfast. 20 minutes later, I started feeling like I was having a heart attack, but I had forgotten that I took the maca powder. My heart was beating fast and I felt a nervous excitement type of feeling. I went outside to get some fresh air and go for a walk. I started getting lightheaded, like I was going to faint. Since I live near a hospital, I started walking towards the hospital, in case I collapsed, I would be close to the hospital. Then I remembered I took the maca and looked up “maca reactions” on my phone and apparently some people react badly to it and get symptoms including severe anxiety, lightheadedness and heart palpitations. This actually calmed me down a whole lot, because I realized it was a reaction to the maca and not an actual heart attack or something more serious. But I still felt pretty lousy for another hour or so. I may throw it away, or try a much smaller dose in the future, but has anyone ever had anything like that happen to them?

    1. I used maca for years and loved it but I started having the same symptoms as well so I had to quit (tear).
      Great stuff though if that doesnt happen.

    2. Hi – Maca has a little bit of iodine in it. I’m hypothyroid, and found that the iodine made me HYPERthyroid – very similar to what you describe, and not at all fun. It was recommended to me by a Paleo nutritionist who insisted that I had an “allergic reaction” and because the tiny amount of iodine couldn’t cause my symptoms. Not at all true. I was taking a teaspoon or less per day in morning smoothies, and I think the additive effect can be problematic for anyone with thyroid problems…. Hyperthyroid reactions should be taken seriously. This “wonder supplement” is now in everywhere, and I would advise anyone to tread carefully, and read labels.

  4. I will pass on the Stinky Tofu.. While in Taiwan I smelled what I thought must have been a pig farm, turns out it was stinky tofu. That was one of the most pungent smells I have ever experienced!!

    Would the mung noodles need to be consumed cold to get the resistant starch properties?

    1. I have tried the mung bean noodles raw, i.e. soaked in cold water for at least one hour. Normally you would boil them, but I wanted to make sure I did not cook the resistant starch. Unfortunately they caused my blood sugar to rise to an unacceptably high level. So although they may contain resistant starch, they must also contain some regular starch that is causing a spike in blood sugar. I cannot use them.

      1. Yes, mung bean noodles RS content is about 34% of the total starch, so there’s still plenty of starch to raise blood sugar. I didn’t read the linked glycemic index study, but I wonder if, even though the mung bean noodles had the lowest effect, that all the noodles had a high effect anyway.

        1. oh, to add, this content is in cooked noodles. I’m guessing the starch is probably raised to a high temperature to make the noodles, so the starch has probably already been heated–not completely sure though.

  5. I have been Primal for over 2 years now and enjoying the many benefits. Healthy weight, increased energy levels, went from being pre-diabetic to normal levels… But I had not seen any improvement with my hypertension. I have had to continue on Rx meds to keep my bp numbers reasonable. I am 57 and have been on bp meds since my earlly 30’s. A few months ago I started adding a teaspoon of maca powder to my breakfast smoothie. Reading this article was a ‘light bulb on’ moment for me as I have been seeing the very benefits described here. My libido is way up, stress levels way down, but best of all I have been able to cut my med doses in half and still maintain good bp numbers! All anecdotal I know, but that’s my experience and I am very happy with the results.

  6. As a vegetarian I’m surprised I’ve never heard of ‘stinky tofu’! I have been debating on taking maca root. I have hashimoto’s and I’ve read it’s great for supporting thyroid function. Need to keep it operating at full strength since I’m in marathon training mode again!

    1. Vegetarian and marathons. Exactly what the primal blueprint is all about!!

      1. Be nice, she isn’t on here going on about the evils of meat, which means she is probably pretty open minded. Some people have ethical reasons for not eating meat…. And that just leaves more for the rest of us!

  7. haha I couldn’t get past this with out a re-read love it – them to a T
    “strict paleos sporting Cordain print Ts (not sure if such a thing exists but it should), board shorts, and bleeding callouses awkwardly butt heads with vegans looking for something to pour over their quinoa-hemp-sprouted lentil granola.”

  8. I sometimes get the local Milkman SF – amazing almond milk! Goes well frothed up with espresso or in shakes to mix it up. Combine that with LARABAR granola and you have some paleo cereal if that’s your thing!

