Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
12 Nov

What’s the Difference Between Primal and Paleo?

PaleoWe hear/read it all the time – the comparison of the Primal Blueprint and the so-called Paleo Diet, for which Loren Cordain is the most recognized voice. Sure, it’s a perfectly reasonable association to make, but we thought we’d take some time to address the other side of the coin today.

The Paleo Diet and Primal Blueprint, it’s true, are based on similar evolutionary science. The story goes something like this. Our modern Western diet bears little resemblance to the eating habits of early humans throughout 100,000+ years of evolutionary history. Instead, since the agricultural revolution some mere 10,000 years ago, we’ve adopted a nutritional regime that our physiology wasn’t and still isn’t adequately adapted to. When the basics of our diet return to the patterns of our pre-agricultural ancestors, we’re operating with, instead of against, our natural physiology. More simply: eat as our ancestors ate, and we’ll be healthier for it.

More specifically, the Paleo Diet and Primal Blueprint both suggest, limit carb intake (especially grains), eat more protein and include lots of veggies as a base. But in the midst of this common ground are some significant interpretational differences and approaches. Association, comparison – sure. But conflation? Not so fast.

A fundamental difference? The role of saturated fats. Cordain and many within the paleo community continue to harbor a fear of saturated fats as the bogey that raises cholesterol and instigates heart disease instead of a critical source of nutrients for neurological functioning and other essential physiological processes. Partaking of only lean meats, eschewing butter and coconut oil (two Primal Blueprint favorites based on health benefits supported by extensive research), restricting egg consumption – this is not your Granddaddy Grok’s diet.

As many critics of the Paleo Diet have pointed out, early humans left virtually nothing of the animal carcasses they were so fortunate to bag. And the fact is they favored not the lean muscle meat but the richer organ meats, bone marrow and even fat deposits themselves. Grok, after all, was just trying to get enough calories and nutrients to stay alive from one day to the next. The denser in energy, the more valued the food. (And, can we add here, more tasty?)

And then there’s the discrepancies surrounding other fats. Sure, there’s a general agreement about the importance of omega 3:6 balance, but the particulars diverge. In the Primal Blueprint, unlike Cordain’s version of the Paleo Diet, omega 3 sources like canola oil are suspect. The fact is, the deodorization process that canola oil is nearly always subjected to removes the omega 3 content. But when you’ve written off saturated fat sources (like good old coconut oil), you’re pretty much stuck wading in the murky waters of processed polyunsaturated products. What’s wrong with this picture?

Also at issue is the role of diet sodas (allowed by Cordain) and other artificial sweeteners. The opinion of many in the paleo community is that as long as it’s not sugar, it’s acceptable. Working around the problem like this seems to be nothing more than a manipulation. Although the Primal Blueprint doesn’t demonize the occasional use of artificial sweeteners, it makes the stipulation that its use should be limited to foods or beverages that will inherently add something positive to the diet. In other words, if you aren’t getting anything positive from the meal or drink, you shouldn’t be taking the risk of the artificial sweetener. A better angle? Expand your cooking repertoire. Train your taste buds in the right direction, and don’t let the artificial stuff get in the way of that progress.

Finally and most importantly, the Primal Blueprint works as a broad, holistic approach to living and not simply a list for eating. While the majority of the underlying assumptions and suggestions of the Paleo Diet are generally sound, the diet encompasses only a fraction of what it takes to live a healthy life in the modern world.

The Primal Blueprint recommends wise supplementation appropriate to counter the stressors and toxins unique to our life today. (Grok didn’t have it all bad.) In its fitness and stress management approach, the Blueprint further highlights and capitalizes on our natural physiological functioning. The Blueprint emphasizes the overlap of good diet with essential fitness and relaxation principles to maximize muscle mass and organ reserve and to defend against the inflammation, sarcopenia and other preventable factors behind the aging process.

