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Difference Between Primal and Paleo Diet

By Andrea Cespedes

To fight the so-called "diseases of civilization," which include heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, certain diets advise that you eat like a caveman. The Primal and Paleo diets exemplify this thinking by requiring you to eschew processed foods and grains in favor of meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. They differ in their origins and in a few details, but when it comes down to the essentials, the two diets are basically the same.

Paleo Diet Rundown

The Paleo, or Paleolithic, diet advises that you avoid foods that were not available for consumption before the agricultural revolution. This means that grains, legumes, refined sugar and dairy are off-limits. Loren Cordain, the self-proclaimed founder of the Paleo movement, recommended an avoidance of potatoes, salt and refined vegetable oils. Cordain maintains that the diet improves your overall health by reducing the intake of low-nutrient, acidic and high-glycemic foods, while upping your consumption of quality protein, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber and essential fatty acids. Cordain has since revised the diet to permit fermented dairy or even refined sugars in the form of gels and sports drinks for athletes.

Primal Basis

Former endurance athlete Mark Sisson, author of the "Primal Blueprint," is accredited with developing the Primal Diet. It is based on the same premise that people should be eating whole foods that were available during caveman times, meaning almost no grains and legumes or processed foods. The Primal Diet does permit some dairy, especially yogurt and kefir, as well as small amounts of soy, red wine, dark chocolate, potatoes, rice and quinoa.

Is Saturated Fat In or Out?

The original versions of the Paleo diet espoused by Cordain asked followers to avoid saturated fat and stick to lean meats, while avoiding butter and coconut oil and limiting eggs. Sisson, meanwhile, embraced research supporting the potential health benefits of consuming high-quality saturated fats from grass-fed animals and coconut oil. Cordain published a revised "Paleo Diet" book in 2010 also noting the possible health benefits of saturated fat and encouraging it to be included in the Paleo Diet.

Dairy Dogma

Many Paleo Diet followers adhere to Cordain's original advice to avoid all dairy products. Other versions of the Paleo Diet, including one proposed by Dr. Chris Kresser, say that raw dairy and full-fat dairy from grass-fed cows may offer health benefits, provided that you're not allergic or lactose intolerant. The Primal Diet has always said that raw dairy and fermented dairy are acceptable. Inclusion of dairy may seem like a major difference between the two diets, but it really depends on your individual take on the Paleo Diet.

Lifestyle Aspect

Sisson notes that the Primal Diet is also about lifestyle, not just diet. He advocates short bursts of intense exercise, supplementation and stress-reduction techniques to round out a healthy lifestyle. The original versions of the Paleo Diet emphasized eating only, but later versions have incorporated the concept of a developing a whole lifestyle that supports good health.

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