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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60 thoughts on “Is It Primal? – Soda Water, Listerine, Tamarind, and Other Foods Scrutinized”

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  1. Where can I get a cherimoya? Can I plant a tree? It sounds so delicious.

    1. Thailand is hot and humid. Check the agriculture zone numbers for cherimoya, or plants that are similar to cherimoya, versus your zone number. You may need a green house to mimic growing conditions.

      1. You can plant them in zone 24. I can walk around my neighborhood and find cherimoyas falling on sidewalks. Best place to get them is the farmer’s market though because then they’ll be nice and big. A similar but smaller fruit that I like even better is sapote. It tastes similar and has a similar consistency and is cheaper than cheriomoya which is usually so expensive you’ll pay like $7 for a single fruit. You gotta really like them to pay that much.

        1. Sapote is nothing at all like Chirimoya. Maybe we had completely different Sapotes, though. Sapote is Orange, fibrous (stringy), and juicy with little meat, and Chirimoya is, like Mark said, custard-like. I had mine frequently straight out of the amazon jungle down in Peru. They’re both good, but I’d take Chirimoya 10 times out of 10, no doubt.

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

      So-called custard apples are tasty, but, even without a latex allergy, you can experience strange and unsettling side-effects. I stopped eating them years ago, because I would experience numbness in my lower lip and jaw immediately after eating one.

    3. I spotted some in my local health food store today. In South Dakota. Where it snowed yesterday. So they’re out ther
      Now I want to try one

  2. I LOVE cherimoyas!! I live in NC, and sometimes Harris Teeter will have fresh ones. I doubt they’re as good as the ones in Thailand, but the ones I had still tasted pretty darn amazing!

  3. Really interesting information on listerine, my first thought would have been “not primal” or natural in any sense. Have never really had the need for it however, benefits of a healthy diet I suppose.

  4. I like cherimoyas also. For anyone living in the UK, Abel and Cole sell them (fresh, organic – called custard apples) when in season (not at the moment though).

  5. Sparkling water is primal! Where I grew up people have been consuming water from natural mineral springs since time immemorial, many of them come out of the earth sparkling (naturally carbonated) and loaded with a variety of minerals.

    1. You must be German! I am used to seeing parks with natural springs (Quellen) where you can bring your own glass and hold it under the spigot and drink natural mineral water (some more naturally sparkling that others) to your heart’s content.

      1. My daughter moved to Germany last year (hubby is in RBM) and I have experienced “fizzy” water for the first time recently while visiting in Germany. I love it! I usually drink reverse osmosis at home and spring or mineral water by bottle. However, we now buy only “sparkling” mineral water due to my recent love of it from Germany. Fizzy water even comes out of the drinking fountains in public places in Germany! Love that!

  6. Eye opening information, as usual.

    Glad to know that soda water is primal. I missed having Cokes, especially in hot weather. I now mix seltzer, organic vanilla extract and Stevia for a very good cream soda.

    I am going to look into Dr. Ellie’s recommendations. Sounds like she knows what she is talking about. My teeth are “OK” but they could be better.

    I love Thai cooking but haven’t used tamarind. I will now.

    Great, useful information!

    1. My husband and I have used Dr Ellie’s system for over a year. Our teeth are in great shape. I wish I’d started it years ago.
      Certainly, I have used Listerine alone and it made my gums bleed. Used in the Dr Ellie system, no problems at all.

  7. I have used mouthwash for years, until the past couple weeks. I stopped using it because I am curious if it has any negative effects on digestion. Anyone have any experience with this? The bacteria in our mouths is there for a reason. I figure if you’re eating primal, then that bacteria really shouldn’t be causing harm.

  8. Also, lychees are another delicious fruit native to southeast Asia.

  9. what about green peas and green beans, what are your takes on those?

  10. Wow. I feel like I’ve been saved here – from the doom of using Listerine as a final rinse. Who knew? I thought that was the whole point of it.

    I’ve been on a Listerine hiatus for quite some time, but, as it happens, I just recently bought some. I think I’ll skip the “sandwiching” and save it for a toothbrush rinse. Seems like I’ve had enough of it in my mouth for one lifetime.

    Nice research, Mark!

  11. I love cherimoyas, here in NorCal I find them in mexican and asian markets sometimes. Supposedly they were Mark Twain’s favorite fruit. Reading about them, though, it seems the seeds are pretty concentrated in potential neurotoxins, which is fine when eating the fresh whole fruit cause you can pick them out, but be careful of processed cherimoya products because they often grind up some of the seeds as well.

