You’ve probably heard the same nutritional advice so many times you could give it yourself: Eat vegetables—but not too many potatoes or avocados. Be sure to get lots of protein—but be careful with eggs, beef and tuna. And dairy? The debate over dairy is endless.
The truth is, nutrition is confusing and everyone is different. Many factors influence how food will affect your body. This month, DS looks at three theories beginning to receive widespread attention: Metabolic Typing, The Blood Type Diet and eating according to your Ancestry. All three demonstrate that our diets can be catered to our individual needs, genetics and history, and that even slight changes can help you feel, look and dance better.
Have you ever noticed that you feel great after a breakfast of oatmeal, but that your best friend dances better after downing a plate of eggs? That’s because different people benefit from different foods. Some people feel full and energetic after eating protein; others struggle with proteins and respond better to carbohydrates. This is the theory behind Metabolic Typing: People oxidize food (or convert it into energy) at different rates.
A “protein type” is a fast oxidizer, and should be eating larger amounts of slowly digesting protein and fats like meats, cheese and beans. A “carbohydrate type,” on the other hand, oxidizes food slowly, and will feel full and energetic from whole grains, vegetables and fruit.
You can get tested for your metabolic type online, but you can also determine this on your own. How do you feel immediately after eating a big plate of pasta? How about a few hours later? What about a burger or chicken salad? If you pay attention, you may notice your body’s energy skews positively toward one way of eating. Keep in mind that most of us are actually “mixed types” who need a balanced amount of protein and carbs. If you’re eating the “wrong” foods, your body may be suffering the consequences.
William Wolcott, author of The Metabolic Typing Diet, points out that, “One may or may not be functioning within his or her Genetic Type [the metabolic type you are born with], which can cause a lot of problems—mental, emotional, physical, personality, behavioral.” In other words, you might feel fine with your current diet, but that doesn’t mean you’re making the best choices. Indigestion, irritability, a lack of energy and bad skin often mean that you’re not as healthy as you could be. Eating according to your metabolic type can help you feel good all the time.
As early humans spread around the globe, different blood types (O, A, B and AB) developed based on what food was available. The Blood Type Diet states that we should eat according to our blood type.
Scientists believe that people with Type O Blood came from ancestors who were heavy meat-eaters and most often feel best on a high-protein diet. Type A is a “newer” blood type (it appeared later in our human history, when we began to farm), with more capacity for vegetarianism. Blood Type B is newer still, and occurred as populations began to mix together, leading to a need for a balanced diet. And type AB, the rarest of all blood types, can eat a combination of the foods recommended for types A and B (and is therefore lucky enough to benefit from more foods than any other blood type!). Your Rh factor (whether you’re the positive or negative version of your blood type) doesn’t matter, except for people who are O negative. They are somewhat more sensitive, so feel better when they follow the diet more diligently. This means that if you’re O negative, making even the slightest changes to your diet will make an immediate difference. You’ll feel the improvements before your O positive or AB friends do!
You can usually find out your blood type when you donate blood, or you can ask your doctor to test you. Dr. Peter D’Adamo, author of Eat Right 4 Your Type, emphasizes that when you begin to eat this way, “the most important area to focus on is incorporating more beneficial foods into your diet.” For example, if you’re Type O, add eggs to your breakfast. If you’re Type A or B, add brown rice to your lunch. Then notice how your body responds. If you make a few changes and feel exhausted during dance class, then back off a bit. There are many possible outcomes and no diet works for everyone. But if you notice improvements, then keep at it!
Did you know that where you come from matters? Where your family has lived for generations has dictated what foods have been available to you—and has therefore influenced your genes. And if you have immediate relatives who migrated, you are probably eating foods that don’t match your genetic makeup. For example, if your family comes from Northern Europe, they’re probably used to meat, potatoes and heavy sauces. A Mediterranean diet is lighter, with fish, nuts, whole grains and lots of olive oil. If your family is originally from Central America, your ancestors probably ate a diet heavy in rice, beans and tropical fruits and vegetables.
Rachel Siegel, a NYC-based holistic health counselor who specializes in helping people discover their eating roots, explains that “when people try the food their ancestors ate they usually love it, and often end up craving it regularly.”
It’s important to find out more about your ancestry, no matter how far back you have to go. Talk to your family, or study your parents’ last names. But don’t get too carried away—your French ancestors may have eaten dairy at every meal, but that doesn’t mean you have to! Learning about your ancestors will be a lesson in your history—and the history of your digestive tract.
WHAT TO EAT
Metabolic type–specific foods to add to your diet:
Protein Type: apples, artichokes, asparagus, avocados, bananas, beans, beef, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, eggs, full-fat cheese, lentils, milk, mushrooms, nuts, olives, pears, peas, potatoes, seafood, seeds, spinach, squash, yogurt
Carbohydrate Type: brown rice, catfish, chicken and turkey (lighter, easier-to-digest meats), cod, corn, grapes, greens, low-fat dairy, mangoes, melons, onions, peas, peppers, pumpkins, root vegetables, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, wild rice, yams
Mixed Type: a combination of both
Beneficial foods unique to each Blood Type:
Type O: beef, blueberries, cherries, collard greens, guavas, kelp, liver, mangoes, parsnips, seaweed, sweet potatoes, veal
Type A: alfalfa sprouts, aloe, apricots, berries, buckwheat, fava beans, green/snap/string beans, leeks, limes, mushrooms, soba, soy products, whitefish
Type B: bananas, beets, brussels sprouts, cabbage, goat, papaya, peppers
Type AB: chestnuts, grouper, kiwi, lentils, pinto beans, rice, soybeans, tempeh, tofu, tuna
Foods specific to your Ancestry:
Central and South America: avocados, bananas, plantains, white cheese, yucca
Europe: almonds, cabbage, dark breads, figs, grapes, lettuce, olives, pickled vegetables
Middle East and North Africa: chickpeas, couscous, halloumi cheese, sour pickles, tahini
Sub-Saharan Africa: cassava, collards, millet, peaches, solanum, sorghum
Asia: barley, bok choy, buckwheat, ginger, kefir, sea vegetables, soy
North America: berries, chestnuts, maple syrup, pecans, turkey, walnuts
Adina Grigore is a dancer, health counselor and personal trainer living in NYC. She runs a website offering free nutrition and training advice at growhealthywithsprout.com.
Photo: Erin Baiano; hair and makeup by Tonya Noland