{Primal Lessons} The Complete Guide to Primal Eating

Today’s post gives comprehensive steps to take to get you started on your own primal journey. It looks exclusively at making changes to the food you eat and how to go about it.

If you haven’t all of my Primal Lessons post, please read these first:

  1. A wee bit of History and Anthropology
  2. The Science behind Primal Eating
  3. The Philosophies behind Primal Eating

Disclaimer: I’m not a registered dietician, I’m just someone who has done their research and successfully implemented a primal way of eating, and has seen major benefits. I do, however, plan to certify in the next year.

*a big tip: click on all the hyperlinks to continue to educate yourself

The point of eating certain foods but not others goes back to my post on the history and anthropology of primal eating, and how we’ve evolved to be able to eat certain foods but not others – I think the science behind primal eating is more evolutionary biology and genetics actually. Apart from eating what our hunter-gatherer, early human ancestors ate, primal eating also looks at what our Homo Sapien ancestors consumed. You can get an idea of what your ancestors from centuries ago ate based on how you react to certain foods in the present day. Those who are lactose (milk sugar) or casein (milk protein) intolerant most likely descended from people who didn’t consume dairy, and lived a more coastal life, where fish and shellfish was the main protein. Those who can eat dairy in abundance with no issues most likely have ancestors who herded animals and drank their milk. Some people don’t do well with meat: perhaps your ancestors lived in forests, and ate mainly tubers and vegetables. Pat, his dad and his brother get upset stomachs from consuming any legumes: clearly their ancestors didn’t eat legumes at all. Despite me being of Japanese descent, I think I got more of my Mom’s French-Canadian side because rice – although I eat it for muscle glycogen purposes – isn’t received well by my guts. I retain water from it and my bowel movements aren’t so great. This explains why primal eating is sometimes called Ancestral Eating: you’re eating according to what your ancestors ate, and their diet depended on where they lived.

In terms of changing what you eat to get you started in your own primal journey, it can be seen as a series of Stops and Starts. Let me explain.

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1. Stop eating all carbs from grains: this means no bread, pasta, bagels, cookies, biscuits, scones, pizza crust, muffins, crumpets, potato scones, etc. Nothing made from wheat, barley, rye, spelt, corn (yes it’s a grain). Anything made with flour made from grains. I strongly urge you to read this article on why grains are bad for us.

Not only will you need to go grain-free, but, as a result of not eating grains, you’ll also be gluten-free.

Oats aren’t technically a grain, but I don’t eat them. Read about them here to make your own choice.

Rice is technically a grass and okay for muscle glycogen (energy) purposes, but again, I wouldn’t go crazy with it. As well, it may not agree with you.

Quinoa is a chernopod, not a grain, and again it’s okay if it agrees with you. When I say ‘agrees with you’ I mean the food doesn’t make you bloated, give you an upset stomach or not-so-solid bowel movements.

Rice and quinoa are okay to eat for those who are moderately to highly physically active and requiring muscle energy (glycogen) to perform well. There are other sources of muscle glycogen, however…

Start eating vegetables, some fruit and some tubers:

What are they you ask? The answer is easy, and is something that the majority of the running world isn’t aware of: tubers. These robust plants are a complex carbohydrate and offer plenty of muscle energy. Sweet potatoes, white potatoes, yams, turnip, squash, and rutabaga are all great plant-based sources of muscle energy. I eat sweet potatoes (my favourite tuber), and white potatoes a few times a week to help with running and cycling. I train low, race high, meaning that I train in a more glycogen-depleted state (so low muscle energy) to get my body adapted to burning fat and not relying so much on glycogen. In the week leading up to a race, I’ll ‘carb-load’ with sweet potatoes, white potatoes and/or Basmati rice to build up glycogen stores; I’ll eat a small serving with my usual meat and vegetables. When I race, I’ll be full of muscle energy!

If you’re not an active person, I would still recommend only eating tubers a few times a week. Roast them, boil them, mash them all together. Delicious! And usually orange…

You should also start eating vegetables and lots of them! Heck, eat vegetables as part of your breakfast, I dare you! You can have as much vegetables as you like. You can have them raw or cooked, any way, it’s up to you. The best ones?

Aubergine/Eggplant, Avocado, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Cauliflower, Garlic, Onion, Kale, Red Bell pepper, Spinach, Yellow squash

I have vegetables with eggs in the morning (either my Whenever Quiche or an omelette made of leftover veg from the previous night’s dinner), a loaded salad as part of my lunch, and another loaded salad or roasted vegetables as part of my dinner. I’ve also been known to have soup with vegetables in it for breakfast… Aim for 2-3 servings of veg per meal.

Pickled and fermented vegetables are great – good gut healers – but you need to watch out because store-bought varieties typically contain high amounts of sugar.

