07 November 2014

Primal Living Part 3 - Paleo, Primal and Atkins

Last week, we examined the philosophy of Primal health by comparing the awful conventional wisdom regarding health and nutrition with the more holistic and natural lifestyle which our ancestors have followed for thousands of years. Revisiting the traditional USDA endorsed Food Pyramid allowed us to identify the lunacy of a carbohydrate rich diet based on grains and sugar instead of vegetables and animal proteins. 

As we understand the importance of a low-carb, high proteins and fats based diet, it then becomes useful to compare the leading nutrition philosophies which follow these similar guidelines. This post examines the similarities and differences between Primal, and the more well-known Paleo and Atkins diets.

Paleo, Primal and Atkins

Venn Diagram comparing Paleo, Primal and Atkins
The Paleo Diet coined by Dr Loren Cordain is a much more popularised close relative of Primal. Both are built upon the principles of ancestral health and both follow the guidelines supported by evolutionary biology. Much like Primal, Paleo mandates the consumption of meat and vegetables and banishes grains, sugars, pasta, rice and anything else our ancestors would not be able to gather, prepare or process. Truth be told, if you're paleo, you're primal. Paleo is just, perhaps more focused on food and abides by a more restricted menu. There aren't really too many differences between the two, but there are some that are quite distinctive.

First, as discussed, Primal doesn't distinguish among fats to the same extent as paleo - the key being saturated fats. Primal encourages and recognise the benefits of all fats that aren't toxic transfats and industrially processed polyunsaturated oils. Primals stay away from corn, vegetable, and canola oil, but whole-heartedly endorse the brain healthy and satiating properties within saturated fats found in animals and dairy products. Paleo in comparison, strongly advise against these fats and live on lean cuts of meat only.

"Caveman health" seems to be an increasingly popular inquiry. Paleo, I believe, was the most common nutrion/diet search term in 2013 according to Google.
The other key distinction is in overall health and wellbeing. Paleo is very much just focused on food. The Primal Blueprint on the other hand, focuses on everything else that encompasses good health such as activity as discussed before. Further, living Primal also includes how you sleep, your ties to digital technology, the amount of sun you should be getting and how you spend your spare time. Where paleo (and the incredibly well-known weight-loss diet Atkins) is mostly a list of foods you can and cannot eat, Primal revolves around your entire lifestyle to help you achieve and sustain the healthiest and happiest you.

Shifting gears a bit further, we have the both broader, yet more constricted Atkins diet, officially called the Atkins Nutritional Approach. The Atkins Diet was designed by Robert Atkins and based on research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Alfred W. Pennington. While the original research dates back to the 70s, it wasn't until the early 2000s that the card-counting revolution started. 

Trying to eat as few carbohydrates as possible is, in real terms, is as far as the Atkins Diet tends to go. Aside from this, the rest of one's diet remains pretty close to the evil conventional wisdom Paleo and Primal crowds vehemently protest. Fats and sugars are bad, fibre and protein is good and a full range of foods, including grains should be taken in moderation.

The Venn diagram up top simplifies the similarities and differences between the three. As you can see, Primal and paleo are closer in similarity to Atkins. Where Atkins pretty much only focuses on carbs, and therefore limiting fruit, and ignoring the benefits of healthy fats, Primal includes them as integral parts of complete physical and metal health. Fats are needed not only for satiation, but the is very strong and convincing research linking the intake of unsaturated and saturated fats found in dairy, olive oil, coconut oil, and animal meats to resistance to brain diseases such as Alzhemer's, dimentia, autism and schizophrenia. A highly recommended reading is Grain Brain by Dr David Perlmutter which looks at in very specific detail the hazards grain based foods do to our mental health and the ever-increasing evidence that reducing or eliminating grains from modern diets can is preventing and repairing brain disease. 

Primal isn't only a list of foods

The greatest distinction between Primal and the other popular low-carb diets is that Primal isn't limited to just your diet. While food makes up the vast majority (80%) of what leads to a healthy and happy life, the Primal principles apply to much more than food - especially in terms of addressing, and destroying conventional wisdom. 

Where Paleo and Atkins are essentially a list of what, and what not, to eat, the Primal Blueprint includes the following, very important pillars of optimal health also known as:

The Ten Primal Blueprint Laws

1. Eat let's of plants and animals
2. Avoid poisonous things
3. Move frequently at a slow pace
4. Lift heavy things
5. Sprint once in a while
6. Get adequate sleep
7. Play
8. Get adequate sunlight
9. Avoid stupid mistakes
10. Use your brain

So far, I have focused on the first five of the Laws. The significance of these components are evidenced by the fact that "what to eat and how to exercise" represent half of everything required to achieve and maintain optimal health. The second half of the list of course, involves general, yet incredibly important rules which are essential for a healthy lifestyle. Click here for an overview of the entire list by +Mark Sisson and the team at Marksdailyapple.com

It's important to remember that with most that struggle to improve their health, the most difficult thing is to sustain these achievements in the long term. Whether the plan was to lose 10kg, begin run 20km a week, weight train, sign up for crossfit, or take pirates classes, maintaining this discipline for week,s months or years is where many meet defeat. The key to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to approach health and fitness as just that, a change in lifestyle. If our goal is to fit into the jeans we wore 10 years ago, there will be an inherent mentality suggesting that once that goal is achieved, we're done and can stop doing whatever we were doing that got us to that point. We need to understand that any attempts to improve our health must be approached as a permanent change in the way we live.

Next week, I'll continue discussion on the Ten Primal Blueprint Laws. I will describe how I have integrated these laws into my lifestyle as well as the modifications I have made so that primal living suits me best. There is no one way to live primal, which is whole-heartedly accepted by the Primal Blueprint. I will also recount a typical day and week in terms of "what to eat and how to exercise", also covering the rest of the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws.