Paleo vs. Primal Diet: What's the Difference?

The big difference between the two diets is whether or not fattier cuts of meat are allowed. . Anna Hoychuk/Shutterstock

Two diets that have us returning to the early days of man have been getting a lot of attention lately. Paleo, a.k.a. the "caveman diet," was created by Loren Cordain in 2002 and harkens back to the days when people ate a diet filled with grass-fed game, wild-caught fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, berries and occasionally other fruits.

The "Primal Blueprint," created by athlete Mark Sisson in 2009, is similar in many ways. For example, when you follow the primal diet, you can eat all the healthy fats, meats, fruits, vegetables and dark chocolate you want. The concept is that these foods are essentially made up of protein and fat — macronutrients that the body has evolved to prefer, according to dietary guidelines explained on the Primal Blueprint website. These foods differ from grains like wheat and corn, which were introduced in the last 10,000 years and contain processed sugars and carbs that aren't as healthy for us.

"Both diets focus on eating the way our ancestors did," says Linda Larsen, author of "The Big Book of Paleo Recipes" (Adams Media, 2015) and a follower of the paleo diet. "The goal is to avoid processed foods and grains that are manipulated differently from cavemen times."

For Larsen, the best part about paleo is the focus on whole foods.

"I've been on this diet for four years and, what I like about it is that it focuses on reducing processed sugar," she says. "I like the idea of following a diet that emphasizes clean eating."

So where do the diets diverge? The key difference between the two is their respective attitudes about saturated fats.

Those who follow paleo avoid saturated fats (opting for lean meats instead) following the lead of research that connects saturated fats to increased cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease. Primal blueprint devotees, on the other hand, are free to consume fattier cuts of meat.

Other fats are another key difference between the two diets. Take canola oil, for example. Canola oil, which is low in saturated fat and high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, is acceptable within the paleo diet, but it's not allowed under the primal diet. Finally, artificial sweeteners are allowed in the paleo diet and are considered something that should be used only occasionally when following the primal regimen.

In the end, both diets aim to improve your health and longevity.

Still, there are some non-diet differences in terms of how this is achieved.

"Primal focuses on your entire lifestyle," Larsen says. "There's an emphasis on fitness and immunity and there's a stress on taking supplements and antioxidants, while paleo focuses mostly on diet over exercise."

And if you're wondering if treats are allowed on either diet, fear not. Both diets have plenty of interesting options for a sweet finish to any meal. A go-to dessert on the Primal Blueprint: Frozen coconut macadamia bars, with unsweetened coconut, macadamia nuts, coconut oil, chia seeds and salt.

A favorite paleo dessert? Blueberry coconut crisp, a tasty treat made of fresh blueberries, honey, vanilla, lemon juice, pecans, coconut, coconut flour, butter and salt.

"There are lots of sweets you can make on both, but I love the ones I can make on paleo," Larsen says.