Monday, April 30, 2007

The Metabolic Typing Diet

I admit that before I studied to become a stress management consultant, I underestimated the importance of nutrition in everyday life. Since then it is a topic I have come to understand and appreciate.

Many people don't realize that eating well is vital to your stress-relief efforts. A healthy body and a healthy mind go hand in hand…you really cannot have one without the other. An imbalance in one will cause an imbalance in the other, and from there it just ping-pongs back and forth until you have an overstressed mind and body!

I've long been an advocate of eating locally grown foods, believing they are of greater benefit to you than exotic imports to which your body is unfamiliar. Nutrients aren't "just nutrients" as it turns out, and an exotic food contains compounds that your body may not know what to do with as far as digestion and nutrient use.

Furthermore, it has become apparent that food digestion and nutrient use by the body is also rooted in your ancestry (which ties in to geography). In a previous post, "Season, geography, and diet" I wrote:

"We sometimes hear of people in other countries around the world who eat foods that we have been told are "bad," but the people who eat those foods are reasonably healthy so we speculate there is something special about the particular combinations of foods they consume. We name diets after their geographic locations, and try to emulate their health and vitality by following the "Mediterranean Diet" and the "Japanese Diet," etc.

"It occurs to me that those diets keep those people healthy not because the diet contains one food or another in any particular quantity or order, but because the basic diet is of foods local to the area, local to the people, local to their physiological growth and development. The foods and the people grow in the same area, and I honestly believe they may be connected in ways we haven't even begun to imagine, never mind understand. Maybe we should give some serious time and study not only to what we eat, but when we eat it, and how far the food had to travel before it arrived at our table. Do you suppose it is possible that foods not native to your specific area are somewhat unhealthy if included regularly, or in large quantities, in your diet? I wonder – I really do – if that could possibly be true. Unfortunately I have been unable to discover any studies on the topic."

Well, I still have not found any studies on the topic, but I did find a fabulous book: The Metabolic Typing Diet by William Wolcott and Trish Fahey, Broadway Books, NY 2002, pb, 428 p., ISBN 0767905644

I wish the title had a word other than "Diet," something like "Nutrition For The Way Your Body Uses Food" because this is not your traditional diet book. This book helps you to determine the optimal ratio of proteins/fats/carbohydrates you should include in your nutritional program to achieve health and wellbeing.

As we are reminded in the book, "One man's food is another man's poison." It turns out that this may be literally true. We are all familiar with the fact that this Named Diet or that Famous Diet helps one person lose weight and feel great, but does nothing for another's weight loss, and besides the second person feels terrible while following it; they experience low energy, they're always hungry, or they feel just "awful." That is because the genetic makeup of those two people cause them to digest foods and use nutrients in very different ways, and one person is receiving proper nutrition while the other may be literally starving on that particular diet.

If people were cars, it would be like filling up two automobiles' gas tanks with regular unleaded gasoline and expecting optimal performance from both vehicles, one a car with a regular engine and the other a truck with a diesel engine. Optimal performance from the truck just isn't going to happen, and you may even make the diesel engine sick by "feeding" it the wrong fuel.

People surely aren't cars, but you can get the wrong fuel which can make you feel anything from uncomfortable to downright ill. While it is generally true that certain foods are optimal for certain groups of people…in fact, Chapter One in the book bears the title "The Wisdom of Ancestral Diets"….most of us in America are of such mixed ancestry that trying to determine our proper foods through an examination of the diets of our ancestors would probably return some very conflicting results.

Of course, then the big question becomes: "How do I know what fuel is right for me?"

This can cause a lot of conflict, both inner and outer. You want to feel good about what you eat, and you don't want your family or friends pointing out how your current food choice goes against the current dietary fad. Many people are told that vegetarian is the way to go and base that on the dental and intestinal structure of human beings. Personally, I strongly believe geography and ancestry is the way to go. As the book says (p. 5): "…many people who currently inhabit tropical or equatorial regions have a strong hereditary need for diets high in carbohydrates such as vegetables and fruits and grains and legumes. These foods provide the kind of body fuel that is most compatible with the unique body chemistry of people who are genetically programmed to lead active lifestyles in warm and humid regions of the world. Their systems are simply not designed to process or utilize large quantities of animal protein and fat.

"Conversely, people from cold, harsh northern climates are not genetically equipped to survive on light vegetarian food. They tend to burn fuel quickly, so they need heavier foods to sustain themselves. Eskimos, for example, can easily digest and assimilate large quantities of heavy protein and fat – the very types of foods that would overwhelm the digestive tracts of people from, say, the Mediterranean basin."

You can clearly see that a "one-size-fits-all" diet can be disastrous! You can also see that geographic environment is an integral part of choosing a proper diet. (This is not to say there aren't exceptions. I know several people who live in very northern latitudes but are happily and healthily vegetarian. The most important thing to remember is this: every person is unique! Find what works best for YOU!)

This is where the book comes in. It helps you determine your metabolic type…how you metabolize foods….through a questionnaire included in the book. There are three metabolic types; those who turn food into energy fast, those who turn food into energy slowly, and a mix of the two.

If you are a person with a fast metabolism, you need foods that burn slowly, and your diet should include more fats and proteins. If you have a slower metabolism, you should tilt your diet more toward carbohydrates because they burn faster.

I have been following the recommendations of this diet for a couple of weeks now, and I have to say I'm feeling great. I decided to try it because I had noticed over the last few months that carbohydrates, which I have always loved and have never before had a problem with, were leaving me feeling lightheaded and spacey, like I was on a sugar high. I had difficulty concentrating, my memory was going downhill…it was terrible! Presently, I'm eating more proteins and fats, and I've already seen a big improvement.

(Please note: if you think your child (or yourself) is ADD or ADHD, drop a few carbs and increase your protein. It may make a world of difference. And, of course, cut the sugars!)

Your body does change, and it's not a surprise that your nutritional requirements will change as you do. That is partly why I decided to try this new Metabolic Typing Diet, I had obviously changes in how my body utilized foods and nutrients. Of course the main reason that I like this book is that I do believe that when making your food choices, you should avoid fads (and fast food), and your choices should be based on the things your ancestors ate because that is how your body as evolved to utilize the nutrients. This is where the metabolic typing comes in.

The type of metabolism you end up with is determined by your DNA, and your DNA comes from your ancestors. I think I stumbled into just what I was looking for…a way to determine the right foods based on ancestry, but also taking into consideration your current lifestyle and environment. What could be more perfect?!

Another thing the book brings to light is that if you suffer from a chronic condition or disease, following the diet that is optimal for you can provide you with the right nutrients in the right quantities to help and maybe even heal your condition. The authors of the book have effected healings on a wide range of chronic complaints not by treating the disease, but by providing optimum nutrition so the body could heal itself….and everyone knows the only true healing is self-healing.

The bottom line here is that if you are stressed out, feeling lousy even though you try to eat right and follow the Food Pyramid guidelines or the latest miracle diet, STOP! Figure out your metabolic type and start eating right for YOU!

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