Category Archives: Primal Beginners’ Q&A
Hi Peter – Came across this interview with Michael Arnstein, a dedicated frutarian marathon runner, who is a running mate of my friend Ben Ko. From an ancestral health perspective this kind of diet not only doesn’t make any sense: it shouldn’t be possible at all. Yet, Michael is proof that this diet not only works for him – but his athletic performance is the best it has ever been (he’s in his mid-thirties). I’d be curious about your response – I am a huge fruit fan, and I notice that you don’t eat much fruit at all. So Michael’s diet would be a different as it is possible to be from yours – yet it works for him. – Martin
On first sight Michael Arnstein’s diet does seem to go against ancestral diet principles. He suggests 80% of daily calories should come from carbohydrate, leaving just 10% for fat and protein respectively. Furthermore, most of the carbs come in the form of fruit, which means Mr. Arnstein ingests a lot of sucrose and fructose daily. The typical Paleo or Primal dieter would have concerns about all those things.
But there is another way to look at it. You could argue Fructarians eat a part-Paleo diet. Mr. Arnstein’s diet basically consists of raw vegetables and fruit, and Paleo advocates would approve of the following characteristics of these foods:
- If you set aside the sugar content of fruit, Fructarian foods are anti-inflamatory and dense in nutrients.
- A Fructarian regime eliminates pro-inflamatory grains and seed oils.
- Eating raw fruits and vegetables means you avoid all processed foods and dairy.
So, at a stretch, you could view the Fructarian diet as a raw food variant of the Paleo diet without the meat, fish and eggs. In fact, it seems to me the Fructarian and Paleo diets have more in common with each other, than either have with the typical Western diet.
The ancestral health community would say a diet without meat, fish and eggs would not be optimal for your health. I tend to agree, but I also think it is a personal choice. The key principle here is to eat natural nutrient dense foods, and avoid toxic and processed foods. Beyond that I think it’s about eating a diet that makes you feel and perform well. I would also take the guess work out of it by having blood tests regularly to make sure you are staying healthy.
I do think these things have to be viewed in the context of what I believe to be widespread metabolic damage in the western population. It is clear that most overweight people suffer from poor blood glucose control, and, for a growing number, this eventually turns into type-2 diabetes. So, I personally think a low-carb approach is the best remedy we currently have for returning overweight people to normal weight.
Going low carb does not necessarily mean you have to eliminate fruit from your diet. But the problem is fruits have widely differing sugar content. To illustrate this, here are two examples coutesey of SugarStacks.com:
Particularly for someone who has just started a weight loss program, fruit can be a bit of a minefield. I made the choice not to eat fruit at all when I first started loosing weight. I now eat a little, but I tend to stick to berries, which have a lower sugar content than other fruits.
If you really enjoy fruit, I see no reason why you couldn’t incorporate it in your diet in a way that allows you to still achieve your health goals. I would suggest you initially track the fruit you eat and see how it affects you. If you find your weight is sensitive to fruit, then you may have to track your consumption permanently to manage your intake. Alternatively, you could have periodic “fruit frenzies” where you eat as much fruit as you like on a nominated day per week or every fortnight. You will find there are a lot of diets out there, including some Primal and Paleo diets, that advocate “off days” or “cheat days”. A regular off day makes it psychologically easier to stay the course if you find your diet restrictive. It also seems consistent with the Paleo/Primal principle of eating like our hunter gatherer ancestors.
I believe we all need a healthy dose of curiosity, critical thinking and independent thought to manage our health. Particularly since government guidelines and prevailing wisdom has led us down a path of widespread obesity, diabetes and chronic disease. So, it would be inconsistent and disingenuous of me to insist everyone eats as I eat. Instead, I advocate you eat real food from natural sources and otherwise do what works for you.
This blog reflects my personal opinions and experiences. None of the material I make available should be construed as medical advice, nor should it replace proper medical consultation. If this blog inspires you to start your own weight loss program, I encourage you to consult a medical professional. If you, your friends or your doctors wish to question or challenges any information on this blog, I welcome your feedback.
