Is It Primal? – Smoked Salmon, Nutritional Yeast, 5-Hour Energy Drinks, and Other Foods Scrutinized

Smoked SalmonIt’s about that time for another round of “Is It Primal?” Today we’re covering smoked salmon, a surprisingly stable source of omega-3s. After that, I finally get to nutritional yeast, a food that many of you have been asking about for many moons. I hope you’re happy with the answer. Next up are 5-Hour Energy Drinks, which aren’t quite as bad as you might think. After that, I cover the edibility of brines – olive, pickle, sauerkraut, cocktail onion, and so on. The final object of scrutiny is Kremelta, a kind of coconut oil shortening.

Let’s take a look:

Smoked Salmon

Smoking is one of the world’s oldest food preservation techniques, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: subjecting strips, cuts, and pieces of animal to smoke from wood fires until they are “cooked.” Today, we can preserve our foods by refrigerating, freezing, or applying industrial-scale methods using mass-produced antioxidant compounds, so we tend to eat far fewer smoked meats. Most would agree that this is a good move, as fresh meat tends to be, well, fresher and therefore better for us.

But what about smoked salmon? People love the stuff – I know I do – and it retains an elevated status in modern food culture. It’s become a luxury, a treat, rather than a staple food that we have to eat because it’s all we’ve got and we have no refrigerators. Does smoked salmon hold up to scrutiny? I mean, all that smoke and heat can’t be good for the fragile omega-3s, right?

Actually, salmon does appear to hold up to smoking. Better yet, it gets even more stable. A 2009 study found that smoking salmon at 95 degrees Celsius made the “fragile” fish fats even more oxidatively stable, with a lower peroxide value, fewer TBARS, and fewer free fatty acids, than fresh salmon. That’s right: smoking salmon at a high heat protected the omega-3s from oxidizing to a greater extent than leaving it alone, even if antioxidants were added to the fresh salmon oils. That said, when heating the smoked salmon fat past 75 degrees C, peroxides formed at a faster rate than in the fresh salmon fat.

Oddly enough, cold-smoked salmon (where the fish is smoked without added heat) appears to be more susceptible to oxidation. You’d think the hot-smoking would be more damaging, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

For the double-whammy of salmon preservation techniques, you might want to try fermenting your smoked salmon, as smoked salmon grows even more stable upon fermentation.

Not all smoking is the same. The cheaper outfits use sawdust as the smoking medium – yes, sawdust – while more traditional salmon smokers use actual wood, like hickory, oak, or alderwood. Some Scottish producers even use old Scotch barrels. Since wood (like all plant materials) has bioactive components which manifest in the smoke (smoking, after all, is a traditional method of plant ingestion), the type of wood used probably matters as much as anything.

Verdict: Primal.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a darling in the vegan set. They’ll sometimes proclaim that since nutritional yeast is a fungus, not an animal, and it contains B12, an animal-free source of vitamin B12 exists. Except it’s not true. Nutritional yeast, an inactive (dead) form of the same yeast that bakers and brewers use, only contains vitamin B12 if its producers decide to add it. So yes, while dotting your bowl of popcorn with the carcasses of a million fallen yeasts is arguably more nutritious than not, it’s not an endogenously-formed, “natural,” cruelty-free source of B12. There remains no naturally-occurring source of B12 that doesn’t involve sweet, sweet animal flesh.

That said, nutritional yeast is certainly interesting. I’ve had it a few times on store-bought kale chips as a sort of cheese replacement. It was tasty. It is a good source of (fortified) vitamins, the utility of which I question beyond the correction of blatant deficiencies.

Nutritional yeast is also a strong source of RNA, specifically the nucleotide uridine. You may not usually consider the ingestion of dietary genetic material, but dietary RNA from yeast can increase uric acid levels in humans. Hyperuricemia, as you probably know, is a strong cause of gout. Of course, that study gave 8 grams of brewer’s yeast nucleotides to the men, a huge amount; most sources suggest that brewer’s yeast (and therefore nutritional yeast, which is the same species) is 3% nucleotides. To get 8 grams of nucleotides, you’d need to eat around 266 grams of nutritional yeast. That’s roughly 33 tablespoons. Good luck with that. Besides, Primal darlings, sardines and organ meats are also high in RNA, so I don’t think we can condemn nutritional yeast on the basis of RNA.

In the amounts the average Primal person who just enjoys the flavor is likely to consume, I don’t think nutritional yeast is a problem.

Verdict: Primal. Just don’t rely on it as a source of vitamins.

