Dear Mark: All Things Sweet (Plus Cheese and Gut Health)

This week instead of focusing on one reader question and giving a lengthy, detailed response I thought I’d change it up a bit by publicly addressing a number of reader questions with quick responses and links to archived posts. Let me know if you like the format. That is, do you prefer an in-depth analysis of a single reader’s question as per most of my “Dear Mark” posts or would you rather see more questions answered in a succinct, to-the-point manner? Give me your feedback and I’ll handle “Dear Mark” posts accordingly. More than likely I’ll do a good mix of both in the future. Thanks, everyone!

Sweet Potato, Sweet Fruit, Sweet Juice

Sweet Potatoes

Mark – Thanks for the great blog!

1. What is your opinion of sweet potatoes? Are they OK in moderation? Do they have any bad properties – Can I eat as many as I want? I have eliminated sugars/potatoes/breads/rice/grains/dairy etc. from my diet but I really miss a “starch” at dinner. I’d like to add some sweet potatoes with my steamed asparagus and grilled chicken for dinner.

2. Are there any fruits I should watch out for? I have eliminated the high-sugar ones – mangoes, pineapple, etc. are there any other ones I should nix? I like Apples, Blueberries, and Oranges (no juice). How about bananas and plantains?

3. Any opinion on “Vedge” juice by Bolthouse Farms?



Yams and sweet potatoes are decent natural carb sources. They are OK in moderation, which I would say is no more than one every 2 days.

As for fruits, use your “fullness” as a guide. There aren’t really any I’d say to avoid…just know that they are carbs and they do have sugar. But even 3 or 4 servings a day doesn’t add up to that much (compared to pasta, cereal, bread, etc) Plantains and bananas are fine in moderation, too.

Vedge looks OK…but why drink your veggies and fruits in concentrated form when you can eat them? I’d just be careful of overdoing the juices.

Check out these posts for more info:

Best Fruit Choices

The Best Low-Carb Fruits (and the Worst)

A Few Words on Juicing

Alternatives to Grains

Primal Cheese?



First, I love your blog and I read it absolutely every day. I found your blog because I joined Crossfit about 6 months ago and they had posted a link to one of your articles on Grains. I just think you are an absolutely fantastic resource and your blog is also extremely enjoyable to read. When people ask me how I stay in such great shape and how I know so much about food, I am always citing your blog as a great reference point for people looking to gain more knowledge! So thanks, and keep up the good work!

On to my question…. My boyfriend and I have just started the “30-Day Challenge” and we have been going back and forth with each other discussing the cheese issue. While I have read in your articles that it is a “sensible vice” and that if you stay on the “higher end” of the market in terms of quality you will be fine, he completely disagrees and pulls out all the things “non-dairy” arguments and the things that Paleolithic Dieters (very similar to you, I believe) say about dairy and allergens etc. I was just wondering if you could clarify why exactly you feel cheese is a “sensible vice” and why it is different from other dairy? I know it is low in lactose and high in protein but is that it? Also, since there are a ton of different types of higher quality cheeses could you specify which particular types you think are better than others and why? I love cheese on my salads but would prefer to know which types are better than others (I am not that particular about what kind of cheese I use as long as I know it is the “better kind” of vice).

Is goat cheese better than cow, is sheep better than either? I am just “on the fence” about the dairy issue when it comes to cheese and would love whatever knowledge you have to offer.

Thanks again for all the posts and I look forward to hearing from you.


Hi Jessica,

Glad you like the blog. We have a blast doing it.

As for the cheese thing, I am more on your boyfriend’s side here (sorry). In the best Primal world, we wouldn’t eat dairy of any kind including cheese. But I do say that if you can digest it and eat it in small amounts occasionally, cheese qualifies as a Sensible Vice (probably can’t hurt and won’t interfere with insulin or autoimmune problems). The fact that it’s already “predigested” (fermented) helps differentiate cheese and yogurt from most other dairy, too. Having said that, I’d probably pick the stronger cheeses that you can use mostly for added flavoring (shaved parmesan, for example) versus using them for substantial protein content. If you are limiting cheese in that regard, then any that you choose can fit in to your plan

I’ve touched on this before. Check out these posts for more info:

Would Grok Chow the Cheese Plate?

