Primal Blueprint Review: 10 ways to better Health

Primal Blueprint Review

There are a number of books on my shelf about fitness, health and nutrition.
The Primal Blueprint is my number one pick for “START HERE”. Other books can (and do!) go into more specifics. The Primal Blueprint is a great overview for the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle.

Primal Blueprint Review

The Primal Blueprint is not a weight loss or diet book. It’s a lifestyle program from an evolutionary perspective. Using historical and contemporary hunter-gatherers as a model, it attempts to apply those lessons to life in the 21st century. He does it in a way that’s accessible to nearly everyone.

Mark Sisson is an athlete, coach and student of health. The Primal Blueprint is the distillation of 20 years of his research and experience. Utilising aspects from a number of scientific fields, Mark has devised a concise list of behaviour principles to improve your health, fitness and participation in life.

If you keep in mind that this is a blueprint for general health, fitness and well-being – you won’t get bogged down in minutia. Or throw the baby out with the bathwater because of one or two things with which you disagree.

I like the fitness suggestions because they focus on functional movements, encourage strength training and some cardio for conditioning. Walking more will work for almost everyone.

I like the diet suggestions because they focus on real food. The Primal Blueprint principles are simple, practical and relatively inexpensive. They require minimal, if any, sacrifice or deprivation. Mark is not a drill sergeant. He tries to create a plan that will be sustainable in the long run, by staying positive and allowing for flexibility.

The most important take-aways are:

The 10 Primal Blueprint Laws
The Primal Food Pyramid
The Carbohydrate Curve
Walk lots, Sprint Occasionally, Lift Heavy Things

If you can, read the whole book, cover to cover. Then reread certain parts.
If you can’t/“don’t have time” then read the chapter summaries and ‘snippets’.

The table of contents is as follows

Welcome from Mark
Introduction: What is Going on Here?
Chapter 1: The Ten Primal Blueprint Laws
Chapter 2: Grok and Korg- From Indigenous to Digital: One Giant Step (Backward) for Mankind
Chapter 3: The Primal Blueprint Eating Philosophy
Chapter 4: Primal Blueprint Law #1: Eat Lots of Plants and Animals
Chapter 5: Primal Blueprint Law #2: Avoid Poisonous Things
Chapter 6: The Primal Blueprint Exercise Laws
Chapter 7: The Primal Blueprint Lifestyle Laws
Chapter 8: A Primal Approach To Weight Loss
Chapter 9: Conclusion

Welcome from Mark

Read this just for the 80% Rule.
The gist. No one is perfect, but strive for perfection. That way, even if you don’t quite “get there” you’re still doing really well.

Introduction: What’s going on here?

Mark compares “Conventional Wisdom” and “The Primal Blueprint”. He does this by contrasting an archetypal hunter-gatherer called Grok, and his 21st century counterpart, Mr Korg. This section contains very brief sections on grains, saturated fat, cholesterol, eggs, fiber, meal habits, strength training, cardio, weight loss, play, sun, footwear, prescription drugs and goals.

Chapter 1: The Ten Primal Blueprint Laws

In this chapter Mark outlines the specific laws of The Primal Blueprint – the foundation of the entire book. If you read up to the end of chapter 1 and actually apply what you learn, your life will change.

Chapter 2: Grok and Korg – From Indigenous to Digital: One Giant Step (Backward) for Mankind

Mark compares the typical day of many Americans (this applies to many Australians now too, sadly) to a prototypical hunter-gather ancestor. It’s a frightening contrast.

Suffice to say, it’s been a different lifestyle scenario for the past blink in human evolution (some 10,000 years), and DRAMATICALLY different over the past few decades.

* Even if (like me) you’re not convinced of the ‘hunter gatherer model’ for health, what with so many factors, both genetic and environmental, that go into health – eating real food is still the right answer.

Chapter 3: Primal Blueprint Eating Philosophy

If you eat real food and don’t eat fake food – you’ll look, feel and perform better.
Sounds hard to believe, but it’s true.
The longer you eat properly, the less you want to eat crappy food- because it makes you feel just that way, crappy.

This chapter also covers the role of insulin in fat storage, cholesterol and the lipid hypothesis of heart disease, the role of healthy fats, macronutrients and transitioning to a Primal way of eating.

