Dear Mark: Protein Efficiency in Seniors, Earned Carbs, Hardgainer with Limited Time

For this week’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions from readers. First, is the reduced protein efficiency in older adults due to inactivity, or is it something inherent to the aging process, or both? Second, how does a person know if they’ve actually “earned” any carbs? Does everyone on a keto diet earn carbs by virtue of exercising, or is there more to it? And finally, how can a hardgainer with a packed schedule all week long and limited gym time maintain what little muscle mass he’s managed to gain?

Let’s find out:

Interesting observation on protein needs and training in Sunday with Sisson – general consensus is that older folks need more protein as they age but maybe that’s because they are less active and not simply a result of aging.

That’s probably part of it, but it’s not all of it.

In studies where they compare resistance training seniors who eat extra protein with resistance training seniors who don’t, only the seniors eating extra protein gain muscle mass.

Now, it may be that a lifetime of inactivity degrades your ability to utilize protein, and if these older adults had always lifted weights they would have retained their protein efficiency. But maybe not. As it stands, all else being equal, an older adult needs more protein to get the same effect, even if he or she is lifting weights.

Enjoyable read. As someone who lives a ketogenic lifestyle, and who is athletically active, I am not sure exactly how to go about consuming the carbs I’ve “earned.” I rarely run into problems with athletic energy, at least not below anaerobic threshold. Not sure that eating more carbs will improve my performance. And, if they would improve my performance, how does one go about calculating earned carb replacement without losing the fat burning benefits of ketosis?

It sounds like you’re in a good place.

When I say “eat the carbs you earn,” I’m talking to the people who do run into problems with athletic energy, poor performance, insomnia, and other symptoms of exercise-induced stress. Typically, the people who “earn their carbs” are doing stuff like CrossFit, high volume moderate-to-high intensity endurance work, martial arts training, and team sports.

I doubt extra carbs will improve your performance if most of your training takes place in the aerobic zone. But if you wanted to experiment, you could try a small sweet potato immediately after a workout where you passed the anaerobic threshold.

That’s the best way to determine if you’ve earned carbs. Eat 20-30 grams after a workout and see if you enjoy performance gains without gaining body fat. There’s no consumer-friendly way to directly calculate carb debt; self-experimentation is it.

I recently took a job that has me out of bed at 4am and not home until 6pm Monday Through Friday. Is there an efficient way I can maintain muscle mass only lifting weights Saturday and Sunday? I’m a hardgainer at 5’10” and only 140lbs. I’m afraid giving up my 5 day split will ruin what muscle I’ve been able to gain.

Any hardgainer has to eat, and eat, and eat. Increase your food intake. Just eat. Stick to healthy Primal fare, but pack in the food. Meat, milk, veggies, potatoes, rice, eggs, avocados, fruit. Throw some liver in, too (old bodybuilder staple). It doesn’t sound like fat gain is an issue for you, so I’d take advantage of that and just consume calories.

As for training, get some exercise snacks in during the week.

As soon as you wake up, do a quick superset of pushups. Do as many pushups as you can. Wait 30 seconds. Do as many pushups as you can. Wait 30 seconds. Do as many pushups as you can. There you go. That shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes in the morning. Can you squeeze that in?

Repeat this every morning with a different exercise. Pullups, bodyweight rows, kettlebell swings, handstand pushups, dips, bodyweight squats, goblet squats, reverse lunges, reverse weighted lunges. Just choose one thing to do every morning, cram as many reps as you can using the same format (max reps, 30 s rest, max reps, 30 s rest, max reps). Buy any equipment you can if you choose to use weights.

When you get home at night, do the same thing with a different exercise. Morning pushups, evening KB swings, etc. That way, you get about 10 minutes per weekday of intense strength training without impacting your sleep or schedule in any real meaningful way.

Make sure your sleep hygiene is rock solid. Dim those lights at night, turn on f.lux or night mode, wear the blue blocking goggles, get to bed (ideally) by 8:30, 9 to give you 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep. Sleep is essential for gaining lean mass (and staying healthy in general).

On the weekend, hit the weights hard on both days, hitting the entire body. Go high volume/reps. If size is your goal, dropping the weight a bit and focusing on range of motion and a high rep count (10-15 per set) is very effective.

Food, sleep, reps. Good luck!

Thanks for stopping in today, everybody. Additional thoughts for these folks—or questions of your own? Share them below.

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References:

Tieland M, Dirks ML, Van der zwaluw N, et al. Protein supplementation increases muscle mass gain during prolonged resistance-type exercise training in frail elderly people: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2012;13(8):713-9.

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The Curious Phenomenon of “Keto Crotch”

I have a confession to make: I, Mark Sisson, suffer from keto crotch.

It’s embarrassing, really. I thought maybe it was just the change in climate moving from Malibu to Miami—the humidity, the heat, the fact that I’m paddling and swimming more often now. There’s a whole lot of moisture down there. Perpetual steaminess.

But then I met up with my writing partner and good pal Brad Kearns, who’s been working with me on my upcoming book. Brad lives in Northern California, which is far from hot or humid right now. He’s also a staunch keto guy most of the time, and, well, let’s just say I could smell him before I could see him. We met up at a coffee shop and cleared out everyone in a fifteen foot radius. We sampled a new exogenous ketone product he’s been trying and not one, not two, but three separate individuals approached to inquire if we were salmon fishermen.

Okay, let’s get serious. Does “keto crotch” really exist? And, if it does, what can you do to prevent it?

I’m writing this not because of overwhelming demand from loyal followers of the Keto Reset plan. In fact, I hadn’t ever heard of “keto crotch” before last week. There’s a good chance almost no one heard of it before March 2019, if Google Trend data for “keto crotch” searches is any indication. I’m writing this post because the barrage of news articles, Twitter hashtag campaigns, and extremely serious warnings from people with lots of acronyms after their name has led people to ask me if it’s a legitimate phenomenon. A few acquaintances have brought it up in social situations. Our marketing director found herself fielding keto crotch questions at a dinner for Expo West last week.

So, are women following a ketogenic diet experiencing an epidemic of stinky vaginas?

Probably not.

Is Keto Crotch Even Physiologically Plausible?

Vaginal odor does change. It fluctuates naturally, and sometimes it can get worse. The most common cause of unpleasant changes to vaginal odor is bacterial vaginosis, which occurs when something upsets the balance between the beneficial lactobacilli bacteria that normally live in the vagina and pathogenic bacteria. What can upset the balance?

The vagina is supposed to be an acidic environment; that’s how the healthy lactobacilli thrive. If something upsets that pH balance, tilting it toward alkalinity, unhealthy bacteria gain a foothold and become predominant, and begin producing unpleasant-smelling amines like putrescine, tyramine, and cadaverine. This is bacterial vaginosis. As it turns out, the lactobacilli bacteria normally present in the vagina are instrumental in maintaining an acidic pH. They consume glycogen, spit out lactic acid, and exert antimicrobial and antifungal effects that block common vaginal pathogens like candida, e. coli, and gardnerella from taking hold and causing trouble.

