Paleo vs. Primal

What’s the difference between Paleo and Primal eating approaches? And how much do they really matter? We explain their origins, similarities, and differences — plus practical steps for integrating them into the way you eat today.

In this week’s episode of The Living Experiment, we dig into the fundamentals of Paleo and Primal eating approaches — their origins, similarities, and differences, plus practical steps for integrating them into the way you eat today.

We also examine the modern nutritional reductionism that led us to think about food as merely a sum of its parts (macronutrients, calories, and so on) rather than considering the value and integrity of whole foods in their natural state.

In addition to evaluating the differences between Paleo and Primal dietary strategies, we explore their key principles in the context of the larger ancestral nutrition movement — arguably the most significant dietary trend of the past two decades.

Contrasting the hunter-gatherer diets our ancestors consumed for most of human history (2.6 million years) with the more processed and grain-heavy diets we’ve embraced over the past 10,000 years, we offer up insights about why some foods seem to reliably produce health and vitality, while others consistently produce distress and disease.

“Paleo vs. Primal” Episode Highlights

  • How Michael Pollan figures in — and our personal Pollan stories (3:00)
  • Why most humans tend to thrive on ancestrally-inspired diets (7:40)
  • A brief history of the Paleo movement and the influencers who helped shape it (11:50)
  • Guiding principles for eating within Paleo and Primal frameworks (14:30)
  • Commonalities between Paleo and Primal, and key nuances that distinguish them (16:55)
  • How commercial, industrialized, processed “Paleo” foods have diluted the Paleo movement (18:25)
  • Focusing on the 85% we agree on — vs. the 15% we fight about (19:00)
  • Signs of hope on the food landscape, and reasons to be wary (24:30)
  • Ancestral-diet disharmony: Eggs — included in most ancestral diets, and a common modern-world allergen (27:00)
  • The importance of individual self-experimentation over rigid dietary dictates (28:10)
  • The common-ground essentials of ancestral eating — what’s in, what’s out, and what’s still the subject of debate (dairy, alcohol, legumes, etc.) (29:40)
  • Why even healthy foods can cause serious digestive and immune problems for some people, and the importance of respecting your own system (35:15)
  • The difference between short and long-term dietary interventions, and the importance of tracking your body’s response over time (38:00)
  • Why focusing primarily on weight loss rarely leads to sustainable health improvement (43:10)
  • Our response to “just tell me what to eat!” — a hierarchy of ancestrally-inspired food recommendations that work for most people, most of the time, over the long haul (45:00)
  • Recommended experiments (54:15)

This Week’s Experiments

Dallas suggests:

Take on the Whole30 nutritional program.

  • The 30-day, intensive experiment will help you discover the healing power of whole foods, and help you explore which foods do or do not agree with your body.
  • Eliminate common problem foods (see Whole30 site, link below, for instructions) for 30 days. Over the subsequent weeks, systematically reintroduce them while noting how each affects you.
  • Consider doing the experiment with a friend for better support and motivation.

Pilar suggests:

Go a week without grains or sugars.

  • Remove all grains and added sugars from your diet (not just flour-and-starch-based products like bread, pasta, cookies, and crackers, but also whole-kernel grains like rice, quinoa, and millet).
  • Replace them with extra servings of brightly colored vegetables, which deliver healthy complex carbohydrates, plus fiber and anti-inflammatory, pro-healing phytonutrients.
  • Notice how replacing high-glycemic foods with high-nutrition ones helps balance your blood sugar, improves your energy, and reduces cravings while also improving your overall sense of well-being.

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