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. I like the diet, but my only question is – what justifies that Grok had access to butter and eggs, but very little access to fruit? I would think that fruit would be much more widely available to a caveman than butter, which is processed and I doubt cavemen made on their own…

    But who knows, I didn’t live back then. Maybe Grok had a butter churn.

    Kristina wrote on October 26th, 2011
  2. 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
  3. I have cOme to find your blog after losing 40 pounds on the Slow Carb Method from Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Body and now wanting to delve deeper into nutrition. I appreciate all the links and shared resources immensely!

    Kristin wrote on March 7th, 2012
  4. I am leery about saturated fats, but am testing your theory nonetheless. I don’t agree with artificial sweeteners or diet sodas/drinks. They weren’t here in Grok times. Since Grok didn’t have them, I certainly don’t need them and will avoid putting those chemicals into my body.

    Personally, after reading your comparison of the two, I prefer yours, but I will still be reading the Paleo books to get a well-round, unbiased look at both lifestyles to base my decisions.

    Presently, I’m only following Primal.

    Jenn wrote on March 15th, 2012
  5. Someone should show this website to PETA.

    Regev wrote on March 30th, 2012
  6. Dr. Joel Wallach espouses the same diet as the primal that Mark is promoting. Saturated fat and cholesterol are your freind, not enemy. Things like gluten, sugar, and vegetable oil are. I have been eating like this for awhile, I feel like I did at 25 at age 42. Awesome info.

    Mr. Juba wrote on April 11th, 2012
  7. Mark, I think the links are a wonderful thing on your post. As a new member of the PB family they have been a great thing for me to be able to read more in the topics I am interested in now while I continue to learn as I move forward.

    Shirley wrote on April 18th, 2012
  8. Thank you, this is very helpful. And, yes, I love the links. I use your links often to read more of your great website!

    Rachel C wrote on May 30th, 2012
  9. Thank you for this article. I have read the 21 day Primal Blueprint book and am just beginning the original book you wrote. In between, I have read a couple of books and many blogs on Paleo and have found myself somewhat confused by all the different interpretations for that diet. Primal Blueprint was simple in comparison and that is what I plan to stick with!

    Janine wrote on August 17th, 2012
  10. I am in the process of transitioning over to Primal from SCD. I’m probably about 80% Primal and 20% SCD at this time. I also have two little ones and am a breastfeeding mom. One difference I am continuing to adhere to is allowing legumes in our diet – especially for my kiddos. We make homemade refried beans every week and have 1/4 cup with eggs for breakfast. I soak a variety of beans for 2 days, then boil, wash, and THEN cook them in the crockpot with onions, jalapenos, etc. And like the SCD, we are still having a “cheat” day on the weekend where my toddler looks forward to baking cookies, ice cream, etc. However – rather than it being an all out “cheat day” like in SCD – we are simply adding a few foods to the menu taht day that normally wouldn’t be allowed.

    Kristin wrote on September 10th, 2012
  11. Hi Mark,

    I’ve been low-carbing on-and-off for the last couple of years. Lost a stone without too much trouble but it’s found me again a couple of times so I’m always searching for new stuff. Primal looks good to me and I’m trying to head that way, despite resistance from my family.

    I can’t imagine using most of your replies to anyone I know, but think you and your family are fab anyway: and your site of course :)

    Was reading but stumbled quite early on.. well, in the first sentence really.. I couldn’t help wondering if you’d seen it..
    Anyway, just wanted to mention it.

    Best wishes

    Johanna wrote on September 30th, 2012
  12. Just found out about this and only into day 5 of education releases but I was initally dismissing ot as Paleo and too harsh But the fact that is allowing butter whilst its not Paleo it has been around 9000 and 8000 BC by the Mesopotamian Nomads, some carbs in form of vegetables has made me revise this. So I starting today. I’m already pretty primal without trying to hard. But can I forgo Cornflake toppers on my Fruit and yoghurt in the morning???

    Nicoll wrote on October 21st, 2012
  13. I come from raw vegan (for a minute) but it didn’t feel right 100% of the time. Eggs and smaller fish soon followed. “Cleaner” meats entered the picture shortly after. Wild foods came into view… I like the approach here which sort of encompasses all that with great recipes, studies to look to for what they’re worth, fitness, and realistic behaviour. I’m a fan.

