Dear Mark: PUFA Confusion, Mushroom Coffee, Swiss Water Process, and Timing the Fast

Dear_Mark_Inline_PhotoFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering four questions from readers. First, should someone homozygous for the FADS variant that increases PUFA conversion eat less or more PUFA? Next, what’s the deal with all the mushroom coffees out on the market? Are they actually beneficial? Third, when looking for a healthy decaf coffee, what should you watch for? And finally, how should a breakfast skipper/intermittent faster deal with increased morning hunger caused by morning workouts?

Let’s find out:

I’m confused. I’m 75% Norweigan, the rest mixed european. My FADS (myrf) is homozygous. My genetic report says this variant has “higher than average levels of arachidonic acid, LDL and total cholesterol levels due to upregulated elongation of omega 6 PUFAs to pro-inflammatory compounds. Consider limiting sources of omega 6 PUFAs especially AA.” So this says PUFAs are bad for me because they are pro-inflammatory, but you are saying they aren’t bad because they get converted to Omega 3’s which are anti-inflammatory. Is this not the FADS gene you are talking about, but one of the others?

It is confusing, I agree.

If you have “upregulated elongation,” you should limit omega-6 PUFAs in the form of linoleic acid. A large amount of the linoleic acid you eat will be successfully converted to arachidonic acid, a precursor for inflammatory compounds. You’ll also be better at converting alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to the omega-3s found in fish (DHA and EPA), but linoleic acid is a lot easier for most people to stumble across than ALA.

If you have “downregulated elongation,” you should still limit linoleic acid. Unconverted linoleic acid is fragile, unstable, and liable to oxidation. You don’t want it hanging around or being incorporated into your tissues. Nothing worse than a mitochondrial membrane loaded with linoleic acid.

The point is that in most ancestral diets, omega-6 PUFA in the form of linoleic acid was available in much smaller amounts than it is today. Industrialization has concentrated its availability in the food system. Today, we get seed oils in everything—baked goods, fast food, restaurant food, chicken and pork (from the feed). Back then, we had to remove nuts and seeds from their shells to get a dense crack at some linoleic acid. High levels of linoleic acid are bad for the carriers of all the various FADS alleles, just for slightly different reasons.

Great article as always Mark.

Just wondering about mushroom coffee? The type that includes reishi & other varieties supposedly high in immune boosting compounds. Any benefit?



We had the founder of Four Sigmatic, Tero Isokauppila, on the podcast awhile back. Interesting guy and a great line of products. His signature one is mushroom coffee.

Are there benefits?

Well, mushrooms are legit. You don’t even have to wade into the world of magical immunomodulatory, brain-nerve-regenerating, adaptogenic mushrooms to see some interesting effects. Common culinary mushrooms like brown, white, oyster, porcini, and chanterelle mushrooms may all produce major health benefits, including blood pressure regulation, nerve cell growth stimulation, immunomodulation, and cancer protection.

What about the mushrooms often included in these mushrooms coffees, like reishi, chaga, lion’s mane, and cordyceps?

Reishi: Stimulates the immune system, including a boost in natural killer cell and T-cell activity. It reduces fatigue in breast cancer patients and neuroasthenia patients (neuroasthenia is a confusing medical condition characterized primarily by fatigue, so this is a big effect). In potential colorectal cancer patients, it appears to reduce the number and size of adenomas (benign tumors that could presage the formation of less benign ones) in the colon.

Chaga: Full of phenolic compounds, many of which have anti-cancer potential. Reduces oxidative stress in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, even protecting against DNA damage.

Lion’s Mane: May reverse mild cognitive decline in the elderly, help people with nerve damage regenerate destroyed nerves and regain their ability to walk, and act as a nootropic in healthy people.

Cordyceps: Included with immunosuppressant therapy, helps kidney transplant patients improve kidney function and avoid kidney transplant side effects. Increases lactate threshold in elderly folks during exercise; an increased lactate threshold means you stay aerobic and burn fat for longer before relying more heavily on glycogen.

Coffee is legit, assuming you tolerate caffeine. And even if you don’t, decaf coffee remains a great source of phytochemicals.

Is “Swiss water process” all you need to look for in a decaf coffee to avoid all the nasty chemicals and solvents Mark talked about?

Yes, that’s all you need.

I have been intermittent fasting, last food around 8 or 9 pm and then not eating until around noon, and this has been working great. But I have added in a morning workout and now I am getting hungry sooner, sometimes right after the workout. I suspect I need to up my calories overall. Should I just go ahead and eat “WHEN” as you say, and not worry about the IF timing, or should I try to get more calories in during my current compressed window?

