Recently by Mark Sisson: The Primal Blueprint 8 Key Concepts
The fundamental key to success with any lifestyle modification is removal, elimination, and avoidance of the agents of opposition to your desired lifestyle. If you’re trying to read more books and stop watching reality television, you’re going to want to cancel your scheduled recordings of Jersey Shore. If you’re trying not to drink alcohol for a month, you’ll want to get rid of the beer, booze, and wine in your house. Heck, if you’re going vegan, you’ll want to toss all the animal products from your fridge, pantry, and freezer. And if you’re going Primal, whether if it’s for a 21-Day Challenge or just to get healthier in general, you need to eliminate the Standard American Diet foods that promise to thwart you at every twist and turn. It’s a pretty simple concept to understand, right?
It can be tough to put into practice, though, since these foods are staples for many. Some are even health darlings of Conventional Wisdom. Others are obviously junk, but junk often tastes good and lures you in to its sweet, salty, crispy embrace. Best to get rid of it altogether.
So, how do we do it? What are the foods we’re eliminating and why are we getting rid of them? You want the specific foods within the various categories to eliminate, and I’ve got ‘em for you:
Most drinks are just sugar water masquerading as health beverages. They represent a massive, highly-dense source of insulin-spiking sugar without the vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber that normally come with the sugar found in nature (fruits and vegetables). Plus, sweet drinks don’t satiate as much as solid food, leading to overeating and weight gain without you even knowing it or feeling “full.” Anyone who’s ever had a large Coke disappear throughout their meal without its gradually developing absence impacting their ability to finish the meal knows this.
Common beverages to avoid:
- Juices — Orange, apple, acai, pomegranate, grape, V8, Ocean Spray, etc.
- “Juices” — Nectars, punches, fruit cocktail, grape drink, Sunny Delight, purple stuff
- Designer coffees — blended iced coffees (Frappucinos and their ilk), mochas
- Soda/soft drinks — diet and regular (even stuff with real sugar!)
- Energy drinks — Red Bull, Rock Star, Monster
- Sports drinks — Gatorade, Powerade, Vitamin Water
When you pulverize a grain to make flour, you are creating an acellular carbohydrate. How this differs from a cellular carbohydrate is primarily its digestibility and the rate by which our bodies absorb its carbohydrate load. Whereas with a cellular carbohydrate, as found in fruits and tubers, we must break down the cellular walls to access the glucose, with an acellular carbohydrate that work has already been done. This sudden bolus of dense carbohydrate overwhelms our digestive tract, promoting an inflammatory gut flora and an impaired metabolism. That issue, plus all the other downsides that come along with grains (which I’ll be discussing later), make baking ingredients some of the first things you should be discarding. Besides, just what are you going to be baking?
Common baking ingredients to avoid:
- Corn meal, starch, and syrup
- All other starches and syrups
- Flours (primarily wheat flour)
- Certain edible powders — gluten, maltodextrin, powdered milk
- Dear Mark: Are Roasted Nuts and Nut-Based Baked Good Healthy?
- Top 8 Most Common Reactions to Your Grain-Free Diet (and How to Respond)
- How to Quit Grains
Condiments and Salad Dressings
Most condiments and salad dressings are simply another way to make bad food taste good by heaping sugar and/or bad fat all over it. If you get a low-fat dressing or condiment, it’s undoubtedly loaded with sugar to make up for the missing fat. If you get a store-bought full-fat dressing or condiment, it’s undoubtedly loaded with rancid omega-6 PUFAs that contribute to systemic inflammation. You can’t win, so it’s best to just get rid of the stuff altogether.
Common condiments to avoid:
- Honey mustard
- Mayo, lite mayo
- Low-fat salad dressings
- Salad dressings made from soybean, corn, canola, sunflower, or safflower oil
- Anything containing lots of sugar, HFCS, and/or PUFA oils
Not all dairy is off-limits, and, for those who tolerate it, certain types of dairy can actually be an incredibly healthy component of a Primal eater’s arsenal. But many others are intolerant of lactose and/or casein without even knowing it, and removing dairy from a diet previously rich in it can often reveal hidden intolerances. And I wouldn’t advise anyone to make a habit of using low-fat and non-fat dairy products, which are missing the vital fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin K2, that make dairy such a nutrient-dense food. Going low- or no-fat also eliminates the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a healthy, natural trans-fat that’s been linked to good health. Most studies have found that only full-fat dairy is associated with improved health outcomes, not low-fat or non-fat dairy.
Common dairy to avoid:
- Processed cheese — Velveeta, Cheez Whiz, nacho cheese, American cheese
- Ice cream and frozen yogurt
- Low-fat and non-fat dairy — yogurt, milk, cheese
- Sweetened yogurt
- The Definitive Guide to Dairy
- Yogurt Mania
- Dairy and Its Effect on Insulin Secretion (and What It Means for Your Waistline)
Bad Fats and Oils
Both trans-fats and added omega-6 PUFA-rich oils are unhealthy. Trans-fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils cause fat gain, particularly in the dangerous abdominal area, even when calories are held constant. Omega-6 fatty acids are necessary in the diet, but only in small amounts. Ideally, the dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be around 2:1, which is the evolutionary norm. The SAD tends to promote a ratio closer to 20:1, leading to increased systemic inflammation. Another danger lies in the inherent instability of PUFAs; when exposed to heat (like in a deep fryer or on a skillet), omega-6 PUFAs quickly oxidize, making them even unhealthier and more inflammatory.
Common bad fats and oils to avoid:
- Anything containing partially hydrogenated oils
- Butter spreads and sprays — Country Crock, Smart Balance, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Promise
- High omega-6 oils — corn, canola, soybean, sunflower, safflower, peanut, grapeseed, cottonseed
- Most restaurants cook their food in these fats unless you request otherwise
Fast food is the perfect encapsulation of the Standard American Diet at its most alluring and unhealthy: omega-6 PUFAs, lots of carbs, sugary sauces, crispy salty deep fried (in the aforementioned oxidized PUFAs) breading on everything, low quality meat, high calories, low nutrient density. It’s the SAD wrapped up into a delicious, disgusting package.
Common fast food items to avoid:
- Burgers, chicken sandwiches, fish filets, hot dogs
- French fries, onion rings, jalapeno poppers, tater tots
- Chimichangas, churros, chalupas
- 10 Ways to Forage in a Fast Food Nation
- Top 10 Fast Foods in Disguise
- The Primal Blueprint Guide to Dining Out
When compared to wild-caught fish, farmed fish tends to fall short in several important categories. For one, farmed fish are lower in omega-3s and higher in omega-6s, especially predatory fish like salmon whose natural diet is harder to emulate in aquaculture. At least in the case of salmon, farmed is higher in contaminants than wild, including PCBs and dioxins. Plus, fish farming as it’s currently practiced in many areas harms the environment (PDF), causing run off into and pollution of adjacent bodies of water. That said, some wild caught fish high up on the food chain are too high in mercury for regular consumption, especially for pregnant women and children.
Common fish to avoid:
- Most farmed fish, especially predatory fish like salmon
- Breaded fish — fish sticks, fish filets, popcorn shrimp, fried calamari, fried oysters/clams/mussels
- Large predatory fish high in mercury — shark, swordfish, king mackerel
- Farmed Seafood: What’s Safe and Nutritious
- Salmon: Factory Farm vs Wild
- Grocery Store Seafood: What to Eat and What to Avoid