*Here’s where people often get hung up. Even if you don’t buy into the insulin/carbohydrate hypothesis and think dismissal of the lipid hypothesis is dangerous – eating real food and cutting down on fake food is still generally the right answer for improved health.

Chapter 4: Law #1- Eat Lots of Plants and Animals (Insects Optional)

Mark has a sense of humour. The Primal Blueprint is NOT a textbook.  It’s professional, yet enjoyable and even comical at times. Perhaps that’s even one of it’s strongest aspects – since what good is great knowledge if the communication is confusing?

In this chapter, Mark gets more specific with eating habits and choices. The vast, vast majority I agree with. A few details here and there I’m not exactly in agreement with, but overall, another excellent portion of the book.

Here Mark presents the Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid. On the whole an excellent, clear guide. I would swap the positions of meat and vegetables, but hey, that’s me, and the difference for most people would be negligible.

Regarding supplements, I’m not “anti-pill”, but obviously only take supplements if you actually need them (i.e. you have a tested, measurable deficiency in a vitamin or mineral).

Chapter 5: Law #2- Avoid Poisonous Things

In this chapter Mark argues against the ‘conventional wisdom’ surrounding grains in a systematic way. He goes into detail regarding the effects of grains, legumes, processed foods and sugar on insulin levels and immune function. He also discusses gluten, lectins, phytates and polyunsaturated vegetable oils and their effects on nutrient absorption and health, clearly and logically.

Chapter 6: The Primal Blueprint Exercise Laws

Mark’s stance on exercise and physical activity is far superior to the run of the mill “chronic cardio” and bodybuilding crowd. I have read some accounts of the Primal Blueprint by fitness professionals that disagree with this section. I believe this is throwing the baby out with the bath water. In my opinion, moving frequently at a slow pace, lifting heavy things and occasionally sprinting is a great way to get basic general, functional fitness.

It is true that you can get into far greater specifics with how you lift heavy things, what heavy things and how often. That will depend on specific goals, training age, required recovery, energy levels and a host of other variables. What Mark offers here is a quick guide on how to effectively go from sedentary to moving (or from overdoing it to balance).

He discusses the case against chronic cardio and the importance of functional, compound movements in strength training and in play.

Chapter 7: The Primal Blueprint Lifestyle Laws

Without proper sleep and sunlight the rest is built on shaky foundations.
Also, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” holds true for humans generally.
Mark ties these together and shows how they affect our health (mental and physical).

He also covers the final Primal Blueprint laws of “Avoiding Stupid Mistakes” and “Using your Brain” – making this book comprehensive and not just a typical diet or exercise book.

Chapter 8: A Primal Approach to Weight Loss

The chapter begins by linking, and purposefully repeating which aspects of The Primal Blueprint will help you lose weight (fat)- although I hope by the end of the book that most people will realize that health, body composition, daily habits, and so on, are all inter-related, and very rarely exclusive to one another.

The carb/insulin vs reduced calorie intake for fat loss debate is still raging. The jury’s still out. Studies have shown that just about every weight (fat) loss method that is adhered to is effective – at least in the short term.

The major advantage of the Primal Blueprint method (and others) is that it involves lifestyle change, rather than ‘dieting’. This makes it easier to maintain medium to long term – which makes the results last.

Primal Conclusion

A strong ending for an excellent book. This book is a gem in the field of nutrition and lifestyle.

Mark gets really down to earth and a bit more behind the scenes. Not only in terms of psychology, but also in what a few days out of his life typically look like – specific foods eaten, activities, and so on.

Also, what you appreciate at the end of a health book – a complete list of foods and habits to aim for, and foods/habits to avoid. Simple as it is, I think most people will really appreciate this final section – especially people new to Paleo/Primal thinking.

Personal Conclusion

Overall, I give this book my highest regard and recommendation when it comes to proper nutrition and positive lifestyle habits to develop. This is the definitive book on nutrition and lifestyle change, especially considering how practical the information is and immediately applicable.

There are detractors to this book. Apart from “you can’t please everyone”, there are some flaws in this book. Domestic plants and animals are very different now than in the Paleolithic. Does that mean eating real food is bad? Of course not!

I agree with 95% of the content of this book. The things I don’t agree with won’t stop you from being successful with this lifestyle change. If you get bogged down in minutiae you will find fault with this book, and Paleo/Primal in general. If you see the big picture of ‘eat real food’ and ‘move/use your body in a functional way’, then the Primal Blueprint is a great template.

