It has not been brought up on this blog, but I have been following the Primal Blueprint diet and general fitness approach for the last 16 months. As it pertains to what I usually talk about here, Primal diet should have at least been mentioned in the context of trail cooking, and it probably will in the future. Meanwhile, here is a cursory overview & first impression of something I was reading last week – really just my attempt to distill it and how it might apply to me.
I have started reading and looking in to another paleo-ish approach billed as The Bulletproof Diet on the blog//site The Bulletproof Executive. It generally falls in to the Paleo camp, but not by intent to be Paleo, “caveman”, he-man neo-primitive, or to incorporate a clever metaphor or mnemonic. Rather it is based on Lifehacking or Biohacking – figuring out little shortcuts or magic bullets to “hack” various micro or macro aspects of life and health, and implementing them globally. In this case it is all about reducing (molds and other) toxins in the body, and fueling your body with a higher intake of natural fats. The end result looks very much like a Paleo diet on paper. In various areas it is both similar and quite the opposite of Primal (as promoted by Mark Sisson on Mark’s Daily Apple).
Simply put, Bulletproof Diet suggests 50% of your calories come from fat, 20% from protein and the rest from vegetables. Primal suggests you get most of your calories from fat, most of your protein from meat, and most of your carbs from vegetables. From that perspective they look very similar.
Primal seeks to be practical, fun, convenient (relatively) and able to be followed using more or less standard modern food aquisition and eating/cooking practices. In other words, adatable to modern life with a sliding scale of implementation that front-loads the largest health benefits. Primal allows for implementation in stages or levels – i.e. first, eliminate all grains and sugars and you are 80% there. Then fine tune by examining the source of the food, and the source of the food’s food, etc.
BPD (Bulletproof Diet) on the other hand appears to require intense micronutrient tracking, and if followed would be very difficult to accomplish by shopping at any regular grocery store with a normal food budget (for middle/working class sub/urban cubicle dwellers at least). BPD requires a lot of supplements*, potentially expensive gadgets, self-experimentation, and quantification of life’s minutia waaay beyond mere meal tracking. Not to mention massive amoutns of label reading, research and alternative food sourcing. Since BPD focuses on the elimination of toxins and molds (mycotoxins), many of which are introduced during the industrial food processing process, and not necessarily inherent in the food types themselves, it seems like it would be very difficult to source food. Because of this focus on toxin elimination, and less on food-group scale approach, BPD ends up disallowing many sources of food that are “allowed” under Primal.
* The author takes 40+ pills of supplements a day (mentioned in a podcast), and says he could easily up this up to 130 if he took everything he would, at the same time. Granted, a lot of this is due to the “large molecule” size of certain supplements, that require several pills each.
Edit to add 1/2/11: This new blog post on Bulletproof Executive does outline a simple graduated implementation of the BP Diet that is more similar to Primal Blueprint’s approach. Also, as noted in the comments below, the supplements, sleep hacking and expensive electronics are not part of the Bulletproof Diet per se, but rather part of the Bulletproof Executive’s continued efforts at optimizing personal health.
Bulletproof Diet does, however, have a superior and easy to read graphic outlining the tenets of the Diet per food category.
Primal is soft on dairy with the caveat “if you are dairy tolerant” and with an emphasis on whole and natural over processed (obviously), and promotes probiotics such as greek yogurts, fermented products, and artisan cheeses. Paleo diets tend to shy away or avoid dairy all together. This eliminates the cheese group altogether, especially the convenient and cheap high protein low carb go-to snack of cottage cheese. (as well as the gym rat’s staple of cottage cheese and canned tuna – see below.) BPD also seems to frown upon anything fermented or aged, even artisanally aged, as this introduces molds and toxins.
Primal’s sliding scale of implementation allows for grocery store foods as the cheapest and most convenient first response. In BPD if you eat mass produced food, even if it’s whole food, you are essentially not doing BPD. For instance, under Primal, you could eat grain fed beef (supplemented with omega-3 fish oil, say)
or canned tuna**, and at least be on the right track by not eating bread or pasta. Obviously grass fed and wild-caught would be better, but not always practical or affordable. But you have to start somewhere. BPD would disallow both sources of protein based on the toxins present in grain fed beef and mercury in canned fish. Not to mention the potential BPA in canned tuna. (**Updated to add, I did find a blog article where Sisson recommends against canned tuna as well, due to the higher levels of mercury)
BPD ranks sweet potatoes very low as a “high-sugar vegetable” whereas Primal ranks it as one of the best higher-carb foods based on the antioxidants present. Rice, on the other hand, is ranked low with Primal for being a grain first, while BPD ranks it high within the grain category for being the lowest toxin grain.Mushrooms, the ultimate fungus – BPD says no, Primal says yes, antioxidants.
Nuts and legumes are treated similarly, with coconut the highest, followed by other tree nuts, green beans and peas in the middle, and peanuts and starch beans the lowest.
