What is "Paleo/Primal?"

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What does it mean to be “Paleo” or “Primal?”

Here’s my simple “Good Nutrition in 100 Words” (I created this for both this blog and Steve’s PaleoGoods):


Alternatively, I like to call my OWN interpretation of this way of life “Ancestral.” This is founded on an awareness of not only our evolutionary history, but more recent cultures who achieved health and extraordinary fitness using a variety of “macronutrient ratios,” with the commonality of those “macros” being from whole, local, unprocessed (or “traditionally processed”) foods.

You may also hear this lifestyle referred to by the following names: “Paleo.” “Grok.” “Hunter-Gatherer.” “Primal.” “Weston A. Price” or “Price-Pottenger.” “Ancestral.” Click on the links for more perspectives.

You don’t need to know any of this stuff to reap the benefits of eating pastured, appropriately-raised meats, lots of vegetables (greens, roots, tubers, starchy, non-starchy) and spices, and fats from appropriately-raised, pastured animals, as well as plants like avocados, olives, and coconuts. Common sense, right?

But if you want more info…

All these ideas generally mean the same thing: Living – above all, eating – in-line with what’s most beneficial for our physiology; and with an awareness of not just the way we evolved (“Paleo” and “Primal”), but with an eye toward what we can learn from more recent healthy, traditional cultures (“Weston A. Price”).

We can certainly learn from a woman in a remote corner of the Amazon who has lived for over 120 years on a diet that is quite close to ideal, at least by my estimation, because it’s based on local, unprocessed foods – and probably includes plenty of hard work and sunshine.

Research by Dr. Weston A. Price indicates that cultures untouched by modern, processed, industrialized foods – even those our modern government claims are “healthy,” like low-fat dairy (processed), vegetable oils (processed…and NOT made from vegetables) and “whole grains” (processed) – enjoyed incredible health and longevity, as well as virility, fertility and resiliency. These cultures achieved health in a semi-modern – albeit isolated – context, because they had minimal exposure to what Dr. Kurt Harris calls “the neolithic agents of disease.”

I, along with my Balanced Bites Workshop and Balanced Bites Podcast partner Diane, the New York Times best-selling author of Practical Paleo, talk about these things in our Balanced Bites Workshops.

Some of the “traditional” diets that kept these cultures healthy included dairy and other products that, admittedly, were not available to a “Cave Man.” Read here for my thoughts on the “is it Paleo?” question – and why it’s a waste of precious time to get caught up in that debate.

(So if this is all true, why do I call this blog “Cave Girl Eats?” … Because it’s cute. Duh.)

Some of these traditional, healthy diets were extremely high in carbohydrate. Some were very low in carbohydrate. All were dense in nutrients and minerals and free of processed foods.

In general, we evolved and maintained health when eating real, whole foods – grass-fed meats (no support for factory farming here), seasonal veggies, including roots and tubers, delicious healthy fats from the animals we hunted (and later domesticated), and some seasonal fruits. Depending on where our ancestors lived, they may have eaten more fruit, less meat, more seafood or more large game. The common thread: nothing was wasted. Not even the “odd bits.

Yup, we evolved eating organ meats too (I’m working on that one). Many traditional cultures thrived on raw, unpasteurized, grass-fed dairy products – a rich source of the vital Vitamin K2 (seriously – get your K2.)

Different cultures ate fat, protein, and carb in varying proportions, so there’s no right or wrong way to go. You figure out FOR YOURSELF what works for YOU by ditching modern, processed foods, then, upon the physiological balance that inevitably comes from eating REAL FOOD, listening to your body and evaluating your goals. (Fertility? Leanness? There are different priorities for maximizing each, though all approaches rely on REAL FOOD.)

There is no nutritional substitute in a box, a bag, or a capsule (well, except for this capsule). Eating the way we are adapted to eat keeps us healthy, strong, and capable – not unhealthy, tired, and confused.

Still worried about the myths surrounding fat, carbs, cholesterol and animal protein? Buy my book, releasing Fall 2013.

Our bodies are built to work most effectively when they receive the fuel they recognize. There is evidence that fueling appropriately can determine and mitigate the expression of genetic conditions as well. Read this if you’re interested in the evidence, this if you’re up for paying for more evidence, and this if you’re interested in what the right exercise adds to the mix. (Thank goodness for blogging biochemists.) Incidentally, I’m utterly grateful for the benefit of having not just the historical perspective, but our modern knowledge of nutrients – and what we need to survive. Luckily, both roads lead to REAL FOOD!

The former USDA “Food Pyramid,” (now cutely re-packaged as “My Plate”), does NOT meet its own standard of nutrition. Why? Not only because it recommends processed foods like low-fat dairy (which is vastly different from raw, grass-fed, full-fat dairy) but because what you put in your mouth isn’t necessarily what your body can work with. This is a problem inherent to grains!

The flawed USDA diet, which shadows much of the “plant-based” propaganda we see often, is the one recommended by most doctors and government entities. Is it any wonder there’s a doctor’s office on every corner?

It seems buzzwords like “vegan!” and “plant-based!” are splashed across media outlets constantly, but I don’t really buy it. Yes, vegetables are healthy (although grains are not). But eating with an eye toward evolutionary biology and the physiological needs of the body (vitamin B12, please! Pre-formed vitamin A! Choline! Cell-building Cholesterol!) just seems to make more sense to me. (Again – it’s all in my book. I can’t give it all away for free.)

Just one more reason to always think for yourself, distill information for its real-life application, evaluate “pop diets” (and their foundations and motivations) and studies (including their sponsoring entities), identify biases, and test theories on yourself – rather than accepting the conclusions drawn by The News – or worse, a Blogger. Har.

To boil it down: I eat a diet of varied meats (including organ meats), veggies (including roots and tubers), fats (including animal fats), berries, spices, and “traditional foods” like Cod Liver Oil, fermented foods and bone broths. I tweak macronutrient content to my level of comfort and activity. I don’t care about calories, and I don’t care what society’s standard of “perfection” (ie: skin, bones, and only enough muscle to curl a tomato can). I’m happy. I’m capable. I’m athletic. I sleep well. I digest well. My skin is finally clear. That’s what matters.

Easy. Yum. Health-promoting.

Common concerns:

“This diet doesn’t furnish enough calcium.” Actually, what’s most important is calcium retention and proper assimilation and distribution. See here.

“My doctor told me to eat whole grains.” Nope. Even Noper.

“My nutritionist recommends the Food Pyramid.” Like I said – no thanks.

“I don’t need animal protein/What about the China Study?” Blech. Read this book or this blog.

“Fat is bad for me.” I’ve written on fat quite a bit, but for a real understanding, read this book by internationally-renowned lipid chemist Mary Enig. Or this book on traditional foods.


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