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Primal Nutrition

Realize that a significant amount of Conventional Wisdom about healthy eating is marketing fodder that grossly distorts the fundamental truth that humans thrive on natural plant and animal foods or that relies on gimmicks to support dogma of questionable validity.

The Primal Blueprint, pg. 23

Let’s face it. We are gullable little creatures. Slaves to the grind. When the evening news comes out with a story that eating too much animal fat is bad for you, or eggs are bad for you because they’re high in cholesterol, or whole grains are good for your heart, we believe it. I myself was a victim of the herd mentality, until I discovered the Paleo diet. Now I’m no longer one of those scared little chickens, but an eagle, a creature of the wild that hunts and gathers what it needs, not what society gives it.  Lobbyist, big Agra, Big Pharma, the AMA, FDA, or any other government agency no longer  influence my nutrition decisions. They all have one thing in their core interest, money. I could get into how grain farmers hire lobbyist to influence lawmakers to give them more subsidies and then convince the public that grains are healthy so they eat more of them, when perhaps Big Pharma knows that a diet high in processed grains leads to health problems, in turn boosting sales of medication to treat said health problems, but that get’s pretty political and “he said- she said” so I will attempt to avoid that banter and stick the facts.

All the facts you need to know are on the Intro page. How is it, with a supposedly superior grain based diet, that all the mentioned diseases have sky-rocketed out of control? I think a large part of that answer lies in the word “control” itself.  We’ve learned to control crop yields, how to stave off natural pests and crop diseases, how to make foods taste better by altering their natural chemistry, learned how to extend shelf life to years instead of days or weeks, learned how to make animals produce more meat in less time in poorer living conditions, and the list goes on. Humans are just control freaks.

The Primal (or Paleo, or Caveman) Diet is more than just about losing weight and feeling better. It’s about getting back to the basics of food. It’s about eating REAL food, not stuff from a box or a can. When was the last time you had a meal that was made of completely all natural, unaltered ingredients? As Primal as I am, I can’t even answer that question because I don’t know for sure where every gram of my food comes from. Unless you grow it or kill it yourself, neither will you. However, the closer you get to this ultimate food awareness, the better you will be.

Getting Started

Check out the very first article I ever wrote about the Paleo Diet in January 2009. It gives you a brief history about how I came across it and why it makes so much sense. Having been highly motivated and fired up by my all my new findings, I wrote this follow up article a few days later with even more background to the diet’s validity. Both of these pages have lots of links and it’s easy to get lost or discouraged from reading everything, so I’ve condensed the guidelines below.

Primal Nutrition Guidelines
I used to call this way of eating “low carb”, but I have since dumped that label in favor of a more accurate description. Low Insulin response from any food you eat is key. Good, natural carbs (from fruits and vegetables) are actually an essential part of the Caveman lifestyle. Most Americans today consume between 300-500 grams of carbohydrates, most of which are processed. The AMA considers this normal and healthy. To steadily burn body fat and maintain a healthy weight, consuming in the 100-150 gram per day range (natural, unprocessed, and low glycemic) will get your there. The AMA would call this a low carb diet, as would most Americans, but truthfully, this is the benchmark for normal carbohydrate intake. To initiate an expedited weight loss, staying at or below 50 grams of quality carbs a day will get you going. Sisson and others (most notably Vilhjalmur Stefansson) have even found evidence that staying below 50 carbs a day (considered ketogenic) is not a bad thing as long as all vitamin/mineral needs are being met. This is the case for the Inuit tribes in North America whose sustenance mainly consist of marine wildlife (protein and fat).

The Food

ELIMINATE the following from your diet:
Processed Carbs:
sugar, anything with high fructose corn syrup, bread, tortillas, pasta, muffins, anything with wheat or flour. These foods will spike your insulin so hard that the energy won’t have a chance to be absorbed by your muscles and organs, instead, it gets converted and stored as fat. This is the primary (abridged) reason why excess carbs lead to weight gain.

Natural carbs:

  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Peanuts (technically a legume, not a nut!)
  • Corn (technically a grain, not a vegetable).
  • Most Dairy products (lactose is a sugar that can whack out your insulin response too) Cheeses and yogurts are byproducts of protein/fat coagulation and/or bacterial fermentation of the lactose, so even though these aren’t true Primal foods, they are low in carbs and high in fat/proteins. You can still enjoy these as long as they are real (not processed/imitation cheese, or yogurts that have added sweetening or other stuff, like “Fruit on the Bottom”)

Alcohol

for those that drink a lot of beer/alchohol, cut back, if not eliminate. Alcohol should only be enjoyed in moderation. Alcohol is a poison to your body. You wouldn’t put cyanide or antifreeze in your body, so when you think about it, why would you put damaging amounts of alcohol in it?

