paleo-cartoonI wish I had a concise answer – I don’t. What I do know is that it is a movement to get us back to eating ‘Real Food’ – not the ‘Frankenfoods’ that come in marketing savvy boxes and bottles, full of additives (sugar and acronyms you can’t understand), and bereft of nutrition.

Food Science

Before I get to ‘my definition’ of Primal / Paleo / Ancestral eating – let me digress a bit. The food processing business (in conjunction with the American Grocers Association), wants to keep you addicted to their products. Although you may say that the term ‘addicted’ is somewhat harsh, look at some of the ads! You see faces of ecstasy when the product is eaten – that’s significant. A good book outlining the ‘dark side’ of the food industry is ‘Salt, Sugar, Fat: How The Food Giants Hook Us’ by Michael Moss.

As a scientist, I am quite familiar with a method called ‘Design of Experiment’ where scientists can change variables and test the impact those variables have on the outcome (in Moss’ book, it is called the taste ‘Bliss Point’). And, it works!

Per Moss’ book – food manufacturers employ food scientists who alter recipes and determine:

  1. What do people like?
  2. How can we make it more addictive?
  3. How can we achieve the addictive effect and do it cost effectively?

Food manufacturers will change fat, sugar and salt content (aka variables) to try to determine what will ‘hook’ the American consumer into continually buying their products. Then, when you add the slick marketing – it is no wonder why we are a nation on the way to the movie WALL-E. We don’t move (other than our fingers), we eat things that aren’t good for us (often low fat – but, high in sugar), and we continue to wonder why the health of the population goes downhill.

So, that is why I follow a Primal lifestyle. I was 20 pounds overweight, low energy, pre-diabetic, with elevated inflammation markers. At the age of 53, I knew I needed to make a change.

But, what does following a Primal lifestyle mean?

First, what is off the menu.

  1. Processed food. Oh sure, I do wish for the days that I could open a box, bag, carton, and eat to my heart’s content. I have a ‘salt tooth’ and love chips, crackers, popcorn. Some of these items I have found great substitutes – but, some have just had to go away permanently.
  2. I do not eat grains (corn, wheat, barley, rye, bulgur, buckwheat, millet, white or brown rice). The foods raise my blood sugar and insulin. They are not worth the cost of my health.
  3. I don’t eat sugar – whether it is white granules that are sold in 5 pound bags, or foods with added sugar (think sugar, flour coating, High Fructose Corn Syrup, agave – more on this later).
  4. Soy. But, isn’t that supposed to be a great vegetarian protein source? It is – but for many women, the estrogenic effect as it relates to breast cancer outweighs the use of the legume or foods that contain it.
  5. Artificial sweeteners. They have actually been shown to have a link to diabetes. I will use sugar alcohols such as xylitol and erythritol from time to time – but, that is even rare.
  6. Vegetable Oils. These oils are so processed and inflammatory to your system. These are the oils I use and how I use them.
Oil Type Use (based on flash point) Notes
Avocado Oil Homemade Mayo It imparts a wonderful flavor to homemade mayo.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Salad Dressing Flavor notes are lost on heating.
Butter Only if you can deal with it as it is dairy. It adds a wonderful flavor to vegetables. Don’t heat it up too much, the milk solids burn and it tastes awful!
Olive Oil Low heat cooking Olive oil is lousy for high heat frying – you lose the flavor and the flavor becomes ‘off-color’
Coconut Oil General cooking at higher temperatures. This is my generic cooking fat – it is mild tasting and works well with a number of temperatures and flavors.
Ghee (Clarified Butter) High temperature cooking. This is heaven! I am amazed at how much the manufacturers charge for it! It is simple to make – check my Recipe page shortly.
Bacon Fat High temperature cooking. This (like other animal fats) is more of a treat. My Depression Era grandmothers would be proud of me.


So, what do I limit.

  1. Dairy. I can eat dairy (I grew up in Minnesota and Wisconsin) – and I love a good cheese. But, I have cheese as a treat – not a normal part of my diet (and it better be good – not the ‘Singles’ wrapped in cellophane!). When I do have dairy – it is full-fat as it is a great source of fatty acids needed for improved health.
  2. Alcohol. I am not a tea-totaller – but, as usual, being aware of what you are imbibing and the amount is smart (even if you aren’t Paleo/Primal).
  3. Legumes. Legumes are not really Primal / Paleo because they contain antinutrients that can cause leaky gut. But, I admit – I love hummus and Baba Ghanoush! And the Paleo versions come up short. So, every once in a while, I enjoy dipping my crudites in a wonder organic version of each of these dips. Other times, Charmoula fits the bill (see my recipe page).

OK – so, what do I enjoy?

  1. Protein – I am not a vegetarian and I make no excuses for loving meat. My sources of protein include fish, poultry, beef, pork and eggs. But, I am smart as to what I eat. It is best to source it locally (if possible), or look for USDA-certified organic meat and poultry (American Farmer’s Network is a great on-line source). I want to ensure that my protein sources are not tainted with antibiotics, pesticides or toxins.

Also, be cautious as to the fish you purchase. Many have substantial toxins (such as mercury). There are numerous seafood watchdog sites (Monterey Bay Aquarium has one of the best). I try to purchase wild caught fish and stay away from most farm-raised fish (especially those from Asia).

  1. Nuts and Seeds – my favorites include macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, and pecans. They are low in carbohydrates and high in phytonutrients, Vitamin E and other essential nutrients. I generally source these as raw nuts and roast them myself. That way, I know how they were made. Nuts also make incredible flours and nut butters as well. I also use nut milks (Brazil nut, Cashews, Almonds) if I need to have a milk substitute in my diet (this recipe for Brazil Nut Milk is to die for).
  2. Vegetables – and a lot of them! When you look at my plate and portion sizes of foods – vegetables take up most of the ‘real estate’. I think we all know that vegetables are good for us (don’t forget – corn is not a vegetable). Explore the overall rainbow of different tastes, colors, and textures. Again, try to source it locally and in season (if possible). But, if you can’t, look for organic. I know the cost of some organic produce is prohibitive, so – don’t let perfection be the enemy of good enough. If you can wash them well, then by all means, do that. It beats the alternatives!
  3. Fruits – use caution. While fruits are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients, they can also be high in sugar (namely fructose). We will explore fructose at a later date, but – even if it is naturally occurring sugar – it elevates blood glucose and blood triglycerides. I try to limit these to seasonal berries (locally grown), lemons and limes. However, every so often, I will have other fruits – nothing beat a Texas peach when it is ripened to perfection!
  4. Fats – I provided the list of oils that I use earlier in this post. I stay away from vegetable oils which are high in Omega-6 fatty acids (pro-inflammatory).

So, rather than concentrate on what I can’t eat – if you concentrate on what you can enjoy – and, I really mean enjoy – you get the gist of the Tammi Gordon Primal Eating Plan. For more information on Primal Eating – please see Mark Sisson’s site – Mark’s Daily Apple for more information on the overall plan.


Here’s to eating well and living well.


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