Sensible Vices: Round 2

Gut Rut


G’day Mark, I hope all is well.

I read an article about the aussie cycling team and probiotics.

I’ve seen a couple blogs and references to intestinal issues, any recommendations?



You don’t really need probiotics every day if your gut is in good shape. If it’s NOT, or if you have been sick recently, or under stress (or training hard) then probiotics could help maintain all-important gut flora. I like Natren’s Healthy Trinity, but there are others in your health food store if they don’t have that.

Since I eat well and control stress, the only time I find I need them is for food poisoning (luckily not often!!) episodes. They are a lifesaver in recovering from that in a very short period of time.

Here are a few more related posts:

A Sanitized World is a Healthier World?

10 Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation

Sweet Tooth Fix

Sweet Tooth

Hi Mark,

I have been keeping up with your blog for a while now, and have eased into the low carb lifestyle. I am a 26 year old male who sits pretty steady at 160 lbs I do fine avoiding grains, but I still have a keen sweet-tooth. By that I mean eating 1/4 of an oreo pie a day is normal for me (I have cut that way back but you get the idea). It seems every time I decide to take the jump and go fully primal, I end up with a headache that after a week or so ends with me jumping back into the sugars to make it end.

Is this a common problem for people? It has me asking alot of questions about its cause. For one, I wonder if I am cutting calories too low. I am not particularly hungry, and I eat when I am so I wouldn’t think that is the case. I dont want to drop weight, as there isnt much excess there.

Is this just me having insulin withdrawals? I will admit that my body is used to some severe sugar spikes. If so, I would expect it to go away if I push on through.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on the matter, or if others have found ways to deal with this particular problem. I intend to push through this time, so if I find the answer on my own, I will send it along.



It is common to have these withdrawal type symptoms. No need to cut calories too low if you don’t need to lose weight, so don’t hesitate to eat a little more than you have to for the short term. Have some other snacks handy for when you feel the sugar-cravings coming on…something you like but that has fats and/or protein instead (nuts, cheese, jerky, celery with nut butter or cream cheese – anything that doesn’t have sugar). If you can go a few weeks staving of the oreo pies, you’ll be “through to the other side” and into the
light 🙂

Here are a couple related posts for more info:

Dear Mark: Sugar Cravings

Making the Switch to Primal Living in 6 Easy Steps

Low Energy on the Primal Challenge

Is All Chocolate Created Equal?

Pass the Honey, Honey


Hey Mark,

Thanks for all your articles. Since reading your site, I have revised my view that my destiny is controlled by my LDL level. (which is 174) My doc wanted to put me on Lipitor but I ain’t doing it. I am instead reducing my inflammation and I think this gets to my question: What do you think about honey? I have to admit, one of my indulgences is to take a heaping spoonful of local honey every day. It is a pleasure but I don’t want to screw myself up too much with it possible – quite probably causing inflammation. It has got to be a “primal food” however – doesn’t it?

Basically, should I stop this indulgence?



Grok did have a little honey now and then, but certainly not every day. Honey IS sugar pure and simple. A little bit each day won’t derail you, but why not cut back to a little every OTHER day. And ask yourself why this little habit is so important? Maybe it’s not. Maybe it could be easily broken. I presume the rest of your diet is in line with PB style eating.

Check out this related post:

On the Question of Sweeteners

RaeA, ulterior epicure, FUNKYAH, Balakov Flickr Photos (CC)
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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16 thoughts on “Dear Mark: All Things Sweet (Plus Cheese and Gut Health)”

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  1. I do love cheese and it’s go to know that it can slide into the primal blueprint plans. I usually allow a little parmesan on my salad along with carrots, tomato, onioin, and peppers. Lots of peppers! I guess no more cheese and crackers then ay?

  2. Hi Mark, I prefer this new style of the “Dear Mark” section. Short answers covering greater breath, and supplemented with pointers to more information suits me better!

    Thats my 2¢, since you asked!

    Thanks for the great site!

