It’s the latest trend in diets, with claims going primal can quash allergies and clear up skin. But is it a health breakthrough or just a buzzy fad?
Paleo gets a 2017 update – but is the diet really all it’s cracked up to be?
If you want to brush up on the latest It-diets, just do Sunday brunch at a cafe in Bondi and perk up your ears. Among the anecdotes of night-before escapades and tales of recent binge-watching behaviour, you’ll hear details of eating habits rattled off like pub punters discussing game-day highlights. Gluten-free, vegan, paleo and sugar-free are regulars, but now there’s a new player in the line-up: primal.
A quick Google search reveals that primal refers to eating like our ancestors – so is it just paleo in 2017 clothing? They both cut out processed foods and allow only wild-caught fish and grass-fed meat, however with primal, origin carries even more weight. “Both are based on the same principles of starting from an ancestral perspective and using modern science to figure out how to maximise nutrients and minimise toxins in the body,” explains Shannon Young, nutritionist for cafe chain and food-delivery service Thr1ve. But she says the subtle variances make a big difference. Case in point: grains. “Some people on primal diets eat sprouted grains such as soaked sourdoughs, which are produced to keep all the natural compounds, fibre and good bacteria.” Quinoa is also acceptable among primal fans yet shunned by paleo eaters. “Technically not a grain but a relative of green leafy vegetables, quinoa is a complete protein that offers all nine essential amino acids,” says Young. Nightshade fruits and vegetables (such as potatoes, eggplant and tomatoes) are also acceptable, as are some forms of dairy, particularly raw milk (see right). While many credit it as a dress-size shifter, the benefits of a primal diet can go beyond helping you look better in leggings – something Kristin Canty learned after doctors destined her highly allergic son Charlie to life as a “bubble boy”. “By the time he was two, he was allergic to grass, every type of animal and bee – he just could never go out,” she says. With medicines ineffective, the Us-based mother found studies linking raw (aka unpasteurised) milk consumption to allergy reduction. Despite the milk’s controversial nature, Canty tried it. “I drank a tonne of it first and, after it made me feel amazing, I gave it to my son a little at a time until it was just our [regular] milk.” The result? Canty says Charlie is allergy-free. Now running her own primal restaurant, Woods Hill Table, Canty is so committed to the cause she also produced Farmageddon, a documentary on the subject. “At screenings of the film or every day at the restaurant, people say they’ve been healed by buying meat, fish and vegetables directly from farms, the primal-diet way,” she says. To anyone feeling confused by all the diet options, Canty suggests shifting your mindset. “Be creative. Rather than deciding what you want to eat and going out to get it, see what food is in season, get it from the source and make something out of those ingredients.” As for Young, she promotes a diet-fluid approach, especially when it comes to dairy. “At Thr1ve, we’re always researching and adapting, so at the moment we’re taking some points from the Mediterranean diet, some points from the high-fat ketogenic diet and some points from primal,” she says. “Weigh up the pros and cons of a diet and do what is right for you.”