  9. Nut milk never did it for me. Always tasted like someone had soaked almonds in water and made the water cloudy. Would rather have soaked and roasted almonds, personally.

    I make kefir from organic milk. I’d prefer to make it from the goat creamery two exits north from where I live, but at $18 a gallon, and the fact that my family goes through 2 cups of kefir a day that’s over $2 a day, which, now that I think about it, isn’t so bad. Hmm…

  10. Stinky tofu? No thanks.. but has miso been addressed? I know how harmful soy can be (esp if unfermented) but I adore miso and probably use way too much of it.

  11. “This could all be solved if nuts would just grow breasts, but I don’t see that happening (although that opens up a huge opportunity to GMO researchers).”

    Funny. A little creepy, but funny.

  12. A better use for Azomite is to put some in your garden, your veggies will absorb some of the trace minerals and then you can eat them in a bio-available manner. Your plants will do better and you will do better as a result. It’s not too expensive for a pretty good amount of the stuff too.

    1. I used Azomite in my garden this year and have had by far the most successful and abundant garden ever. Is it the trace minerals? I don’t know, but I’ll be applying it in addition to the usual compost every year from now on!

  13. Read the ingredients of all the store-bought nut milks – lots of stuff loaded in to make it sweeter, whiter (I saw titanium dioxide added to one!), more uniform, etc.

    Here’s an “unsweetened” almond milk’s ingredients:

    Here’s another almond milk brand’s “unsweetened” variety:
    Almondmilk (Filtered Water, Almonds), Cane Sugar, Sea Salt, Locust Bean Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Gellan Gum.

    An organic brand lists theirs:
    Almond Base* (Water, Almonds*), Rice Starch, Sea Salt, Vanilla, Natural Flavor,
    Carrageenan, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2

    A major brand’s here:

    You can get this one at Walmart:
    Almondmilk (Filtered Water, Almonds), Tricalcium Phosphate, Sea Salt, Gellan Gum, Dispotassium Phosphate, Xanthan Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2, D-Alpha-Tocopherol (Vitamin E). Contains: Almonds.

    Prevention magazine, among others, have warned against carageenan – “causing inflammation, gut irritation, and even cancer”.
    Chris Kresser says “do your best to avoid carrageenan”.
    Chris Kresser says of gums such as locust bean, gellan and others – “As a general rule, gums can be problematic for those with digestive issues simply because they’re mostly indigestible”. And “I would avoid tara and gellan gums, not because they appear to be harmful, but because we have less information on them”.

    Anyway – just drink mineral water, or filtered water with mineral drops added.

  14. Hi Mark, I guess you never received my question, on whether Pili Nuts that only grow in the Philippines, are considered primal. Bummer )-:

  15. I adore stinky tofu! In China, I have them occasionally because first because it is fried (healthy fat is not widely available in the cities) and second there is a rumour that some “stinky tofu” have been fermented in feces. Food safety is always questionable in China although I’ve never had food poisoning there and I have street food every week. It is definitely fermented, along with another Chinese soy condiment “fu ru”. My grandma ferments them herself with fresh soft tofu and it is eaten with sesame oil and rice to spike appetite during the summer heat.

    1. i also love stinky tofu! (we have it with fresh minced garlic & green onion so probably would ruin one’s social life for a little while LOL)

      i also like the other soft type of fermented tofu “fu ru” too


      1. Our street vendor serves them with cilantro and some sort of spicy sauce.

        Cheers! 😀

        1. @xinwei,
          never thought about cilantro w/ stinky tofu. that may be less stinky
          than green onion & garlic! (ours street vendor also has red chilli pepper & vinegar)

          seems we the only 2 persons actually like stinky tofu & various fermented tofu? ^_^

          do you like salted soy milk?


        2. I’ve never tried salted soy milk, just the ordinary kind with or without sugar. I have tried sweetened black soy bean milk a few times at street vendors.

          Fermented tofu only appears in Asian grocery stores so it’s unknown to most Westerners, me thinks.

          Cheers! 😀
          (it seems like I can’t reply to your last post)

  16. Great to know about mung bean noodles. They are perfect for soups and stir fry. Pad woon sen is a favorite in my house. I like that they are packaged in single serving bundles weighing in about 65g of carbs each so they are right in the zone.

