Archive for June, 2011

Many people consider paleo or primal living to be a lifestyle, not just a diet. Mark’s Daily Apple has some great ideas for passing the time this summer while simultaneously reconnecting with nature.

via Mark's Daily Apple by Mark Sisson on 6/28/11

fishcampfireThere’s nothing like living Primal in summer. Certain aspects just come easier: the copious fresh produce, unlimited outdoor exercise, long daylight, ample sunshine. True, those of us in the warmer states have some year-long advantage here. Nonetheless, summer remains my favorite season – probably a result of my New England roots. The brevity of the season there inevitably inspires a true carpe diem attitude. Wherever you go, however, I think summer brings with it a sense of adventure and spontaneity. Even if our school years are (decades) long gone, we still embrace summer as a kind of “holiday” from the routine. For many of us, the season is a time to explore, travel, and live outside, relegating the house to role of mere storage unit. There are the elaborate vacations, the well-planned day trips, the sporting and social events. Today, however, I’m thinking along nostalgic lines, some old school pastimes that invoke the (somewhat endangered) ease of summer.

As a kid, my favorite summer days and evenings were all about playing rough, running free, and living like the young savage I was. Needless to say, by the end of the day, I was wearing and eating the elements. Here are a few of my favorites – little to no equipment or planning required. Some, you could say, have subtle survivalist elements. Others are just an afternoon’s adventure or an invitation to lose yourself in a few hours of outdoor daydreaming. (The PB is about enjoying the best of life after all.) Each of them in some way, I think, fit the Primal theme, and they’re family friendly to boot. Here’s to kicking it old school this summer. Enjoy, everyone!

Night Walk

I’ll just say it: we don’t appreciate the dark enough these days. Caught up in the world of 24-hour illumination, we’ve lost touch with how to live at night as our ancestors did. As Richard Louv noted in Last Child in the Woods, many urban children have never even been in darkness before. They represent and feel more dramatically what our society as a whole has gravitated toward in recent decades: a fear of and disowning of natural darkness.

On the nights when I got to stay out late, I relished wandering into the thick of the darkened woods. My heart would beat faster. My palms would sweat. I felt like an alert animal, excitedly crossing a mysterious threshold. Yet, within a few yards I was one with the shadows.

There’s a more practical Primal lesson to be absorbed as well. Many have written about the modern undeveloped sense of night vision. Paul Shepard, Peter Nabokov, and others explain that the peripheral vision (compliments of those handy rod cells) we inherently use to “see” our way through a dark trail accesses a primitive level of consciousness – the primal “unconscious” as it’s often called. We can see finally when we stop thinking, when we let these long-buried, primeval abilities take the reins. For a young child, this comes naturally. For the rest of us, it’s a skill and adventure worth rediscovering. Check out your local recreation and environmental chapters, which often host night walks or at least moonlit walks during the summer.

Creek Stomping

It’s not exactly “leave no trace,” I realize, but it doesn’t get much more raw or earthy than this. (Make a mud shirt while you’re at it.) You’ve got the sun, the mud, and the water. (What more does a kid/Primal type need?) Truth be told, it’s just walking through the water, but that never dampened our exuberance. You can easily burn an afternoon alternatively gliding and rushing through the water, stopping as often as you want to inspect something curious along the banks or to check out the wildlife crawling or swimming by you – if you haven’t scared them away. (Plus, there were always the fits of laughter after someone flipped out about a leech – or several – on their leg.) We did it barefoot when left to our own devices or in old sneakers at summer camp. Done stealthily, you can snag yourself a snack, which leads me to the next pastime….

Cooking Your Own Catch

No cooler or kitchen here. Try on the old school scouting endeavor of making a fire and cooking up – right there in the dirt and sticks – whatever you can hunt, catch, or gather (observing state laws of course). Those fish or crawdads you snagged creek stomping? How about cooking ‘em up beachside? Make your feast as recreational or survivalist as you want. No need for matches or a Bic. Go hunting for some kindling and good fire bow materials. Want a brush up on primitive fire building? Check out this article.


First thing’s first: there’s absolutely no exercise or thought that goes into this endeavor. (Of course, that’s the point.) The more cerebral among us might enjoy studying the currents or taking advantage of bird watching opportunities. Mostly, though, tubing is the most soothing activity I’ve ever found. It’s literally impossible to be stressed while meandering down the river watching the trees, birds, and random wildlife/farm animals. (Cows especially love to watch tubers.) I’ll admit it’s been too long since my last go, but I recall the times I’ve tubed like they were yesterday. There are still a number of local tubing “societies” around the country that can hook you up with the best routes and get you happily acclimated into the summer tubing culture. (Although some like the solitary approach, others go in sizable groups with stocked floating coolers in tow.)