  12. Oh, good. Got kinda nervous when I saw soda water in the title, I love that stuff! Glad to hear it might actually be beneficial.

  13. When it comes to Cherimoya and other fruits in the same family, it is important to note that consumption should be careful. The unripe fruit flesh and the seeds contain a toxin called “Annonacin”, which has been shown to cause Parkinson’s Disease-like lesions in the brain. It is worth noting that these types of effects are only seen after prolonged, daily consumption of the unripe fruit and the seeds. Occasional consumption is fine. They ARE tasty and can often be found in Asian/Ethnic markets. Fresh, that is.

  14. Get yourself some tea tree oli, mix about 20 drops with 8-12 oz of purified water and use that as a mouth wash when needed. No reason to buy useless products like Listerine.

  15. “Listerine looks, tastes, and smells an awful lot like something a shaman would cook up in the Amazon somewhere.”

    Uhm……poisonous purple, bilious blue? I think not. Listerine is just a nasty, smelly, toxic concoction.

    A baking soda or salt rinse should do the trick, and you won’t leave a noxious cloud in your wake.

    1. You can also rinse with a 50/50 mix of hydrogen peroxide and water–just DON’T SWALLOW!

      1. I’ve rinsed with hydrogen peroxide. It didn’t seem to have any adverse effects. I’ve also diluted it with water. It feels a bit weird and I rinsed my mouth out after with water.

  16. Good suggestion with the tea tree oil, Patrick. I found Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Chewing Sticks (from Australia) will create a saliva-based tea tree mouth rinse. Great for on-the-go tooth care. Then for brushing, I’ve been using Uncle Harry’s Tooth Soap, and love it. Rinse well afterwards, and you’ll never miss the Listerine.

  17. About Cherimoya’s – they have a nickname as the ‘ice cream fruit’. Simply wait until they are a little bit rip (a tad squishy) and then stick them in the freezer. When you want a delicious treat, remove it and as it defrosts it makes for an amazing similar experience to eating ice cream.

    I love these things and seeing them at my farmers market!!

    1. The mixed fruit flavor Mark references had me thinking Tutti Frutti was actually just Cherimoya. That’s not so… I just looked it up. Favorite fruit, though.

      If you’ve never had a custard apple and you’re put off by the poisonous seeds, let me assure you that you’re not going to eat one accidentally.

  18. I myself am a big fan of tamarind, well, then they come in the sour candy kind- so do those still offer the same benefits despite being preserved and dipped in sugar? I was also wondering, you covered soda water, but what about vitamin water? I’ve heard quite a lot of controversy about this and would love to hear your take on it.

  19. I live in Somis, Ca (Ventura County) and one of our neighbors has about 80 Cherimoya trees. I don’t mean to advertise for my place of employment, but we sell them at Underwood Family Farms (Somis location).They are amazing and people come from far and wide to get them -unfortunately, the season is just about over for the year. I believe they are difficult to grow here even in mild climates, because we lack a certain insect which naturally pollinates them, and they are very touchy pollinators. So amazing!

  20. “Since laughter is a cheap, harmless way to improve health, increasing flatulence may be worthwhile.”

    😀 you manage to make good humor where some would only be gross — i enjoy your eccentric wit, Mark!

  21. I had no idea about listerine! I use listerine quite regularly after brushing. I always thoroughly rinse out with water though and usually drink almost a whole glass of water right after that. Is this enough to protect my teeth or should I be using something else to rinse out with?
    Thanks for the post!

    1. brushing, flossing are first defense against bacteria in your mouth. if you are not eating refined sugars, the bacteria needed to form the acid for decay are reduced drastically……same for the bacteria which cause periodontal disease. Mouthwashes, with the exception of those containing chlorohexidine gluconate that are used in treatment of periodontal disease, are poor adjuncts to oral health. The first line of defense has always been brushing and flossing…within 30 minutes of eating…anything.
      This may not hold as true for us interested in primal eating as there is simply not a lot of stuff for the bad bacteria to utilize.

  22. I rarely get sinus infections anymore. but when I did I would always gargle Listerine 2 times per day and within 3days the infection would always be gone. Who knew?