Like what you’ve read? Please leave a comment.  🙂

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Sydney Morning Herald: Paleo Diet Criticism

Paleo Diet Criticism

The Paleo Diet has been rising in popularity recently. So too has Paleo Diet criticism.

This post is a bit longer than usual – and hopefully not too ranty!

Paleo Diet Criticism

On the 5th August 2014, this article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper:

http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/nutritionists-warn-of-dangers-in-paleo-dieting-20140805-100iup.html

This article is both interesting and error filled. Here are some points with which I took exception. (Some important, some trivial). My critique of the Paleo Diet Criticism will make most sense if you open that article in a new window, read it, and then read it in parallel to the points I’m making. I also wish to clarify certain misconceptions this newspaper article propagates about Paleo. Please don’t misunderstand me. My article is not a knee-jerk reaction to criticism of a lifestyle modification I think works for many people. It’s a reaction to a mischaracterization of Paleo. At the bottom of this article I have linked to a well written piece that is a legitimate Paleo diet criticism. Anyway, here we go!

“The Paleo diet might be heading for extinction, like the cavemen who inspired it…”

Cavemen are not extinct, they are our ancestors. If they were extinct we wouldn’t be here!

“…modern Paleo eating mimics the hunter-gatherer diet of our Paleolithic ancestors…”

Let’s be clear from the outset. Modern Paleo seeks to emulate rather than replicate hunter-gatherer diets. What do I mean by that is? Get ideas of officeworkers carrying clubs while wearing leopard skins out of your head. Forget starting fires with two sticks. This is not modern Paleo. Modern Paleo is eating unprocessed foods. Simple. If you can eat grains and legumes unprocessed, be my guest. Meat, you can. Vegetables, you can. Fruit, you can. Get the idea? That’s all Paleo is – unprocessed foods.

Stanton says we should applaud the low content of processed foods, sugar and salt advocated in Paleo diets but asks, “why exclude plant-based foods such as wholegrains and legumes when a wealth of evidence confirms their health value?

There is an argument to eating minimally processed grains and legumes, if you can tolerate them. (No abdominal bloating / gas / discomfort.) A lot of people (myself included) have ‘gastro-intestinal issues’ with beans. :/
I’m not convinced that grains and legumes do anything for you that a variety of vegetables don’t. Grains and legumes often displace vegetables on the plate. I think vegetables offer more nutritional value.

The article then says

…the chief executive of the Dietitians Association of Australia, Claire Hewat, says there is no scientific evidence to support eating the Paleo way.

yet then quotes her as saying

“A recent search of the published studies looking at Paleolithic diets revealed no more than 10 studies, all with very few participants over very short time frames – most less than three months. And many people dropped out of the studies, claiming the diet was difficult to follow,” Hewat says.

“No more than 10 studies” is not the same as “no scientific evidence”. So either the article mischaracterises or oversimplifies Hewat’s position, or, less likely, she conflates scant evidence as non-existent. It is the case that there have been few scientific studies of the Paleo Diet. These studies tend to be positive (like this one) but also tend to have small sample sizes. These are red flags. For what it’s worth, there is a study about Paleo being healthier than the Mediterranean diet. All nutrition studies have drop out rates.

“Any diet excluding whole food groups should raise suspicions”

yet the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) has no problem with vegetarianism…

“…eating more meat than is needed by the body certainly has risks”.

Yes. So does drinking too much water. Not limited to red meat, the only risk of consuming too much protein I know is for people with existing kidney disease.

“Claims that our ancestors did not experience heart disease, cancer and diabetes ignore the fact that few people lived past their reproductive age and physical activity ensured people were lean.”

I don’t know about historical disease rates, so won’t speak to that. Staffan Lindberg’s Food and Western Disease talks in depth about Papua New Guinean hunter-gatherers, nutrition and disease. Follow that rabbit hole if you dare! In any case, few people living past reproductive age is a great example of not understanding ‘life expectancy from birth’. (A population without sanitation, for example, will have higher infant mortality – which will bring down the life expectancy figure. Fewer people making it out of childhood doesn’t necessarily mean adults died before they got old…

“Two major hazards associated with the Paleo diet are the high content of red meat and the lack of wholegrains”

Covered the wholegrains thing above.
Red meat. Ahhh!. I sigh for two reasons.