And isn’t it a comfort to know that power over your health is seated in more than diet? The big picture of a healthy, fit and happy lifestyle involves more than isolating a specific issue. The Primal Blueprint was designed for the purpose of offering a guide for all elements of healthy living. Let’s face it, some days life makes it particularly difficult to have the perfect diet. We like to think of the Primal Blueprint design as a comprehensive cover, so to speak. The knowledge and efforts you exert in each area (diet, fitness, supplementation, stress management, sleep, etc.) can make a difference when the realities of day to day life keep you from doing a 100% in a given area.

So, now we’ll ask you about your experiences with the Primal Blueprint and how you came to it? Did you come to the PB from a Paleo perspective? What are your thoughts on the differences and the added dimensions of the Primal Blueprint?

P.S. What do you think of all the links throughout the article? Too many? Overkill? Distracting? Or do you appreciate the links to archived posts? Thanks for the feedback!

candrews Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

What is the Primal Blueprint?

Getting Back to Nature

10 Ways to “Get Primal”

What’s Wrong with the Zone Diet?

Weston A. Price Foundation – The Paleo Diet Book Review

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This was an interesting read but a little surprising to me. I’ve been reading about the paleo diet for at least a year now, trying to find recipes and food sources in the area to make the switch. None of the websites I’ve looked at have mentioned restricting egg consumption, nothing about fat that I remember, and lean meat was only mentioned in that wild game is more likely to be lean, though organ meat was also mentioned. Aside from the occasional butter and/or dairy use in the primal, I haven’t seen a difference. Perhaps I’ve managed to avoid the paleo websites that are more restrictive. Anyway, I’m looking forward to trying all the good recipes you’ve put up!

    Xendara wrote on September 27th, 2010
  2. I’ve been Paleo for about 9 to 10 months. It has worked great for me so far. Then I found your blog which is awesome. I have your book now and really enjoyed reading it. I really like your approach. I own a small personal training studio and plan on having another 1 of my crazy challenges and plan on using your system and having your book as part of the challenge.

    Great Job!!!!

    Sgt. Madness wrote on October 19th, 2010
  3. I had great success on the Atkins diet years ago, but gave it up during a fourth of July picnic, and sadly did not immediately return. I had tons of energy back then. Going back on it some time later I found the energy I sought to recapture didn’t show up. I dropped off again, confused as to what went wrong. I decided I didn’t do it the same way as back then. I incorporated too many carbs from grains and it must be interfering with my progress. I saw the primal blueprint and the truth hit me. I didn’t go far enough. Thanks for being there!

    Dune wrote on December 29th, 2010
  4. As I recently found your site, I asked myself the same thing. I didn’t read Cordain’s book. I read Wolf’s in which he seems to address sleep and other ways to enrich your life. Anyway, so far, maybe not the exact same but both are beneficial. I decided to take the best for what you both offer. Obviously some basics: No grains, processed food (or way less), refined sugar but the oils and the milk…not so hardcore on. However, thanks for putting your information out here for us to be enlightened.

    Keith M wrote on January 21st, 2011
  5. I like the links. They help explain concepts I want to know more about.

    fairlind wrote on March 24th, 2011
  6. Hi Mark / MDA Team,
    I like the embedded links. Since this article was published NOV 12th (2010???), do links get added to ‘trigger’ words if a subsequent article is published about the ‘trigger’ word?

    Also, a possible article idea: With saturated fat clearly not a root of nutrition evil – is deep frying in animal lard OK, perhaps even having nutrtional benefit or at least not a detriment.

    Keep you the great work.
    Grok on!

    Paul Witsaman wrote on April 2nd, 2011
  7. Hi! i am new to all of this. i belong to a weightloss group called it is basically like a facebook for ‘dieters’. it is a motivational tool to lose weight and to keeo track of progress. you can enter your diet and i was on atkins. i recently watched a documentary called fat head and really got into tom naughtons blog. i think he was on paleo? not sure, but one of the girls i had been sharing ideas with on fat secret was on the primal blue print, so i googled what the differences were and found your site!! i was just a little confused bc tom naughton (if im right about him being on primal) talks about how wonderful fat is and i agree! so maybe he is unaware of the differences and there is a misconception about the differences? idk? but i guess primal might be what im looking for.

