What is “Primal/Paleo?”

This post also up at Steve’s Original.

It seems buzzwords like “vegan!” and “plant-based!” are splashed across media outlets constantly, but I don’t buy it. Yes, vegetables are healthy. But eating with an eye toward evolutionary biology and the physiological needs of the body (vitamin B12, please!) just seems to make more sense to me.

So what does it mean to be “Paleo” or “Primal?”

First off, you may hear the following names: “Paleo.” “Grok.” “Hunter-Gatherer.” “Paleo 2.0.” “Primal.” “Weston A. Price.” Click on the links for more perspectives.

You don’t need to know any of this stuff to reap the benefits of eating pastured meats, lots of vegetables and spices, and fats from pastured animals, avocados, olives, and coconuts. But if you want more info…

They all 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”), but with an eye toward what we can learn from more recent healthy, traditional cultures. 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. Research by Dr. Weston A. Price indicates that cultures untouched by modern, processed, industrialized foods enjoyed similar health and longevity, as well as virility and resiliency. These cultures enjoyed perfect health in a semi-modern – albeit isolated – context, because they had no exposure to what Dr. Kurt Harris calls “The Neolithic Agents of Disease.”

Some of these diets included dairy and other products that, admittedly, were not available to a “Cave Man.” Some of these diets were extremely high in carbohydrate (low-carb is not a panacea).

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

In general, we evolved and maintained health when eating real, whole foods – grass-fed meats (no support for factory farming here), veggies, delicious healthy fats from the animals we hunted (and later domesticated), and some fruits. 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. Different cultures ate fat, protein, and carb in varying proportions, so there’s no right or wrong way to go. You figure it out by eliminating modern, processed foods, then listening to your body. There is no nutritional substitute in a box, a bag, or a capsule. Eating the way we are adapted to eat keeps us healthy, strong, and capable – not unhealthy, tired, and confused.

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.)

Dr. Eades, co-author of Protein Power and Protein Power: Lifeplan gives an excellent summary of another paper on the health disparity between early agriculturalists (early grain eaters) and early hunter-gatherers here.

The former USDA “Food Pyramid,” Now cutely re-packaged as “My Plate,” does NOT meet its own standard of nutrition. Why? Because what you put in your mouth isn’t necessarily what your body can work with. 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?

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

To boil it down: Eat a diet of varied meats, veggies, fats, berries and spices. Tweak macronutrient content to your level of comfort and activity. 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.” Can’t agree with you there. Read this book.

“Fat is bad for me.” I’ve written on fat quite a bit – herehere and here.


9 Responses to “What is “Primal/Paleo?””

  1. Good stuff CaveGirl, and I just can’t wait for the opportunity to say “even noper”! 🙂

  2. “…is the one recommended by most doctors and government entities. Is it any wonder there’s a doctor’s office on every corner?…”

    Never thought of it that way! Good one!

    I will now direct people to this specific page as it is a good starting point as to explain what Paleo/Primal is. Thanks.

  3. Great summary Liz! I still remember the first day I laid eyes on a friend’s copy of Nourishing Traditions. It was the subtitle that caught by attention- “The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.” I tracked it down and procured a copy immediately. (Incidentally it’s also my favorite wedding gift for new couples.) I learned a ton from that book and it really changed my life, in addition to the Wise Traditions journal. I cooked that way for awhile, but it was time consuming and I was still addicted to refined carbohydrates. I got pudgy eating lots of fat and chasing it down with a Reese’s bar or Kit Kat. I started to drift away from WAPF principles, started eating more pasta and whatever could be cooked quickly and surprise, the weight did not go away and the hypoglycemia symptoms got worse. Then I stumbled across Robb’s book and I found my missing piece. Once I got rid of all grains and legumes (even soaked!) and my grass fed raw dairy, things started moving in the right direction for me. I find Paleo pretty easy to cook, so it fits into my life a lot better. That said, after two months of every iteration of ground beef I could think of, Its time to branch out. I made Mark Sisson’s beef, pork and liver terrine last night for lunch to day. Will have homemade kraut from Nourishing Traditions with it. Your recipe for Beef Tongue is in the slow cooker right now. Different flavors of nutritional philosophy, but it’s all real food, so it all good.


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