Saturday, March 3, 2012

Where Genetics and Food Collide...

The last few weeks I have discussed why following governmental nutritional guidelines is less than optimal.  But starting last week rather than pointing out all the flaws I wanted to be more constructive and start providing you with solutions that work for your lifestyle.

The most important concept to grasp with respect to nutrition is that the amount and type of food you eat is very dependent upon you as an individual.  A one-size-fits all approach to nutrition can’t possibly come close to addressing you and your families needs.

I have tried just about every nutritional approach known to man and have done quite a bit of self-experimentation over the years to arrive at my current philosophy.  The approach that works best for me is what’s called eating according to your blood type.  The researcher widely recognized as the authority on blood type eating, Peter D’ Adamo, N.D., explains the diet like this,  “If you put the right kind of gas in the car, it runs very well-probably runs a lot longer.  But if you put in the wrong gas, it’ll run for a while, and you probably won’t notice the difference until something goes wrong.” *

I was a little skeptical at first but decided to give it a try.  My blood is type B and according to D’Adamo the type B gene enabled my nomadic tribe ancestors to survive and thrive at high elevations and in cold climates.  My ancestors had to raise herd animals in order to survive so meats and dairy from animals like goats and sheep should be highly beneficial for me.  I do find this to be the case when I eat the recommended foods for my blood type I digest the food more efficiently (no stomach up set), I have more energy and mental clarity and of note for those interested in weight loss I found these foods satisfied me for longer periods of time and I didn’t want or need to eat as much.

Interestingly chicken and tomatoes are on my foods to avoid list and though I used to eat these foods all the time I noticed a positive difference when I eliminated them from my diet.

Blood types at a glance:
  • Type O-High levels of stomach acid help this blood type, which descended from hunters-gatherers, easily process all kinds of meat.
  • Type A-As people began cultivating crops, their micro-biomes (populations of bacteria in their bodies) adapted to allow for the optimal digestion of all kinds of plant foods.
  • Type B-Descendants of nomadic tribes that raised herds to survive, are efficient digesters of plant foods, red meat and dairy.
  • Type AB’s-Arose from the commingling of A and B populations, and as a result, harbor digestive advantages of both types.

New research is showing that nutritional recommendations should be based on someone’s genetic heritage.   Dr. John Berardi is an expert researcher in nutrient biochemistry and states the following regarding eating according to your ancestry:

“In the last 10 years we’ve learned so much about nutrigenomics. This area of science studies our genetic make-up and how our genes impact our experience in the world.

Obviously, our genes are linked to where our ancestors are from. And that’s where it gets interesting. There’s some fascinating new research showing that depending on where our family lineage is from, our nutritional tolerances could be completely different.

For example, there’s something called lactase persistence. It’s whether or not our genetic line has preserved the ability to make lactase, the enzyme that helps us digest milk.

In the UK, for example, almost 100% of the population has lactase persistence. This means that dairy is well tolerated in nearly 100% of the UK. The same is true in Scandinavian countries and Northwestern Africa. However, in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Southern Africa, lactase persistence is less than 10%. Meaning, that in these areas, almost no one can handle dairy.

Knowing this, your thoughts on dairy consumption might need to change based on where your family comes from. But that’s another discussion for another day. With dairy, we also need to consider a host of other things, from hormones and antibiotics to homogenization and pasteurization.

There’s a similar relationship between our genetic heritage and our ability to digest and process carbohydrates.

People from Northern Europe, the UK, and Southern Asia make more salivary amylase and other carbohydrate-digesting enzymes because they’ve traditionally eaten a more carbohydrate-rich diet. While people from Africa and Northern Asia make fewer carbohydrate-digesting enzymes because of their traditional diet that’s lower in carbohydrates.

So it’s the same thing with as with milk. Your thoughts on grains would have to change based on where in the world your ancestors come from.

In the end, I’m not sharing any of this to confuse people. Rather, it’s to point out that nutrition plans should always be a starting point for further experimentation. Not rigid, immutable guidelines.

Of course, if you’re new to all this, you need some guidelines to work from to put you on the right track. But after that, your best bet is to adopt the adventurous attitude of a physiological pioneer. To boldly experiment and tweak until you find what works for you.” *

Dr. Berardi is one of my go to resources because he provides the perfect blend of science and practicality.  And to his last point the blood type diet provides guidelines for my own nutritional intake but I don’t follow it strictly.  I have made tweaks here and there to the diet after determining what works best for my lifestyle.

As promised I will provide a much better alternative to the USDA’s MyPlate.  These plates are based on solid scientific data and — perhaps most importantly — on the real world eating experiences (and long-term success) of thousands of Dr. Berardi’s clients.

The first is an “Anytime” plate. The Anytime plate recommendations are for those who either don’t exercise — in which case, they’d follow these recommendations exclusively — or for those who do exercise, in which case, they’d eat Anytime meals for every meal outside the post-exercise period.

The second plate is the “Post Workout” plate. The Post Workout plate recommendations are for those who perform intense exercise. Eat a Post Workout meal soon after your intense exercise sessions only.

Although plant-based eaters (i.e. vegans) make up only 1-2% of the population, they’re some of the most nutritionally conscious and proactive individuals. That’s why Dr. Berardi decided to come up with a plant-based plate.

Dr. Berardi’s meal plate recommendations are ideal for those interested in maximizing their health and improving body composition (muscle/fat mass ratio).  Regarding the starches in the post workout plate it should be noted that the best options are whole grains like oats, brown rice and quinoa.  Sweet potatoes are also an ideal starch for the post workout period.

The future of nutrition (medicine and fitness for that matter) is moving in the direction of personalization.  In a few years it would not surprise me that we will all go to professionals that after some testing will provide us with an individualized exercise and nutrition prescription based upon genetics.  In the meantime, following recommendations such as Dr. Berardi’s MyPlate can be useful in providing you with a solid nutritional foundation from which to build a diet upon.
However listen to your body and take note what works best for you.

*FIRST, 9/19/11, pages 32-36.

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