  17. My wife and I recently have been considering eliminating nut milks (minus the marvelous canned coconut milk of course, which isn’t really being discussed here sooooo…..) partially because they taste funky over all, and also because there is a dairy that will sell me mostly grass fed raw milk cheaper than what the nut milks are, down the road from us. We had been avoiding the raw milk for awhile because of our now 14 month old, but he is getting to a point where we can consider it again I think.

  18. Any one have a good recommendation for a maca product for someone who is trying it for the first time? Thanks!

  19. Any one have a good recommendation for a maca product for someone who is trying it for the first time? Thanks!

  20. Sunny tofu is basically always served deep-fried, isn’t it?

  21. Thank you, Mark!!! I’ve been just waiting for permission to (without guilt) eat a little mung bean glass noodles (uber cheap at a buck/pack and offered in the Ralph’s around the corner – just mung bean starch & water!) They are really yummy and you don’t need much them. In fact, a pack lasts me for two to three meals – throw a ton of veggies on them with some chicken & coconut aminos and it’s heaven.

    You crushed no dreams of mine…


  22. I started taking maca to alleviate the symptoms of menopause. It worked like a charm. I swear by the stuff.

      1. I buy the powdered (gelatinized) stuff at the local health foods store or online. Sorry, but I can’t remember the brand. I put a teaspoon in my smoothie every morning.

  23. If you do make nut milks (I make my own coconut milk), forget the cheesecloth! I bought a pack of 2 paint strainer bags from Home Depot for $2. You can use them over and over, they’re easy to clean, they last for a long time, and they work beautifully!

    All commercial nut milks (excluding canned coconut milk), even organic ones, have synthetic vitamins (A and D), carrageenan, and other very undesirable ingredients added to them, so generally best to avoid them.

  24. There are liquid vitamin products for humans with azomite-like fulvic minerals from Utah. It is available at Sprouts (Vital Earth Super Multi). I have been taking these vitamins for 10 years and believe in the product.

  25. Maca = horny goat weed

    Mung bean noodles–why not just use bean sprouts as noodles?

    1. Actually, maca is not horny goat weed. Maca is a member of the Brassicaceae family and Horny Goat weed is a member of the Berberidaceae family. Heck, they are from totally different orders too. Plus, horny goat weed has been linked to respiratory arrest in high enough doses, not so with maca.

  26. Never though about them either they’re are primal or not. But you did a nice work by clearing the things. Though all of them are beneficial for health so having primal or not won’t bother me.

  27. Haven’t thought about trying maca but good info, the others I pass up, including nut milk, it just doesn’t taste good!

  28. Mark, you mentioned mung beans were a good source of resistant starch, does that include mung bean sprouts? Or does sprouting eliminate the resistant starch?

    1. Yes, sprouting any seed means the seed has used up the starch to grow. 🙂

  29. Hey Mark, I just wanted to say that as for the azomite, there’s more to it than the trace minerals. Dr. Price found in his travels that many primitive peoples carry small balls of clay with them and always ingest a little whenever they eat food. The reason they did this, they said, was to prevent digestive problems. And indeed, it has been found that clay eating does help with indigestion, diarrhea, dysentery, and even morning sickness. I believe the reason is because it binds with toxins in your digestive tracts and helps you eliminate then, though that’s something you’ll have to research more.

  30. I, too, have missed your “Is it Primal?” series! Glad to see another!

    As for the nut milks, I can pretty much agree with “why bother?” based on the information you provided. I would just note that as I had an occasional desire to reach for milk, it was good that nut milks were there so that I stayed away from regular old cow dairy. However, one of our primal goers in the community posted the ingredients list of several varieties, which I never did look at closely for some reason and I think I’ll stay away from them (I already have been, but I am pretty sure I’ll never bother again). After all, the fermented and raw and grass-fed varieties of dairy present much nicer options!

    Loved the humor for the “possibilities” for GMO researchers!

  31. You’re absolutely right about the maca taste, that not everyone can relate to. I found what works for me as I’m taking maca root on a daily basis, and I had to solve the taste issue. Morning smoothie with maca powder works great for me, as it masks the maca taste almost completely. Recommend to try this if you have trouble getting used to maca taste.

  32. Nice article MDA. Maca tastes sometimes can be yuck! I have a friend who takes it with just water. Its a miracle how he does it. For me i find any juice and use it at that moment. Its an amazing herb!