For alcohol, Primal really only suggests red wine for it’s antioxidant benefits – as well as its epicurean-ness – and eschews grain based spirits (vodka, whiskeys, gin, etc.) for being …. grain based. BPD ranks vodka (with potato over grain based no less) as being the purest and toxin free, with red wine showing up on their “avoid” list due to the toxins inherent in aged fermented products. Both approaches avoid beer, but for differing reasons.
As an aside, neither Primal nor BPD come down against sweetness, only sugar. BPD even ranks stevia and xylitol as more acceptable sweeteners. Primal tends more toward avoiding sweetness as an ideal, but again allows for the practicality and relativism of artificial sweeteners. Whole 9 (a good example of “straight up paleo”) and paleo on the other hand suggest that we should train our brains to not crave sweetness, by avoiding sweetening things all together.
Moving on to lifestyle. Primal promotes 6-8 hours of deep natural sleep. It is based on the assertion that we don’t get enough sleep in general. BPE attempts to “hack” sleep by coming up with ways to reduce the amount of sleep needed. It starts with asserting that we don’t really need more than 5 hours or so of sleep, and can get by on less, healthily and stress free, if we trick our bodies in to deeper healthier sleep by various means. Much of this involves expensive gadgets that measure your REM or use audio brainwave inputs. All of this sounds like elaborate (& expensive & high tech) time management strategies to me, to “free up” more waking hours. The poor man’s approach would be to listen to your body and find a natural balance. My take on this is that if you are relying on technology to reduce the number of hours of sleep needed, than you can’t claim that we/humans don’t really need the greater amount of sleep. You are artificially compressing and optimizing the sleep cycle, perhaps even with positive long term results, but the claim that it is natural seems false. Both approaches talk about the importance of darkness, and how light color affects the circadian rhythms. Et cetera.
In the realm of exercise, Primal promotes slow low impact, low cardio movement exercise while mixing it up with full-effort high intensity exertion and practical strength building. (e.g. walking + sprinting, body weight exercises, assymetry). It eschews “chronic cardio” (e.g. marathon training, et al.) but allows for training if being competitive is your thing. BP suggests that you can achieve a low fat gym body (I think) with hardly any exercise at all, but also takes the Paleo position on long term training, that you can tailor the program to your performance goals. I.e. it is fairly neutral on exercise by not being directly pro or con any kinds of exercises that I can tell. [The author makes wild-sounding claims of weight loss and general health with no exercise and a high calorie fat-based diet as having worked on him, but BP does not really incorporate a “fitness plan” like Primal Blueprint does.]
Lastly, by listening to some of the Bulletproof Executive podcasts, the main proponents come off sounding unprofessional and dubiously qualified. The audio quality is almost un-listenably terrible (I would be reluctant to say I could do it better, but then again I have heard plenty of home-made amateur podcasts that sound great). Some of the guests and experts that are interviewed are under-prepared, answering questions with, “I don’t know off the top of my head” or “I read it somewhere…”. Quotes like “It sounds like you’re eating probably 60-70 percent of your diet from carbs which, if you want to have cancer, is a great idea” by 17-year-old cohost Armi Legge (replying to listener mail) may sound clever in a written blog post, but when spoken with intonation comes across as immature and condescending.
How might this affect my approach – or rather, what can I take away from this? Right now I am generally following Primal with an overlay of Leangains Intermittent Fasting. What this looks like is early morning gym workout (large basic movements – squat, deadlift, bench press) or a short or sprinty run, fasting until noon or 1PM, followed by primal foods the rest of the day. I have already began to find it difficult to get in a calorie surplus seeded for gaining muscle under Leangains’ plan, by waiting until 1PM to begin eating while foregoing sugar. Moreso if I were to remove cheese and artisanally processed meats (salami), or packaged foods of any kind (canned tuna) under BPD. I have been eating a baked sweet potato on lifting days (Leangains: higher carb on gym days, higher fat/lower carb on rest days), and don’t see myself changing this.To add a BPD influenced overlay to this (which would end up looking a lot more like Whole 9 or straight up Paleo) I would need to eliminate my cottage and other cheeses, my hard salami, my pork rinds (under primal, these are technically a carbless meat based snack, although Primal does not like commercially fried snacks due to “rancid oils” – which puts it in similar company to BPD), and probably my 1 or 2 diet cokes per day. (Again, Primal is soft on diet soft drinks as being not great but could be worse.) The end result would be that folowing BPD is another way of “taking it up a level”, and would look almost identical to the stricter-than-Primal approach of Whole9/Paleo on paper. The only real difference would be the reasoning behind the approach, and much of that is overlapping as well. Personally I prefer the scalable Primal-leaning-to-Whole9 approach and reasoning, the more I read Bulletproof Executive.
I am, however, digging the Bulletproof Coffee – grass fed butter and coconut oile (or MCT oil if you can find it – alleged increased brain function? – we’ll see…) whipped to a froth with preferably toxin-free (i.e. specially processed, single estate) coffee. Delicious. I was completely off caffeine for a few months but am giving this approach a try. It adds 355 calories of good fat, rather than protein, to my morning, which is not strict Leangains protocol, I know.