  1. Red meat is delicious!
  2. The (too much) red meat is bad for you trope. Or tripe. :p

Let’s address number two, as number one is self evident to most people. 🙂
Most ‘meat’ studies don’t discriminate between red and processed meats. D The ‘red meat increases your risk of obesity / diabetes / cancer boat is turning. Slowly, but surely.

This review and meta-analysis from 2010 found:

Consumption of processed meats, but not red meats, is associated with higher incidence of CHD and diabetes mellitus. These results highlight the need for better understanding of potential mechanisms of effects and for particular focus on processed meats for dietary and policy recommendations.

Then there’s this study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2014 studied approximately 75,000 people over 15 years, looking specifically at the difference in survival between red and processed meat eaters. This is what that study said:

High red meat consumption is associated with an increased mortality risk. This association is partly explained by the negative effect of processed meat consumption, which is widely established. The role of nonprocessed meat is unclear.

Not too controversial so far… let’s see the conclusion!

We found that high total red meat consumption was associated with progressively shorter survival, largely because of the consumption of processed red meat. Consumption of nonprocessed red meat alone was not associated with shorter survival.

So sausages and porterhouse steak don’t have the same effects on health? Wow!

The Paleo diet can be expensive. So is medical care in later life. If you’d like to see how you can manage the Paleo Diet on a budget then please check this out

Paleo is often characterised as ‘low-carb’. It can be, but often it’s just ‘lower carb’ than eating cereal for breakfast, a roast potato for lunch and pasta for dinner. Pretty much any version of Paleo you see will have the proponent suggest you match carb intake to activity level.

Paleo (done right) isn’t a fad. It’s a healthy way of eating that works for many people.
Effort = results. If you aren’t committed to making lasting change then no lifestyle change will last.
That’s not Paleo’s fault or a controversial statement. That’s reality.

That being said, if Paleo doesn’t work for you – do something else!

If you’re really keen – you could have a look at the Dietitians Association of Australia website. Specifically the sponsors – major partners and associate partners. I believe the DAA has a conflict of interest in their position. Feel free to draw your own conclusions as to why this criticism of the growing Paleo movement may have come about…

Please don’t settle for half-baked criticisms and straw men.

If you’d like to read an excellent article that makes legitimate criticisms of Paleo then check out 4 valid criticisms of the Paleo Diet by Jaime Hartman at GutsyByNature.

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Try this Paleo Banana Pancake Recipe

paleo banana pancake recipe

This Paleo Banana Pancake recipe is simple to make.

It’s also quick to prepare, nutritious and delicious.

Typically pancake mixes many ingredients. Most of them fail the “can you eat it by itself?” test. They have ingredients such as flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, caster sugar, eggs, milk and butter.
(For example check out . Have a look on the side panel of ready-made pancake mix next time you’re at the supermarket.

My recipe is way easier and better for you.

This Paleo Banana Pancake recipe has 3 or 4 ingredients. It can be ready in less than 10 minutes. It’s good for you and tastes fantastic.

To make about 6 pancakes the size of a bread plate you will need:

  • 1 banana
  • 2 eggs
  • a big pinch of cinnamon
  • salt to taste (optional)

  1. Mash the banana with a fork or potato masher
  2. Whisk the eggs until fluffy
  3. Combine the banana and eggs and mix well
  4. If using optional salt – add it now
  5. Poor the mixture into pan or hotplate (low/med)
  6. Sprinkle on the cinnamon
  7. Turn when the middle is starting to firm up (about 5 mins)

Add blueberries or strawberries as a garnish or side.

Enjoy the yummy goodness! Please also try delicious Paleo Chocolate Brownies!

Try delicious Paleo Chocolate Brownie Bites

Paleo Chocolate Brownie Balls

This delicious Paleo Chocolate brownie recipe is a version of the one I found on Paleogrubs.com.
Where they used walnuts only, I decided to use mixed nuts. You can get a 250g or 500g bag of almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts and pecans from the supermarket.

For a dessert or sweet snack this is hard to beat. This chocolate brownie mix is easy to make, delicious and nutritious. You know exactly what’s in it. There are no additives or preservatives. The nuts provide a good source of protein and healthy fats. The raw cacao is high in antioxidants. The only trouble you’ll have with these brownies is having them last long!

