The Truth About The Primal Diet

Some people scoff at our primitive ancestors, writing them off as not being particularly intelligent or civilized. It now seems that we might not have been giving them enough credit. Apparently, they were healthier, fitter, and stronger than the majority of us modern-day couch-sitters — and there are even diet movements based on this understanding.

The Primal Diet is based on the 2009 book The Primal Blueprint, by former elite endurance athlete Mark Sisson. It is based on the idea that the Western lifestyle and diet, which typically includes a lot of refined and processed foods, has diverged far from the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived and ate, with dire health consequences. The answer for Sisson, like others in the ancestral health movement, is a return to what seems to have worked in the past.

Kristin Canty, founder of the primal foods restaurant Wood Hill Table in Concord, Massachusetts, says "The whole idea is to eat the way our ancestors ate, as if you're gathering it yourself" (via Well+Good). That means lots of unprocessed proteins, like grass-fed beef, bison, venison, wild-caught fish and shellfish, chicken, and turkey. Also permitted are all types of whole fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds, healthy fats, raw or fermented full-fat dairy, some legumes, and natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. Basically, if it was available pre-Industrial and Agricultural Revolution, it's ok.

The Primal Diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods

That also means more recently produced foods are not allowed. That includes anything containing refined sugars (sodas, pastries, ice cream, etc.), more recently produced grains like wheat and corn, refined vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, and anything processed (via Healthline).

If this sounds a lot like the Paleo diet, that's because there is a lot of overlap between the two. Both emphasize a return to ancestral eating, as well as whole, unprocessed foods. There are a few significant differences though. Paleo is a more restrictive diet, banning nightshade vegetables and dairy — both of which Primal allows.

Also, Sisson's vision is not limited to just diet, but recommends healthy lifestyle habits as well. These include regular exercise, play, sleep, and stress reduction.

Critics point out that the diet's emphasis on organic and grass-fed meats is expensive and hard to follow in social situations. Overall, though, the Primal diet has gotten a thumbs-up from many devoted followers, as well as some nutritionists. Keri Glassman, RD, founder of Nutritious Life, says "I'm a fan of any diet involving whole foods, quality protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, and [nutrient-dense] vegetables and fruit."