A primal diet is one that is based on the types of foods our primal ancestors would have eaten.
The premise behind a primal diet plan is that the physiology of humankind was developed to thrive on certain types of foods, and that although our diets have changed tremendously over the past several hundred years, our anatomy has not.
A primal diet therefore consists of whole, unprocessed foods that would have been available to primal humans. The primal diet was popularized by fitness author and triathlete Mark Sisson in his book The Primal Blueprint and on his website, Mark’s Daily Apple.
Why Go Primal?
According to Sisson, eating a primal diet in conjunction with other prescribed health habits — including regular, moderate activity and adequate sleep — allows your genes to express themselves in a manner that contributes to become healthier, leaner, and stronger.
Many common modern diseases, he states, are a direct result of eating processed and otherwise unhealthy foods that contribute to minor genetic variations.
Advocates of a primal diet report losing weight, gaining energy, building strength, and overcoming chronic health conditions, including skin problems, diabetes, cancer, and polycystic ovary syndrome. Many report mental benefits as well, including feeling more creative, focused, alert, and productive.
What Foods Are Allowed On a Primal Diet?
The foundation of a primal diet is protein, in the form of quality meat, fish, and poultry. According to Sisson, you should eat at least 0.5 grams of protein per pound of lean mass each day to maintain your weight and muscle mass.
If you are an active athlete, you could require 1 gram of protein per pound of lean muscle mass. To be truly primal, your meat should be grass fed and organic. Plants also figure prominently in the primal diet, in particular colorful vegetables and some select fruits, such as berries.
Sisson states that 100-150 grams of carbohydrates per day are sufficient to fuel the brain. Vegetables should be locally grown and organic if possible to limit your exposure to pesticides and preservatives.
Some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beets, cauliflower, eggplant, kale, chard, spinach, bell peppers, and yellow squash. Healthy fats, such as nuts, avocados, and olive oil, are also an important part of the diet. Sisson recommends macadamia nuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, and pecans. Avoid exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, grains, sugar, processed foods, trans fat, and mercury in seafood.
Primal Diet vs. Paleo Diet
Though the terms are often used interchangeably, a primal diet and a paleo diet are not the same thing. A paleo diet, as outlined in a series of books by Professor of Health and Exercise Science Loren Cordain, adheres to the commonly held belief that saturated fats are unhealthy, whereas saturated fats are embraced by the primal community.
Cordain’s diet also allows the consumption of diet soda, while a primal diet does not advocate the use of artificial sweeteners. Further, while Sisson states that most of the principles of a paleo diet are sound, it is primarily a list of foods, while a primal lifestyle is a broad, holistic approach to life that also incorporates guidelines for improved mental and emotional health.
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