The interaction between diet and vaginal biome is understudied. To my knowledge, there exist no direct controlled trials that address the issue. It’d be great to have a study take a cohort of women, split them up into different dietary groups, and follow them for a year,  tracking their vaginal pH and bacterial levels. Alas, we do not.

We do have a study that provides a hint. In 2011, researchers looked for correlations between dietary patterns and bacterial vaginosis in a cohort of nearly 2000 non-pregnant mostly African-American women aged 15-44. While there probably weren’t many keto dieters, and the diets as a whole were of the standard American variety, glycemic load—which basically boils down to carb load—was the strongest predictor of bacterial vaginosis. Other markers of food quality, like a person’s adherence to “healthy eating guidelines,” initially seemed to reduce the chance of bacterial vaginosis, but those relationships were almost abolished after controlling for other factors. Only glycemic load remained highly significant.

This connection between dietary glycemic load and bacterial vaginosis starts looking more causal when you realize that diabetes—a disease where one’s “glycemic load” is perpetually elevated and exaggerated—is another risk factor for bacterial vaginosis.

There’s also a 2007 study that found “high” intakes of dietary fat, particularly saturated and monounsaturated fat, were a significant predictor of bacterial vaginosis. In this study, “high fat” meant around 39% of energy from fat. That leaves 61% of energy from carbohydrate and protein, the kind of “high-fat, high-carb” Standard American No-Man’s-Land that’s landed the country in the current metabolic predicament. High-fat intakes in the presence of high-carb intakes may very well be bad for your vagina, but it says nothing about the likelihood of keto crotch.

At any rate, neither study was a controlled trial, so we can’t say anything about causality.

What about a yeast infection? The most common offender is candida, which usually favors sugar for fuel, but there’s also evidence that it can metabolize ketones. Could keto make a latent yeast infection worse and lead to smelly “keto crotch”?

Perhaps keto can make candida worse (that’s for another day), but that’s not the cause of “keto crotch.” Candida vagina infections don’t smell very much, if at all, and they certainly don’t smell “fishy.” That’s only caused by bacteria and the aforementioned amines they can produce.

Free glycogen levels in vaginal fluid are a strong predictor of bacterial vaginosis. If ample glycogen is available, the good lactic acid bacteria have plenty of food and produce plenty of lactic acid to maintain the acidic pH conducive to vaginal health. If inadequate glycogen is present, the lactic acid bacteria have less food and produce less lactic acid, increasing the chances of the pH tilting toward alkalinity. An alkaline vagina is a vagina where pathogenic bacteria—the ones that produce stinky amines—can establish themselves.

The question then is if ketogenic diets lower free glycogen in the vaginal fluid. That’s a fair question. I wasn’t able to find any solid answers. I guess “ketosis effect on vaginal glycogen” isn’t the most lucrative avenue of scientific inquiry.

Should I Worry?

Even assuming this is a real phenomenon, it’s a rare one. The vast, vast majority of people following a ketogenic diet aren’t coming down with keto crotch. Other than a few Reddit posts from the past 5 years, I haven’t seen anyone at all in our neck of the woods complain.

Maybe people doing Primal keto are eating more nutrient-dense ketogenic diets than people doing conventional (or caricature) keto. Salads, steaks, eggs, and lots of non-starchy veggies are a great way to stay keto and obtain micronutrients. And there are links between micronutrient status and bacterial vaginosis. The most common relevant deficiencies include vitamin D (correcting the deficiency can cure the vaginosis) and folate. Hard to get adequate folate if your diet is based on salami and cream cheese.

We also know that the health of your skin biome tracks closely with that of your gut, and that eating plenty of non-starchy veggies, fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc), and colorful produce can provide prebiotic fiber, prebiotic polyphenols, and probiotic bacteria that nourish your gut biome. If the vaginal biome is also connected to the gut biome (and it is), tending to the latter should also have positive effects on the former.

The Primal brand of keto tends to emphasize micronutrients and gut health a bit more than some other types of keto I see floating around. If—and it’s a very big “if”—keto crotch is legit, that may explain some of the discrepancy.

Finally, be sure to check out this very interesting Twitter thread where the author lays out his suspicions that the whole “keto crotch” phenomenon might be a manufactured stunt designed to vilify the ascendant ketogenic diet. Nothing definitive, but it’s certainly food for thought.

If You’re Concerned…

Okay. Say you’ve recently gone keto and your vagina is smellier than usual. (And you’ve ruled out other, more obvious potential causes like changes in soaps, etc.) It’s hard to ignore, and I wouldn’t want you to. What can you do?

  • Confirm that you have bacterial vaginosis. Seriously, get it checked out.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough folate and vitamin D. Supplement if need be.
  • Eat prebiotics and probiotics. Fermented food and/or a good probiotic supplement.
  • Try a carb refeed. If ketosis depletes vaginal glycogen and increases pH, the occasional carb refeed could restore glycogen by 30-50 grams and should do the trick. Note that this is entirely theoretical; I’m not saying it’s a “problem” on keto.
  • Hang out in the keto zone. I’ve written about the keto zone—that metabolic state where you’ve reached full keto and fat-adaptation and find yourself shifting in and out of ketosis as you please due to increased metabolic flexibility. A few carbs here, a fasting day there, a few more days of keto. Again, if full keto is theoretically depleting vaginal glycogen, maybe relaxing your restrictions will solve the issue while maintaining your fat adaptation. This is actually where I hang out most of the time.

That’s it for today, folks. Do you have “keto crotch”? Do you know anyone who does? Or did your vaginal health improve on keto? I’m curious to hear what everyone’s experiences have been, so don’t be shy.

Take care and be well.

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References:

Thoma ME, Klebanoff MA, Rovner AJ, et al. Bacterial vaginosis is associated with variation in dietary indices. J Nutr. 2011;141(9):1698-704.

Kalra B, Kalra S. Vulvovaginitis and diabetes. J Pak Med Assoc. 2017;67(1):143-145.

Taheri M, Baheiraei A, Foroushani AR, Nikmanesh B, Modarres M. Treatment of vitamin D deficiency is an effective method in the elimination of asymptomatic bacterial vaginosis: A placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial. Indian J Med Res. 2015;141(6):799-806.

Dunlop AL, Taylor RN, Tangpricha V, Fortunato S, Menon R. Maternal vitamin D, folate, and polyunsaturated fatty acid status and bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy. Infect Dis Obstet Gynecol. 2011;2011:216217.

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I Feel Strong and Powerful In My Own Body

It’s Monday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Monday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

Growing up, I was very bookish and avoided all forms of exercise despite my parents’ best efforts to get me involved in some sort of sport. I was also a very picky eater, especially when it came to veggies, so my diet wasn’t the greatest.

