Paleo and Primal Nutrition: The De-Evolution of Diet

Fred Flintstone to George Jetson, raw to processed foods and now back again. Has the diet de-evolved for good?

Growing up, I was fascinated by The Flintstones and The Jetsons, Hanna-Barbera’s comical cartoon visions of our past and future. But while we are unquestionably living in a Jetsons-esque future, full of modern conveniences like cellphones and computers, many people are gravitating to a more primitive, Flintstonian dietary pattern, eliminating farmed and processed foods and seeking out foods that are as close to nature-produced as possible. One could say that we are knuckle-dragging our way through a high-tech world hunting and gathering more basic, closer-to-nature foods; a diet more akin to what our ancestors ate. In essence, we are de-evolving our diet to be more like Fred’s than George’s. Paleo and Primal are the two main cave-man diet philosophies followed by the CrossFit faithful, and we highlight their commonalities and differences.

Land of the Lost … UPCs and Bar Codes

Life was physically challenging 100,000 years ago, with no refrigeration, preservatives, microwaves or pizza delivery dude helping to put dinner on the table. Heading out to the savanna with spear and rock in hand was analogous to the modern-day supermarket excursion with a credit card in the wallet. However, the trade-off for having to work so hard for food was higher-quality all-natural products. The wild game was leaner than supermarket cuts today and rich in protein, creatine, essential minerals and vitamin B-12, while lipid- and nutrient-dense organ meat was a premium. Roots, tubers, leaves, insects, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables provided vitamins A, B and C. Fish and other aquatic foods provided brain-enhancing omega-3 fats, and all that time spent outdoors ensured that our forebears had healthy levels of vitamin D.

Paleo vs. Primal: What’s the Diff?

Those of us looking to hit the diet reset button can follow the paths mapped out by our ancestors. The Paleo and Primal diets allow for all meats, including beef, pork, chicken and turkey, in addition to game meats like bison, deer and elk, all of which should be grass-fed and organic or otherwise raised without hormones. Meanwhile, eggs and fresh or frozen seafood — especially salmon and shellfish like shrimp and crab — are welcome in any cave kitchen. All fresh or frozen vegetables are allowed (canned and fried veggies are frowned on), and nuts (including any nut butters made without sugar), seeds and fruit are fine. One of the only forks in this de-evolved dietary path is dairy. The Paleo diet discourages dairy foods, while Primal followers can consume full-fat dairy products like butter, milk and yogurt with a focus on non-homogenized, raw dairy from pastured animals.

What’s Bad Is Good and Vice Versa

The Paleo and Primal diets offer some contrasts to modern recommendations. For instance, grain-based foods, even whole grains, are not included in either diet, thereby eliminating one of the biggest sources of carbohydrates. On the other hand, red meat, whole eggs, saturated fats and cholesterol are embraced by the diets, with saturated fat viewed as a primitive energy source and cholesterol feted as the vital precursor molecule for important hormones like testosterone and even vitamin D.

So as CrossFit takes us back to basics in a lot of ways with training, so too do the Paleo and Primal diets with regard to nutrition. With their focus on real foods, including those that provide the nutritional foundation for optimal physical performance, it’s easy to be a Flintstone even in a Jetson world.