    Leanna wrote on May 27th, 2011
  8. I have never heard of any of this. I, too, have always thought that paleolithic diet/lifestyle is the same as Primal. I still do. The acceptance of artificial sweeteners and the exclusion of saturated fat is not the paleo that I know.

    Joel Wilcox wrote on July 9th, 2011
  9. I’ve never tried the Paleo Diet, but from everything I’ve read in your post, I sure never will because I love coconut oil and hate diet soda, or any soda at all.
    Since I’ve been reading your blog I have been trying more of the blue print approach, I do love to eat lots’ of fruits though. Grains and pastas of I’ve cut down to 1 day a week, and when I do eat grains it’s brown rice only. The rest of the 6 days a week, I’ve been eating primal.
    In my Fitness Guide it is said that glucose is the main source of fuel for the body, but after reading your post several weeks ago on Carbs and how they only have a limited amount that can be stored by the body, vs fat that has a much larger storage supply – that totally makes complete sense to me.
    I think more fitness trainers should incorporate Primal approach for their clients.
    The more I eat primal the more convinced I become that glucose is not the main source of energy.
    Thank you for another great post, I really enjoy reading your blog.

    Tatianna wrote on July 12th, 2011
  10. Primal, Paleo, either one, they’re both copy cats of the Atkins diet. I’m always amazed that people are so eager to shell out money for yet another diet book that claims to be the “one”. They’ll defend it by saying, but this diet/eating style is different, its very good for your health/body. Right..
    As the saying goes, there’s a sucker born every minute. From the comments I’ve read on here, those suckers have been lining up tenfold to buy your book. Kudos to you for getting rich off their backs.

    Jayson wrote on July 27th, 2011
  11. I must say, this article is both helpful and unfortunate. While you’ve pointed out that diet is inferior to lifestyle (helpful), you’ve painted the Paleo movement with quite a broad brush (unfortunate). Having been introduced to Paleo by Robb Wolf (who authored the Paleo Solution), I’ve approached Paleo as a way of living that has shares a ton of territory with the PB. I’d go so far as to say the PB and the Paleo lifestyle are basically the same. Paleo encompasses our entire genetic heritage, as it seems the PB does as well, so statements about PB being “superior” seem quite silly.

    For instance, I do not understand where this fear-of-saturated-fat notion comes from. Paleoites eat tons of healthy saturated fats, including coconut oil. We also don’t consume diet sodas or artificial sweeteners (at least I don’t, and neither do the Paleoites I know). We focus on eating real food, healthy exercise, getting adequate sleep and rest, work, play, developing meaningful relationships. Generalizing Paleo as something different or inferior to PB shows a certain amount of ignorance of the movement.

    Caleb wrote on August 1st, 2011
  12. I just looked up the difference between primal and paleo…. with the description about artificial sweeteners in paleo-land, I said no thanks! So I just purchased ‘The Primal Blueprint’ Nook-book for my Android device. The only problem with the Nook-book is that people cannot see what you are reading and ask questions. People need to know their S.A.D. is making them sick and will ultimately kill them.

    Joni wrote on August 2nd, 2011
  13. As for artificial sweetners…how do you feel about stevia?

    Be Ninja wrote on August 15th, 2011
  14. I recently saw a friend I hadn’t seen in months. She looked terrific, and mentioned your name & your book. I began looking at Primal & Paleo; they seemed like they could be the same thing, but nobody could answer. I didn’t want to have to read ALL the books; I just wanted the best one. I finally found your answer here – Thank You! I will pick up your book and get started. Though this is not an exhaustive explanation, there is enough here to convince me.

    Mary wrote on September 2nd, 2011
  15. What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It absolutely useful and it has helped me out loads. I hope to contribute & assist other users like its helped me. Great job.