If you don’t have a tube worthy river by you (obviously not recommended for rivers with undertow or significant white water), use your tube to float on a nearby pond or small lake. No, you don’t get the benefit of constantly changing scenery around every bend, but it’s just as relaxing.


One of my favorite memories of camping when I was younger was sleeping on the beach of a small island where there was no light for miles around. Truth be told, I was too excited to sleep much that night. The sky was like a velvet backdrop dusted with millions of stars. Although there wasn’t a moon, the collective light of the stars was bright enough to light the beach and water. It was mid-August to boot, which meant we got to savor one of the best meteor showers of the year. I think we stopped counting shooting stars somewhere around 130.

There’s more to stargazing, of course, than shooting stars. How about mapping the constellations or learning to navigate by the stars like our primitive brethren?

Need a refresher on the constellations and the shifting night sky? Check out this PDF, for a summer night tour or Wunderground’s site, where you can get an exact map designed for your zip code.

Trail Running

I know a number of you out there do trail runs. Having abandoned my marathoning training years ago, this is the kind of running I most enjoy now (though, admittedly, it’s more walking than running these days). There’s something uniquely fortifying about the time on the trail that I just don’t get from a running path or even the beach for that matter. Of course, I often imagine myself running after or even with an imagined deer or other prey animal. With trail running, the key is becoming one with the trail as you allow yourself to “feel” it intuitively. As Peter Nabokov writes, certain indigenous groups have traditions of “trance running,” which grows from the runner’s relationship to the trail itself. The run becomes, in essence, a spiritual interaction between the earth and the runner him/herself. The trail isn’t to be learned but trusted. As a child it just inspired a kind of high, and today it does the same.

Early Dawn Climb

Years ago on a backpacking trip, we hiked our way to what would be our base camp in thick fog. As much of a PIA as it was at the time, the next morning’s view made it all worth it. We unknowingly woke up at the base of a majestic peak. We were all in total awe.

How about earning a similar moment of wonder without the overnight trek? Head out in the earliest light of dawn for what you know to be a rewarding trail. Although you’ll be making your way in dim light on the way up, you’ll enjoy your breakfast in the company of an incredible vista. Just think: you can still make that 8:00 a.m. meeting – although you’ll probably find yourself tempted to take the rest of the day off. Not a bad idea there.

Got your own old school summer exploits to share? (In my book, you can never have too many.) Comment away! Have a great week, everybody, and enjoy getting out there!

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Researchers have discovered the site of a paleolithic aurochs kill, giving them new insight into how our ancestors ate. Interesting stuff!

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Wondering about cold-pressed canola oil, camelina oil, or MCT oil and the paleo or primal diet? Here are some answers, courtesy of Mark’s Daily Apple.

via Mark's Daily Apple by Mark Sisson on 6/26/11

oilToday’s Dear Mark roundup is a trio of oil-related questions. Learn about my adventures with MCT oil and whether it fits into a good eating plan. Hear about camelina, the “better flax.” And finally, we’ll go over whether fancy, cold-pressed canola oil is worth including or whether it’s still just canola oil.

I’m thinking I’ll stick with this format for awhile. The response has been mostly positive, so why mess with what works? If ever a question arrives that merits a devoted full-length post, I’ll do that, but for now this seems like a hit.

What do you think of MCT oil?


MCTs, or medium chain triglycerides, are fatty acids that the body treats differently than longer chain fats. They are easily digested, head straight to the liver for oxidation or ketone generation without dealing with the lymphatic system, and can be utilized by cells for energy without the enzymatic processes needed to utilize longer chain fats. MCT oil is pure medium chain triglyceride. For this reason, it remains liquid at all temperatures despite being a highly saturated fat.