Throughout high school, I always carried an extra 10-15 lbs and my lunch consisted of stuffed crust pizza, strawberry milk and fries swimming in ranch dressing.

My weight yo-yoed in college depending on how excited I was about the gym and whether I was on a salad bar or buffalo chicken wrap kick. I did gain a lot of weight after I got married and hit my all time high of 170 lbs. I was able to lose most of the weight through a low carb diet, though I still avoided the gym.

My first experience with primal eating came in 2014 when my husband came home talking about this paleo diet he’d heard about from a colleague. I started doing a lot of research and decided to start this new way of eating. We weren’t super strict about, using dressings and condiments that were not ideal and I refused to give up cheese (I now know that including dairy is more aligned with the primal way of eating). My husband lost a bunch of weight, and I felt really good even though the scale didn’t move.

Unfortunately, after only about two months, we went on vacation and fell back into our SAD eating habits even after we returned. Fast forward to 2016 and I had moved to another state, finally gotten a full-time job after a year of under employment/unemployment and was steadily gaining weight again. I didn’t realize how lucky I’d been to have been able to walk or bike to work before moving to a bike and pedestrian unfriendly area! I started calorie restricting, but that just left me feeling hungry all the time and my pants were too tight. I weighed in at 155 lbs.

In January, I finally gave in and let my husband sign me up for a gym membership. As much as I disliked exercise, I knew that I had to get my body moving if I didn’t want to look like a lot of the people in my office when I got to middle age. I started strength training which was way more fun than cardio and lost 5 lbs in the first month. But despite hitting the gym 3 times and week and participating in a Crossfit style workout once a week, my weight loss stalled after that. I knew I was building up muscle mass that I’d never had before, but I was mostly motivated to not have to buy new, bigger pants at this point.

By the end of March, I realized that I had to make some serious diet changes if I wanted to get my health completely under control, so I decided to do my first Whole30. It was hard but amazing! I felt great, finally kicked my diet soda habit, reset my taste buds and learned that dairy gives me migraines and makes my seasonal allergies go crazy. I also rediscovered MDA during this time and read years of primal success stories which gave me the courage to keep up this style of eating long term using the 80/20 principle. I also made it a point to try every (primal) food I thought I hated one more time and now I eat many of them regularly. Hello onions, peppers, brussels sprouts, squash, zucchini, fish, nuts, carrots, pineapples, sweet potatoes, tea, and so many more. I’m still working up the nerve to try sardines but there’s a tin of them in my pantry for the day I’m feeling brave!

For the first time in my life, I felt fit and strong. My body learned to love and crave veggies, even at breakfast. I was empowered to make better food choices. I still get anxious about food in social situations sometimes when my social anxiety combines with my fear of accidentally eating dairy and getting really sick, which has, unfortunately, happened. Now if I don’t feel comfortable with my food options, I eat beforehand or bring my own food. My health is totally worth being that weird person for. I have also learned that most people have no idea what is in their food or what is actually good for their bodies. I am so glad to have come upon this way of eating while I’m still young.

My next big health change occurred in the fall of 2018 when I started getting into long distance running. I came into running knowing that I wanted to do it in a way that aligned with my health and nutritional values that I’d worked so hard to get straight. This led me to using the run walk run method to decrease risk of running injuries and to primal keto to avoid all of the sugary fuel and recovery products aimed at endurance athletes. I do all my training runs fasted and eat a bit more carbs right before and after races. I also make sure to focus on keeping up my strength training by incorporating the Primal Essential Movements, even the two I dread-pushups and planks. There is something awesome about being able to take yourself 13 miles on your own two feet, but nothing makes me feel as badass as using the assisted pullup machine.

Doing keto while staying dairy free, maintaining a high veggie intake and properly fueling my athlete body has taken some extra effort but the benefits are amazing. I no longer get hangry if a meal is delayed. I feel strong and powerful in my own body. I weigh less than I did in high school. I have way fewer migraines. I even have abs. I have learned so much about my body and my personal nutrition needs. I still ended up needing to buy new pants twice but smaller rather than larger. I have so much more energy to do the things I love. Most importantly, I now know how to take care of my body properly for a long and healthy life.

Stephanie

The readers featured in our success stories share their experiences in their own words. The Primal Blueprint and Keto Reset diets are not intended as medical intervention or diagnosis. Nor are they replacements for working with a qualified healthcare practitioner. It’s important to speak with your doctor before beginning any new dietary or lifestyle program, and please consult your physician before making any changes to medication or treatment protocols. Each individual’s results may vary.

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Low-Carb & Keto Chayote “Apple” Crisp

Chayote squash is having its day in the sun as of late, but it’s been used for centuries in Latin American cooking and baking. The chayote squash (also known as mirliton squash) is a mild-tasting, relatively low carb, and versatile fruit with a good dose of vitamin C. Because of its hardness, you’ll definitely want to eat it cooked, but the end result will be worth it: a tender but slightly crisp fruit that bears a resemblance to pear or jicama and that takes on the particular flavors of any recipe—sweet or savory.

Note: there’s a little extra prep involved with chayote, but we think the additional few minutes are well worth the approximately 50 grams of carbs spared (full recipe).

Time In the Kitchen: 20 minutes

Servings: 6

Ingredients:

Filling

  • 5 cups chayote squash
  • 1 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 5 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Swerve (or equivalent of favorite sugar-free sweetener (e.g. monk fruit, etc.)

Crumble Topping

Instructions:

Preheat oven 350 ºF/175 ºC

Prep the squash. (This video has a good rundown of the process.) In a nutshell, cut the top inch off the fruit and let the liquid bubble up on the exposed flesh of the fruit. Rub the cut top piece over the exposed area for a full minute to draw up and out more liquid. This will create a froth as pictured. After the full minute, wipe off this froth with a clean paper towel. (Although the liquid/froth is completely safe, it may cause a mild tingly feeling if you get it on your fingers.)

Cut the fruit in half and remove the seed, along with the white flesh directly around it.

Cut squash into 1/4 inch slices.

Place in pot along with cinnamon, arrowroot or cream of tartar, lemon juice and sweenter. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes so that the squash starts to become tender.

Pour into ramekins.

Put all the crumble topping ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the butter is well incorporated and it looks good and crumbly.

Pour over top of squash.

Bake 30 minutes (or 45 minutes if baking as an 8-inch pie)

Nutritional Information (per serving)

  • Calories: 345
  • Net Carbs: 8 grams
  • Fat: 28 grams
  • Protein: 12 grams

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FINAL CALL For Success Story Giveaway!

inline_deadlineA couple weeks ago I announced that the bees and are looking to share your stories of success in changing habits, losing weight, reclaiming your health, and enjoying more vitality with the help of Primal and/or Primal-keto living—and that I’m offering a giveaway to sweeten the pot: a $200 gift certificate  to PrimalKitchen.com for one lucky winner, plus a 5-book Primal library for two additional winners—all three randomly chosen among those who send in their success stories and photos by March 8th, 2019—as well as a 20% off discount to either PrimalBlueprint.com or PrimalKitchen.com for everyone who sends in a story and photos at any time.

Remember, anyone in the world can enter. Additionally, everyone who has submitted a Success Story to Mark’s Daily Apple in the past is free to submit an updated story and new photos.

Just submit your story along with pictures you feel are indicative of your journey and your current Primal life and success. Please use the subject heading “My Primal Story.” Otherwise, there’s a good chance we might miss it.

For more info on success story guidelines and giveaway rules, check out the previous post, and for inspiration to write your own story, you can read past Success Stories here.

I’ve got another amazing success story coming up this morning, so stay tuned.

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Weekly Link Love—Edition 19

Don’t Miss the Deadline! Today (3/8/19) is the last day to enter the success story giveaway! Three prizes in all for three randomly chosen (complete = write-up and photos) submissions: a $200 Primal Kitchen gift certificate for one person and a 5-book Primal library for two additional people. Everyone submitting (at any time) will receive a 20% off voucher for an order of their choosing on PrimalKitchen.com or PrimalBlueprint.com. Email me your story along with pictures. Please use the subject heading “My Primal Story.” Complete details here.

Research of the Week

Sperm bottlenecks select the strongest.

In the moment, work isn’t so bad.

Compared to controls, teams made up of CEOs are better at cooperating together in strategic games.

Injectable nanoparticles allow mice to see infra-red.

Neurons repair themselves during sleep.

I bet giant ground sloths were delicious.

New Primal Blueprint Podcasts

Episode 317: Jimmy and Christine Moore: Host Elle Russ chats with Jimmy and Christine Moore about their new book Real Food Keto.

Episode 318: Keto Q&A with Brad Kearns: Host Brad Kearns answers your keto questions.

Health Coach Radio Episode 2: Chris Kelly: Hosts Erin Power and Laura Rupsis chat with Chris Kelly, founder of Nourish Balance Thrive, which uses detailed lab testing to construct personalized action plans for clients.

Each week, select Mark’s Daily Apple blog posts are prepared as Primal Blueprint Podcasts. Need to catch up on reading, but don’t have the time? Prefer to listen to articles while on the go? Check out the new blog post podcasts below, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast here so you never miss an episode.

Media, Schmedia

Bridge player busted for doping.

Interesting Blog Posts

How muscle memory actually works.

Scientists wonder why human breasts are so persistent.

Social Notes

A great opportunity to win some delicious treats.

Did some paddling.

Everything Else

After introducing low-carb to his type 2 diabetic patients in a rural West Virginia hospital and having great success, Dr. Mark Cucuzzella wrote clinical guidelines for other hospitals to follow. Huge news if this catches on.

Fairy tales are way older than you think.

What happened to the hat?

Things I’m Up to and Interested In

Podcast I enjoyed: Tim Ferriss talks to Michael Pollan about psychedelics. “Don’t take anything your grandmother wouldn’t have encountered at Woodstock.”

I’d wear a coat made of this to keep warm: Cross-section of Emperor penguin.

Article I’m reading: Fiber and Colon Health on a Well-Formulated Ketogenic Diet

Interesting study: Men donate the most to panhandlers when in the company of a woman.

I didn’t think anyone else did this exercise but me: The Tinkerbell.

Question I’m Asking

How do you play?

Recipe Corner

Time Capsule

One year ago (Mar 3 – Mar 9)

Comment of the Week

“We’ve established that nitrates should come from plants, not chemical plants.”

– Even though I’m not completely sure I agree, that is a very good line, Angelica.

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My Favorite Way To Play: Ultimate Frisbee Workout (with Video)

I’m a believer in working hard AND playing hard. When we get stuck in patterns of overwork and overstress, we lose the important connection with our creative, intuitive, playful selves. Our work suffers and so does our happiness (which means everything else, like our relationships, will, too). Stuart Brown, one of the world’s leading experts on play, calls play a “profound biologic process.” What we all know (or used to know until modern living helped us forget) is that play is an essential component of our physical development and general well-being. From a personal standpoint, the older I get the more I recognize play as the linchpin for my own sense of vitality. As a result, I prioritize play—even above exercise. Fortunately, however, I’ve grown into a new relationship with fitness as a result of play. I gave up the slog of grueling training regimens decades ago now, but to this day I’m still living more deeply into a play-based fitness vision. Let me show you a bit of what that looks like for me….

You all have heard me talk about Ultimate—probably as long as Mark’s Daily Apple has been around. The fact is, it’s as thrilling for me today as it was twelve years ago. Nothing else quite combines the diversity of essential movement and the heart of play like Ultimate does. In a single hour, I’m getting regular sprinting, lateral movement, agility training, recovery phases, and mind-body coordination to skillfully throw, catch and move on the field. I love the intense challenge and fast pace of the game.

Ultimate plays very similarly to rugby or football. The field has two end zones, and a team scores by catching a pass in the defensive team’s end zone. The defending team performs a “pull” (think “kickoff” in football) to start the match (and after every subsequent point scored). The offense moves the disc by passing to teammates in any direction. Once a player catches the disc, he must come to a stop as quickly as possible. From this position, he can only move his non-pivot foot. A player has ten seconds to throw the disc after catching it.

The disc changes hands either by turnover or after a score. A turnover occurs when a pass is not completed, intercepted, dropped, blocked, held for longer than the allotted ten seconds, or thrown out of bounds. The defending team assumes control of the disc immediately following a turnover, from wherever the disc lands on the field. There is no stoppage of play (unless a foul, injury or bad weather occurs).

From a physical standpoint, you’re out there running, leaping, twisting, grabbing, throwing, and bumping into other players. You use practically every muscle in the body (if you’re not, you’re doing it wrong) and, rather than long protracted runs, you engage in short bursts of speed and activity punctuated by walking and brief jogging (almost like you’re on the hunt). Not only does it take keen, quick thinking, remarkable agility and throwing accuracy, and raw athleticism, but it also promotes good teamwork and sportsmanship. In fact, Ultimate has an official “Spirit of the Game” (SOTG), a sort of mission statement that stresses sportsmanship and honor. Highly competitive play is condoned, but not at the cost of general camaraderie. Everyone is out there to have a good time and get some great exercise.

Check it out.

Want more ideas for active play? Here you go.

And for more on the importance of play for a Primal Blueprint lifestyle, check out these resources.

Now you tell me: what’s your favorite way to play? How do you merge the Primal goals of mobility and fitness with everyday enjoyment? Thanks for stopping in today.