Ingredients

  • 250g of raw mixed nuts
  • 100g of pitted dates
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1/3 of a cup of raw cacao powder
  • A pinch of salt

Instructions

  • Add nuts and salt to a blender or food processor. Mix until the nuts are finely ground.
  • Add the dates, vanilla, and cacao powder to the blender. Mix well until everything is combined.
  • With the blender still running, add a couple drops of water at a time to make the mixture stick together.
  • Using a spatula, transfer the mixture into a bowl. Using your hands, form small round balls, rolling in your palm.
  • Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

For other sweet deliciousness, please check out this Paleo Cheesecake recipe.

Paleo Cheesecake Recipe

Paleo Cheesecake

This is a version of a Paleo “Cheesecake” Recipe I found at paleocupboard.com

This recipe is gluten and dairy free – and actually tastes really good. At Christmas I even got complimented on it’s tastiness from my mother in law!

A couple of major diversions from the original include using raspberries rather than blackberries (out of season) and using the actual raspberry ‘pulp’ as a topping, rather than the juice as a compote. You can freeze the juice to make popsicles if you have the equipment.

Ingredients Directions
CRUST TO MAKE THE CRUST
  • 1 1/2 cups raw almonds
  • 10 pitted dates
  • 2 Tbsp. raw honey
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
Blend the almonds for about 5 seconds. Add the dates and honey and blend until the dough sticks together. Take your pan and press the dough into the pan and along the sides. Place the crust in the refrigerator while you work on the other layers.
FILLING TO MAKE THE FILLING
  • 3 cups soaked cashews
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2/3 cup raw honey
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Blend the cashews for about 15 seconds. Add the remaining filling ingredients and blend until very smooth. Pour the filling into the crust, making sure the top is smooth, and return to the refrigerator.
TOPPING TO MAKE THE TOPPING
  • 2 1/2 cups raspberries
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp. raw honey
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1. Place the raspberries and water in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Allow the berries to cook down (about 15 minutes), stirring regularly. Add the raw honey and vanilla extract and stir to combine. Place the berry mixture in a fine mesh strainer held over a small bowl. Press the mixture with the back of a spoon in order to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Spoon the berry “pulp” over the top of the filling layer, making sure it is evenly distributed out to the crust layer. Allow to chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving.

Paleo Cheesecake CrustPaleo Cheesecake Crust and FillingPaleo Cheesecake

Paleo Diet Position Update

Science encourages us to constantly update our ideas – so here’s my update on my position on “Paleo” eating.

We start with a hypothesis, work out measurement criteria, and rigorously test.
If the hypothesis is supported by evidence we accept it – until such time as something better comes along. If the hypothesis is not supported by evidence we reject it – and hopefully something better comes along.

As someone who tries to base decisions on these tenets – I feel it’s time to give you an update on my position on “the Paleo diet”.

Those of you who know me know that I’ve been a proponent of the Paleo diet for a few years now. The reason for choosing it was at the time it seemed to have a sound internal logic to it that elegantly encapsulated what is now starting to be referred to as “evolutionary medicine.”
A fundamental principle being the Dobzhansky quote “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.” Paleo espouses:
“eat what your ancestors ate because that’s what you have adapted to eating.” The ‘trouble’ is there is no one “Paleo” diet. Depending on your latitude you may be eating a huge variety of food, and to suggest there is only one way is misguided.

I would describe humans as opportunistic omnivores.
There is no such thing as a toxic substance – only a toxic dose.

Rather than thinking about food in binary terms: as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, perhaps a more useful way would be so visualise a scale or continuum. I would grade the scale based on nutrient density per kilojoule (this is the volume of vitamins and minerals relative to the energy load.) “Real food” tends to be at one end, some processed foods appear in the middle, and what everyone would agree is ‘junk’ appears at the bad end. Then the trick is eating the ‘good’ stuff, having some ‘middle’ stuff, avoiding the ‘bad’ stuff – and not eating too much of any of it.

Paleo Diet

The common theme that’s running through the “optimal diet” is eating real food.
Unlike processed foods there tends to be high nutrient density relative to kilojoules contained.

Wild Salmon Broccoli Sweet Potato Potato White Rice Pasta Kit Kat

The links above point to nutritiondata.com. Here you can find nutritional breakdowns of a huge variety of food, including macro and micro nutrient ratios (vitamins and minerals), protein profiles, inflammation factor, glycaemic indices, fullness factor and other information.