What is Primal? – Part 1

I’m a Primal Health Coach and I promote Primal lifestyle – but I can imagine many of you now will scratch your heads and give me a funny look – “What the heck does Primal mean?!”. It’s ok, the word is not widely known, but you will see, as I go along, it is a very intuitive way of living – yes living. It is not only about food – although nutrition is very important – it emphasizes movement and mindset.

Because there is SO much to cover, I decided to focus on this post primarily on explaining where Primal ideas come from and explaining the nutritional part of it.

Mark Sisson – Founder of The Primal Lifestyle


Now this name, I’m confident many of you have heard. He was a top-level marathon runner, who later in life turned his attention to developing a healthy lifestyle that supports our body and mind, without requiring hours and hours of hard exercise or eating tasteless food that does not satisfy our cravings. He believes being healthy should be a goal we’re chasing with excitement and enthusiasm, and not this annoying and difficult path that makes us beat ourselves up when we’re not perfect.

If you wish to get to know him better, I highly suggest you read this article.

Primal promotes optimal gene expression

When we say that “ah, it’s genetic”, we often think that it cannot be changed – for example, eye colour, hair colour, our height, personal characteristics, predisposition to alcoholism, heart disease, etc. We cannot influence these traits with our lifestyle.

We can, however, affect genes that are related to health and well-being, such as genes that influence muscle development, body fat storage, inflammation, and other aspects of general health. For example, even if you have a strong predisposition to being overweight or towards a certain illness, you may override these predispositions with a lifestyle that promotes the optimal gene expression.

Primal ideas are based on the knowledge we gained from studying evolution and life of our ancestors. We have learned how to achieve optimal gene expression – certain behaviour can literally “switch-on” or “switch-off” different genes in order to get the desired effect.

One of the most important findings is that our bodies LOOOVE fat, both from food or all the goodies we carry with us. This contrasts with modern guidelines that recommend carbohydrates to be the central part of our diet. A modern diet based on carbohydrates has created a dependence on carbohydrates as a source of energy, and for this we have sacrificed efficient fat metabolism.

Instead of exploiting our fat stores and other energy production mechanisms (stored glycogen, gluconeogenesis, or ketone production), high carb eating stimulates chronic over-production of insulin. If insulin is chronically elevated, other sources of energy are not available to us.

High carbohydrate diets cause inflammation, inhibit our immune system and cause hormonal imbalances, which increase the risk of heart disease and other serious illnesses.

The need for glucose can be easily satisfied with a moderate consumption of foods from the Primal-approved list (vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds), by the process of gluconeogenesis (amino acid conversion to glucose) and the production of ketones in the liver. (Ketones are a by-product of fat metabolism when consuming very few carbohydrates. The body uses them in the same way as glucose – they are a very efficient and clean internal source of energy, and therefore an excellent replacement for energy from carbohydrates.

Primal makes us more calorically efficient

Nowadays we often pose ourselves the wrong question – seeing all this delicious food around us, we wonder, “How to eat all this and still stay fit and healthy?” The correct question would be “How can the body be minimally burdened with food and function optimally?” Primal nutrition allows us to be calorically more efficient – so we can eat a small number of calories and our body works doesn’t get affected by it. This situation is much more desirable than, for example, accelerating metabolism – accelerating metabolism, which means accelerated cell division, increases the risk of cancer cells and reduces life expectancy.

By reprogramming our genes to become more efficient in using fats and ketones as sources of energy, we reduce our attachment to carbohydrate consumption – we are no longer in the fight-or-flight state when food is not nearby and there is no need for our body to use extreme measures, such as converting lean muscle tissue into glucose.

WOW, Primal sounds AWESOME! So what do I eat?

Now that I’ve got you on your side (I do, right?) and you are completely excited, it’s time for me to introduce the rules of the game.

Primal lifestyle does not promote a rigorous plan, where person anxiously counts how much fat, protein or carbohydrates he/she consumed. Instead, we follow three simple rules:

  1. Consuming less than 150g carbohydrates per day (this would mean, for example, 2 large roasted potatoes or 3.5kg of roasted zucchinis) – how much OH we consume depends on our goals and our physical activity.
  2. Moderate consumption of proteins – enough that the muscles in the body are preserved
  3. Consume enough fat to feel satisfied.

Source: Mark’s Daily Apple

The Primal Blueprint Pyramid

The nutritional pyramid shows that the Primal diet is based primarily on a variety of vegetables -along with protein and HEALTHY fats, it represents a perfect meal for our body.

There are, however, a few things we have to address in the “moderation foods” section

FRUIT – include it, if you are more active, try to consume local and seasonal fruits, that are the most nutritious (berries certainly take the first place)

DAIRY PRODUCTS – full-fat products (especially if they are produced locally) – are excellent foods that benefit our health, IF we see that they are well tolerated by our bodies.

CARBOHYDRATES – Limit them according to your activity. A special note here – I added the category of legumes – research has shown, that legumes are not as bad as they were first portrayed and when preparing them properly (and if we notice no negative effects on our body), there is no reason why you could not make them a part of your diet – especially, if you REALLY miss that peanut butter or hummus. Another stop is rice – not only wild rice, also white rice can be a part of your plate. Unlike other grains, it does not include gluten, therefore doesn’t harm our gastrointestinal tract and with proper preparation techniques it can even be an excellent source of prebiotics (read more about it HERE).

DARK CHOCOLATE – you’ve probably came across at least one article describing chocolate as extremely healthy. And it is – in moderate amounts and with high enough cocoa content – at least 75%, and even better, 85%.

In the case of supplements, I would like to point out that these are tools that only help us achieve optimal health and not substitutes for fresh foods.

The pyramid above shows which foods are ideal sources – but of course, we all don’t have the option to enjoy organically grown, local foods, so just do your best!

Primal/LCHF/Paleo – what’s the difference?





Basic foods

Vegetables + protein + fat

Vegetables + protein + fat

Vegetables + protein + fat

Starchy food

Yes – amounts depend on our daily activity



Dairy products

Yes – full fat, preferably local if tolerated by the body




Rice – in moderate amounts and in combination with enough activity





Berries, avocado, citruses



Yes (excluding artificial sweeteners and sugar), very small amounts

Yes – only zero calories sweeteners

Yes (excluding artificial sweeteners)


Yes, if tolerated by the body




Lifestyle (Nutrition + movement + mindset)



The main difference that I want to point out is that Primal is a lifestyle that also includes other aspects that influence optimal health, while LCHF and Paleo are diets only. Are they interested what Primal has to say about movement and mindset? Do not miss the next post!

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