  23. I go out for karaoke every week. It’s at a bar, and I don’t drink, so I always get a soda water with a lime. Good to know I’ve been doing myself an additional favor staying away from alcohol! =)

  24. Badoit is the best sparkling water, it’s the only one I know of that is naturally carbonated as it comes out of the ground.

  25. Gerolsteiner is good – I think it used to be naturally carbonated, but as I look at the bottle now, it says it has natural carbonation added…
    I’ve never seen Badoit.

  26. Regarding Listerine, I swapped over to oil pulling (easy to google, have a good link about it) first thing in the morning and have not looked back. It is an ancient ayurvedic tradition and is fabulous at removing toxins from between (and within!) your teeth. In addition, it is said to be of fabulous benefit to your overall health.

  27. …Ohhh…that’s why he doesn’t answer his messages and questions here…they are an “endless stream”……… 🙂

    1. What is good for you and what is bad are questions that can cause no end of arguments. When it comes to food and drink we are encouraged to eat fruit, drink plenty of water and ensure that our diet is balanced. The main thing is to take heed of your intake and avoid any excesses.

  28. Interesting timing on the mouthwash mention. I always liked the stuff but have noticed that when I use it my mouth is more dry in the morning.

    I am an avid IF-er and since starting IF have noticed much better dental / oral health. Kind of makes sense right? I mean… Your teeth and oral tissues would tend to be healthier if they are exposed to foods on a limited basis each day rather than the constant flow of food that comes with the SAD and constant grazing.

    Sounds gross but I often skip brushing before bed nowadays and have been doing so for months. On my most recent hygiene visit the hygienist and dentist commented on how little build up I had! So, IF is good for the teeth as is Primal!

    I will keep the Listerine on hand for occasional use however. Everything in moderation.

  29. Cherimoya are available at every halfway decent farmer’s market in San Diego county, I’d be hella surprised if they’re not up there in the LA region too.

  30. I LOOOOOVE tamarind chutney (but it usually includes sugar so I don’t eat it too often). I do have some sort of seltzer, soda or mineral water pretty much daily in warm weather, so this is a happy day. 🙂 I’ve yet to try cherimoya, but it sounds absolutely delicious.

    I’ve always been wary of Listerine, though, & mouthwash in general. It just doesn’t seem natural to me. My teeth seem fine without it & for breath issues I prefer chewing a sprig of parsley or mint.

  31. Love sparkling water.Glad to know that it is primal. Changes things up from plain non carbonated water.

  32. Seltzer mixed with strong fruit-flavored tea (like Raspberry Zinger) is great in the summer when you’re kind of wishing for lemonade : )

  33. I think it boils down to the 80/20 rule. For 20% of the effort, ie eliminating grains and sugar, you get 80% of the results. You can make the extra 80% of effort to achieve the 20% extra rewards, but how much is it worth to you? Sometimes I feel like its the little things that keep you sane.

  34. Just spotted the comment about Listerine – my friend has used it for years and has just been diagnosed with mouth cancer and was told by her consultant it is ‘probably’ due to the alcohol in the mouthwash….

  35. I was thinking of inquiring here about soda water just the other day (before knowledge of this post).
    There are continuously coincidences here. I imagine Mark sits in a tower with some crystal ball like Denethor, seeing afar and reading minds. That or people who often have various foods and drinks on their minds are bound to consider the same consumables once in a while.
    I thought I noticed a stronger effect from beer as opposed to sherry, my two regular alcohol sources. (I go for the cheap stuff). I wondered if carbonation was to blame. Apparently it facilitates the incorporation of caffeine into the system. I wouldn’t be surprised if it helps other compounds assimilate as well.
    Someone gave me two beers recently made with water that goes over five waterfalls. It was good, potent stuff – seemed chock-full of minerals. My go-to mineral source however, is still molasses. It’s like earth blood, nutrient tar.

  36. I practically never brush my teeth and they don’t seem to be getting any worse, probably because I usually don’t eat lots of carbs or acidic foods. I used to have receding gums that caused pain for me often, apparently caused by over-brushing, but since cutting back on the acidic foods and carbs my oral health is much better. If I sugar binge (too much honey, juice, or fruit for example) then some of my tooth roots sting.
    I have an all-natural fluoride-free toothpaste in reserve.

  37. I prefer Peppermint essential oil 1-3 drops per ounce of water… swish and enjoy your new minty mouth.. DO NOT SWALLOW.. i always get my oils from since they are tested for chemicals…