Books on how to eat are a dime a dozen. Many of them contradict each other: raw food or cooked? Vegetarian or high protein? Food combining or everything in balance? Consumers try to navigate without a compass among all these systems, and often, in despair and confusion, give up trying to eat healthfully. As readers of this column know, my viewpoint is that our main dietary choices should be always whole, fresh, natural, real, and organically grown foods whenever possible. That said, there are many possible permutations of such a diet, and I have experimented with many: lacto-ovo vegetarian (7 years), vegan (1 ½ years), macrobiotic (15 years), food combining (2 weeks), and the Atkins diet (1 month). Each time I learned something interesting. It’s been a long time since I think of myself as being “on a diet,” but rather of eating mostly “health-supportive whole foods.”
In the past two years I have run into three new books about diet, and each of them has taught me one or more useful concepts. That is more than I found in the ten years prior! You have probably heard about these books as well. Let’s look at all three, and what I found useful about them.
Enter THE ZONE – a dietary roadmap, by Barry Sears, Ph.D., with Bill Lawren (ReganBooks, NY: 1995)
Sears suggests that we distribute our nutrients more evenly than the current recommendations of 20 to 30% of calories from fat, 15% from protein, and 55 to 65% from carbohydrates. His suggestion: a strictly measured 30% from fat, 30% from protein, and 40% from carbohydrates in every meal and snack. On that regime, he promises permanent weigh loss, maximum physical performance, enhanced mental productivity, disease prevention, and even the resetting of our genetic code. He offers many wonderful anecdotal stories of success with his diet.
Looking at the recipes, they made little sense to me. They have lots of low-fat milk and cheese, egg-white omelets, and extra lean bacon; then they have almond butter and olive oil to provide the fat. They also use protein powder and other protein boosters. One vegetarian meal called for 1 whole-grain English muffin topped with 1 ½ soy-sausage patty, with 1 oz. low fat cheese and 1 ½ teaspoons butter. What is the point of using low fat cheese if then you’re going to use butter? I would prefer the whole full-fat cheese, and then skip the butter if desired. A quick perusal and analysis of his recommended menus don’t seem to pan out in terms of his own nutrient balance: sometimes they’re close, sometimes they’re off, like his cheese omelet which provides 28% calories from protein but 41% from fat. Dairy foods are stuck in the most unlikely places, e.g., low fat cheese and yogurt with a BLT sandwich.
I decided to try the basic concept in my own way, using whole natural foods, by having some recognizable protein, fat, and carbohydrate (i.e., whole grain) in each meal. So I added sunflower seeds and almonds to my breakfast cereal, and 2-3 oz animal protein (fish, chicken, egg, or whatever else was available) to lunch and dinner, which always have some whole grain and vegetable unless I eat out, when the carbs come from potatoes or bread. In other words, I dramatically increased my intake of animal protein, mostly because it’s almost impossible to get 30% of your calories from protein by including beans or tofu. Sears recommends protein powder for vegetarians, and of course plenty of low fat dairy, but neither of those works for me, as I stay away from manufactured foods and “low fat” anything. I got my fats from nuts, olive oil, flaxseed oil, and organic butter, all of which I consider good quality traditional fats. Result: much to my surprise, an increase in energy and — an even bigger surprise — my reaction to white sugar was no longer as pronounced as it had been for thirty years (I test things regularly, that’s how I found out).
Conclusion: in my experience, having some animal protein in at least two out of three meals, together with whole grains, vegetables, and one or two tablespoons of good quality fat was highly satisfying.
Eat Right 4/for your Type, by Dr Peter D’Adamo with Catherine Whitney (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, NY: 1996)
This naturopathic physician’s work is based on the experience and publications of his father, chiropractor James D’Adamo. The theory is that different blood types (O, A, B, and AB) need different diets, as they have different genetic backgrounds. Simply put: – O types do best if they eat meat (high protein, low carbohydrate), cut out wheat, choose rye, and do vigorous exercise
– A types do best if they eat vegetarian (high carbohydrate, low fat), some fish, plenty of vegetables, and do gentle exercise such as yoga or golf
– B types can eat a very varied diet, including grains and meat, and are the only type that does well with dairy products; for exercise, swimming and walking are best
– AB types can combine the recommendations for types A and B, and should do calming exercises and relaxation techniques
D’Adamo has been strongly criticized by scientific nutritionists who cannot see the connection between food and blood type. However, I found this system to be useful as an “after-the-fact” understanding of what individuals go through trying to find a diet that works for them. Example: one woman I know was trying hard to be a vegetarian, but felt weak and unstable whenever she ate no animal food, whereas her husband absolutely loved and did great on that type of diet. Turns out she’s a type O (meat-eater) and her husband is a type A (vegetarian). End of the problem, as it brought an end to the guilt feelings she had because she “couldn’t make it” as a politically correct vegetarian.
Conclusion: I would never use this system to dictate to anyone what they should eat, because that may not work. I use it to confirm people’s choices in being vegetarians or not, or to help redirect them if they’ve been uncomfortable in the diet they’ve chosen. So far, I invariably I found that the system works. In other words, I have not yet found a energetic O type comfortable on a vegetarian or vegan diet, but A types handle them just fine. Of course, it also does explain why I did better adding regular portions of animal food to my usual diet – as I turned out to be an O type.
In my next column I’ll discuss Nourishing Traditions, the work of Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, PhD, on traditional diets. Meanwhile, here is a Zone recipe for all blood types.
2 leeks , sliced and rinsed clean
1 cup onion, diced medium
1 small carrot, diced medium or roll cut
1 stalk celery, diced medium
2 garlic cloves, chopped coarsely
2 cups vegetable, or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup dry porcini mushrooms (optional)
1 tablespoon organic butter or ghee
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
8 oz organic or free range chicken breast, sliced into strips
1 tablespoon buckwheat flour
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
freshly ground pepper
1. In a large soup pot, add the leeks, onions, carrots, celery, stock, bay leaf. Break the dry mushrooms into small pieces and add to the stock. Simmer, half covered, for about 5 minutes.
2. Heat the clarified butter in another saucepan, add the cumin seeds and the chicken breast, and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant. Add the buckwheat flour, and stir around for another 3-4 minutes. Whisk in the boiling water, stir until thick and all lumps have disappeared. Simmer a minute, then scrape into the soup pot. Stir well.
3. Add salt, and simmer the soup, with the cover on, for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings. Serve hot with fresh ground pepper. Makes about 6 servings.