As for fruit, if you’re going primal for weight loss, eat 1-3 fruits a day. Mark Sisson, the author of The Primal Blueprint, highly recommends the following fruits for their nutritional impact:

ALL berries, Cherries, Plums, Apples, Peaches, Pears, Figs, Grapefruit, Kiwis, Apricots

* p. 157, The Primal Blueprint

When you eat your fruit is up to you. I have two fruits with my breakfast (a variation of berries, apricots, plums and peaches), and another for dessert at night. Lately, it’s been a peeled kiwi, so delicious! Avoid dried fruit though as they have a high glycemic rating, meaning they’ll spike your blood sugar levels and you don’t want that to happen. Remember what the science says: you want your blood sugar levels to remain stable.

If you’re not going primal for weight loss, you don’t have to limit your fruit intake, but keep in mind that fruit contains fructose, and fructose can spike your blood glucose levels, despite it coming from a natural source. Some people also just don’t eat fruit.

2. Stop using polyunsaturated and hydrogenated fats: say no to any vegetable oil, seed oil, margarine, and any oil-based spreads. You can’t spread with them, you can’t cook with them, you can’t bake with them. Read about why you shouldn’t consume these types of fats here and here.

Start using saturated, monounsaturated and unsaturated fats instead: a saturated fat, as mentioned before, is easy to spot because it’s solid until heated. Butter, ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil, lard (rendered pork fat), tallow (rendered beef fat – beef dripping), goose fat are all examples. Despite what mainstream health has to say, these fats are incredibly good for us! If you want to read why click here and here.

Sautrated fat

Monounsaturated fats and unsaturated fats are found in avocados, unseasoned nuts, black and green olives, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil.

Coldwater fish, like wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring, are also rich in fat.

Full-fat dairy is also a great source of saturated fat, but not everyone’s constitutions agree with it. Please eat little to no full-fat dairy when going primal. A common mistake is going overboard on dairy – it’s now acceptable to eat it so you gourge yourself on it. The problem with this is that most people can’t take large quantities of dairy, and our body revolts. This looks like constipation, but can also manifest itself in your skin through a flare up of existing skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. It may also look like redness and blemishes on your face. I’m speaking from experience with this bit of advice: I was got constipated and my eczema got bad from dairy overload when I first went primal. If I eat dairy, it’s cheese with salad or in my quiche, Greek yogurt as part of long run or race recovery. Or just not at all. If I eat too much dairy, my eczema goes from non-existent to a small rash developing.

3. Stop eating sugar and fake sugar: no sugar is good for you, not even brown sugar or coconut sugar. They all trigger spikes in blood glucose levels and a surge of insulin to combat it.

Asparatame, splenda and any other artificial sweetner also is a no-no. Agave nectar too, because it’s worse than real sugar!

This doesn’t mean you will never eat anything sweet ever again, it just means that sugar won’t sweeten it any more.

Start using primal-friendly sweeteners: you can use paleo-friendly honey or maple syrup – which do trigger elevated blood glucose levels but not to the same degree as sugar – or, you can opt for a sugar alcohol, like xylitol or erythritol. Both have a very low glycemic rating compared to honey and maple syrup, meaning they have little to no effect on your blood glucose levels. Both can be purchased online at Amazon. I buy Xylitol from Amazon or a health food store in Aberdeen, but larger Tescos sell it in small quantities. Large quantities of Xylitol can cause upset stomach and diarrhoea: I use it in my baking and have a heaped teaspoon of it every morning in my bulletproof espresso, and haven’t experienced anything.

Another acceptable sweetener is stevia, although it does have a funny aftertaste that many don’t like. Sugar alcohols and stevia come from plant sources, whereas artificial sweetners are made in labs. Which would you prefer.

4. Stop eating processed meat, legumes and soy for protein: no lunch meats, no sausages full of fillers, no fake meat. If you don’t know what all of its ingredients are, then don’t eat it.

No soy products either, although tempeh is acceptable. Legumes (pulses) are also a no as they can cause bloating, upset stomach and spikes in blood glucose levels. They also contain the same toxins grains do. Read about why soy and legumes are a no-go here and here.

Start eating all real meat, fish, and eggs: ‘real’ meaning if it’s beef, it looks like beef and you’ve bought it in its raw form for you to cool. Beef, chicken (all parts and skin), pork, lamb, game, offal from these animals and fish are all great sources of protein. Eggs too. All should be resonsibly farmed, and/or local.

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Mmmmm grass-fed steak from my butcher

If you want to go the protein powder route, choose whey or egg white protein.

There are some brands of sausages that are gluten-free and contain high percentages of real meat. I buy Heck brand sausages from Tesco, which are made with 97% pork shoulder. Your local butcher can also make gluten-free sausages by special request.