I’m not a huge fan of MCT oil, but not for any health reasons. I’ve just had weird experiences with it. I once used it to make mayo, since it’s flavorless, saturated, and stays liquid. It worked and the mayo tasted great, but it was just too big a bolus of MCTs at once. I used a couple tablespoons of MCT mayo with some hard boiled eggs and yellow mustard for egg salad, and a couple minutes after eating, I was infused with a weird, nervous energy. It felt similar to taking a quadruple shot of the strongest espresso on the planet sprinkled with a bit of Walter White’s special recipe, followed by a forced toilet trip. The fatty acids were being converted to pure energy – way more than my body needed at the time – and it wasn’t very pleasant. I tried it again as the base for a salad dressing, having run out of olive oil, and the effect was the same. It’s definitely not for me. I’ll stick to coconut oil for my MCT fix, since it never gives me any issues. While natural sources of MCTs, like coconut, contain the full range of MCTs (lauric acid, caproic acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid), most MCT oils are caprylic acid and capric acid. I suspect the isolation of the fatty acids is responsible for my problems with MCT oil.

That’s me, though. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with MCT oil, especially if you’re on a strict ketogenic diet or simply looking to get into ketosis (MCTs are the most ketogenic fatty acids), but I also think you could just eat coconut oil. I’ve heard of people who can’t handle coconut oil but for whom MCT oil works perfectly. Go figure. I’d suggest buying the smallest bottle of MCT oil you can find if you’re thinking of trying it. Here’s one not so small bottle.

Hi Mark,

Curious about Camelina oil – it is very high in Omega-3′s, has a high smoke point, tastes good on salads and in cooking.  I just want to know if it’s going to cause the same problems as other vegetable oils (which it is considered to be).



Camelina has been grown in Europe for at least 3,000 years as a food crop for livestock and for people, so at least it’s not some genetically modified, formerly toxic plant. It’s a seed, similar in some respects to flax, but with some important differences. Well, let’s explore a couple of the main problems with vegetable oils and see how camelina stacks up:

1. High in omega-6 – Vegetable oils have introduced a massive, evolutionarily-novel dose of linoleic acid into our diets, throwing off our dietary and tissue omega-3:omega-6 ratios and resulting in lopsided levels of eicosanoids derived from omega-6. More omega-6 eicosanoids mean our inflammation and response to stress are exaggerated. This is bad.

Camelina oil is similar to flax in that it’s high in alpha-linolenic-acid, the omega-3 fatty acid present in plants, and lower in omega-6 linoleic acid. Flax has an omega-3:omega-6 ratio of about 4:1, while camelina has a ratio ranging from 2:1 to 3:1. Put another way, camelina oil is between 35% and 45% ALA and between 15% and 20% linoleic acid. So, it has more omega-6 than butter, olive oil, macadamias, or beef fat, but similar levels as poultry and pork fat. It’s not a huge amount, but it can add up pretty quickly – especially if you’re aiming to keep omega-6 below five or six grams per day. And remember that it’s not just the ratio that matters, but the absolute amount of omega-6 in your diet.

2. Heat unstable, prone to oxidation inside and outside of the bodyPolyunsaturated fats are prone to oxidative damage when exposed to heat, air, and/or light. The PUFAs we eat are often incorporated into serum lipids, and LDL more easily oxidizes when it contains higher amounts of polyunsaturated fats (even omega-3s). This is bad.

By all accounts, camelina oil is considerably more heat-stable than flax oil. It contains high levels of antioxidants, including vitamin E (up to 110mg/100g, according to Wikipedia), which can protect against heat/light/air damage. However, antioxidants are only there because the fatty acids are so inherently unstable, so it’s not going to remain pure and untouched forever. Camelina oil must still be stored well (low temperature, secure lid, dark bottle) to prevent rancidity (PDF). And once it’s in your body, its ALA will be incorporated into your serum lipids in a disproportionate amount. While this study describes it as a positive thing, recall that LDL high in PUFAs has been shown to oxidize more easily. Perhaps camelina’s vitamin E will protect the LDL from oxidation, but I wouldn’t depend on it.

Overall, camelina oil seems a decent choice, at least compared to most vegetable oils. I wouldn’t cook with it, and I definitely wouldn’t use more than a couple teaspoons, but I think it’s one of the “better” seed oils – though that’s not saying much!

Hi Mark,

As I’ve mentioned in the past I work for a cookery school. They have recently started selling cold pressed rapeseed oil. I headed over to your blog where I remembered reading [about it], but that talked about the heat extracted stuff. I was wondering what your opinion on this would be? To me it does still seem kinda high in omega 6′s.



Your instincts are right. It’s still pretty high in omega-6. I mean, sure, it’s better than regular canola oil or sunflower oil, but so what? There’s butter, good olive oil, macadamia oil, pastured lard, extra virgin coconut oil, red palm oil… I could go on, but my point stands: why eat the substandard stuff just because it isn’t overtly toxic when you could use better tasting, more affordable fats like the aforementioned?