  3. I like both formats–just depends on the question and how in-depth the answer needs to be. It’s definitely useful showing the links for related articles.

    I think the main problems with cheese and honey are that most people do not limit their intake very well. I’m not big on measuring food, but it blows me away when I see people putting “just a little” cheese on a salad which if measured turns out to be a lot more than they think!

    Ditto for the honey–that heaping spoonful could very well be 2 or 3 tablespoons of pure sugar. Seems a shame to have such good eating habits the rest of the time but then blow your blood sugar level sky high on a daily basis.

  4. As far as cheese goes, I’ve found I don’t have much in the way of negative consequences when I get imported cheese. My own opinion, of course, but I think imported cheeses made from real milk (rather than the stuff we have in the US where all of the healthy, nutritious parts boiled out of it via pasteurization) not only taste better, but are better for you (“better” being relative with dairy). I also don’t think they go quite so far with the hormones and antibiotics as dairy farmers in the US, so that may also have an impact.

    As far as types of cheese, Jarlsberg is one of my favorites; it’s a Norwegian-made Swiss-style cheese. Not as strong or as hard as your typical Swiss cheese, it goes great by itself, or shredded over salads. A good parmsano-regiano is also welcome; it should be strong enough that you can smell it through the wrapper, and it should be solid and break apart in chunks.

    And of course, good imported cheeses are expensive enough that they remain an occasional treat, rather than a dietary staple.

  5. Dairy (unpasteurized, from grass-fed cows) is the one thing that keeps me from going 100% primal. It gives me no problems, and I’ve noticed such a difference with all the other changes I’ve made to my diet that I don’t feel the need to give up on dairy.

    Mark, I like both formats of “Dear Mark.” Answering several questions at once is nice, because it covers so many topic, but I also like the in-depth posts when a question calls for it.

  6. I had the problem with the headaches after no sugar for the first week or so. I was pushing down 2-3 frappacinos at the time. The headaches passed. But I also do more caffeine now than I probably should.

  7. I like the short Q&A that covers several topics better than the more thorough discussion. You have addressed many of the topics before and the links you provide are sufficient if readers want more information.

  8. When Grok did score a little honey it was very primal I’m sure, full of bits of wax, pieces of bee, bee pollen etc.

    So if you want to add a little honey to your primal diet try to buy from places like Really Raw Honey or other vendors that sell honey pulled from the hive and totally unprocessed.

    I wouldn’t recommend that anybody use the standard store-bought honey that has been heated to a high temperature and filtered.

  9. I too like both formats for your Q&A sessions, but would prefer more questions and shorter answers most of the time. That way any topic that is met with great enthusiasm or multiple additional questions could serve as an in depth topic for the future. That provides more bang for the buck for us, but perhaps more work for you in the long run. Thanks again for such an informative site!

  10. I ADORED your phrasing of ‘use your fullness as a guide.’

    so obvious. so NOT a phrase Id ever even thought of.

    (oh and I adore the jerky/nuts as well and totally, for what it’s worth, echo your sentiments about sticking to that type of snack lessening your sugardesires. and I was a die-hard oreo lover.)


  11. Wot’s all this stuff against dairy?

    Should not the Primal Blueprint be about whatever food is COMPATIBLE with the Paleolithic – and therefore biologically appropriate – dietary models for humans.

    The Neolithic model was in many respects an extension of the primary model and not a contradiction – nutritionally speaking. I do not hear any objections to many types of vegetables that need to be cooked do I? These are relatively recent Paleolithic foods as some of them can only be made digestible through cooking (processing).

    If you draw the line at the Neolithic era, why then and not the era of Paleo cooking?

    Milk is arguably the most nutritious food out – a complete meal (as the Masai and other herding peoples prove).

    Yes, a minority of people may be “genuinely” irreversibly lactose intolerant. But many can be weaned on to milk as the body can adapt by producing lactase. A lot of “allergics” to milk and other products are actually phobic, studies suggest.

    WHOLE milk and it’s products (albeit even pasteurised) that are not homogenised remain a complete balance in line with Paleo principles, and, along with coconut fat, have extremely useful medium chain saturated fatty acids which kill bacteria and viruses – among other nutritious qualities.

