What’s the Difference between the Primal Diet and Paleo Diet?

Okay, so in my last post about the difference between the paleo/primal diet and the Atkins diet, I said that I use the words primal and paleo synonymously. However, there actually is a difference, and I want to outline it for you. This is because I align more with “Primal” than “Paleo” and would like to start using primal as my word of choice. (Of course, this is all just nitpicking).

They both have the same basic idea – that humans are better off eating pre-agricultural revolution foods because it’s only been a couple thousand years since then, and our genes haven’t changed that much since ancient times. While neither is actually a super low, low carbohydrate diet like the beginning stages of Atkins, they are still against excessive carbohydrates, and particularly grains of any sort.

So what’s the difference?

I’d say the difference mostly comes down to fat.

The paleo diet, most famously outlined by a man named Loren Cordain doesn’t advocate a higher fat intake, and is particularly opposed to saturated fat. He encourages lean meats, advises to avoid all dairy, and all starchy vegetables (like sweet potatoes). Because of this, the diet is generally higher in protein – which I don’t believe is a good thing. You can view a list of paleo approved foods ala Loren Cordain here.

The Primal diet is a bit more lenient and the godfather of “Primal” is a guy named Mark Sisson. He takes the paleo diet and makes it more human. It’s okay if you aim for 100% with your diet but fall at 80%. You are allowed a little bit of quality dairy… you are allowed some starchy tubers. And you are allowed to eat plenty of good fats, as well as quality saturated fat (which he, and I, believe to be wrongly persecuted). Therefore, the fat intake is much higher, and that lowers the protein intake.

The difference is also the lifestyle thing that I was mentioning last post. Paleo is more of a “diet”, where as Mark has taken it and made it into a lifestyle – the “Primal Lifestyle” – all about emulating a more natural life that our caveman ancestors may have lived. And I don’t mean you have to live in a cave and stop shaving… I mean eating as close as we can to their diet without going out and hunting dinosaurs, or exercising in a way that would have resembled how they did (ex. doing sprints in your minimalist shoes every once in a while to emulate running away from the occasional dinosaur). To sum it up, his tagline is “Primal Living in a Modern World”. Check out his website, he’s a smart guy.

So if I said I was eating paleo, I actually meant primal (so when I talk about this way of eating in the future, I am going to use the word primal). I don’t eat outrageous amounts of meat and saturated fat (again, I am all for mostly vegetables)… one smallish serving of meat per meal at most. But I am loving being able to eat the succulent fat instead of being relegated to boring, low fat chicken breasts. And being able to eat butter! Hallelujah. It’s very satisfying. I also love sweet potatoes, so maybe that’s why I would rather be primal than paleo :p

All in all, Mark’s approach to the whole thing makes a lot of sense to me and I’m enjoying skirting around being “primal”.

That being said – I’m not an extremist, and I don’t really like labels.

The reason is because I don’t feel like there is one diet out there that is the best for everyone. I agree with the principles of avoiding grains (especially gluten grains) and excessive starchy carbohydrates – but I don’t think it’s a big deal to eat more carbohydrates if that’s what your body wants and needs – or even eating some brown rice, quinoa, or beans if they’re properly prepared. Everyone is so different and each individual will feel their best with their own individual ratio of fats to proteins to carbs. ♥

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  1. Lauren says

    Interesting, this is definitely something to try! Although humans didn’t exist with dinosaurs, haha 😛 we’ll just have to pretend we’re running from wooly mammoths.

  2. magda says

    and i am asking again; how can you not lose weight on this diet?? discipline is not a problem for me. i think i am able to eat like that for the rest of my life, but what about being skinny? ok i ve always been a slim girl but now i ve become skinny and everybody seems to commend about that. i feel so unattractive. i dont have curves any more. i mean do i really have to choose between face and body?i really feel awful.tracy have you lost any weight since trying to solve your skin problems? oh by the way! you look great on your last video!! are you wearing any make up? your skin is gorgeous! congratulations! (sorry about my english, i am greek by the way).

    • Anna says

      I have had the same problem when trying out paleo/primal diet. I find the foods to be satisfying and healthy but I cannot keep weight on! It’s very frustrating… Tracy, do you have any advice for us??

      • Bruno says

        Got the same problem. As I’m a guy, it’s probably a bit easier, I just have to do some weight lifting and all to get buffed, but right now I’m horribly skinny and it’s not attractive at all.

      • says

        Eat. A lot of food. Eat more. And more. You are probably not getting enough protein. Do you lift weights at all or do bodyweight exercises? What do you eat?

    • Sampson says

      Because weight loss always comes down to calories. It’s easier to get more calories in on a high-carb diet. This is why people on Atkins have no problem losing weight. Meat/high protein foods in general doesn’t have all that much calories for a large serving and it’ll fill you up more than a meal which as an equivalent amount of calories – except the calories are form carbs in the other meal.

      As long as you’re expending more calories (either through diet or exercising or both) than you take in, you’re going to lose weight.

      • Bruno says

        I know that, though in theory it should be easier to get more calories on atkins. Just swallow loads of coconut oil :D. I just don’t feel like doing that.

  3. Tracy says

    Hey guys… yes, I better do a video about this, because I definitely struggle with the same problem! Ill try to get that up in the next few days!