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4 Misunderstandings About Carbs and Stress

The relationship between stress and carbohydrates is confusing, with seemingly contradictory arguments bouncing around the online health sphere.

There are those who say high-carb diets cause stress, and that eating more fat and fewer carbs is the solution.

There are those who say high-fat diets increase stress and eating carbs ameliorates it.

Who’s right? They can’t both be right, can they?

Well…

You’d be surprised.

Let’s dig into four common carb questions and assertions.

“Stress Increases Carb Cravings.”

This is well-established. You have a terrible day at the office, your kids have appointments twenty miles apart within fifteen minutes of each other, the traffic is backed up to your driveway, you’re late for work, the dog needs a walk, you haven’t even thought about what to make for dinner, you slept four hours last night—it adds up. People deal with a lot. And in that moment, a carbohydrate-based snack really does seem to take the edge off.

Across millions of years of hominid evolution, the human stress response developed in the context of real-world, short-term, and infrequent but intense stressors: battles, hunts, freak injuries, dangerous animal encounters, interpersonal conflicts. These were situations that demanded heightened senses, available fuel, and a rapid heart rate to deliver everything to the tissues that needed to move and act. It makes perfect sense for your body to pump out adrenaline to increase fat burning and glucose in the blood—you need that fuel to deal with the situation. It also makes sense for your body to follow that up with a blast of cortisol, which makes you crave high-carb junk food to replace the fuel you utilized. The problem is that our modern stressors are too frequent, they aren’t physically demanding, we aren’t utilizing the fuel we mobilize, and we have no real need for the carb cravings that come after.

What happens when we eat too many carbs that we never actually needed?

We get fat. Cellular energy supply becomes overloaded, impairing our mitochondria’s ability to process energy efficiently. This degrades metabolic flexibility—the ability to switch between different fuel sources—preventing us from burning the fat on our bodies in between meals. We become reliant on those carbs, and when we don’t get them fast enough, our bodies perceive that as a major stressor.

So while giving in to carb cravings can reduce stress in the short-term, it sets us up for longer-term, more chronic stress.

“What About Gluconeogenesis? Isn’t That a Stress Response?”

It can be.

A primary goal of cortisol is to increase glucose availability. It does this through multiple avenues. One I just mentioned is to increase carb cravings. Another is to make you insulin resistant, thereby preventing insulin from sucking up blood glucose. Gluconeogenesis—the creation of glucose from amino acids and other substrates—is another.

If you’re a sugar-burner, stressful situations will increase carb cravings, induce gluconeogenesis, and may even make you insulin resistant. If you’re fat-adapted, the story shifts.

A fat-adapted person will have ketones and fatty acids available to provide energy in between meals. A fat-adapted person will have ketones and fatty acids available to provide energy in stressful situations. A fat-adapted person will be able to utilize those ketones and fatty acids during stressful situations—their mitochondria will literally be primed to utilize those fuels, not just glucose. A fat-adapted person is less likely to perceive carbohydrate shortages as stress shortages because they’ve got all this other fuel available to burn.

This adaptation doesn’t happen overnight. If your diet is low-carb or keto, but your body is still reliant on sugar, you will perceive reduced carb availability as a stressor. That’s one of the hallmarks of the keto flu, and it’s one reason why some people have extended keto flu—their bodies are still expecting and demanding glucose.

Some people never get over the carb cravings; they never fully adapt. This is the subset of the population that doesn’t function or perform well on a long-term ketogenic diet. The cause is unknown, at least for now (I suspect it has to do with recent ancestry and genetic proclivities), but what matters is that these people exist. For them, a long-term keto or very low carb diet approach will probably always be stressful. But even in these folks, spending some time in ketosis—through short term low-carb eating, intermittent fasting, or even extended low-level endurance activity that primarily burns fat—is a good idea that will reduce stress and improve overall resilience.

“But Carbs Make Exercise Less Stressful!”

Exercise is stressful to begin with. But then you adapt to the stress and overcome it—and end up stronger, fitter, and faster than before. Without the stress, working out doesn’t work. A legitimate method for increasing your work capacity is to train-low (carb), race-high (carb). Athletes have been doing this for decades—training in a low-carb state to get better at performing without ample muscle glycogen, then going into a race with full glycogen reserves and the ability to perform without glycogen. Exercising in that low-glycogen state is stressful, but that’s the whole point. It makes them better, stronger, faster, and it conserves glycogen for when they really need it.

If you consistently perform glucose-intensive high-intensity anaerobic activity for extended periods of time—CrossFit style WODs done 3-5 times per week, for example—you will run up a glucose debt and should replenish some of the carbohydrates you expend or risk cortisol spikes. Fat-adaptation can improve your tolerance of anaerobic activity in a low-glucose state, but there’s a breaking point, a physiological limit.

Eat the carbs you earn. This is a subtle point I don’t often see made. The reverse is widely understood—don’t eat the carbs you don’t earn—because millions of obese and overweight people do that every day. It’s a big reason why we’re so overweight. But if you fail to eat the carbs you earn through intense, protracted physical activity, you’re creating an undeniable glycogen deficiency that your body may perceive as a stressor. It may turn out that fully fat- and keto-adapted athletes can perform intense medium-to-long-term activities at high levels, and there’s some indication that this is the case, but for the time being it appears that eating the carbs you earn can stave off the stress.

“Low-Carb Diets Are Stressful For Women.”

There’s a glimmer of truth here. Allow me to explain.

Women are inherently more sensitive to caloric fluctuations than men…on average. The reason is sheer biology. Human evolution is concerned with fertility and reproduction. Can you produce, foster, and support viable offspring? Awesome. Natural selection deems you fit.

To fulfill their biological role, men have to produce sperm. They can do so almost indefinitely. They don’t run out; they just make more. If a batch is damaged due to poor lifestyle or dietary choices, there’s more on the way. After a man gets someone pregnant, his biological involvement with the growing baby is done. What or when he eats has no impact on the survival of the growing baby.

To fulfill theirs, women have a finite number of eggs, or “chances.” Once an egg is gone, there’s no replacing it.

And so the body seeks to inculcate the egg from environmental insults.

When you are preparing to get pregnant, your body needs extra nutrients to build up a reserve and “prime the pump.”

When you are pregnant, the growing baby needs a reliable and constant stream of nutrients for almost a year.

After you’ve given birth, the growing newborn needs breastmilk. To make that milk requires additional calories and extra doses of specific nutrients. Modern technology allows us to skip nursing and go straight to the bottle, but your body doesn’t “know” that.

It all points to women being more finely attuned to caloric deficits. For example, women’s levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, are quicker to rise after meals. Even if you’re never going to have kids, your body is still wired to protect against these caloric fluctuations.

Where do carbs come in?

