The primal diet is based off “The Primal Blueprint,” which was created by Mark Sisson in 2009. It only allows foods that our primal ancestors would have access to. Not only does this eliminate processed foods, it also eliminates foods like grains. Instead, it focuses on eating more protein, natural fats, and plenty of vegetables. Where possible, foods should be eaten in their most natural state. Raw milk, for example, is preferred to processed or pasteurized milk. Organic foods are preferred when available.
Primal diet vs. paleo diet
The primal diet and paleo diet have similarities, but they also have distinct differences. The primal diet encourages the consumption of raw, full-fat dairy as a source of healthy fats, while the paleo diet restricts dairy. The paleo diet eliminates nightshade vegetables, while the primal diet does not. The primal diet includes coffee, while the paleo diet restricts it.
Foods to avoid
Simply put, you should avoid any foods that our primal ancestors did not have access to. This obviously eliminates processed foods, like Oreos and potato chips. However, it also eliminates foods like wheat and corn, both of which have been introduced in the past 100,000 years.
Other foods to avoid include:
- all grains, including wheat
- sugars, except natural sugars like honey or maple syrup
- processed foods
- refined vegetable oils
Because most prepared foods available in supermarkets have processed or unexpectedly added ingredients in them, it’s often beneficial to prepare and cook most of your food at home.
Foods you can eat
While the above diet may seem restrictive, there are plenty of great foods that you can eat. These include:
- fruits and vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- raw or fermented dairy, like raw milk and cheese
- pure maple syrup and raw honey
- meat and fish
- complex carbohydrates like starchy tubers, wild rice, and quinoa
Organic foods, including fruits, vegetables, and eggs, are preferred. Any meat should be grass-fed, and both antibiotic and hormone-free when possible.
Pros and cons
As with many diets, there are pros and cons to the primal diet.
Because this diet prioritizes natural, high-quality foods, you could improve your overall health and your nutrient intake. You could lose more weight in the process, without counting calories.
The biggest cons of this diet are that it’s expensive and inconvenient. Buying organic, high-quality food is not always cost-effective, making it less accessible for some people. Some foods — like potatoes, legumes, and pasta — are much more affordable, and cutting them out of the diet can make grocery shopping too expensive for some individuals and families. It’s also inconvenient for some to need to make food from scratch, instead of being able to reach for processed foods.
Another possible con of the primal diet is its promotion of saturated fat consumption. It has been shown that high saturated fat intake can lead to higher total cholesterol levels, and increase LDL cholesterol specifically. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guideline for saturated fat consumption is set at 10 percent or less of total calories. The American Heart Association recommends even less; it says only 5–6 percent of daily calories should come from saturated fat.
Who benefits from the primal diet
Almost everyone can benefit from following a primal diet, since it relies on eating natural, high-quality foods. There are some individuals, however, who could benefit most. These include:
- People with diabetes: The vegetable-heavy, no-sugar-added diet is a great option for those who need to reduce simple carbs and refined sugars.
- Those with food allergies like Celiac disease or an allergy to peanuts: If you have any type of food allergy, it’s often easier to reduce or eliminate processed foods, which have a higher risk of cross contamination.
- Those seeking to eat healthier: People who want to eat better and introduce more healthy foods — especially fruits and vegetables — into their diet could benefit from a primal diet.
Ready to test out some recipes? There are tons of sites online that offer recipes and meal plans for those who want to dive headfirst into the primal diet, but a few great recipes to start with include:
The primal diet is considered by some to be a lifestyle more than a diet; it’s meant to be sustainable in the long term, as opposed to many of the “fad” crash diets designed to help people lose weight. If you stick to the primal diet, you’ll likely eat better, which can directly translate to weight loss in a safe and more natural way. The healthy ingredients will improve your overall health along the way.