    δονητές wrote on September 12th, 2011
  16. Good Day!
    I am interested in learning more about your site and the primal/paleo diets….People have always said I am one of the more healthy people they know….I disagree. Since marrying my husband i feel like I cheat all the time and eat naughty sweets and carbs (chips crackers etc..) My husband makes it tough to keep healthy in my food choices. I have thinking of how should i adjust my diet to be most healthful to my body so that I do not gain weight and feel puffy or pudgy. I know i can do it if I put my mind to it. I think some of this is related to my emotional sate of mind etc….which I know needs some mending and heathful work. I used to never need sweets and juckfood but now look out i have to try hard not to eat it if it’s in the house. We have a 7 year old daughter….and naturally we buy snacks for her to put in her lunch box. I have convinced my husband to at least by things such as the 100 calorie snack packs. I know all of the processed ingreedients are bad and harmful to her body. I am able to get her to drink lots of water adn eat fruits and veggies, but like most kids she loves her junck food and sweets. How do I go about letting her be a kid and indulge but without all the harmful processed junk….I would like to ingrain ibn her mind the importance of healthful snacking and the importance of how and why to keep healthy and the makeups of the foods she is eating. I think if I get her to understand the foods it may help more in the choices she makes. Please share any advice you might have I love to learn and pass it on to my daughter. Thank you for taking the time to read this post!!!! God Bless you all.

    Kristen Feldman wrote on September 19th, 2011
  17. I like the links! If there is every a question about something, the link is there to provide more info. Thank you!

    Came to PB while on the hCG protocol and a forum ( While there, became aware of Taube’s book, “Why We Get Fat,” and then PB. I have both and it makes sense to me. I am maintaining weight loss since end of July through PB concepts, including no grains!

    Joni wrote on September 19th, 2011
  18. I think the paragraph on diet soda is very disingenuous. Cordon DOES NOT endorse the unlimited drinking of diet soda. Instead, he takes a very pragmatic approach to it. Most people have a hard time changing their habits overnight, and to get people to try the diet, you have to ease them into it. Diet soda in moderation should not affect weight loss, particularly in the beginning phases. Eventually it should be given up, but by acknowledging the fact that diet soda can be used as a way as easing the transition into a paleo lifestyle is hardly an “endorsement”.

    Dan wrote on September 29th, 2011
  19. I now this is an old post but would like to leave my humble views nonetheless. I have never been overweight but started to put on some very little weight around my waistline in my mid 40s, which my daughter very quickly pointed out to me. What made me rethink my diet as a former swimmer (low-fat, high carbs and unfortunately an awful sweet tooth) was that I stated getting pains and aches all over my joints and bones. I was diagnosed with arthritis but was given no advice whatsoever on how to slow it down.
    More or less at the same time, my son’s long-term misdiagnosed eczema on his face was getting worse, despite 10 years of using various hydrocortisone creams. I came across the Paleo diet and Dr Cordain and was terribly impressed with the solid science behind it. Never a true fan of grains, I realised that this was something I could easily follow, and in addition to that, the diet was backed by a man with all the necessary knowledge and qualifications in the area. I agree that his take on soda was a bit weird but saw it in the overall context as mentioned by Dr Dan above. It’s now been 2 years and I have never looked back. I still struglle with my sweet tooth, an addiction far worse that I had ever imagined but I have made some serious progress too: my acne, which I battled with all these years, has completely gone; my figure is better than it has ever been every since I had my 2 kids, now aged 9 and 12 (I am 48 years old).
    My pains and aches have greatly reduced and I can now do some paleo/primal exercises that will not ruin my back after 5 minutes, as it used to happen (I broke my back 13 years ago as a result of a cycling accident). I am more than capable to keep my weight stable without having to make any greater sacrifices, which is what live should be all about. Dr Cordain’s revised edition of the Paleo diet is quite enlightening too, and he very humble to admit that his take on Canola oil and coconut oil has now changed: only someone who is confident within himself can do that without sounding either dogmatic or contrived. As with most things in life, new discoveries are made every day and one needs to be flexible enough to review/revise one’s take on something as complex as evolutionary nutrition.
    Having stumbled across PB over the past 6 months, I bought all the books and decided to check the whole PB approach out. Whilst I agree that it its approach is more flexible, allowing for types of food that most westerners seem to enjoy, I am still not entirely convinced of its take on the amount of butter and fatty foods it advocates, However, I found a very happy by using PB’s principles and recipes on my Paleo “open days meals”, which seems to work just fine. As for the differences between Paleo and PB cited above, I would add another very important, although one likely to raise even more heated discussions: unlike Mark, Dr Cordain is missing on the highly skilled PR techniques of Sisson’s approach, understandable when you consider that Dr Cordain’s is not trying to sell supplements and does not earn a living from this – he is first and foremost an academic who seems to be far more interested in examining the science behind it than running terribly expensive workshops whist publicising his wares – nothing wrong with this per se, but it is something that needs to be taken into account too. I like to holistic approach of PB and have tried to incorporate its teachings to my daily life – it’s basically common sense but spelled out very concisely and clearly, allowing most people to relate to it.
    In short, my solid basis will always be Paleo and Dr Cordain’s papers with PB being the icing on the cake, tasty but to be taken with a dose of caution when it comes to the high consumption of saturated animal fats. My children and I have been living like this for the past 6 months with wonderful results: my 12 year-old boy is a lean, fast, quick-thinking footballer, and my 9 year-old girl is an equally lean, flexible, and energetic gymnast. They are both very intelligent and outstanding students too (so the brain is definitely getting all the nutrition it needs). There were never into junk food in the first place, so the complaints about changing their eating habits 2 years ago did not last very long. I cannot remember the last time they were in hospital or even had a cold, so for all this, a big thank you to Dr Loren Cordain and, to some extent, Mark Sisson.