    I think we ought to judge foods by their nutritional balance, not simply because they were literally “wot Grok ate”. I think food should be judged on whether it contains a similar balance to the Palo MODEL – the spirit of the law not the letter.

    If the objections to dairy are about over-processing and hormones etc, the issue is quality (real, unpasteurised is best in my opinion – see WestonPrice Foundation site) – not the food per se.

    I am not criticising Mark in this – i think he does a terrific job in getting a vital message across to many people, i am attempting to argue that whole, well sourced dairy is in line with his Paleo model.


  12. Markus, I’m still trying to form a solid opinion about dairy. On the one hand it is NOT paleolithic – it is neolithic and anything neolithic is generally NOT an extension of the primary model. It’s the neolithic stuff that got us into trouble. In the PB I say that it’s probably best not to consume dairy, but many people can do so without penalty. Fermented dairy is easiest on the gut and probably least offensive when discussing autoimmunity and undigested proteins. We have posted on this in the past. The fact that many people can digest dairy doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect food. Anyway, all this is to say that I allow some forms of dairy as “sensible vices” on the PB, but I’m not comfortable with it as a main source of nutrition.

    As for your comment about vegetables, I agree…we probably should not consume vegetables that can’t be consumed in the raw state (but that means grains, legumes, potatoes, etc). So, yes, you DO hear objections to eating the ones that NEED to be cooked. That doesn’t mean we can’t cook the acceptable ones, though (carrots, squash, tomatoes, celery, kale, etc).

    Finally, paleo cooking existed for maybe 500,000 years or more, so it’s likely that our genes had more time to adapt to cooking than in the 10,000 years we’ve had (only) since neolithic times.

  13. Mark – I love the blog and love the Q&A “Ask Mark” format. I’ve just seen your video on “Sprinting Barefoot on the Beach”. You have the body of a 25 year old! Your chest and abs are cut to shreds! Congrats on halting/reversing the age clock!


  14. Thanks Mark

    For a good resume of what – i believe – is actually “Neolithic” as opposed to modern, see Almost no tribe studied in the last 100 years is not Neolithic.

    Generally, Neolithic peoples were settled hunters, who grew some grains, veg and domesticated animals as well. I call it an “extension” because they generally extended, and made more locally reliable, the range of what hunter gatherers had been doing. They did add grains – but these were nothing like as extensive as in poor or rich Westernised countries today. A good example of the Neolithic advanced dairy diet is the traditional mountain Swiss. They ate mainly dairy with a few home grown veg and rye. They not only lived longer than most, but were so physically impressive that the Pope employed their young men as Pontifical guards (the famous Swiss Guards). The book cited above ( has a good section on the Swiss.

    Grain based diets on a large scale is a later phenomenom – generally speaking – culminating in post industrial modern farming. The exception in early times may the the Middle East and Egypt where “larger” scale grain farming originated – but we shouldn’t generalise their experience to the rest of the Neolithic world.

    For me, poverty and large populations subsisting on cheap grains -rice etc – and modern Western junk carb diets are where the main problems arise. We aught agree on this Mark.

    I’m not sure we can say anything very solid on “Paleo-cooking” either way – not much use for me or you i think. The evidence is too scant to interpret usefully.

    The only use for cooking, nutritionally speaking as far as i can see, is for: searing the outside only for meat to ensure killing pathogens – raw meat is better for you (complete proteins – taurine – easier to digest etc); and cooking veg – i.e. tomatoes are more nutritionally viable cooked than raw.

    PS – i don’t support the over-hyped pork is a risk if uncooked malarkey. In fact, most gourmets teach that beef, duck and some other meats are better rare than cooked.

    We highly regard cooking, I’ll wager, because that’s our culture – we associate it with safety, flavour and aesthetic taste- but it’s not scientific.

    If we see food as nutrition, however, cooking is only useful for extending the possibilities of vegetables and grains. In doing so with the latter, though, we risk should not overdo the carbs.


  15. correction:

    If we see food as nutrition, however, cooking is only useful for extending the possibilities of vegetables and grains. In doing so with the latter, though, we risk overdoing the carbs.