If it’s a choice between the Black and Gold canola and refined soybean oil, sure, choose the canola. But in my experience, such an ultimatum rarely pops up in everyday life.

As always, keep those questions flowing. I’m ready for (just about) anything you can throw at me. Grok on!

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Healthy-Meal-Plans.net has a new week of meal plans up on the site. There are some new meal ideas this time, like clam chowder with coconut milk and kohlrabi replacing the cream and potatoes, and a shepherd's pie topped with mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.


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So, a while back, US News & World Report ranked 20 popular diets, placing the Paleo Diet dead last. In an online follow-up survey of readers’ experiences with the various diets, paleo supporters piled on to vote the diet into the number one position and Dr. Loren Cordain responded with an explanation of the science supporting it.

In the above-linked article, Dr. Dale L. Katz of Yale University responded:

“The meat our Stone Age ancestors ate is nothing like the meat we eat today,” said Katz. “When’s the last time you saw a mammoth? I rest my case.”


So now, Dr. Cordain has responded again, this time to correct the new round of misconceptions.

We partially agree with your statement, “The meat our Stone Age ancestors ate is nothing like the meat we eat today,” said Katz. “When’s the last time you saw a mammoth? I rest my case.”   We have actually contrasted the lipid composition of wild game to grass produced meats and to feedlot produced meat.  Clearly game meat is superior in all nutritional aspects to feedlot produced meat, however grass fed meats come in a close second.  There is no reason to believe that the nutritional content of  mammoth meat varies much from that of wild elephant meat, except that it was probably fattier, as more northern latitude mammals maintain higher body fat percentages throughout the year.  Hence, it is entirely possible to emulate the nutritional characteristics of our ancestral diet with commercially produced grass fed meat.

Hands up, everyone who expects a reasoned response or even a retraction to be forthcoming?

*crickets chirp*

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Great article on jobs and exercise from Mark’s Daily Apple!

via Mark's Daily Apple by Mark Sisson on 6/21/11

workchair2A series of recent studies have implicated sedentary lifestyle in the obesity epidemic. The idea is, even if you hit the gym a few times a week, parking it in front of the T.V. at night dwindles away any benefits gained. Every hour on the couch costs us dearly. But what about the office chair? Dare we take this one on? A recent study does exactly that in targeting the specific role of sedentary work in our nation’s obesity crisis. Our desk jobs, the study’s authors suggest, represent a key culprit behind our society’s expanding waistlines.

Dr. Timothy Church, Dr. John McIlhenny and their associates examined trends related to occupational activity and the corresponding increase in American obesity rates since the 1960s. Fifty years ago, over fifty percent of occupations included moderate physical exertion. Today that number has dropped to less than twenty percent. In keeping with this pattern, Drs. Church and McIlhenny suggest we use, on average, a hundred calories less during a workday than we did fifty years ago. The impact of this change adds up over time – one belt notch at a time.

It makes sense. Sure, a lot of people in this country watch a lot of T.V. However, most of us spend more time at our jobs during the workweek than we do at home – when it comes to non-sleeping hours, that is. Add up eight hours (at least), lunch (which we may or may not actually take), and commute (more sitting!), and you’re looking at ten hours effectively stricken from the “free time for fitness” schedule. Ten hours is a lot to try to make up for. (What would Grok say?) By the time we get home, there’s cooking, cleaning, laundry, phone calls, and bills. That doesn’t even allow for our partners, our kids, friends, and any volunteer or social engagements. Suddenly, it’s 11:00. It’s hard not to see the study authors’ point.

It wasn’t always this way of course. A hundred years ago most of us were farmers or factory workers. Even those who worked in shops carried and stocked their own shelves. Nurses, doctors, and other service attendants were on their feet all day. Work meant manual labor to all but a relative few. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not pining for the good old days of child labor and 12-hour work days, six days a week. As Dr. Church suggests, however, there’s something significant to be learned from the trend itself.

In the last couple of decades, many business leaders have come to understand that a healthy set of employees means fewer sick days, lower insurance costs, and increased productivity. Companies have increasingly started reimbursing gym memberships or other health equipment. Some offer workplace gyms (and the opportunity to use them over a lunch hour or break). The message with these programs has mostly been this, however: do it, but do it on your own time. The idea of working out during the workday itself introduces a new angle and may be somewhat of a game changer.

