If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re already following an ancestral inspired lifestyle plan in order to feel good and achieve optimal health. Are you Paleo or Primal? Maybe you haven’t yet plunged into eating and living in ways that mimic our Paleolithic forbears and you’re wondering where on the spectrum you best fit in? At one time, there were clear differences between the two camps but an inverse relationship continues to develop where as the ancestral health movement grows and more scientific and anecdotal evidence comes to light, the distance between the boundaries of Paleo and Primal distinction shrinks.
Early on, the Paleo diet was anti-saturated fat but now shares the Primal opinion that these foods are healthy choices when consumed within an ancestral eating regimen. Similarly, at its inception, the Paleo diet was focused on diet, not lifestyle but now advocates a holistic approach to health and wellness. Both Paleo and Primal diets encourage food sourcing that is local, organic and sustainable. Both diets include meat (preferably grass-fed or pastured), fish (preferably wild), eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and oils from these foods that have been extracted without the use of chemicals or harsh methods. It’s over grey area foods such as dairy and legumes where Paleo and Primal folks part ways but as we shall see, the divide isn’t clearly cut.
The Primal movement (Primal Blueprint) founded by Mark Sisson, gives the go-ahead to full-fat dairy, preferably pastured, and raw, based on its many reported health benefits. In Sisson’s view, the benefits of full-fat dairy generally outweigh the drawbacks. Sisson also supports a moderate consumption of legumes, such as beans and lentils, if they are prepared in traditional ways such as soaked and thoroughly cooked to reduce anti-nutrients and increase digestibility. In addition to full-fat dairy and legumes, Sisson believes that grey area foods such as coffee, white potatoes, rice, dark chocolate and red wine can be incorporated into the Primal Blueprint as occasional or moderately consumed foods depending on individual needs and tolerance.
Loren Cordain, founder of the Paleo movement, based on his interpretation of the data and the fact that Paleolithic people didn’t consume dairy at all, rejects the suitability of dairy for human consumption. Similarly, Cordain believes there are too many drawbacks to legume consumption to include them in the human diet. Other influential leaders in the Paleo community such as Chris Kresser are more inclusive. Kresser presents Paleo as a template in which diet is based on personal health goals and individual tolerances. Within this template, he supports the consumption of full-fat dairy, as well as properly prepared legumes and other grey area foods in moderation by those who tolerate them. Though adamant about excluding dairy and legumes, Cordain condones a judicious use of caffeine and white potatoes in his Paleo Diet for Athletes and an occasional glass of wine and piece of dark chocolate for everyone.
It’s important to mention that if you have health issues, both Paleo and Primal camps recommend eliminating all grey area foods that are potentially irritating for a period of time such as thirty days to allow for gut repair and the alleviation symptoms. If you have a reaction to a particular food after adding it back in, that food is not a safe choice for you. In addition, both camps recommend a strict compliance to diet only 80% to 85% of the time because humans are, well, human and most of us require some margin for error. Eat any food whatsoever only 15% to 20% of the time on either diet and still consider yourself on plan.
As you can see, Paleo and Primal lifestyles are vastly more similar than not. Either way, you’re eating real food and making lifestyle choices for optimal health based on insights gained from the study of Paleolithic life, contemporary hunter-gatherer societies and modern science and you’re much healthier for it.