More foods you should stop consuming:

5. Stop eating all convenience food and junk food: any processed sauces, soups, curries, and meals that are found in tins, frozen, or packages that you just need to heat up or add water to and eat are to be avoided. You should know they’re bad for you, and if you read the ingredients list, they’re full of ingredients you can’t pronounce, don’t know what they look like, and the list itself is a large paragraph. They most likely also make you feel tired after you eat them.

Why would you realistically want to eat this?

Processed gluten-free foods sold in grocery stores – like breads, cookies, cake, breakfast bars and pasta – should also be avoided due to their high glycemic rating.

Start eating real food: For a complete list of the foods you need to stop eating, and those you should start eating, check out my Primal Larder page.

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Real foods that are tinned that I eat: coconut milk and tinned tomatoes. Frozen vegetables are totally acceptable too.

6. Stop eating all foods that claim to be healthy but aren’t: have you noticed a lot of grocery store low-fat products have to tell you how healthy they are? That’s because they’re actually not, and they’re using sales gimmicks to sway you and take advantage of your lack of food knowledge. Anything that has to tell you how vitamin and mineral fortified, omega-3 and 6 enriched it is, good source of energy, no sugar, etc., is desperate for you to buy it. Don’t fall for i!

Some people think that simply buying a sugar-free version of a processed food, like juice or soda, is a solution, but it’s not. Remember, philosophy #2 of primal eating? Just eat real food. Juice from the grocery store isn’t real food, it’s liquid sugar and just as bad as soda.

Yes, you will be getting rid of a lot of food in your cupboards, fridge and freezer. The most painful part of it isn’t parting with purchased food, but instead parting with food to which you’re attached. I’ll address that in another post.

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So now that your cupboards and fridge are bare, what do you fill them with? Check out my Primal Larder page for all the YES foods and start making a grocery list!

What specifically will you be eating you ask? I can’t tell you because everyone’s taste is different, but here’s some tips all should follow:

Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Coffee and espresso is fine, so is tea, as long as you’re not using them as pick-me-ups.

Eat protein with every meal: this doesn’t mean you need to eat meat with every meal, just as long as you’ve got protein in there.

Protein is the most important macronutrient as it is the building blocks to life, vital to the structure and function of all cells in your body. Protein helps preserve and increase muscle mass, increases energy expenditure, lowers your risk of disease, and helps you feel fuller faster and for longer.

Eat lots of YES fats: yes, fat is good for you!!!!! And will be your source of energy – I’ll go into that in my next Primal Lessons post.

Think of each meal as lots of vegetables, lots protein and fat. You could think of your plate as half veg, half protein with fat on top.

Please don’t avoid salt. Cutting out carbs leads to a rapid initial weight loss resulting from getting rid of excess water retention. Unfortunately, this can also get rid of sodium in our bodies. As a result, you can feel light-headed, tired, suffer from headaches, or again, from constipation. Salt is good, just as long as it’s sea salt instead.

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Chicken wings, roasted butternut squash, and grilled asparagus and courgette / zucchini. All topped with sea salt.

In terms of frequency of meals, you should aim for three round meals a day, about every 4-6 hours. If you find you can’t make it that long, it could mean some of the following:

  • You’re not eating enough protein
  • You’re not eating enough fat
  • You’re not eating enough food
  • You’re not drinking enough water

This last point is especially important: sometimes hunger pangs are actually our body signalling we’re thirsty. Try drinking water first. For me, I’m starving every single morning. The first thing I do is drink a pint of water. My hunger pangs disappear. I do eat breakfast, but my hunger isn’t satisfied from food, it’s taken care of from water. I can actually fast until mid-morning if I’ve had water when I wake up.

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I can’t prescribe detailed amounts of how much to eat because that varies depending on the individual, their metabolism, their muscle mass and their level of physical activity. You need to find what works for you.

I know I haven’t missed anything, this post is of epic proportions!

Any questions?

The next Primal Lesson will be on fat burning!

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6 thoughts on “{Primal Lessons} The Complete Guide to Primal Eating

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  5. Great article. I’ve been eating this way for nearly two years now and have never felt better. The only bit I would take issue with is the 3 meals a day. I think if done properly, most people find they only need to eat twice per day without snacking. This further helps the body’s blood sugar levels giving them less opportunity to spike (though they shouldn’t much if eating right).

    • Thanks 🙂

      With regards to 2-3 meals a day, I think it just depends on the person and their activity levels. I find that the day after a long, tough club session, I’m hungry for breakfast; other days, not at all. If I’ve been for a longer run, especially trail run, again I’m a bit more hungry. Everyone is different at making paleo work for them.

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