  4. says

    Tracy… Cordain downgraded Saturated fat IN THE PAST. He now understands that it does NOT lead to heart disease and one does not have to worry at all about consuming too much.

    The only fat that you can virtually consume too much of is Polyunsaturated Fat, more specifically Omega 6 Fatty Acids. Omega 3’s are great! Our body LOVES a 1:1 balance of 03 and 06. But its incredibly easy to get too many 06’s.

    And, be careful! Eat a lot fish. Do NOT eat a lot of walnuts… one serving has 10 grams of omega 6!!! It may have 2.5 grams of omega 3 but its in the ALA form. Our body does not want ALA, it wants EPA, DHA from fish and eggs!

    People who say they are paleo still follow the “lifestyle” and not just the diet.

    The main difference is dairy. At least this is what most people in both camps say.

    I say PRIMAL = PALEO and I always will. More and more will be saying this too.

    It’s an awesome community – the greatest in the world!

  5. RockingRedhead/Lily says

    I was going to mention LC’s changed position on sat fat but it looks like PT beat me to it!
    To the girls/guy who can’t keep wait on: you probably need to eat more fat. I have been paleo since mid-april and haven’t lost any weight, and I am naturally skinny too. I am about 5’5-5’6″ and 115-120 lbs. I do not restrict my food intake or count anything of any sort. I eat a lot of butter, eggs, chicken, almond butter, vegetables, fruit. I would get some coconut oil but my parents are scared of sat fat and won’t let me lol.
    I would say I follow the paleo lifestyle…the diet/way of eating obviously, in addition to plenty of sleep w/o alarm clocks in a dark room, minimalist shoes (VFFs, flip flops, Toms). The only thing I’m working on is the exercise aspect. I’m thinking of joining my local CrossFit program but it’s reallyy expensive…$170 US dollars a month.

    • Tracy says

      Hey Lily, I have only been eating strict paleo for a few weeks, so it’s hard for me to say one way or the other about losing weight on this particular diet long term. So I really appreciate your input! Thanks :)

  6. Tyler says

    I have been really leaning toward a paleo life style recently. there is a book that got some awesome reviews on amazon “everyday paleo” by sarah fragoso and robb wolf, wanna give it a read. it makes sense to me and i am blood type O (according to blood type diets i would be geared for a hunter gatherer organic lean meat, veggie, fruit lifestyle with minimization of wheat and dairy). of course i don’t really believe in all the blood type diet hype, but it seems to also be in agreement with the paleo lifestyle. Is the human digestive system really more equipped to digest animal protein better than grains though? i feel like we don’t have a really high quantity of uric acid to digest animal protein yet apparently all grains (even non gluten grains) are irritating to the digestive system.

    • Tracy says

      Personally I think that humans are very equipped to digest meat, but our fast food lifestyles (and too many grains etc) have damaged a lot of people digestive tracts to the point where meat becomes difficult to digest. Then people blame the meat, but really its just the digestive power that is lacking.

  7. says

    Wow what’s wrong with me? I started paleo while on a trip and lost 5 pounds, came back and have been steadily gaining wright and body fat % rose from 22.5 to 26.5. I’m a female who is slim but wanted to lose a few pounds. Any thoughts?

  8. says

    Yes! I started it specifically on the trip to control, lost around 5 pounds. Came home loved how easy the rules were and continued, after that my weight & bf kept creeping up

  9. E says

    Hi Tracy, just a quick question if you have the time. I’m noticing a ongoing trend of cystic acne and inflammation (I develop a weird painful little lump in my earlobe) when I eat foods that are high in omega-6 or omega-3. On separate occasions I have had bad reactions when eating avocados, fish oil, and yesterday I had some grass fed beef. The little lump on my earlobe appeared immediately after eating last night and is still there. I was hoping I wouldn’t react to grass fed beef since it’s hard for me to take fish oil to balance my omegas without breaking out. It doesn’t make sense for me to break out from a reasonable amount of omega-3s, but it happens. Any ideas?

    Also, what is your take on organic chicken? I’m reading that even though a label says organic most of the time it just means the chickens are fed organic corn, soy and other grains. I think this is why chicken has more omega-6 than 3. Even omega-3 enriched eggs come from chickens fed an overload of soybeans and flax. I know pasture raised chicken is best but it’s so expensive. Do you think a chicken’s diet will come through in our acne? I tend to stay away from soy and grain and didn’t know if I should lessen my consumption of organic chicken.

    • Tracy says

      That’s very interesting :/ it makes sense why you may break out after eating things high in Omega 6s if your Omega ratio was off balance… but I can’t say for sure why you would break out after eating Omega 3s… although I have heard that if you are taking a crappy brand of fish oil, it may be spoiled or contaminated and actually cause more problems rather than getting rid of them. I’d recommend taking Carlson brand fish oil or cod liver oil. Also, are you eating a lot of grains and sugary carbs along with the fats in your diet?

      As for organic chicken… I agree… it doesn’t really much of anything except what you said – they’re fed organic corn or flax or soy. Chicken also does have a lot of omega 6s, so if you weren’t getting enough omega 3s or it was the only meat you ate, it may cause you problems. There’s also a chance that if you were REALLY sensitive to corn or soy and that’s what the chicken was fed, it could cause you issues.

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