    Olivia wrote on October 2nd, 2011
  20. Sorry, typed too fast and there are some silly spelling mistakes. But I hope the message will come across.

    Olivia wrote on October 2nd, 2011
  21. My only issue at this point is learning that eggs and dairy are not recommended for multiple sclerosis patients. Eggs are inflammatory apparently. Now I suspect that is the reason my M.S. flared–feet are numb and walking is possible, but I can tell the legs are not working well. If you met me three weeks ago, you would never guess I had M.S. After losing 30#, I came to learn & read PB, and began eating three eggs for breakfast starting end of July. By 9/18, the, numbness (pins/needles) started in left foot. One week later, it’s in both feet. Another week, it’s extended to my calves.

    I wish I had known eggs were inflammatory. Dairy is not recommended either… I knew that, but became cocky & began eating Greek yogurt during this time, though I used to use dairy very little (only cheese occasionally).

    So eggs & dairy are scrapped from my PB eating style. Does this make me paleo now? I DO use coconut oil, but do NOT use artificial sweeteners EVER.

    LinD wrote on October 2nd, 2011
  22. I have read so many Paleo books it is hard for me to target which book this came from, but I know for a fact that saturated fats are not looked at as a total evil with Paleo. I believe Robb Wolf spends quite a lot of time talking about how saturated fats were actually given a bad wrap and that certain ones are actually very beneficial, like stearic acid. The Paleo Solution also discusses how important staying active is, discusses how we can replicate the activity level of our paleolithic ancestors, and other lifestyle aspects like sleep and stress that all roll together into one big happy Paleo ball.

    Loren Cordain is certainly one of the faces of The Paleo Diet, but Robb Wolf is up there too, and probably more of the “spokesperson” right now… I think reading Robb Wolf’s literature is important to understanding the ‘modern’ view of Paleo. Also, from my experience, CrossFit recommends reading The Paleo Solution over any other Paleo book.

    From what I can tell, there isn’t a huge difference between the two diets/lifestyle choices… I had a website visitor tell me once that the difference had to do with the elimination of dairy (or lack of it), and the types of animal proteins that were eaten (emphasis on eating lean meats vs just killing the thing and eating all parts). This post doesn’t discuss that information much, so I am curious if that is true.

    Thanks for your response!

    Victoria wrote on October 2nd, 2011
    • I don’t know if this is due to companies jumping on the Paleo bandwagon to make a buck, but I see tons of self-proclaimed Paleo products full of dried fruits and honey. If these foods are indeed in conformity with the prevailing Paleo philosophy, I would infer that a huge difference between PB and Paleo is the emphasis on insulin control. A lot of the foods I see bandied about as Paleo are natural, but definitely not low glycemic. Anyone have more insight on this?

      Podsixia wrote on November 2nd, 2011

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