Last updated October 31, 2023
The paleo diet—sometimes called the “Caveman” Diet but which I call a primal diet—is one that mimics the diet of our ancestral hunter-gatherer ancestors in the Paleolithic era (circa 3, 5 million years ago) before the advent of the agricultural revolution.
This way of eating is based on the premise that humans have burned fat as their primary source of energy throughout human evolution (think hunting-gathering and fishing) until civilization’s abrupt transition to a grain-based diet that started only around 10,000 years ago (which is very little time in the scale of millions of years of Human Evolution).
Primal living—and its way of eating—are based on getting as close to the source (nature) as possible. This is made challenging in today’s fast-paced, industrialized processed, man-made, plastic-wrapped, sugar-loaded, long-life, shelf “food.”
However, it really isn’t that difficult to slow down and savour our food a little more.
We can do this in simple swaps like buying local and organic, going for high-quality meats (grass, not grain, fed), seafood, fruits, nuts, and vegetables; avoiding sugar, sugary drinks and anything processed or ingredients that we can’t pronounce.
Basically, eating like our ancestors would have.
The first step for most of us is to clear out the fridge and pantry. But try not to see this way of eating as cutting things out—think of it as all of the rich and abundant ingredients you can add in.
A strict Paleo diet advocates cutting out dairy, however, a more flexible Primal Diet (which I follow and recommend to my coaches) does allow high-quality butter and a little bit of high-quality cheese.
To adopt a more Primal Diet, one does not have to go live in a cave! Try my essential steps to eat as your ancestors would have done in a modern way.
1. Let go of bad fats and incorporate more good fat
Strictly eliminate consumption of refined high polyunsaturated vegetable oils/seed oils (canola, corn, soybean) and the many processed foods that contain them, including buttery spreads and sprays.
This means avoiding fast food, processed and packaged snacks, most frozen meals, and even most pre-made salad dressings.
2. Eliminate sugars and grains
Sugar is considered the number one enemy when it comes to the Paleo / primal diet and limiting significantly the consumption of sweets, sweetened beverages, snacks would be a fundamental step as it is important to clear out the toxic elements to make space for healthy foods and eating patterns.
3. Emphasize healthy fats
Contrary to conventional wisdom fat (good fat) – does not make one fat. Incorporate more good fat (virgin coconut oil for cooking, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil for seasoning/salads or vegetables and natural meat fat—think duck fat, bacon grease, fatty cuts of the beef).
Enjoy high satiety foods like avocados, nuts, seeds and their derivative butters and coconut products (milk, butter, flakes). If you choose to consume dairy, find the highest fat content and least processed options.
4. Focus on pastured eggs
Here again, it is quality over quantity. Although Paleo does advocate eating meat and eggs, please make sure they were from grass-fed animals and from a good source.
Eggs are nutrient-dense foods and great to be consumed in abundance and make them a centerpiece of your meals (breakfast omelet, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, poached eggs, pastry-free quiches and souffles). Locally raised, pastured eggs are to be chosen.
5. Choose pastured or organic meat
When it comes to meat, not all meat is good meat- you want to avoid grain-fed and antibiotic-filled meats—truly grass-fed animals from small farms, big-box stores and Internet resources offer reasonable prices for organic meat.
I advocate discovering small, local farms that sell directly at reasonable prices for a primal diet, especially if you join forces and purchase with friends, neighbors and or family members and make bulk orders.
6. Increase intake of oily fish
Consuming oily fish will boost your natural omega-3 intake. Sardines for example are great in salads. Other great options are herring and anchovies, and mackerel!
7. Increase vegetable intake for a primal diet
Strive to place more emphasis on vegetables at each meal. Try to have vegetables of varied colors and as bright as possible (bell peppers, aubergines, courgettes, spinach).
8. Shop local organic & seasonal
Have fresh foods around your home at all times for meal preparation. Eliminate prepared, packaged, and processed frozen foods (natural frozen veggies and meats or fruits are fine).
Try to find a local organic farmer’s market—make it a social family occasion and ritual! Think Saturday morning trips to the local market to go smell and see the new food on the staples and fill your pretty basket with.
Stock up and freeze on large pieces of meat (perhaps join forces with a neighbor to buy a whole sheep or pig or cow from a local farmer and divide the meat between several neighbors!)
This also reinforces community and tribe-like living as well as social bonding.
9. Slow flow and not fast food
When adopting a primal diet an important aspect is spending more time in the kitchen and learning the art of cooking yourself. Once I did not need a Michelin-trained chef to start cooking today. Make cooking a social event and pleasure time.
By wanting instant access to “fast food” we have forgotten about the decadent and indulgent process of long slow cooking. How about getting the old grandmother’s pot out again and trying to slow cook bone broth?
One of the staple primal diet (and my personal favorite) is bone broth—not only it is delicious it is also a great way to use all parts of the meat consumed and to enjoy a very social meal (think a warm bowl of soup by the chimney on a cold winter night)
10. Relax & eat consciously
I am an advocate of the Tantric principle of living a life in an ecstatic state, filled with pleasure and food is no exception.
Your meals can then become focused on the enjoyment of the experience rather than a “must do quickly” tick boxing shore or routine. Healthy eating is a sensorial experience focused on pleasure and satisfaction.
When you do eat, turn off all digital distractions and stimulation. Turn off phone, tv and other technology around. Instead, light a candle and enjoy your meal one bite at a time.
Chew slowly perhaps even close your eyes for a second and savor the taste. Avoid talking with a mouth full and connect with all your senses while eating. Turn your unconscious eating “routine” into mindful food rituals.
11. Fast regularly!
This primal diet appraoch mimics our ancestors between hunts. Your body function and cognitive function are optimized during intermittent fasting. Try to adopt an intermittent fasting routine and remove the conventional idea that you need to eat multiple times a day.
Charlene Gisele is a former top London litigation lawyer turned professional biohacker, Corporate Wellness Consultant and health coach. Charlene explains why you don’t need to live in a cave when it comes to eating as your Palaeolithic ancestors would have done—but in a modern-day way.