Hi Peter - Hope you’re in fine fettle? Thought I’d give you an update a week and a day in…the big headline is that I’ve lost nearly 4 kg (8 lb)!! I honestly cannot believe it, I’ve been eating quite a lot, but been very strict as to WHAT I’ve been eating. Nicki is gobsmacked!
I’ve arranged the visit to the Dr’s this Friday as well, and I’m feeling great – finding time for good breakfasts, and also finding time to cook too. I wish we’d have had that chat earlier….
Anyway – my week two questions move me onto desserts and snack-type things for when I’m a little peckish and whilst I’m reducing the need to feed my sweet-tooth
Also, Nicki mentioned about calcium, although I suspect that you’ll say that it’s present in many of the primal foods anyway….Last one, I like biltong and jerky, is that a suitable item to eat from your perspective? I read that as long as it’s low sugar content biltong then it’s a good nibble to include on one’s diet…
Congratulations, Richard, and well done on sticking to the foods a Primal diet allows!
When it comes to snacks the Primal rules still apply. Stay away from grains, starches and sugar. You are right, jerky and biltong are good options. Make sure they don’t contain sugar or are chemically processed, though.
Other snacks I used to enjoy include nuts, full fat greek yoghurt and grilled bacon rashers left over from breakfast. I don’t snack much anymore, though. You will find over time your need to snack will wane. As your body gets better adapted to burning ketones (fat) the period between meals and hunger will gradually get longer. I also find the hunger I now experience is completely different. It is a less urgent and less stressful sensation. This makes it easier to defer eating when I find myself in a situation where there are no good food choices available.
With regards to sweet things, the best thing you can do is stay away from them, endure the cravings and wait for them to pass. The cravings are part of the adaptation process. Some of it is physiological and some of it is psychological. Eventually you will have fewer cravings and all foods will start to taste much sweeter.
If the cravings become too much, go for a small bar of organic dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. The cocoa is packed full of actioxidants and a small 35g bar of Green & Blacks dark chocolate contains 12g of carbohydrate (mostly sugar, I imagine) which is not too bad for an occasional treat.
At times, you may find yourself giving in to temptation when you are offered sweet treats or other non-primal foods at social occasions. Don’t beat yourself up about that. My philosophy is the same as Mark Sisson’s which is to aspire to 100% compliance, but to be satisfied when I achieve 80% compliance. Now I probably comply 95% of the time, but achieving that was much tougher in the beginning.
The calcium question is a good one. The short answer is that a high-carb diet causes your body to leach calcium. Consequently, on a typical western diet, you need to ensure you get plenty of calcium in your diet. If you restrict your carbohydrate intake, the calcium you get from vegetables is plenty. I don’t remember the details of how the biochemistry works for this, but I will research it and post an explanation on this blog.
We also know that our hunter gatherer ancestors had denser bones than modern man, and osteoporosis is virtually non-existent amongst contemporary hunter gatherers. This is despite a complete absence of diary in their diet. If you think about it, we are the only mammal that habitually consume the milk of other species. My personal intuition is that diary is not essential for humans.
Nevertheless, I do eat yoghurt and a small amount of cheese, but that’s because I enjoy it, and I don’t think it does any harm. As I mentioned in my last post, Paleo purists take a different view, and I respect people’s personal choices with regards to diary. As long as you tolerate lactose and casein (the most common causes of diary alergies), go ahead and enjoy it. I do avoid milk because lactose is a form of carbohydrate, and milk sits high on the glycemic index. It is likely to trigger a spike in insulin secretion, which is something I try to avoid in the interest of keeping my body conditioned to fat burn.
I am sure I don’t have to tell you this, but be aware that the spectacular progress you have made in week 1 is not going to continue forever. Your rate of weight loss will slow and you will also hit a few plateaus along the way. When that happens, focus on how eating primal makes you feel rather than what it does for your weight. Here is a post on how Primal eating makes me feel: link
Keep the questions coming and good luck!
