“The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
When you read about ancestral health you come across a variety of terms that describe different sections of our community. Some of the more common are Paleo, Primal and Low-Carb. You may also have encountered the term LCHF. I often get asked what these labels cover, and what the differences are between them. It’s not entirely clear cut, but here is how I define them.
The Paleo Diet is based on the hypothesis that humans are genetically adapted to eat like our pre-historic ancestors. Paleo followers believe modern western diseases and obesity are due to changes in our diet that arrived with agriculture and industrialisation.
The Paleo Diet consists of meat, fish, poultry and vegetables. It suggests avoiding grains, legumes, most tubers, dairy, sugar and processed foods. Paleo dieters also prefers grass fed beef, wild game, organic poultry and wild fish over intensively farmed equivalents.
If you follow a Paleo diet, your carbohydrate intake will tend to be lower than on a typical western diet. But Paleo is less specific about the amount of carbohydrate you should eat than Primal, Low-Carb and LCHF. There are also researchers in the movement who argue for “safe starches”. One example is Staffan Lindenburgh who points to the Kitavans of Papa New Guinea as an example of aboriginal people who subsist on a high starch diet without incurring the degenerative diseases that are so common in the west.
In summary, Paleo is mostly about eating unprocessed and nutritionally dense foods to emulate the diet of our hunter gatherer ancestors.
The Primal diet is also inspired by our pre-historic ancestors. The selection of foods allowed on the Primal diet is much the same as Paleo. However, Primal allows high-fat dairy such as butter, cream, full-fat yoghurt and cheese. Some also argue a small amount of white rice is OK on a Primal diet.
Primal seems to me to be more prescriptive about your carbohydrate intake than Paleo. Primal diet books tend to give specific direction about the amount of carbohydrate you should consume to create optimal conditions for fat loss.
The most prolific advocate of Primal is Mark Sisson who runs a website called Mark’s Daily Apple.
The Low-Carb label is very broad. It covers over a number of diets that prescribe carbohydrate restriction for weight loss. Many followers started their Low-Carb journeys with the Atkins Diet, but there are many other Low-Carb diets such as the South Beach Diet and the Dukan diet.
Although it doesn’t apply to all Low-Carbers, in general this community is more relaxed about processed foods and Omega-6 rich oils than the Paleo and Primal communities. Low-Carbers tend to focus more specifically on the macronutrient balance in their diet. Some emphasise high protein, others emphasise high fat. What they have in common is the restriction of carbohydrate to trigger ketosis, which is when your body burns fat for fuel.
I think most people consider Atkins the founding father of Low-Carb weight loss. The research has since been moved forward by scientists such as Dr. Stephen Phinner and Dr. Jeff S. Volek.
You could argue that LCHF is the Scandinavian sub-section of the Low-Carb community. The LCHF label stands for Low-Carb-High-Fat. The term originated in Sweden where low-carb approaches to health appear to be moving into the mainstream.
I have seen LCHF defined as Paleo with high-fat dairy. By this definition you could argue it is similar to Primal. However, LCHF appears to be a little more relaxed about whether their food is organic and unprocessed, so to my mind their approach is closer to Low-Carb. But, as with all these definitions, we are splitting hairs.
High-profile LCHF people include Dr. Annika Dahlqvist and Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt in Sweden as well as Dr. Sofie Hexberg in Norway.
I like the term Ancestral Health because it is broad and inclusive. To me it covers all the four communities I describe here, along with some others (GAPS dieters and Western A. Price followers are notable examples). Inevitably when you try to define these movements, you emphasise the differences, which, to a degree, masks the obvious commonalities. At the same time, there are plenty of people in the Ancestral Health movements who don’t fit neatly into any one of these buckets.
I have learned a great deal from leaders and enthusiasts across the Paleo, Primal, Low-Carb, LCHF, GAPS and Western A. Price communities. We don’t all agree on everything, off course, but we do share some key characteristics. We are all sceptical about the low-fat grain-based diet dogma that dominates the mainstream. What drives us is the belief there is a better and more natural way of achieving wellness and vitality.
Diana Hsieh has published the best summary of the Paleo protocol I have seen online on her blog. It includes links to articles and materials that explains the rationale for each element of the diet. Click here.
Thought leaders in the Paleo movement include Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf and Art deVany. Here are som YouTube videos:
Mark Sisson more than anyone is responsible for popularising Primal living. Here is a YouTube lecture with him:
For visuals summarising of the Primal life-style click here.
I have posted this video with Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt recently, but it is so good it is worth sharing again:
Few people campaigns as vigorously for the low-carb and ancestral health movements as Jimmy Moore. His blogs, podcasts and YouTube channel are fantastic resources I access regularly.
In this article Jimmy Moore nominates the Top-10 Low-Carb Movers & Shakers of 2011. This list is a good place to start if you want to do your own research on low-carb and ancestral approaches to healthy living.