There’s value in both. I find it plausible that feeling the sensation of hunger—true hunger, as arises after a hard workout with very little in your stomach—is worth experiencing on a semi-regular basis. It’s a feeling humans are “meant” to feel, as our ancestral environments often dictated we go without food despite desiring (and even “needing”) it.

WHEN is also a valuable tactic. To eat when hunger ensues naturally is to honor your physiology. If anything is a valid and accurate indicator of your body’s immediate nutritional requirements, it’s your subconscious instincts and urges.

I’ll give a third option, too. Instead of skipping breakfast, why not skip dinner? Have your last meal at 4 or 5 PM, do your morning workout in a fasted state, break the fast at 8 or 9 AM right after. You could even follow a “eat only when the sun’s up” rule to make things simpler.

Good luck, and let me know what you decide to do.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading, and be sure to help out down below with your own comments and answers (and questions).


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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24 thoughts on “Dear Mark: PUFA Confusion, Mushroom Coffee, Swiss Water Process, and Timing the Fast”

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  1. Sugar burners also eat “when,” often every two hours. Just saying. I IF every day and agree with Mark’s first response. When I do feel hungry in the hours after my morning workout and my first meal at 12 or 1, I am tapping into our ancestry. Feeling hunger is a good thing. If it’s too distracting, go for a walk, do something active. I’ve never felt like I’ve had to break a fast for hunger and over time you’ll find your greatest energy during this window. I know I do.

    1. Curtis, going for a walk always provides me with a distraction as well healthy mindset. Great attitude.

      1. Rock on NaturalGirl. I’m in the middle of a 24 hour fast right now and took a walk and laid out for my lunch break. We got this!

  2. Re IF Does anyone know if taking collagen powder (or capsules) in morning coffee breaks one’s fast? It’s a great way to get the collagen in, but I’m thinking it’s a food…

    1. It’s protein, so it’ll break the fast. As a fellow collagen enthusiast, I just dissolve mine in a glass of water that I drink with my first meal of the day.

    2. I use Konjac root powder. It’s basically fiber with a zero calorie profile. If I take two capsules with my morning coffee, it fills me up like I had a full meal. Great cheat for keto adaption because it bulks up into a gel to get a full gut feeling without added carbs.

    3. I’ve also been curious about fatty coffee (a smidge of ghee and a tablespoon of MCT oil) and breaking a fast. In “The Complete Guide to Fasting” Jason Fung’s does state that people can include fatty coffee on fasts. I’ve been going on that statement as I love my fatty coffee! I’d love to know what others think.

  3. Yes, I have the same question as Monikat, and I consider collagen a food since it’s protein. And for me taking it in the am works best…later in the day I tend to forget. The benefits for my skin and body have been so great that I don’t want to give it up.
    I like the idea of skipping dinner rather than breakfast for fasting. I do that from time to time since I bartend a few nights a week and don’t really have time to eat anyway.

    1. My former sugar burning self would be shocked to hear me say this, but I LOVE skipping dinner! When I have activities after work and don’t get home until 7:00pm it is just easier not to eat. (I go to bed by 9pm.) This lifestyle has been incredibly freeing for me.

  4. I am thinking that you might get increased muscle building if you have a protein snack after your workout…

  5. In my experience with a traditional keto eating style, I never experienced hunger save for after the absolute most intense workouts like a grinding mtn bike ride with lots of technical aerobic climbing. Recently, I elevated my protein to 1g per lb of lean mass and the overall food volume is so much meat and eggs that even scratch the fat macros, it has to be super fatty cuts of meat. I’d then have to add fat to hit the macro suggested by a tdee calculator but because I haven’t felt hungry or low energy during workouts, I have found no need to add additional fats. This has made it so I’m missing the fat macro by nearly 30-40% daily. However, carbs are still way under 25g. In fact, I feel even more energized during workouts no matter the intensity and since I’m fat adapted, have even experienced a drop in bodyfat, I assume because my body is burning off dietary fat sooner than normal and tapping into reserves. I was nervous to increase protein and decrease fat because where would I get energy from without increasing carbs? Could it be that gluconeogenesis isn’t just a survival mech to fuel organs but also converts protein to enough glucose to fuel muscles? I’m not scientist but this is the only explanation I can think of. Has me loosely considering full on carnivore but man I love coconut butter and some nuts/berries on occasion. Since changing to higher protein macro, have experienced no difference in ability to IF for similar duration as full on 90% fat macro keto.

