Welcome to the third installment of the How Should We Eat series! So far we’ve covered the dietary guidelines and methods used in the USDA’s MyPlate initiative and Weight Watchers, what vegetarianism, veganism, and raw food diets are all about, and what the Standard American Diet looks like. Everyone can agree that one is a bad choice for us!
Today I want to take a look into a few different food philosophies that overlap and are sometimes tricky to distinguish: Primal, Paleo, and Atkins diets.
First, it is easy to understand how these three eating habits can get a little jumbled up in our minds. They all share a common theme of limited carbohydrates and shying away from grains and sugars while emphasizing meat, poultry, fish, and non-starchy vegetables. It seems to me that Atkins as been more well-known to the general public for longer, but I have many friends that are jumping on the Paleo/Primal wagon and loving the results.
Ready to learn more?
The foundation of the Atkins diet lies in the work of the late Dr. Robert Atkins who, in the 1960s, developed a solution to the growing problem of obesity. The Atkins approach to nutrition emphasizes lean protein (including animal and soy sources), lots of vegetables, whole fruits, dietary oils from vegetables and seeds, and smaller amounts of more carbohydrate-rich foods like legumes, bread, and grains. The diet goes through four phases with the first phase concentrating on lean protein, vegetables, and what they call “healthy fats,” while the last phase allows all foods that fall in the Atkins food pyramid based on personal requirements for carbs. The website also has an entire section for Atkins food products.
What I like: The emphasis on protein, vegetables, and restriction of empty carbohydrates is definitely something I can jump on board with! Like some of the other diets mentioned, there are many very enthusiastic followers of the diet who have lost weight and feel incredibly healthy because of it. My family doctor is also a big supporter of the book The New Atkins for a New You.
Where I differ: The protein sources are supposed to be lean and the fats from vegetable and seed oils, whereas I choose full-fat meats and dairy and traditional animal fats for our family. I would take issue with the use of soy as a protein source, and any time a diet puts out lots of prepackaged foods, I get a little suspicious. When grains are properly prepared, I believe that they can be healthy additions to our diets.
The Paleo and Primal diets are based on evolutionary science and the belief that if we eat the way our caveman, hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, we’ll be much healthier. This means lots of animal protein (minus the dairy since cavemen supposedly didn’t keep herds), vegetables, some fruits like berries, and fats, while cutting out sugar, dairy, refined fats, grains, and legumes. There are some differences between Primal and Paleo eating when it comes to saturated fat. The founder of the Paleo Diet calls for lean meats and oils from vegetables, nuts, and seeds, while the author of The Primal Blueprint encourages saturated fats from animal sources. The overlapping and differences between Paleo, Primal, and Atkins diets can all be seen in this chart from the blog Hunter Gather Love.
What I like: Out of the three diets mentioned in this post, and actually all of them in this series so far, I find the most common ground with the Primal plan because of the role that saturated fats, unprocessed and whole vegetables, and quality protein play in the diet. I like that there are many people I personally know who have had such success with a Paleo/Primal diet, too.
Where I differ: My difference with the two diets starts with their very philosophy regarding human origins. To some, that may not be a point worth considering, but to me, it matters. If I don’t really believe that man evolved from primates to cavemen to modern man, then why should I try to eat like the caveman figures from “tens of thousands” of year ago? Instead, I believe that God created an intelligent man in His own image, and went on to come in the form of a Savior who called Himself the Bread of Life. So while some may do really well on a Paleo/Primal diet, I don’t believe that it is the solution to our dietary troubles because of it’s flawed foundation.
Now onto your thoughts and experiences! Please share them in a comment below.