Frequently Asked Questions
- What is primal eating?
- What is the difference between primal and paleo?
- Didn’t cavemen live short, brutish lives?
- Is it OK to eat dairy? How will I get enough calcium?
- How will I get enough fiber?
- What about whole grains?
- What should I eat for breakfast?
- Is it normal to feel sluggish when I start primal eating?
- How do I eat at a restaurant or while away from home?
- Why is fruit a moderation food?
- Do I need to take supplements?
- I’m an athlete. Should I make any adjustments to my eating?
- Is chocolate milk a good recovery drink?
What is Primal eating?
- “Primal” refers to the fact that our genetics are still the same as our primal hunter-gatherer ancestors in the way that we digest and use food for fuel. Our cells communicate to each other via the same hormonal pathways as they always have. In other words, our genes are expecting us to eat a certain way to thrive and enjoy excellent health. More often than not, we aren’t getting the nutrients we need from the food we consume (despite the package or box telling us the food is healthy!). What foods should we be consuming? In a nutshell, plant and animal based foods such as:
- lean meats, seafood, poultry, eggs
- fresh vegetables
- healthy fats
- fresh fruits
- nuts & seeds
Generally speaking, both programs advocate building our diets around lean meat, seasonal vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds. Similarly, the consumption of sugar, processed foods, grains, and legumes should be strictly avoided. The main difference comes with their positions on dairy. Paleo-goers will be abstaining from dairy products as domesticating animals for dairy did not come until after the advent of agriculture. Folks following a primal diet may choose to include dairy if lactose and casein are well tolerated.
The average lifespan of our hunter-gatherer ancestors was between 30-40 years old. While not an overly impressive number by today’s standards, it is important to realize this is an average. If they were lucky enough to survive past infancy, not be wiped out by an infection or eaten by a large animal, it was not uncommon for these people to thrive well into their 70’s and beyond while being free of many of the diseases that inflict our elderly population. That is pretty incredible!
While dairy is not technically excluded from primal eating, it should only be included if well tolerated. Many folks are intolerant or allergic to lactose (an enzyme) and casein (a protein) found in dairy products.
Contrary to popular belief, milk and dairy products are not the only sources of calcium.
Leafy greens – collard greens, kale, bok choy, chinese lettuce, spinach, broccoli, root vegetable greens (parsnip, turnip, beet).
Nuts and seeds – sesame seeds, tahini, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almond butter.
Seafood – salmon, mackerel, sardines, scallops, shrimp, oysters.
Fruit – strawberries, oranges (but avoid the sugary calcium fortified orange juice).
Daily fiber requirements are between 25-35g per day. The food industry would have you believe that the only way to get fiber is with a steady diet of whole grains. While whole grains do provide some fiber, they are lightweights compared to vegetables and fruit. As a comparison, 1000 calories of whole grains contains approximately 25g of fiber; 1000 calories of fruit approximately 40g; and 1000 calories of vegetables approximately 185g! It should be clear that by eating vegetables and fruit you will easily achieve daily fiber requirements.
There is evidence suggesting that whole grains may be even worse than their white, refined counterparts! Not only do whole grains contain the digestion disrupting lectins (of which gluten is one), they also contain “antinutrients” that bind to minerals such as calcium, iron and magnesium, preventing them from being absorbed by your body. So with whole grains it’s a double whammy – not only do you get the gut damage from lectins, you also miss out absorbing the most nutritional parts of the whole grain. Just because a food has nutrients doesn’t mean they will be absorbed by the body. Click here for more on the science behind our recommendations to exclude grains (and legumes).
What would I eat for breakfast?
- Traditional: Eggs in all kinds of different forms, pancakes, flax wraps with banana & almond butter, yogurt, fruit, smoothies, hot cereals, sausage, bacon, ham, fruit salad.
- Non-traditional: Salad, fish, chicken, steak & eggs, dinner leftovers, tuna salad, stir fry…basically any food will do.
Think outside the box and realize that “breakfast food” is nothing more than a marketing invention. There is no magical time of the day to stop eating cereal and start eating meat & vegetables.
Yes. As your body transitions from sugar burning (relying on carbohydrates) to fat burning (relying on fat) it is common to experience a “dip” in energy levels and athletic performance. In effect, you are going through “sugar withdrawal” after years of relying on carbohydrates to fuel day-to-day activities. This period of sluggishness will pass, but it may take as long as 2-4 weeks. It is especially important to stay committed to primal eating during this period, knowing that once the “low carb flu” is over you will be a lean, mean fat burning machine!
Most restaurants have primal choices if you look carefully and make some requests. Meat, vegetables and salad are standard servings on most menus. Take an active stance on non-primal filler – pass on the complimentary bread or request a veggie tray instead; decline the rice or potato and ask for a double serving of vegetables; request meats to be grilled instead of fried in vegetable oil; get salad dressings on the side to control serving amounts, or better yet ask for olive oil & balsamic vinegar instead of industrial dressings.
When travelling, plan ahead. Take food with you in containers so you are not relying on the first fast-food option that you find. Pre-cut vegetables, trail mix, flax wrap sandwiches, fruit, cheese and hard boiled eggs all travel easily. Find a grocery store and fill the hotel fridge with eggs, veggies and fruit so you aren’t always eating out.
Many food plans lump fruits and vegetables together, but there are very important differences between the two. Fruit is high in fructose, a natural sugar. It is what gives fruit a nice sweet taste, and it is likely why you enjoy fruit more than vegetables. However, this higher sugar content leads to a higher carbohydrate load, which in turn leads to more insulin production (the fat storage hormone). It is easy to consume too many carbohydrates through fruit, especially dried fruit that is more concentrated in sugar than its fresh counterparts. For this reason, fruit is a “moderation” food, especially for anyone who has weight loss as a goal.
By eating a wide variety of meat, vegetables and fruit there is very little need to take supplements. Getting the recommended daily amounts of most vitamins and minerals will be achieved easily. The one big exception is an Omega-3 or fish oil supplement. Our packaged/processed food is very high in Omega-6 fatty acids, but very low in the more desirable Omega-3’s. The ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is an important indicator of health. Ideally this ratio should not exceed 2:1, but a typical North American diet produces ratios of 10:1 or more! Since it is hard to avoid Omega-6, the best way to keep this ratio in balance is by taking an Omega-3 supplement.
Yes, there are exceptions to be made if you are an athlete doing regular intense training sessions. An increased amount of certain carbohydrates is required before, during and after training or races. See our article about nutrition and endurance training.
The short answer is “NO”.
The longer answer: Chocolate milk is one of those products that is heavily marketed as a recovery drink simply because it fits the profile of some research studies. Those studies show that a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio is beneficial for muscle recovery after a hard workout. While chocolate milk does fit the 4:1 profile, the content of the carbs and protein aren’t really what the researchers had in mind when conducting the studies. Ideally you would get the carbs from a less refined source like, fruit or vegetables, that also include vitamins and minerals to aid the recovery. The protein should be in the form of branch chain amino acids, such as those found in eggs, meat or a high quality protein powder. With chocolate milk, the sugar is highly refined white sugar, and the protein is dairy protein (like casein) that some people find hard to digest. Also, in primal eating dairy is suggested to be as full-fat and least-processed as possible, but the milk in chocolate milk is usually heavily processed skim or 1% milk.