Is It Primal? – Smoked Salmon, Nutritional Yeast, 5-Hour Energy Drinks, and Other Foods Scrutinized

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by Mark Sisson Mark's Daily Apple

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It’s about that time for another round of “Is It Primal?” Today we’re covering smoked salmon, a surprisingly stable source of omega-3s. After that, I finally get to nutritional yeast, a food that many of you have been asking about for many moons. I hope you’re happy with the answer. Next up are 5-Hour Energy Drinks, which aren’t quite as bad as you might think. After that, I cover the edibility of brines — olive, pickle, sauerkraut, cocktail onion, and so on. The final object of scrutiny is Kremelta, a kind of coconut oil shortening.

Let’s take a look:

Smoked Salmon

Smoking is one of the world’s oldest food preservation techniques, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: subjecting strips, cuts, and pieces of animal to smoke from wood fires until they are “cooked.” Today, we can preserve our foods by refrigerating, freezing, or applying industrial-scale methods using mass-produced antioxidant compounds, so we tend to eat far fewer smoked meats. Most would agree that this is a good move, as fresh meat tends to be, well, fresher and therefore better for us.

But what about smoked salmon? People love the stuff — I know I do — and it retains an elevated status in modern food culture. It’s become a luxury, a treat, rather than a staple food that we have to eat because it’s all we’ve got and we have no refrigerators. Does smoked salmon hold up to scrutiny? I mean, all that smoke and heat can’t be good for the fragile omega-3s, right?

Actually, salmon does appear to hold up to smoking. Better yet, it gets even more stable. A 2009 study found that smoking salmon at 95 degrees Celsius made the “fragile” fish fats even more oxidatively stable, with a lower peroxide value, fewer TBARS, and fewer free fatty acids, than fresh salmon. That’s right: smoking salmon at a high heat protected the omega-3s from oxidizing to a greater extent than leaving it alone, even if antioxidants were added to the fresh salmon oils. That said, when heating the smoked salmon fat past 75 degrees C, peroxides formed at a faster rate than in the fresh salmon fat.

Oddly enough, cold-smoked salmon (where the fish is smoked without added heat) appears to be more susceptible to oxidation. You’d think the hot-smoking would be more damaging, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

For the double-whammy of salmon preservation techniques, you might want to try fermenting your smoked salmon, as smoked salmon grows even more stable upon fermentation.

Not all smoking is the same. The cheaper outfits use sawdust as the smoking medium — yes, sawdust — while more traditional salmon smokers use actual wood, like hickory, oak, or alderwood. Some Scottish producers even use old Scotch barrels. Since wood (like all plant materials) has bioactive components which manifest in the smoke (smoking, after all, is a traditional method of plant ingestion), the type of wood used probably matters as much as anything.

Verdict: Primal.

Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a darling in the vegan set. They’ll sometimes proclaim that since nutritional yeast is a fungus, not an animal, and it contains B12, an animal-free source of vitamin B12 exists. Except it’s not true. Nutritional yeast, an inactive (dead) form of the same yeast that bakers and brewers use, only contains vitamin B12 if its producers decide to add it. So yes, while dotting your bowl of popcorn with the carcasses of a million fallen yeasts is arguably more nutritious than not, it’s not an endogenously-formed, “natural,” cruelty-free source of B12. There remains no naturally-occurring source of B12 that doesn’t involve sweet, sweet animal flesh.

That said, nutritional yeast is certainly interesting. I’ve had it a few times on store-bought kale chips as a sort of cheese replacement. It was tasty. It is a good source of (fortified) vitamins, the utility of which I question beyond the correction of blatant deficiencies.

Nutritional yeast is also a strong source of RNA, specifically the nucleotide uridine. You may not usually consider the ingestion of dietary genetic material, but dietary RNA from yeast can increase uric acid levels in humans. Hyperuricemia, as you probably know, is a strong cause of gout. Of course, that study gave 8 grams of brewer’s yeast nucleotides to the men, a huge amount; most sources suggest that brewer’s yeast (and therefore nutritional yeast, which is the same species) is 3% nucleotides. To get 8 grams of nucleotides, you’d need to eat around 266 grams of nutritional yeast. That’s roughly 33 tablespoons. Good luck with that. Besides, Primal darlings, sardines and organ meats are also high in RNA, so I don’t think we can condemn nutritional yeast on the basis of RNA.

In the amounts the average Primal person who just enjoys the flavor is likely to consume, I don’t think nutritional yeast is a problem.

Verdict: Primal. Just don’t rely on it as a source of vitamins.

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