What is primal nutrition?

Primal nutrition, sometimes known as the ‘Caveman’ or ‘Paleo’ diet aims to mimic the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors – how we ate before the advent of agriculture.

Primal principles recommend that we eat as our ancestors would have done, so think hunting, foraging and gathering. Making primal food choices means being aware of and adopting the foods that we ate for most of our evolution. Primal living is based on getting as close to the source as possible.

To adopt a more primal diet, you don’t have to go back to living in a cave, but a certain level of awareness helps us make wiser food choices. Although it may not be possible in today’s modern society to hunt, fish and forage, the idea is to move away from instant availability and industrial processing in favour of high quality, nutrient-dense whole natural foods.

A holistic and healthy approach to food is one that gets as close to the source as possible – mother nature. I prefer to think of primal nutrition as a way of eating, or a lifestyle choice, rather than a diet per se.

It’s important to note that this way of eating includes references to fasting and the elimination of foods our bodies are used to, so it won’t be suitable for everyone. If you’re considering changing your diet/food habits, it’s essential to do so with the guidance of a nutrition professional to ensure you do so in a healthy, sustainable way and don’t miss out on the key nutrients your body needs.

How to adopt primal nutrition 

Let’s look at how and why it might be helpful to adopt primal nutrition.

The elimination phase

This phase is key, as before adding new items or going shopping, it is important to eliminate the non-primal items. Eliminating the consumption of refined vegetable oils and seed oils (canola, corn, soybean etc.) and all processed foods that contain them, including buttery spreads and sprays, is a fundamental principle of eating primally.

This also means reducing fast food, packaged snacks, most frozen ready-made meals, and most dressings or ready-made sauces, sweets and sweetened beverages. Sugar is not recommended when it comes to the primal diet and it’s also recommended to limit the consumption of alcohol, although being French and specifically from Bordeaux, I believe that up to two glasses of red wine once or twice a week, or the very occasional flute of Champagne is perfectly acceptable.

Understand the distinction between good and bad fats 

Contrary to conventional wisdom, fat (good fat) – does not make you fat. In fact, a low-fat diet can be quite detrimental to health as our body does need good fat to optimise our brain health, hormones and cell membranes. The key to primal is to incorporate more good fats into your lifestyle. I recommend using grass-fed butter, duck fat, lard, beef dripping and eating chicken skin, as well as choosing a steak with a rim of fat or a lot of marbling.

Go nose to tail

Going nose to tail means consuming the whole animal carcass. Nose to tail is not only about eating organs but also the bones, skin, feet, tendons and blood. Offal and odd bits were treasured and praised by our ancestors and considered the natural world superfood; it was our ancestors’ version of a multivitamin. 

It is the nutrient-dense qualities of offal that delivers the health benefit. Offal is high in protein and good fats, vitamin C, and B-vitamins as well as magnesium, selenium, zinc and fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E, and K. It contains iron (in its most bioavailable form), CoQ10 and choline (which is an essential nutrient for cell membranes, neurotransmitters, muscles, and the brain) and bone broths are very rich in collagen and minerals.

The easiest offal to include in your diet is liver, kidneys, tongue, heart, and bone marrow. I recommend blending the organ meats into other meats, for example, blending liver into mincemeat and making broths with all bones collected (both from fish and mammals).

The idea is to move away from instant availability and industrial processing in favour of high quality, nutrient-dense whole natural foods

Transform daily meal routines into tribal food rituals

Transform ordinary eating routines into eating rituals. When adopting a primal diet, an important aspect is spending more time in the kitchen and learning the art of cooking and connecting with the food you eat.

Make cooking a social event – slow down and savour the process of cooking as much as savouring the food on the table. Resist the temptation of fast food – the financial price tag may seem low but the health price tag is very high. Eating in a relaxed (parasympathetic) state is very important. Ditch dinner in front of a TV and instead focus on what you’re eating and that only. If you can, join your local hunters or fishermen friends on their next adventures and or go to the local farm to buy free-range eggs and pick up fresh raw milk.

Fasting can be a primal superpower

Eating three square meals a day plus snacks is a modern invention; our ancestors didn’t have consistent access to food or snacks and so would have to fast from time to time – this means going 16, 24 and sometimes 48 hours without food. It might seem surprising, but our mind and body get a serious performance boost when we fast.

Fasting can boost our immune system, lower inflammation, improve mental clarity and act as a spiritual discipline. The simplest way to add intermittent fasting into your lifestyle is to break with the conventional idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Instead, you could skip breakfast and have your first meal at lunch instead. Some even choose not to have breakfast and lunch and have one primal dinner feast, as per the One Meal a Day (OMAD) intermittent fasting modality.

Choosing a more primal way of life can have many health benefits, tackling areas that often fall by the wayside in our fast-paced modern environment when convenience is generally a priority. If you’re looking to adopt primal living and make some alternative food choices, get in touch with a nutrition professional who can support you on your journey.

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Written by Charléne Giséle
Charléne Giséle is a former lawyer turned certified primal health coach and corporate wellness consultant. She now supports individuals, firms and executives all over the world to optimise their health and well-being.
Written by Charléne Giséle
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