Some businesses have already jumped on the wagon. The convertible standing workstations outfitted with customized treadmills have established a kind of gold standard, an ideal style workstation that I think most of us find ourselves daydreaming about at some point. One study suggests these vertical, treadmill equipped workstations alone could allow obese workers to lose some 30 kilograms a year with just two hours of work day use. Despite the $4000+ price tag, some companies offer them to each employee and even stock small conference rooms with them. They believe the investment in worker health pays off with increases in employee efficiency as well as boosts to individual creativity and meeting productivity.

There are less expensive options, however. Research has shown that offering a portable pedal machine (essentially a footstool sized set of pedals) is enough to significantly add exercise for study participants (some up to 13.5 miles cycled per day). All subjects reported that they’d continue using the device if their employers offered them the option. The devices in question cost around $90-$100. Compare that to the cost of a single sick day or a month’s worth of insulin supplies.

Even without specific workplace equipment, there’s plenty we can do to counteract the sedentary nature of our jobs. How many of us with desk jobs skip our breaks and take lunch at our desk? How often do we actually get up out of our chairs? Research demonstrates that even small breaks make big differences. Breaks as short as a minute were enough to make a positive difference in both subjects’ waist size and C-reactive protein measures. The more, the merrier. How about keeping a set of light dumbbells or kettlebells at your desk for some lifts here and there? Maybe one of those step platforms for calf raises? Then there’s always the chance to run up and down the office stairwells. Take advantage of the empty conference room to do a few minutes of yoga. Go ahead: be that guy or gal. Why not?

I happen to believe in the concept of individual initiative (as well as responsibility), but I also believe that good health doesn’t just benefit a person’s after hours home life. A business has plenty to gain from a healthy workforce. I know mine does (three of my employees are now sporting standing workstations). Perhaps more business owners and managers will consider how some of these options can serve their workplace efficiency and employee retention. Maybe more individual employees will take it upon themselves to initiate their own measures – whether at their own desks or in the community rooms. Studies – and media stories – like these can hopefully make these conversations – and productive changes – easier.

The ultimate, underlying message of this study for me is the emphasis on active living as a whole. For too long we’ve heard about twenty minutes three times a week. We’re so bent on minimizing efforts, honing in on the absolute minimum exertion we must make, we’ve lost the forest through the trees. That’s what I love about the Grok example. The lifestyle of our hunter-gatherer ancestors offers a historically sound standard, a telling model that we can measure against the life we live today. Our history can teach us about our genetic expectations, which contemporary research can then confirm. Too often, we see how far modern life has strayed from physiological imperatives.

As Dr. Ross Brownson, an epidemiologist who took up the workplace inactivity question just a few years ago, responded to the recent study in a New York Times article a few weeks ago: “‘We need to think about physical activity as a more robust concept than just recreational physical activity…. In many ways we’ve engineered physical activity out of our lives, so we’ve got to find ways to put it back into our lives, like taking walks during breaks or having opportunities for activity that are more routine to our daily lives, not just going to the health club.’” Hmmm…activity as a lifestyle itself. As much moderate and slow moving as we can muster. Does that sound familiar to anyone here?

Finally, for those whose particular job duties or workplace culture negate the possibility of active adaptations, rest assured you’re not doomed to a life of ill health despite all your at-home efforts. (We all knew this, correct?) Certainly, it’s worth taking the breaks you can and indulging in the exercise you can manage during the workday. However, make your free time fitness count for all it can with interval training and as much general activity as you can fit into your personal hours. If stress is an issue at your job, keep the damage to a minimum with a simple stress management practice (e.g. yoga, Tai Chi, etc.) at home and sneak a minute of mantras or poses into your day. Finally, diet of course is 80% of the body weight picture (sounds familiar, no?). Your Primal plan has you covered.

Thanks for reading today. Let me know what you think of the workplace-obesity connection. How has an active job been healthy for you? Alternately, how have you gotten creative coping with a sedentary one? Have a great week, everybody!

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Here's a great piece by a medical student named Anastasia about utilizing what she calls the "framework of common sense":

Here is a radical concept. You have a brain. So do I. I propose a framework. I will call it The Framework of Common Sense. Every time you hear of a new diet, new pill, new exercise regime, new wonder berry from Tibet, you apply the FCS and voila! Your rusty neurons spring into action. A word of warning though. FCS requires applying critical thinking to every new concept. Always. You can never turn your brain off and just go with the flow.

Read more…

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