One’s carbohydrate consumption is uniquely hewed to our sense of caloric sufficiency. If carbs are plentiful, your body perceives that as a signal of environmental plenty: the weather is good, the plants are producing, the trees are bearing fruit, the men are bringing back lots of honey. Life is good. It’s the perfect time to get pregnant. Above all other macronutrients, carbohydrate consumption increases the short-term expression of leptin, a satiety hormone that signals the presence of incoming calories, caloric sufficiency, and environmental plenty.

There’s also the issue of extreme satiety. Low-carb diets often become low-calorie diets without you even trying. That’s why they work so well for fat loss, by inadvertently reducing the amount of food you eat and increasing satiety. But for some women, especially those at or approaching their ideal weight, going too low in calories can increase stress.

Summing Up…

Are you unable to access your own body fat in between meals for energy? Then you’ll be a ball of stress unless you can get those Jolly Ranchers unwrapped quickly enough. It’ll be a constant battle. And yeah, if you keep pumping yourself full of carbs to keep your blood glucose topped off, you’ll keep stress at bay—but you’ll always be teetering on that precipice.

Are you exercising? Then you should strike a balance between gaining the adaptive benefits of training in a low-carbohydrate state and eating the carbs you earn.

Are you a woman? Then you’re probably more sensitive to diet-induced stress and may benefit from occasional carbohydrate refeeds. You should watch out for excessive satiety on ketogenic diets, which is great for fat loss but can lead to stress issues down the line if calories get too low.

The relationship between carbohydrates and stress isn’t exactly straightforward, but it is navigable. Hopefully after today you have a better idea of where you stand in the relationship.

What’s been your experience with stress and carbohydrates? Has your tolerance for stress gone up or down since going low-carb or keto? Thanks for stopping in today.

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References:

Mcallister MJ, Webb HE, Tidwell DK, et al. Exogenous Carbohydrate Reduces Cortisol Response from Combined Mental and Physical Stress. Int J Sports Med. 2016;37(14):1159-1165.

Dirlewanger M, Di vetta V, Guenat E, et al. Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations in healthy female subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000;24(11):1413-8.

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Keto Was a New Way Of Life

It’s Monday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Monday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

Three years go I notice in my yearly blood work that my thyroid levels were rising. I called my doctor and her words to me were: “OOO, you are just subclinical hypothyroidism, we’ll just watch your levels to see where they go next year.” NEXT YEAR, I thought. I’m not waiting a whole year.

My journey began. I could see no fundamental reason why when there were rising levels that we wanted to wait another 365 days to take any action. I took action then. Immediately I dove into the Internet and followed whoever I could, watched every doc series, Ted Talk, online summit and followed those who spoke to do more research. That is where I came across Mark’s Daily Apple and I’ve been a fan ever since.

I also did my own research. I tried coconut oils, green powdered drinks, eating nuts for my hair loss, selenium, maca, ashwagandha, all organic, non goo, organic hair care and plant based everything and so much more. I tell people today that you have to know your body and you have to try everything to see what works for you. Holistic medicine treats a cause not a symptom and therefore is not a cookie cutter medicine, and what works for my DNA may not work for yours and visa versa.

I started with a 15 day juice only fast which I documented on YouTube basically to keep me going, but honestly after day 4, it was not an issue.

I started to do research on the thyroid and knew i had some weight to lose. I chose a Keto diet and included intermittent fasting. That was 3 years ago and today I continue the same path and tell anyone that will listen, anyone who is ill and especially anyone with autoimmune issue you can reverse the stats. I did.

The next year my levels went up and I had to see an endocrinologist and in fact, I’ve not seen the same endocrinologist twice in these past three years. They all keep leaving and booting me to a new one, I finally gave up and don’t go to any right now. The system failed me, but that was okay. I was on a better path.

My last labs (last year) were all normal minus my Vitamin D, for which now I supplement as well as enjoy my time in the sun. I remain Keto with intermittent fasting and figure it’s a way of life.

I admit I do stray at times, we all have our weakness and mine is useless white fluffy bread.

I’ve tried a lot of things, but Keto was a new way of life and intermittent fasting just sort of fit. I rotate schedules at work every 3 months and that is not an easy task and so hard on your system, but I also rotate my intermittent fasting to keep my body on a steady rotation of fasting and eating.

My weight loss was around 80 pounds—that I have kept off to this day.

I’m no sure where I’d be today had I listened to my doctor, and trust me I believe in doctors but I believe in myself and my instincts a whole lot more.

I could go on and on. I usually do. But this will give you the idea of my life and what I do to remain in the best shape I can be at 58 years young.

Thank you

Lisa B.

The readers featured in our success stories share their experiences in their own words. The Primal Blueprint and Keto Reset diets are not intended as medical intervention or diagnosis. Nor are they replacements for working with a qualified healthcare practitioner. It’s important to speak with your doctor before beginning any new dietary or lifestyle program, and please consult your physician before making any changes to medication or treatment protocols. Each individual’s results may vary.

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Ultimate Guide to Non-Dairy Milks

Some people just don’t do milk.

There are many reasons why. Maybe you have a dairy intolerance. Maybe you don’t like the way cow’s milk tastes. Or maybe you think cow milk is unhealthy.

I won’t contest the reasons why. That’s another topic for another post, and I’ve already covered the most common anti-dairy arguments. If you want to read about my stance on the healthfulness (or lack thereof) of dairy, read what I’ve written about raw milk, cheese, yogurt, and dairy in general. If you want to learn how to identify dairy intolerance, read this.

But the fact is, lots of people either need or want a milk alternative. Water is great to drink, but it’s not the right smoothie substrate, and it can’t replace milk in recipes or coffee drinks. You need something vaguely white and thick enough to pass as milk.

Normally in a post like this, I’d cover all the different varieties and what sets each apart—their strengths and weaknesses, their nutrient profiles, their unhealthy ingredients. And I’ll certainly do that today, but first there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that there are plenty of good choices available. If you want something to drink, use in smoothies, or add to coffee, there are many different plant-based milk that avoid overly offensive ingredients.

The bad news is that most non-dairy milks are usually very low in nutrients. The parent food to these plant-based milks—the almonds, the cashews, the hemp seeds, and so on—are extremely nutrient-dense in and of themselves. Just check out my posts on nuts and seeds to get the nutritional lay of the land. But almond milk isn’t almonds, cashew milk isn’t cashews, and hemp seed milk isn’t hemp seeds.

This isn’t surprising when you think about how nut milks are made: by blending the nuts with a bunch of water and straining out the solids to try to extract some of the nut-ness. It’s pretty inefficient. If you could press an almond to wring out the almond milk, then you’d have something interesting. But that’s not how it works. Most non-dairy milks are superficial mirages of the real thing.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the most popular non-dairy milks and compare the nutrients in the parent nut/seed/plant to the nutrients in the nut/seed/plant-milk (when applicable).

