Is It Primal? – Soda Water, Listerine, Tamarind, and Other Foods Scrutinized

Soda WaterIt’s time for another edition of “Is It Primal?” Judging from the endless stream of questions I receive regarding the suitability of certain foods and ingredients, I’m not sure I’ll ever run out of things to scrutinize. As always, though, know that no single food I cover in these posts will make or break your health. If I give an unfavorable verdict to one of your favorite foods, that doesn’t mean you have to banish it from your diet forever. It doesn’t mean the occasional dalliance will necessarily make something rotten in the state of your metabolism. It just means that, given the opportunity to choose between something (approved) like a slab of grass-fed beef, a pastured egg, some sautéed kale, or a sweet potato and something (not approved) like sourdough rye, I’d choose the former. You might not, and that’s fine.

That said, let’s get down to it!

Soda Water

I love a good glass of sparkling water. It’s somehow more refreshing than regular flat water, and if you go for the high mineral content sparkling water, you’re getting a nice dose of bioavailable minerals (in the form our ancient ancestors likely got many of theirs, minus the bubbles). I never thought to see this asked on an “Is It Primal?” but here it is. Apparently there are some concerns about it interfering with digestion and fat loss. There’s also talk of it dissolving bones. Let’s take a look.

Carbonated water has no effect on bone remodeling in post-menopausal women (the group perhaps most at risk for osteoporosis). Subjects drank a liter of sodium-rich bubbly water a day for months without any ill effect. In fact, a calcium-rich carbonated water was able to improve calcium status and reduce parathyroid hormone (PTH can increase bone loss) in women.

Soda water may be moderately corrosive to tooth enamel. Sparkling mineral water is far less corrosive, especially high-calcium mineral water (though still more corrosive than flat water with the same mineral composition).

Contrary to reducing digestive ability, sparkling water can actually reduce indigestion and improve constipation, as one study showed. It’s worth noting that the sparkling water used in the study had greater amounts of minerals like calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium than the flat water; more bubbles wasn’t the only difference.

As for fat loss, if anything, carbonated water will improve it by increasing satiety when compared to flat water.

Plus, according to Robb Wolf (whom I always trust on matters of vice), drinking your liquor with soda water reduces the absolute amount of alcohol you need to get the desired effect. That’s always nice (and healthier).

Verdict: Primal.


As much as people in the Primal health community tend to shy away from questionable conventional medical advice, Listerine appears to be a truly effective product. It has no fluoride (unless you buy the one with fluoride in it). It actually seems to be quite “natural,” containing some ethanol, or alcohol, plus a bunch of essential oils from a variety of medicinal plants and herbs, including thyme, wintergreen, eucalyptus, and peppermint. If you ignore the plastic bottle, child-safe lid, possible synthetic sources of said oils, and ubiquitous marketing, Listerine looks, tastes, and smells an awful lot like something a shaman would cook up in the Amazon somewhere.

Does it work?

According to one dentist who promotes both good nutrition, stress reduction, and modern dental interventions, Listerine can be part of an effective oral hygiene regimen but it should not be used as a final rinse because the acidity can dry out the mouth and cause the protective pellicle layer to wither away. If you’re going to use Listerine, sandwich it in between brushing and a final rinse of something more amenable to oral moisture retention. For what it’s worth Dr. Ellie supports the use of fluoride mouth rinses for this purpose, but not the consumption of fluoridated drinking water. Links between Listerine usage and oral cancer (if they’re causally related) can probably be attributed to users’ tendencies to use the mouthwash as a final – and thus acidic, drying, lingering – rinse.

As a standalone intervention, however, Listerine has mixed evidence. Some studies indicate that Listerine eradicates all oral bacteria within 30 seconds of swishing and can even be used to disinfect toothbrushes (although one study found that it was just as effective against the streptococcus mutans species as air drying). Seeing as how oral bacteria both contributes to and protects against dental disease depending on the composition of the oral ecology, wiping them all out with Listerine may have unwanted effects.

Verdict: Primal, if used properly as described in the links from Dr. Ellie above (tooth decay is not Primal). Not Primal, if used incorrectly and haphazardly.