5-Hour Energy Drinks

I’d never really looked into 5-Hour Energy Drinks before writing this post, and until now, I’ve always sort of assumed they were sugar-laden caffeinated liquid beasts that truckers and club kids resorted to when they ran out of meth. I was wrong. 5-Hour Energy Drinks are caffeinated, but they only have a hair over 200 mg of caffeine, which is a bit more than a cup of coffee (but who drinks just one “cup of coffee”?). They are sugar-free, but contain sucralose, also known as Splenda. I’m not a sucralose fan, seeing as how it may reduce beneficial gut flora.

Most of the effects of the energy drinks are attributed to the bevy of nutrients they dose the thing with – vitamin B6, niacin, vitamin B12, folic acid, taurine, citicoline, tyrosine, phenylalanine, malic acid, caffeine, and glucuronolactone. Their “energy” blend totals 1870 mg and is proprietary, so beyond the first four vitamin ingredients, we don’t know how much of each nutrient is contained in the drink. We can look at the efficacy of each ingredient, though.

Those vitamins are all important for health and a Primal eating plan of meat, greens, fruits, offal, and other whole foods will be replete in them. Caffeine’s effects are known (and loved). What about the others? Are they safe and/or effective?

Taurine – Paired with caffeine and glucuronolactone in a 5-Hour Energy Drink-esque drink, taurine appears to be “stimulate cognitive performance and well-being.” Another study, which controlled for caffeine withdrawal, also found a beneficial effect. Large doses of taurine are safe.

Citicoline – A recent review found that citicoline can improve cognitive function, particularly in stroke patients. Citicoline is safe.

Tyrosine – Tyrosine is a naturally occurring amino acid, so if you eat animals, you’re eating tyrosine. In supplemental form, tyrosine is somewhat effective when a person is stressed or under duress (like fatigue). In healthy, alert, otherwise chipper individuals, tyrosine doesn’t seem to do much. It’s safe, though.

Phenylalanine – Phenylalanine is the precursor to tyrosine, so this should just become tyrosine in the body.

Malic acid – Malic acid provides the sour flavor of tart apples, like Granny Smiths. It’s a byproduct of human metabolism, but it doesn’t seem to do much as a supplement (unless you’re a dairy cow, in which case it can help you make more milk – PDF).

Glucuronolactone – This is also safe in the context of an energy drink, and, in the first taurine study cited above, it may even work synergistically with caffeine and taurine to improve mental performance.

Verdict: Not exactly Primal, but neither is falling asleep at the wheel. And the nutrients within are pretty solid.


A reader asked about drinking brine. As in, the liquid that olives, cocktail onions, pickles, pickled peppers, and sauerkraut comes swimming in. Is it safe? Is it nutritious?

It depends on the brine. Pickle juice and sauerkraut brine are world-renowned hangover cures, probably because of the electrolyte replenishing action of the incredible salt content. Football teams are even using pickle juice to defeat cramps, and they have a double-blind study out of BYU to prove it. Real pickle and sauerkraut brine – the fermented kind – will also offer probiotics. I’ve seen stands at farmers markets selling (and selling out) sauerkraut juice for more than the kraut itself.

Most brines are just water, spices, and salt. Olive brines will often have a few slugs of olive oil added. The point is – they’re edible and relatively safe. I don’t know if they’re exactly nutritious in the absence of sodium deficiency, dehydration, hangover, or exercise-induced cramping, but there’s nothing wrong with them.

Replacing all your normal fluid intake with brine will likely throw your potassium-sodium balance way off, so I wouldn’t recommend that. Instead, sip a bit when you’re parched, add some to salad dressings for flavoring, and keep a small bottle for grueling athletic endeavors. I would avoid drinking the Thanksgiving turkey brine, but that’s probably just me being picky.

Verdict: Primal.

Kremelta (Coconut Oil Shortening)

Kremelta is hydrogenated coconut oil, albeit hydrogenated coconut oil with 2% soy lecithin (a nice source of choline, which keeps our brains and livers running smoothly). But it’s hydrogenated coconut oil, which has that bad word (“hydrogenated”) in it.

The thing is, Kremelta is fully-hydrogenated, rather than partially-hydrogenated. This means the coconut oil, already a highly-saturated fat, is completely saturated. The few percentage points of PUFA and MUFA become SFA, with a little lecithin tossed in for emulsion. As I’ve written previously, fully hydrogenated fats do not contain trans-fats, so they are going to be better than partially-hydrogenated fats.

I’ll admit I’m a little suspicious of full hydrogenation. Since Kremelta is used in a lot of candies and other processed foods and it has to be as shelf-stable as possible, the total and utter hydrogenation makes sense. You wouldn’t want those few grams of linoleic acid to go bad. Still, though – I’d opt for real butter (probably grass-fed, since Kremelta is big in New Zealand) or mail-ordered coconut oil. And you can always get your choline from egg yolks.

Verdict: I’m on the fence, but leaning not Primal.

That’s it for today, guys. Thanks for reading, and be sure to leave a comment.

TAGS:  is it primal?

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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