Dear Mark: Protein Powder Dangers, Fermented Polyphenols, Whole Foods’ Farmed Salmon, and K-Cup Bone Broth

Inline_Protein_Powder_DangersFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering four reader questions. First, a recent NY Times article makes some scary claims about protein powder—and protein in general. Should you worry? Next, what does a study about probiotics and polyphenol absorption mean for probiotics in general? Third, what do I think about Whole Foods’ new farmed salmon, which purports to be way healthier and more sustainable than other farmed salmons? And finally, I discuss K-cup bone broth.

Let’s go:

Article I saw in the NY Times and thought I would pass it along. Curious to hear from Mark the concerns around protein powders. I still take Primal Fuel 4-5 times per week for breakfast and believe in Mark’s company so hoping the quality is better than the rest.

There are a lot of things to unpack from that article.

First, the heavy metal content of protein powder. A few reports have come out in the last half decade about protein powders showing elevated levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, and other metals you don’t really want to consume. The raw ingredients undergo extensive testing for heavy metals and microbial contamination before being released for manufacturing, so you’re safe on that front.

Second, the idea of “excessive protein.” The article repeatedly mentions a “recommended intake” of 46 grams per day for women and 56 grams per day for men, but that’s misleading. Those figures are the bare minimum to avoid gross protein deficiency. They aren’t optimal.

They reference a study in which men aged 50-65 who ate a high protein diet were more likely to die from cancer. That same study also found that in ages 50+, a high protein intake had no association with all-cause mortality (the most important endpoint), while in ages 65+, high protein was downright protective against death. The only consistent positive association across all ages is with death from diabetes.

They characterize protein consumption as oppositional to eating other foods. Protein isn’t a neutral food. It’s “robbing” us of important macronutrients found in fats, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Or something.

Hi Mark, so the probiotic / polyphenol study creates a few questions. Does this mean that all polyphenol rich fermentations like red cabbage kraut, black tea kombucha, or beet kvass are even better sources of polyphenols than we originally thought, or would this just be limited to polyphenol spikes yogurt?

Or should we just aim to take a probiotic capsule with a serving of blueberries? Will you reformulate your primal probiotic based on this idea?

  1. Totally! This study (where taking probiotics increased the absorption of polyphenols, almost as if the two are “meant” to arrive together) suggests that whole food ferments are probably more effective than standalone probiotic or polyphenol supplements. We know, for example, that the red wine fermentation process produces entirely new polyphenols.
  2. I’d expect a probiotic capsule to be more effective with a source of polyphenols. Vice versa, too.
  3. Probably not. If you guys are doing the diet right, you’ll already be eating plenty of dense sources of polyphenols every day. You could say that my faith in Primal Probiotics assumes regular consumption of foods like tea, coffee, berries, greens, spices, and brightly-colored produce.

How do you feel about Whole Foods new farm raised salmon discussed in the links below? Is it a reasonably healthy alternative when wild salmon is not available? I find it tastes better than wild salmon (likely because it’s fattier).

Look decent.

Blue Circle Foods, one of Whole Foods’ partners in the salmon endeavor, explains how the feed is made. They use trim from wild-caught fish like mackerel, capelin, herring, and cod that would otherwise be discarded, rather than whole fish. This makes a more sustainable fish feed with less impact on wild fish stocks.

The feed is very efficient. Compared to standard farmed salmon, where it takes 1.6 pounds of feed to produce a pound of finished salmon meat, a pound of this new salmon feed produces more than a pound of finished salmon meat.

Wild salmon is definitely ideal. But let’s not act like farmed salmon is useless. It’s higher in omega-6 fats, but still has about 4x as many omega-3s as omega-6. Studies show that eating farmed salmon increases blood levels of DHA, even in pregnant women.

But farmed salmon is a major source of contaminants like PCBS and dioxins, having about 8 times as many PCBs as wild salmon. Since these contaminants are bound to the salmon fat, producers of this new Whole Foods’ salmon feed separate the fish oil from the solids, remove most of the contaminants, and combine it back with the solids to form the fish feed.

My biggest worry is how they remove the contaminants: by heating the oil to 200°C. Now, for more robust oils like EVOO or avocado, that’s okay. They can withstand the heat. And farm-raised salmon actually has a lot of monounsaturated fat and saturated fat, both of which are stable in the presence of heat. But the omega-3s—the fat most people are looking for when they buy salmon—are very susceptible to oxidative damage. It’s unclear how oxidized the feed fats are, and whether it affects the finished product.

Overall, it looks like a good option. Better than other farmed salmon, at least. I haven’t tried it but will keep my eyes open.

What’s the deal with K Cup Bone Broth? Is this stuff for real?
Thanks, Groktimus

It’s pretty weird.

The idea of super-hot liquid passing through plastic en route to my open mouth doesn’t appeal to me. Yeah, yeah, it’s probably BPA-free, but what’s replacing the BPA? Plastic tends to contain endocrine disruptors as a rule, no matter how “non-toxic” it is. I prefer to limit my exposure to heated plastic.