Most people know tamarind from the oddly salty, sour candies eaten in Latin American and Southeast Asian countries, or perhaps the salty, sour sauce used in Indian cuisine, but the tamarind is a legitimate tropical fruit. It comes in pod form, pods which contain seeds. The seeds are discarded (or saved for planting) while the pulp of the pod is cherished for its medicinal and culinary qualities. You can often find bricks of pulverized tamarind pulp for sale in Asian or Indian markets, which you then reconstitute with a bit of water to make tamarind slurry. If you’re serious about Thai cooking, tamarind pulp is a must.

But “pod” might be worrisome to some people. With pods often come legumes, and we generally avoid legumes for their anti-nutritional profiles. Sure enough, tamarind has got some anti-nutritional factors, like phytates and tannins, but also some very beneficial characteristics. For one, tamarind is rich in vitamin C, thiamin, magnesium, plus a bunch of other nutrients (since it’s a food and all). Tamarind also has along and storied history as a medicine in its native countries. Ayurvedic, Southeast Asian, and West African traditions all use tamarind to help treat a number of ailments. That’s all well and good, but what does modern science say?

Tamarind can increase fluoride excretion, even from the bones. If you’re worried about fluoride intake, consider cooking with tamarind from time to time.

Tamarind extract has shown anti-inflammatory effects.

Tamarind fruit lowers total cholesterol and diastolic blood pressure in humans.

It’s not all spotless, though:

Being acidic, tamarind can damage tooth enamel; including some fermented shrimp paste (and really, who doesn’t include that with their tamarind?) mitigated the effect. Tamarind intake has also been linked to gallstone formation in an observational study from India.

Verdict: Primal. The benefits of using tamarind as a cooking ingredient (not a staple food to be chowed down on every day, though) appear to outweigh any potential negatives.


Chicory is a cool plant with a lot of uses. The leaves are highly prized and edible and come in a couple varieties, including radicchio and Belgian endive. The roots are dried, powdered, and used as a coffee substitute or additive. A potent prebiotic fiber known as inulin can also be extracted from the chicory root.

The stuff seems pretty healthful overall, with a few exceptions:

Radicchio leaves contain tons of bioflavonoids. We don’t quite know what they do and more isn’t necessarily better, but they’re there and these types of plant compounds tend to have beneficial effects when consumed as part of a varied diet.

Endive is also high in phenolic compounds. Same story here – most likely beneficial when added to an overall varied diet.

Prebiotic inulin derived from chicory root has been useful against constipation in the elderly. It’s also improved the gut flora in constipated females. In healthy males without any bowel issues, however, adding 20 grams of chicory inulin a day only increased flatulence. Since laughter is a cheap, harmless way to improve health, increasing flatulence may be worthwhile. Other studies have found 10 grams to be the tolerable upper limit for chicory inulin in healthy people. Whatever you do, tread lightly and go slowly when dealing with chicory fiber. Chicory coffee substitute is made from roasted chicory root rich in inulin, so there’s a good chance drinking coffee made with chicory or replaced by chicory will provide a dosage of prebiotic inulin.

I see nothing wrong with moderate and smart (if it makes you fart, lower the dosage) usage of chicory, and a whole lot right.

Verdict: Primal.


Cherimoya is a favorite of mine, albeit one that I rarely get to eat. I was first introduced to the fruit in Thailand, where I proceeded to eat them just about every day I was there. You cut the top off to reveal the silky smooth interior flesh which you consume rapidly with a spoon. When somewhat ripe, it’s got the texture of a pear. When really ripe, it’s like custard, earning it the moniker of custard apple. The best cherimoyas taste like pineapple mixed with peach mixed with banana. You can get them in the States, but they’re frozen or canned in sweet syrup and far inferior to the fresh fruit. I don’t even bother with it unless I’m eating it fresh.

Cherimoya is sweet, sure, but fruit isn’t quite the same as white sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Fruit comes with minerals and vitamins and antioxidants, giving it an altered metabolic effect (like honey). You can still eat too much of it, of course, but if you’re worried about cherimoya, I think you’re doing quite fine in the nutrition department.

The seeds of the cherimoya contain cytotoxic and genotoxic compounds that are being studied for their anti-cancer potential, but nobody eats those anyway.

If you have a latex allergy, you may get some cross-reactivity with the cherimoya.

Verdict: Primal, and be sure to eat them if you have access.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to keep sending or writing in your suspicious foods!

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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