Caffeine

Mark Sisson refutes that a moderate amount (1-2 cups of organic coffee a day) of caffeine is ok, provided you aren’t using it as a crutch to boost your energy levels or get you going in the morning. On my ethical grounds, it is still an addictive and unnecessary chemical. I avoid it as much as possible, but will indulge from time to time, just not every day, like Starbucks would have you believe you need to.

Nicotine

Although this chemical isn’t really something you ingest, its destructive capabilities are well documented. I don’t have to go into detail. If you smoke, dip, or otherwise introduce this chemical into your body, quit it. Seriously. One pack of cigarettes is estimated to knock 3-4 hours off your life. This doesn’t even take into account the amount of time your life could be spent in suffering, due to chronic sickness, shortness of breath/energy, or consequential disease such as cancer or emphysema. It’s never too late to quit. Do it. Seriously.

EAT IN ABUNDANCE if you aren’t already eating:

  • lots of leafy greens, including romaine, spinach, arugula, kale, chard, mixed baby greens/spring mix (my favorite) and even iceberg lettuce
  • different colored fruits and veggies-variety is good- don’t be afraid to try funky veggies like beets, kale, butternut squash, and rudabaga
  • lean meats-high quality beef, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, wild-caught fish, wild game, etc. The more natural the better, i.e. grass fed/ free range/ wild caught. Some fatty meats are ok, they are just indicators that the animal is more processed than a natural one. I love bacon, chorizo, and fatty brisket, just try to limit these types of meats , unless you can find them organic and uncured (which you can at Whole Foods, but for a pretty penny)
  • Lots of eggs! Don’t buy into the cholesterol myth . Eating lots of eggs can actually lower your LDL (bad Cholesterol) levels. Also, don’t be afraid to try them raw. In healthy individuals, the threat of salmonella poisoning is nearly non existent. Just make sure the eggs you are eating are from healthy chickens, i.e. cage free, organic, etc.
  • plant/monosaturated fats- nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, toasted sesame seed oil, nut oils, and even real butter to name a few. Avoid the following oils: Canola, Cottonseed, Margarine, Safflower/sunflower, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fat, and vegetable shortening. For a full description of good vs. bad oils, reference the Primal Blueprint, pg. 132

Enjoy in Moderation:

  • Dark Chocolate. At a minimum, find chocolate that is at least 70% Cocoa. I prefer 85-90%. I can find Lindt bars at my grocers for less than $2.50. Cocoa beans are almost solid plant fat and contain lots of antioxidants
  • Alcohol-see above. No more than 1-2 glasses of beer or wine a day, preferably red wine for its resveratrol content

The “Non-Rules” of Eating

To me, one of the most beautiful things about the Primal Nutrition guidelines, is that other than what you shouldn’t eat, there are no guidelines.

1. You do not have to limit portions, because your body will do it for you once you get all the junk out of your system. Your body will be getting all the nutrients it needs, thus sending the proper hormonal messengers to your brain signaling satiety. Even if you willfully try to eat too much, as long as what you’re eating isn’t triggering a large insulin response, your body has other mechanisms in place to regulate itself. Still, practice eating until you are no longer hungry, not until you are “full”.

2. You do not have to eat 3 square or 6 small meals evenly spaced throughout the day as society or trendy diets dictate.

3. You don’t have to eat certain types of food for any given meal. It’s interesting how Americans have come to view cereals, eggs, bacon, pancakes, biscuits etc. as only “breakfast” foods. We also consider a sandwich to be a universal “lunch” food, and for “dinner” we usually have some type of meat with vegetable and bread sides.

4. Adding to #3, you don’t have to combine foods to balance a meal or for that matter worry about combining too many different foods.

Cavemen hardly ever had a secure supply of food for such eating habits, so his genes evolved to adapt to this. Maybe he would wake up and happen to kill a rabbit or be next to a grove of fruit and nut trees, so he would fill up on these foods while he had the chance. He might go the rest of the day without finding anymore food, until right before dark, when he discovered a bird’s nest with some tasty eggs. He might go another two days eating only wild berries he found along his journey before reaching a river that had bountiful fish! We obviously don’t live in times of food insecurity like they did, but, we have modern stresses that can simulate those conditions: a deadline at work forcing one to skip lunch, and early morning meeting that leaves no time for breakfast, an urgent home repair forces dad to skip dinner. You get the point. Just east the right things, and eat until you are no longer hungry (as opposed to eating until you are full-see the difference?) and you’ll be just fine. After a few weeks of being on the Primal diet, your body will be relying more on fat as an energy source rather than carbs. Unless you have completely depleted your blood and muscle glycogen stores ( intense physical exercise 2 hours or more), your hormones will not be signaling extreme hunger pangs, so the discomfort of hunger should not be as great as before when your body relied mostly upon carbohydrates for energy. Glucose can run out quickly. Fat, you have quite a large reserve of it, even those of us who are very lean. At about 6% body fat and 165lbs, that means I have about 10 lbs of body fat. 1 lb of fat is equal to 3500 calories worth of energy, so you can see that this would last me quite some time!