    Keith wrote on October 22nd, 2012
  14. Without really looking into paleo or PB, I was just following the wheat-belly approach of Dr Davis and after a few weeks, I realized that I was actually quite PB without being aware. It’s a great thing and I will not go back to my unhealthy diet, no no no :)

    James wrote on October 30th, 2012
  15. Baby steps and I am only just starting out on primal. I have an egg allergy unfortunately – wish me luck.

    STeve wrote on October 31st, 2012
  16. Hi, I just finished listening to Dr. Cordains interview with the Diet Doctor on YouTube and I think that some of your info about his diet, esp. oil needs to be updated or revised. Looking at his web site, he now states that coconut oil is “good”.

    Thanks. KS

    KS wrote on November 1st, 2012
  17. This is great. There are many that follow the Paleo lifestyle that see benefit of saturated fats! In fact I just finished reading an article on a Paleo site about a nutrient called Vitamin K2, it is mostly found in unpasturized dairy, animal fats, and organ meat. Raw (non-pastrized) butter also contains many other things that are beneficial. This same article also talked about the misconception surrounding cholesterol… I think that the Paleo world is ever evolving. The importance is that we all maintaining lifestyles that keeps our bodies in a more “Normal” state of being. Raw foods that are easy for our bodies to digest are important. The name of the way we choose to eat is not important. Remember, people were doing it before any of us were ever here to give it a name!

    Brandon wrote on December 3rd, 2012
  18. It is very strange reading this. Perhaps things have changed over time. You single out one particular version of the paleo diet. But it doesn’t seem to describe the paleo diet as it exists today.

    Clarified butter and coconut oil are in. Animal fats are in. Organ meats are in. Canola oil is also out. Artificial sweeteners are also out.

    From a food standpoint, it sounds a whole lot harder to pick out differences today. Have you created (or considered creating) an update to this article to explain the differences in today’s Paleo diet with the Primal Blueprint?

    The impression I’m getting is that the Primal Blueprint is now a paleo diet plus other lifestyle changes.

    Josh McCormick wrote on December 10th, 2012
  19. I have to agree with Josh.

    This summary sounds more like a comparison between Cordain and Sisson than between Paleo and Primal.

    I came to this lifestyle a few years ago through paleo writers (not Cordain) and have never read of anyone recommending artificial sweeteners, or dairy. Saturated fats + omega 3s, and interval+strength exercise have been strongly recommended.

    Likewise there are primal authors with a different emphasis to Mark’s (e.g. Nora Gedgaudas).

    Perhaps one could even say that there is more difference between individual authors than between primal and paleo?

    Jen wrote on January 8th, 2013
  20. hello all

    Loren Cordain has actually revised his book and his opinion on Saturated fats and therefore has also changed his mind on coconut oil including some beneficial facts about coconut oil.

    i do however remember that his opinion of eggs has not changed too much. He does encourage the intake of eggs to be moderate. so perhaps he has yet to discover that role or link to cholesterol in eggs.

    Have read both the Paleo diet for Athletes and the paleo diet… both are revised editions.

    Perhaps you should re-read and update what you have up on your blog concerning the difference between paleo and Primal.

    Can’t wait to get my hands on the Primal Blueprint!

    Madelain Burgoyne wrote on January 14th, 2013
  21. I just love what you (Mark) and Dr. Cordain and Dr. William Davis have all done to change my life for the way, way better. Cordain is indeed evolving his ideas, as do you, and as do I the consumer of the info you are all developing. I’m SO grateful for the information and the online community you’ve created here.

    My own copy of The Primal Connection will be in my front door on Wednesday when I get home from work, and I’m stoked!

    Joy Beer wrote on January 14th, 2013
  22. I thought one of the differences between Paleo and Primal was that Paleo doesn’t allow dairy? And I thought Paleo had something against salt? I didn’t read every comment to see if theset questions were already answered. So if the answer it there already……I’m sorry.

    Brenda wrote on January 15th, 2013
  23. I agree with you abour sugar substitutes Mark. When you get further along the primal pathway, you simply don’t need too many sweet foods. Using artificial anything in a primal diet is counter productive.I haven’t found one that I liked the taste of.

    Maria wrote on February 8th, 2013

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