Primal vs. Paleo: Which Is the Better Diet?

If you’re going to eat like someone from the Stone Age, is there a better way to do it?
paleolithic drawings

Photo Modified: Flickr / Arian Zwegers / CC BY 4.0

Standing on an elephant while brandishing a goad isn't prescribed by either diet, but both plans will have you eating the same way the man or woman who painted this scene thousands of years ago did.

In an effort to channel their inner Fred Flintstone, many people have taken up a back-to-our-roots style of eating. When we say back-to-our-roots, we're talking about thousands of years ago (as far back as the Stone Age). Some people have taken it one tyrannosaurus rex step further and have implemented changes to their lifestyle that allow them to live as some of our most ancient of ancestors once did. As enchanting as brontosaurus ribs and dinosaur-powered construction vehicles may sound, we’re not talking about mimicking a Flintstone-esque lifestyle here.

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Rather, we’re talking about two increasingly popular diets: paleo and primal. Paleo has been so well-received by health and fitness communities that you can find a wide range of foodstuffs labeled as paleo-friendly. We recently reviewed one such paleo-friendly snack, protein bars by RXBAR, and found them to be not only nutritionally sound but altogether quite delicious. This goes to show that just because these diets are ancient doesn’t mean that they don't include delicious foods.

Click here for our best paleo-friendly recipes.

The primal lifestyle can be attributed to The Primal Blueprint, a guideline to living like our ancestors did 10,000 years ago. This guideline is based on the idea that we are in control of how our genes express themselves if we provide them with the proper environment. Food, activity, rest, and sunlight are all part of the edicts guiding followers of the primal lifestyle, and they’re encouraged to avoid stress and partake in both physical and intellectual expression. By doing so, our genes can express themselves in a way that discourages modern ailments from taking over. Paleo dieters are basing their food choices on a list prescribed by Dr. Loren Cordain in The Paleo Diet. This diet is also supposed to serve as a remedy for common afflictions experienced by many modern humans.

According to Leanne Ely of Saving Dinner, evolutionary science led modern humans to revert to such ancient modes of consumption:

“The paleo and primal lifestyles are both based on evolutionary science that states that the diet we westerners are eating nowadays is nothing like what our ancestors ate a hundred thousand years ago. That’s because an agricultural revolution took place roughly ten thousand years ago and we started eating food that our bodies couldn’t digest properly. Both the paleo and primal lifestyles say that if we eat what our ancestors ate, we’ll be healthier.”

The way some people view it is that primal is a guide on how to live like a hunter-gatherer; paleo is strictly a diet to eat like one. As with most things, there are a few gray areas in both of these diets, and dietary exceptions often come into play.

While there are similarities between primal and paleo approaches to eating, the two diets (yabba dabba) do have some pretty significant differences. The following slideshow will show you the differences and similarities between primal and paleo. After comparing the two methods, you’ll be able to make an educated decision about whether one of these diets is for you.