Hi Peter, I spent last evening scouring your blog and planning to start things off, and, duly inspired,started this morning by cutting out milk from drinks, and have had none of the other non paleo items, which has been great much to my surprise considering how much I usually eat in the dairy/pasta/bread/grain family. I did, however, find myself scratching my head somewhat at breakfast time, wondering what the breadth of choice is in this area…..so, my question is – what sorts of things do you have for breakfast? I went for a couple of eggs in the end, but shouldn’t think it’s wise to plump for that each day. I did look up a couple of websites, and whilst they had sample eating plans, they were rather more exotic that my lifestyle affords me to be….I thought of mushrooms, obviously cold meats (which is a continental thing isn’t it?). I don’t fancy veg for breakfast really….so, I wondered what sorts of breakfasts you usually have???
Look forward to your thoughts….
Firstly, congratulations on getting started, Richard.
Most mornings I have 2-3 rashers of bacon along with 4 eggs either scrambled in butter or fried sunny side up in coconut oil. Some mornings I supplement this with a bowl of full fat greek yoghurt. Other mornings, I will have a salad of whatever vegetables we have in the fridge. I dress my salad in olive oil, lemon juice and I season it with a little salt. I particularly like salads that include some avocado. I also sometimes have spinach or mushrooms.
I consider eggs one of the best wholefoods around, and I eat in the region of 25-30 a week. I used to eat more when I was really focused on weight loss.
Some people are concerned about the high cholesterol in egg yolks, but studies have shown dietary cholesterol does not increase your blood cholesterol materially. Here is one such study: link
If your doctor insists eggs raise your risk of heart disease, then I would say it’s time to look for another doctor. It’s a good indication that he or she does not bother to follow developments in medical research, and personally I would not want to discuss my health with a doctor who is intellectually lazy. But each to his own, off course. You can also refer your doctor to this blog post if the topic of cholesterol comes up: link
If you can afford it, I would go for the best quality produce. This means organic free range eggs and nitrate free bacon. But, on balance, it is more important to eliminate the grains and sugar from your diet than worry about every breakfast ingredient being organic.
Paleo/Primal dieters, who are more purist than I, consider bacon a processed food and will either not eat it at all, or try not to eat it every day. To get around this I hear a lot of primal dieters say they make extra dinner in the evening, and have the leftovers for breakfast the following morning. I sometimes do this also. I personally think it is ok to eat bacon regularly, though, and I never seem to tire of it. It feels like a treat every time I have it!
For anyone who is about to start a paleo inspired diet, I strongly recommend taking a blood test early on, and to repeat it after 4-6 weeks. After this inital period, I would test every 3-6 months. You are about to make some dramatic changes to your diet, and blood tests will help spot if your physiology responds adversely in any way. I predict your health markers will improve along with your body composition, but every person is different. In the beginning there is also the possibility that you get one or two things wrong and don’t make the progress you expected. A blood test will give you clues about what to change to get back on track.
You should also bear in mind that I am not medically qualified. I am just some guy who had some success loosing weight. You should not take my advice (nor anybody else’s for that matter) without testing independently that your body is responding well to your new diet.
I am about to have a new blood test, Here are the health markers I plan to request. The last four on this list are not generally included in a standard blood test and some may be unfamiliar to some doctors:
- HDL cholesterol
- LDL cholesterol
- Triglycerites (low is best)
- Fasting serum insulin
- Blood glucose
- High sensitivity C-reactive protein
- Omega-6/Omega-3 blood assay
- Vitamin D3
It is also worth exploring the materials I provide links to in my blog posts. Aside from changing your diet, the best thing you can do for your health is to be curious about how your body works and what is good for it. I would also invest a little money and little time reading a book by one of the leading lights in the ancestral health movement. Here is a list of my current Top 3 books on ancestral health: link
If you want more inspiration for Paleo/Primal breakfast dishes, here is a cookbook we use a lot in my family:
Hope that helps. Good luck and keep the questions coming!