If you have read the About Brian page on this website, you know that I “backed into” reading the Primal Blueprint. My kids mentioned the word “keto”, and that prompted me to read the Keto Reset Diet…then Primal Endurance, so I would not bonk when running and working out…then Primal Blueprint (not an affiliate link). Primal Blueprint is truly the foundation of those other books, and it became the foundation for my own nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle choices.
It also inspired me to pursue the Primal Health Coach certification because I had “drunk the Primal Kool-Aid”…or at least the low-carb, high fat, no sugar/artificial sweetener equivalent! Let’s hit the highlights of the Primal Blueprint – all concisely wrapped up in the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws. This post will focus on the Nutrition laws (#1 and #2), and subsequent posts will focus on the Movement/Exercise (#3 – #5) and Lifestyle (#6 – #10) laws.
Primal Blueprint Law #1: Eat Plants and Animals
Primal takes a fairly relaxed approach to “diet”; in fact, it avoids any regimentation whatsoever. If you simply focus on eating whole foods, vs packaged and processed with an over-reliance on grains, you are way ahead of the game. Primal does tend to gravitate to a Low Carbohydrate, High Fat (LCHF) approach, but it has much more reasonable carbohydrate thresholds for weight maintenance (below 150 g), weight loss (below 100 g) and ketosis (below 50g). Many other ketogenic diets insist upon a more strict 20-30g of carbohydrates. Of course, activity level can vary, and nutrition should vary accordingly, but we want to get past “a calorie is a calorie”…and reach a point where we are not obsessively counting calories or macro-nutrients.
Going LCHF forces the body to look to other sources for fuel: ketones and large reservoirs of fat. To put it in perspective, the human body can store about 1,700 – 2,000 calories of glycogen (stored form of sugar that comes primarily from carbs and some protein) in skeletal muscle and the liver. In contrast, a 180-lb person carrying only 10% body fat would have just under 73,000 calories to burn…provided that person is fat-adapted from following a low-carb eating style. When you consider a commonly recommended daily calorie allowance is 2,000 calories, we could definitely afford to skip or delay a meal because we have plenty of stored calories. Oh…and most of us have well above 10% body fat!
One other idea that Primal Blueprint Law #1 puts forth: Eat when you are hungry, stop eating when you are satisfied. Do not tie yourself to the notion of “3 square meals a day” along the social norms of morning/noon/night. Making this adjustment will open the door for the concept of intermittent fasting as well as getting past the notion we need to eat every few hours to control our blood sugar. If you want to control blood sugar, consider not giving your body sugar every few hours (either in the form of sugar or carbs)!
Primal Blueprint Law #2: Avoid Poisonous Things
In my 21 Day path to Primal Kickoff video, the primary focus is this “avoid poisonous things” primal law. Our ancestors simply knew which poisonous plants and animals to avoid. In the modern age, we have a Standard American Diet (SAD) that sometimes encourages eating foods that are known to have adverse effects to our body. We all know that we SHOULD avoid sugars and sodas, but what about avoiding most modern grains and all of those other foods in the middle aisles of the grocery store…with long ingredient lists that definitely do NOT include plants and animals.
Those middle-aisle, long-ingredient-list foods wreak havoc on our bodies in two ways:
1. They spike glucose which leads to a spike in insulin to clear “toxic” glucose from the bloodstream
The glucose/insulin roller coaster has shown a strong correlation with chronic diseases. Your cells can get tired of constantly being “signaled” by insulin to open up and store the glucose. This causes insulin resistance which leads to first your pancreas producing more insulin…and then eventually your doctor prescribing insulin to help cram that glucose into the cells. Jason Fung does a phenomenal job explaining this process via a very simple suitcase analogy in a discussion on how to reverse Type 2 Diabetes.
Even after you force feed your over-stuffed cells with glucose, you still have “sticky” glucose floating around in the bloodstream. It binds to other proteins through a process called glycation and ultimately leads to oxidative stress that causes anything from hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Stick to eating whole plants and animals, and occasional seasonal fruit, and avoid the long ingredient lists. Your pancreas will thank you…as will your wallet when you do not have co-payments from frequent doctor visits to combat chronic diseases like Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
2. They cause chronic systemic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by lechtins from both grains and legumes – with gluten having “star status” amongst the lechtins! These lechtins can breach the intestinal wall and allow undigested food particles into the bloodstream which results in an auto-immune inflammatory response as the body tries to fight off the “invaders”. Research has shown that gluten intolerance isn’t reserved for celiacs alone; in fact, we all have some level of gluten intolerance. And these auto-immune conditions “present” in the forms of arthritis, acne, eczema, Psoriasis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc.
The industrial seed oils in those middle grocery aisles – like Canola, Corn, Vegetable, Sunflower, and Safflower – can also cause chronic inflammation. These PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) are highly unstable and will oxidize under the high heat we typically use with them (and, hey…I used to love making fried pork tenderloin in vegetable oil). As the oil reacts to the oxygen, it creates free radicals…and we are basically bathing whatever we are cooking with these free radicals. Those free radicals then get ingested – and promptly start a “free radical cascade” in our bodies that leads to inflammation as our immune system tries to stop the attacks. Dr. Cate Shanahan – a very strong supporter of the Primal community – does a humorous job of comparing these free radical attacks to a zombie attack in the very comprehensive Deep Nutrition (not an affiliate link).
If you feel that you have stalled…or never started…in your weight loss and wellness goals, consider the following simple 4-week goals:
- Drop the industrial oils: You can use alternatives like olive oil on salads and low heat – and coconut or avocado oil for high heat. If you dine out frequently, this will be a challenge for you since most restaurants will be cooking with these industrial oils. They also show up in condiments and salad dressings.
- Drop the sugars and highly processed foods: Eat whole foods. If it has a long ingredient list, put it back on the shelf. Focus on the outer aisles of the grocery store (produce, some fruit, organic or locally-raised meats).
- Drop the grains: Bear with me a bit…give up all the pasta, rice, and bread – even the whole grain versions.
Just give it 4-weeks and judge how you feel. Notice that we haven’t even touched upon exercise and lifestyle yet. If you want bonus points over this 4-week span, move every day (even if just walking), and try to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night with electronics off 1-2 hours before bedtime.
When you sign up for the 12-week Primal Program, we will walk through several tactics and tools – like the Carbohydrate Curve, Primal Approved Shopping List, and the Primal Food Spectrum – to help you personalize your own Primal journey to health and wellness. We will go through many of these lists, along with ALL of the Primal Laws, and how you can “make them your own”. The goal will never be a “diet”. Instead, you will appreciate a sustainable lifestyle that still lets you enjoy plenty of good food without all of the counting.
Keep visiting the Analytic Health Coach blog as I write about Primal Laws #3-#10 and other topics that interest me in regard to nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle – and how we can USUALLY incorporate these natural interventions, versus popping pills, to achieve health and wellness.