Nutrient Profiles Of Popular Non-Dairy Milks

Almond Milk

This is the go-to option for most strict paleo eaters starting out. It sounds like a great idea. Almonds are a nutritious nut, high in magnesium, copper, vitamin E, and manganese. They have a decent amount of protein, some nice prebiotic fiber. In your head, almond milk is fantastic. Unfortunately—and this goes for most of the other nut milks out there—the average jug of store-bought almond milk contains no more than a handful of almonds.

In an ounce of almonds:

  • 163 calories
  • 6 g carbs: 3.5 g fiber
  • 14 g fat: 8.8 g MUFA, 3.4 g linoleic acid (LA), 1.1 g SFA
  • 6 g protein
  • 50% vitamin E
  • 22% vitamin B2
  • 31% copper
  • 18% magnesium
  • 28% manganese

In a cup of almond milk:

  • 36 calories
  • 1.4 g carbs
  • 2.6 g fat: 1.7 g MUFA, 0.6 g linoleic acid
  • 1.4 g protein
  • 45% vitamin E (added)
  • 17% vitamin A (added)
  • 25% vitamin D2 (added)
  • 4% magnesium
  • 4% manganese
  • 39% calcium (added)
  • 8% copper

Not great carry over. No prebiotic almond fiber. Almost no protein, magnesium, manganese, or copper. The richest nutrients are all the ones they added after the fact.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is in the same boat: mostly water, not too much cashew.

In an ounce of cashews:

  • 156.8 calories
  • 8.6 g carbs: 0.9 g fiber
  • 12.4 g fat: 6.7 g MUFA, 2.2 g LA, 2.2 g SFA
  • 5.2 g protein
  • 10% vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 69% copper
  • 24% iron
  • 20% magnesium
  • 20% manganese
  • 15% zinc

In a cup of cashew milk:

  • 25 calories
  • 1.4 g carbs: 0.2 g fiber
  • 2 g fat: 1.1 g MUFA, 0.4 g linoleic acid
  • 0.8 g protein
  • 2% vitamin B1
  • 11% copper
  • 4% iron
  • 3% magnesium
  • 3% manganese
  • 2% zinc
  • 17% vitamin A (added)
  • 25% vitamin D2 (added)
  • 18% vitamin E (added)
  • 37% calcium (added)

Coconut Milk

Traditionally, you make coconut milk by pulverizing fresh coconut flesh, blending it with a little water, and passing it through a cheesecloth or fine strainer. This produces a very rich, very high-fat milk that runs about 550 calories per cup. This is the coconut milk used in cooking that comes in cans and cartons. A second pass with the coconut solids produces a thinner, less-rich coconut milk that runs about 150 calories per cup. This is often called “Lite Coconut Milk” and can be used to cook or to drink.

Besides the abundance of medium chain triglycerides and a lot of manganese, neither thick or thin coconut milk are nutrient-dense. A cup of rich, full-fat coconut milk gives decent amounts of magnesium, copper, zinc, selenium, and iron, but you have to realize that it takes 600 calories to get those nutrients. That’s not exactly nutrient-dense; the micronutrient-to-calorie ratio is skewed.

They do sell jugs of thin coconut milk as a milk replacement. Except for the fortifications they add (vitamin D, calcium, riboflavin, and the other usual suspects), these are

Flax Milk

In an ounce of flaxseed:

  • 151.4 calories
  • 8.2 g carbs: 7.7 g fiber
  • 12 g fat: 2.1 g MUFA, 6.5 g ALA (omega-3), 1.7 g LA, 1 g SFA
  • 5.2 g protein
  • 39% vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 38% copper
  • 20% iron
  • 26% magnesium
  • 31% manganese
  • 13% selenium
  • 11% zinc

In a cup of flax milk:

  • 25 calories
  • 1 g carbs
  • 2.5 g fat: 1.2 g ALA (omega-3)
  • 5% iron
  • 63% B12 (added)
  • 25% vitamin D2 (added)
  • 17% vitamin A (added)
  • 25% calcium (added)

The main standout is the omega-3 content. Flax milk has a little over a gram of alpha-linolenic acid (the plant form of omega-3) per cup.

Hemp Milk

I’m not talking about the oncoming wave of high-THC cannabis milks. This is hemp milk, produced by blending non-psychoactive hemp seeds with water and straining the solids out.

In an ounce:

  • 149.1 calories
  • 7.8 carbs: 7.8 g fiber (all fiber)
  • 10.1 g fat: 1.1 g MUFA, 2.2 g ALA, 4.8 g LA, 0.8 g SFA
  • 7 g protein
  • 24% vitamin A
  • 63% copper
  • 50% iron
  • 33% magnesium
  • 86% manganese
  • 13% selenium
  • 18% zinc

In a cup of hemp milk:

  • 70 calories
  • 2.2 g carbs, all fiber
  • 6 g fat, 1 g ALA (omega-3), 3 g omega-6
  • 2 g protein
  • 18% copper
  • 13% iron
  • 10% magnesium
  • 24% manganese
  • Plus all the usual fortifications (calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B12

That’s not too bad, actually. It picks up some decent mineral levels, and hemp fat is one of the only fats to contain stearidonic acid, an intermediate omega-3 fat in the conversion pathway from ALA to EPA that increases the EPA content of red blood cells in humans (a very good thing).

Macadamia Milk

There’s a product called Milkadamia. Great name, disappointing result.

In an ounce:

  • 203.5 calories
  • 3.9 g carbs: 2.4 g fiber
  • 21.5 g fat: 16.7 g MUFA, 0.4 g LA, 0.1 g alpha linolenic acid (ALA), 3.4 g SFA
  • 2.2 g protein
  • 28% vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • 24% copper
  • 13% iron
  • 51% manganese

In a cup of mac nut milk:

  • 50 calories
  • 1 g carbs
  • 5 g fat
  • 1 g protein
  • 125% vitamin B12
  • 17% vitamin D
  • 25% vitamin A
  • 38% calcium

Despite having the best product name and the most potential for being a creamy milk substitute (has anyone tried adding mac nuts to a smoothie?—incredible!), the nutrient profile is low, and there’s not much going on.

Oat Milk

I’ve written about oats before. They have some interesting properties, some beneficial fiber, and a decent mineral profile. Adding oat beta-glucan fibers to fiber-free instant oatmeal reduces the postprandial glucose response, so at least in the context of refined starch, oat fiber can be helpful.

The most popular and widely-available oat milk is called Oatly. The website explains the process: mill raw oats with water, add enzymes to extract the starch, separate the beta-glucan from the bran, discard the bran, pasteurize it, bottle it. This retains the beta-glucans (2 grams of fiber per cup) and starch (16 grams carbs per cup). The only micronutrients they advertise are the ones they add, including calcium, potassium, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin D, and vitamin B12; there’s no indication that the normal oat-bound minerals like magnesium, manganese, and zinc make it into Oatly in significant amounts. To top things off, they add canola oil for texture and mouthfeel.