Caveman might not have gotten all his required nutrients in a single day, but let’s say over the course of 4 days he did. The body is good at averaging out in a situation like this. So, if you feel like eating fish for breakfast and eggs for dinner, or only feel like eating meat one day and only vegetables the next, or just feel like eating one huge meal at breakfast or lunch and being content for the rest of the day, go for it! There are no rules! Our ancestors went through a lot of hardship to develop these abilities, so I suggest you take full advantage of them.

Here is the kicker though. Those first two weeks of transition might be tough. You will probably feel weak, tired, maybe even light headed. Be patient and have faith that your body will soon adapt to the food it was meant to eat. If you are an athlete in the midst of training or racing, you must be willing to sacrifice your results in a race or two and some of your training intensity during that time, but trust me, subduing short term pleasure is well worth the results you’ll see long term.

One last thing to add involves how you prepare and eat your food, i.e. cooked versus raw. In almost all instances, food closest to its natural state will be healthier for you. Please check out my post on raw food here

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 1:54 pm

    Very nice website you have. I was fortunate enough to stumble onto marksdailyapple while searching paleo one evening. I read most of the information there and purchased his book “The Primal Blueprint”. So now I’m a big fan as well dedicated to living primal and sharing with as many people as I can.

    • March 9, 2011 9:42 pm

      Just started my Primal way of life and by day 3 after completely eliminating all processed foods, caffeine and alcohol I felt horrible, but as low as I was (I actually felt depressed) I didn’t have the sugar crashes when I didn’t eat a meal on time. It’s now Day 6 and I’m starting to feel like myself again and hopefully I’ll get the great benefits I’ve read so much about. I’m nowhere NEAR an elite athlete like you (or an athlete at all), but enjoy reading your blog, so will add it to my google reader. Do you know how long it takes a body to become an efficient fat burner? Right now I’m feeling like my body is still looking for the sugar! I’m reading Mark’s book and also ordered Primal Body Primal Mind but haven’t received it yet. It just makes total sense to eat REAL food.

      • aardvark102431 permalink
        March 21, 2011 3:42 pm

        Geri,
        thanks for liking the blog. most accounts will say it takes about 2-3 weeks for blood sugar to “normalize” this was this case for me and most people i know trying the diet. not sure about how long it takes to “become an efficient fat burner” but the longer you stick with it the more efficient you will become. Mark’s book is about the most useful resource i’ve come across to date. good luck!

  2. March 21, 2011 4:05 pm

    Thanks … feeling even better 2 weeks in and have noticed some of the fat starting to burn away!

  3. jonatan permalink
    May 9, 2011 5:10 pm

    I have always thought this was the best way to eat. I have fought my weight all my life. The most weight I ever lost easily was doing a ketogenic diet, and I was exercising frequently. I was in the best shape of my life. When I stopped eating like this my weight slowly came back. I want to get back to eating like this. I am wanting to join the national guard, but my weight is a real issue. I’m going to go back on this diet and attempt to lose half my body weight. I am 5’8′, 330 lbs. aiming for 165. I think I can do it will just take time. I know eating like this works, you just have to give it time. Last time i dropped 70 lbs in 3 months. going to take advantage of the summer months for workouts, and really push the calorie burn in the cold by christmas. My only question is you list rice, and potatoes as good but don’t they spike insulin as well(white rice and potatoes)?

    • Caveman Greg permalink*
      May 9, 2011 5:17 pm

      Jonatan, rice and potatoes are in the “natural carbs you should eliminate” section. They will spike your insulin like crazy. if you really like potatoes, stick to sweet potatoes. The insulin response isn’t as great and they have more vitamins and minerals.

  4. June 24, 2011 6:17 am

    Really interesting stuff. I like the idea that primal eating liberates you from a set schedule to just being able to eat when you are hungry. I’m as lean as I want to be but I think the process of thinking about food and planning meals is one I’d like to eliminate. I think I had better read this book!

    Michael

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