  6. I am the one that asked that IF question that Mark replied to. I actually do like that feeling of hunger that usually comes late in the morning, knowing that good things are happening with my cells, fat utilization and many other things, during that very time. So, I don’t want to just eat as a trigger reaction to feeling that first hunger pang. But with the extra workout I wasn’t adding in extra calories to compensate and was feeling actually weak. What I decided to do was this (before hearing Mark’s 3rd suggestion here).

    1. I increased my calories during my normal window, up from 1600 to about 2000.
    2. I try to keep my noon first meal, which is pretty do-able now with more nutrition the day before.
    3. If I still get that “truly need to eat something” feeling before noon, I go ahead and eat.

    This has worked well so far, and I have actually lost a few more pounds even though I am now trying to add back on some muscle weight. But I might try Mark’s new suggestion as well on some days. We eat dinner around 5:30 or 6:00pm anyway, so that timing works, but I have always liked a snack around 8:00pm or so as well, so would have some adjusting to do there. Worth a shot!

    1. Do you snack around 8pm because you’re actually hungry? Or do you just (mentally or emotionally) feel like munching on something? There’s a difference, and it might help you to know which one it is.

      We usually eat dinner around 6pm, and then that’s it until noon-ish the next day–no drinks or food, just water. Daily IF is a habit that takes a little practice but it soon becomes second nature.

      1. I am definitely hungry and I have found, after years of experimentation, that I just don’t sleep well unless I have some food in my system. Ultimately, it is also about making sure I get sufficient calories in for the day, otherwise I definitely will have problems after my workout the next morning! I had been eating around 1600 calories (6’1″, 175, down from 255) and with a HIIT workout in the morning and 10,000 steps most days, I found I needed to up the calories to closer to 2000 to feel nourished now that I am not wanting to lose any more weight. So, eating around 8 helps get the calories in and also helps me sleep well.

    2. I’m in the same situation as you. I’ve alsi been told that I may not be gaining the muscle tone I desire because I’m not fueling with protein (or carbs) after my workout. I’ve used one scoop of collagen peptides in my morning coffee to provide me with some protein (9g- not sure it’s enough to do anything?). One scoop is 35 calories, and I’ve been told that anything under 50 won’t break your fast.

      I’m faced with the same options.
      Keep us posted?

  7. Hey Mark, I note the inclusion of pork and chicken as foods to be aware of as high in omega 6 linoleic acid (from their feed). Does this line of thinking also apply to egg yolks? If so, only for conventional eggs and not for pastured eggs?

  8. Couple of comments on the comments 🙂

    Hunger is not static and it does not increase steadily.
    It tends to come in waves. I agree withCurtis, if you can wait it out or distract yourself the hunger sensation will ebb or disappear.

    In terms of intermitent fasting, the reason many people find skipping the evening meal more challenging is twofold. This is generally family mealtime, or when you meet others for a meal. It is diffcult to sit and watch people eat and not participate.

    Second, the first pangs of hunger may kick in around bedtime and many people find it difficult to get to get to sleep when hungry.

    Skipping morning meals is easy for most as it is easy to jump right into to your day and get distracted by work.

    But evetyone is different and there are some folks where morning eating windows work better.

    Can’t comment on the collagen other than I struggle with that too. Some say too few calories to worry about and others say any calories are too many. If I am working out that day, I skip the collagen in coffee and add it to my postworkout green smoothie.

    1. I probably should have clarified, it isn’t really just hunger pangs, I can get past that and I actually like that feeling somewhat. When I eat is when it goes beyond feelings of hunger to feelings of physical weakness, even a bit of light-headedness. When my body feel under-nourished.Most days this is not until 11 or noon, but lately that has been coming sooner with the addition of my workout. I do want to get the additional growth hormone release Mark talks about if I continue to fast after a fasted workout, but I don’t want to push that too far.

      1. Note that if you haven’t been doing much exercise, when you first start you won’t be very good at burning fat during the exercise, which means you will burn mostly carbs. That may be what is making you hungry. Give it a few weeks.

  9. I’m not gonna try to find it, but I remember the comment when someone suggested the acronym “WHEN”. Something like, “How about WHEN?”
    Historical moment, we were there, and whoever came up with that, it’s great.

  10. I agree with Curtis, feeling hunger is a good thing. Something I do to give me a little boost & to make it through IF is 10oz water, 2T acv, juice of one lime, 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar, 1/2 tsp pink salt & a couple drops Stevia (opt). Thanks Mark, this is a great site.

  11. I Read lots of studies about mushroom coffee but never tried this, anyone please share how it will taste like, my kids are quite picky lol 🙂

  12. Hi. I am fasting but I’m mixing both chaga and lions mane powder (from reputable sources) into a 1 litre bottle of water to sip on daily. Does this interfer/break my fast? Can anyone let me know.