Rice Milk

Rice milk is made by blending water with cooked rice, brown rice syrup, and brown rice starch.

Like the others, its only real micronutrients comes from the ones they add to it. It’s higher in carbohydrates than any of the other milks I found.

Soy Milk

Believe it or not, of all the popular non-dairy milks out there, soy milk contains the most nutrients and is probably the closest to cow milk. It’s high in protein. It contains a nice balanced selection of minerals. A review comparing soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, and rice milk to cow milk found that soy milk was the closest—mostly because it actually featured measurable nutrients.

In a cup of soy milk:

  • 74 calories
  • 3.6 g carbs; 2 g fiber
  • 4 g fat
  • 8 g protein
  • All the usual additions, like calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, riboflavin, and vitamin A
  • 10% magnesium
  • 15% manganese
  • 6% folate
  • 6% potassium
  • 19% copper
  • 10% selenium

It’s not ideal though. People who regularly drink soy milk tend to end up with micronutrient deficiencies. Kids who drink cow milk are less likely to have atopic eczema, while soy milk drinkers have no such protection (and may even have increased risk). The protein in soy milk can help people build muscle, but milk proteins work better and also provide other benefits to the immune system.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use non-dairy milks. They are inoffensive and helpful for recipes. Just don’t expect any incredible health benefits from them.

3 Notable Brands With Extra Benefits

But there are a few specific non-dairy milk products that deserve a closer look, especially if you’re going to go this route.

Vita Coco Coconut Milk

Instead of blending coconut meat with water and filtering out the solids, Vita Coco mixes coconut cream into coconut water to produce a milk-like product. I haven’t tasted it myself, but the nutrient profile is pretty compelling.

  • Moderate levels of fat (5 grams per cup), primarily from saturated medium chain triglycerides.
  • Low carb (5 grams per cup). Naturally sweet from the coconut.
  • Decent mineral levels (RDIs: 45% calcium, 15% magnesium, 10% potassium, 10% zinc).

Some of the calcium, magnesium, and zinc is added, some is natural (coconut water can be a good source of all three). Still, it’s cool to see magnesium added because so many are deficient and supplementary magnesium is well-tolerated and effective.

Ripple

Back when I was toying with the idea of getting a significant amount of my protein from plant sources for a quick experiment (long story short: I didn’t do it, I like animals too much, and I found myself relying too heavily on processed powders), I got a bottle of something called Ripple. Ripple is pea-based milk, fortified with extra pea protein, algae-based DHA, calcium, iron, and vitamin D. It has as much protein per serving as milk (8 grams), using a type of protein that can promote muscle gain, and it tastes quite good. It uses high-oleic sunflower oil for fat, which is low in polyunsaturated fat. If I truly couldn’t have dairy and desperately wanted something to drink or make smoothies with, I’d probably do Ripple.

Tempt Hemp Milk

I’ve never tried this brand, or hemp milk in general. But just like the generic hemp milk analyzed above, Tempt Hemp Milk has a far better nutrient profile than most of the other nut or other non-dairy milks I ran across. If it tastes anything like hemp seed, which has a nutty, subtle flavor, I can imagine hemp milk having a pleasant taste.

Tips For Making Your Own

You’re all an enterprising bunch. Why not make your own non-dairy milk?

  1. You can make your own nut milk. There are thousands of recipes out there, but they generally seem to involve soaking nuts in water and a pinch of salt overnight, draining them, and blending the nuts with fresh water, straining out the solids, and sometimes adding a date or a dab of maple syrup for sweetening. The higher the nut:water ratio, the richer, more nutritious the milk.
  2. You can also make thicker, more nutrient-dense nut milk by blending nut butter and water until you reach the desired consistency. You aren’t discarding anything with this method.
  3. You can avoid nuts altogether. One scoop of MCT powder, one scoop of collagen peptides, whisked into water makes a decent approximation of milk. Use 3 tablespoons of water to make creamer for coffee. This isn’t a nutrient-powerhouse, but it provides medium chain triglycerides (which boost ketone production) and collagen.
  4. Or how about making a kind of nut broth? The usual audience for non-dairy milks is obsessed with consuming raw foods. They make a point to prevent their food from ever getting warmer than the hemp-clad crotch of a Trustafarian hitchhiking through Joshua Tree in the middle of summer. But consider that applying heated water to pulverized nuts will extract even more nutrients from the nut and deliver them into the water. Then you strain the solids and refrigerate the broth, producing “milk.” I bet that’d be quite tasty and more nutritious than a cold water nut wash.

The Bottom Line on Nut Milks…

Nothing on the market or that you cook up in your kitchen is going to rival the nutrient density of cow’s milk. From the protein to the healthy dairy fats to the dozens of micronutrients we know about and the dozens we have yet to catalogue, actual milk packs a real wallop that your basic almond, cashew, pecan, or flax milk simply can’t defeat. So, you’ll have to shift your view of “milk” as a whole food. Don’t give your kid four glasses of hemp milk and think you’re replacing cow dairy. Don’t wean your infant off the breast and fill a bottle with hazelnut milk instead; it’s not the same. Don’t eat a dog bowl-sized serving of cereal with some rice milk. The only nutritious part of cereal is the milk, and non-dairy milks do not qualify. Don’t rely on non-dairy milks for your nutrient intakes. Those are shoes they’ll never fill.

Instead, use non-dairy milks to make nutrient-dense smoothies. Use them in your coffee. Make protein shakes with them. In short, use these non-dairy plant-based milks to make it easier to eat more nutrient-dense foods.

Before you run out to buy cashew milk or pea milk or something similar, I will say this: I’m a fan of dairy. It’s a nutrient-dense source of bioavailable protein, healthy fat, calcium, vitamin K2, and other important and helpful compounds. If you can eat it without tolerance issues, you probably should. And if you can’t, you may be able to tolerate other animal milks, like goat’s milk. Many people who can’t do cow dairy can handle goat. It’s worth a try.

What about you? What’s your favorite non-dairy milk? Do you have any plant-based milks that you swear by?

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References:

Onuegbu AJ, Olisekodiaka JM, Irogue SE, et al. Consumption of Soymilk Reduces Lipid Peroxidation But May Lower Micronutrient Status in Apparently Healthy Individuals. J Med Food. 2018;21(5):506-510.

Hon KL, Tsang YC, Poon TC, et al. Dairy and nondairy beverage consumption for childhood atopic eczema: what health advice to give?. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2016;41(2):129-37.

Babault N, Païzis C, Deley G, et al. Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(1):3.

Wolever TMS, Jenkins AL, Prudence K, et al. Effect of adding oat bran to instant oatmeal on glycaemic response in humans – a study to establish the minimum effective dose of oat ?-glucan. Food Funct. 2018;9(3):1692-1700.

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