Other than that, it’s a fine product. It’s not really bone broth, as the ingredient list indicates that it’s just beef collagen with dried beef and spices, but that’s okay. Collagen is why bone broth is so helpful, so these K cups will provide similar nutrition.

I wonder if it gels up when cooled or reduces down to a viscous pan sauce. Probably not, as they’re probably using a collagen hydrolysate to improve dissolution into hot water. Intact gelatin clumps up when added directly to hot liquid (unless you bloom it first). That would make the bone broth K cups good for drinking but not for cooking.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to help out with your own input down below!


TAGS:  dear mark

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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19 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Protein Powder Dangers, Fermented Polyphenols, Whole Foods’ Farmed Salmon, and K-Cup Bone Broth”

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  1. Yeah, the idea of K-Cup bone broth does appeal to me either. Regular coffee tastes awful out of those things so I don’t even want to know how broth tastes. Speaking of which, I need to make me another batch of bone broth soon. That stuff is fantastic with some finely chopped vegetables and a whisked egg dropped in.

  2. Kcup bone broth sounds like more of a sales gimmick than anything else. I agree about the hot liquid passing through plastic not being a great idea. Speaking of plastic, last night on a PBS channel I watched Martha Stewart vigorously pounding out a turkey breast between two sheets of plastic wrap. It undoubtedly keeps the work surface cleaner, but I couldn’t help wondering if microscopic pieces of the plastic wrap were becoming embedded in the meat.

  3. Informative and interesting as always. I’ll definitely give the Whole Foods Salmon a try.

    1. Whole Foods also offers offal from grass fed cows. The one near me would even grind it up so I could mix it into my chili. Now that’s service!

  4. protein and eggs can elicit an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals, and protein shakes containing these ingredients can cause symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and shock.

    1. I’ve never been able to drink protein shakes. I’ve tried many different brands over the years, including whey isolate, and they invariably upset my stomach, even though I’ve never added eggs. I suppose protein drinks serve a purpose, but I’d rather get my protein from real food rather than a heavily processed powder.

      1. Protein shakes are meant to be a supplement, not a main source of protein. Their chief advantage is rapid absorption for better gains post workout. I make mine with berries, banana, peanut butter, yogurt, and almond milk.

        1. I’m a raw liver, blueberries, coconut milk, and cinnamon kind of guy. But only once a week or so.

  5. I’m intrigued with the next gen probiotics that include bacteriophages. Apparently the bacteriophages target “bad” gut biome bacteria. Elimination of these toxins is a huge benefit in itself, but it also allows the “good” bacteria to multiply at a much higher rate. Or so the claims go. 🙂

  6. I stopped eating farmed Norwegian salmon and farmed fish in general, after watching the documentary “Fillet-oh-fish []. And since I am not in north America, the only wild Salmon available to me is canned from Alaska and Washington state. At least, I have excess to a verity of wild and small to mid size fish from the Med.

  7. Hard to believe that the cups are plastic if they are 100% recyclable. I use San Francisco Bay Coffee K-cups, which are not made of plastic and are recyclable. And the coffee tastes great to me.

  8. Interesting stuff here. Love having another excuse to enjoy red wine (I’m about to start sampling the Dry Farm Wines that Mark recommended). And the Whole Foods farmed salmon sounds interesting. I don’t have a Whole Foods close by, but I’m pretty sure my Wegmans carries an organic farmed salmon. My stance on salmon has been to buy wild caught if I’m preparing it at home, but if I’m eating out I don’t worry about it. And sardines are my fatty fish of choice anyway! I’m a little freaked out by the k cup bone broth. I will admit to owning a keurig, and I use it when I’m in a hurry. Coffee brewed in my french press tastes so much better. I’ll stick to blending collagen into my coffee, and making bone broth from time to time.

    1. Elizabeth, I make a killer chicken broth and fish broth, but my first attempt at bone broth was a disaster. Any recipe you can share?

      1. Jason, making bone broth is just a matter of simmering beef or chicken bones in water over a long period of time (proponents say 24 hours or more). Don’t expect it to taste like much. Flavor is derived from simmering raw bone-in meat and veggies. The idea that bone broth is super high in nutrients has been debunked, but it does contain quite a bit of collagen. However, your killer chicken broth should also contain collagen. The proof is whether or not it jells when refrigerated overnight.

  9. What is the secret with bone broth? Sometimes mine comes out perfect and other times it’s just…well, not what it’s supposed to be.

  10. Thank you for this article! I’m really loving drinking bone broth. I’ve been drinking Au Bon Broth and I almost instantly felt better. I’m less tired even after a day’s work and taking care of my kids.

  11. Hey, Mark, you are really awesome. Your every blog contains a bunch of information about a healthy life. As many a people using protein powders as body supplementation and your post clears all of their doubts about their dangers. Your post really helpful. Thanks for sharing such a beneficial post.

  12. Outstanding blog by Mark on keto being compared with heavy intake of protein. Surveys conducted on Protein powder has scared if they can go for it because either way does work when health is concerned. All the elements discussed play their respective roles in protein. the process of being healthy does not end unless we initiate a proper nutrition. Thanks for letting everyone know.