Updated: Dec 15, 2017
As a Clinical Nutritionist, this is a question I am asked often. My answer has evolved over the years, and today my answer is; it depends! There are many diets out there, and many people have some strong opinions as to why their diet is the best. Let me share with you what my experience has been with some of these diets, and explain the approach that I have taken as a practitioner with the diet I recommend.
Here are some of the more popular diets that I would like to discuss: Blood type diet, Raw Food & Vegan/Vegetarian Diet, WAPF diet, and the Paleo diet.
The Blood type diet
This was one of the first diets that I followed and recommended to clients when I started my journey as a nutritionist in 2005. Dr. D’Adamo has a convincing philosophy based on the pH of food and the pH of different blood types. pH is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity of a solution. This measurement is ranked on a scale from 0-14 and is determined by amount of its hydrogen or oxygen activity. For example, human stomach acid is hydrogen chloride (hCl-) which contains a lot of hydrogen, typically measures around a 2-3 on the pH scale. Water and Blood are usually neutral and in the 6.5-7.5 range, depending, and alkaline minerals like calcium, magnesium and iodine when in aqueous solution, can contain much more oxygen than hydrogen, and typically measures around a 10-11 on the pH scale. Dr. D’Adamo took different blood types and noticed that each type had a variance in pH. For example, A blood types have a natural tendency to be the most alkaline of all the blood types. O blood types are slightly more acidic than the other blood types, and the B and AB types fall between these two in their pH measurements. He then measured the pH of different foods, and hypothesizes those foods that are closer to the pH range of each blood type, will be more easily digested and assimilated, creating fewer burdens on the body systems, less toxic load, and improved health. Therefore, alkaline foods such as certain grains, vegetables, and fruits, are recommended to the alkaline A blood type. While O blood types are encouraged to eat more acidic forming meats and produce. There are other factors involved as well, such as ancestral blood line geography and their native diets, which at first can make a lot of sense.
As a nutrition clinician, however, I have found this to be impractical to recommend for a few reasons. First, there are extensive lists of foods to memorize for your blood type. This can make it really confusing and difficult when you are cooking for a group or family. Trying to grocery shop while thinking what foods are on your list and what foods are on your partners, and then cooking family meals while separating out foods that are beneficial for each blood type can be challenging to sometimes impossible. I have found it hard to sustain over long periods of time without become too rigid and obsessive. I want to help motivate my clients into better eating, not make it too challenging for them to make the change! Secondly, I have encountered several clients that are not within the typical pH range of their blood type. This is due to prolonged improper dietary habits, inherited anomalies, and chronic diseases. The diet was not able to get these clients back to their pH range. Therefore, I have found that dietary recommendations are not as easily determined solely on blood type alone and that it is impractical to try and get my clients to follow.
The Raw food, Vegan, and Weston A. Price diets
The Raw Food diet consists of uncooked fruits and vegetables, fresh pressed juices, sprouted beans, seeds and nuts. I find these diets appealing because they are fiber rich with dense viable nutrients, and I feel great when I eat this way. Many raw food feudists argue that raw is the most nutrient dense way to eat because none of the nutrients or enzymes is damaged by the cooking process. However, inability to digest cellulose and enzymes inhibitors can make it difficult to absorb or extract these nutrients. The Weston A. Price diet recommends traditional and cultural foods that can also be nutrient dense. One such example is lacto fermented vegetables and beverages. These foods can preserve the integrity of the nutrients without damaging them in the cooking process, yet probiotic bacteria pre-digest the cellulose to make the nutrients rapidly available.
I found a totally raw diet difficult for me to maintain during the winter months when many fruits and vegetables are not in season. Sure, many root vegetables are, but have you ever tried to eat a cold raw potato, carrot, radish dish in 20 degree weather? I crave something hot when it is cold outside, and for good reasons. According to Ayurveda, it is important to balance the diet with the environment to create balance in the body. The Ayurvedic system can help subdue symptoms that are exacerbated with changes in the seasons. Ayurveda bases its system on the elements: air, ether (space), water, fire, earth. These elements are then divided into three catagories: Vata, which is air and ether, Pitta, which is fire, and Kapha, which is earth and water. These three categories, known as doshas, can indicate symptoms or disease patterns in the body, can refer to the different times of the year, and indicate the predominant elements in foods, spices, and herbs. This system then helps to balance these three doshas by countering the one that is the most out of balance in comparison. For example, someone with a Vata imbalance would be encouraged to eat more Kapha and Pitta foods, while a Pitta person may be encouraged to eat more Kapha or Vata foods. The winter months are considered the Vata time of year, which can exacerbate Vata symptoms, the summer is considered the Pitta time of year, which can environmentally exacerbate the Pitta symptoms, and Kapha is considered the spring months of the year and can further imbalance someone with a Kapha dosha imbalance. Therefore, the raw food diet is predominantly Vata inducing and during the Vata or winter time of the year, this can intensify the symptoms of the Vata dosha. This is why in the winter; my body naturally craves something warm and spicy to create balance. I have also noticed in my practice that my clients with Vata symptoms, such as hard and dry stools and anxiety or with Vata/Pitta imbalances such as severe stomach ulcerations, digestive disorders, or severe gallbladder inflammation, do not respond well to a raw food diet, because it can contributie to the Vata imbalances. In my practice I have found the raw food diet for clients with IBD can further irritate their symptoms until the gut lining has been repaired. The traditional bone broths with nourishing gelatin in the Weston A. Price diet, however, can be an excellent way to repair the gut and replenish many nutrient deficiencies.
Veganism, however, is a diet that allows for more flexibility than the raw food diet because you can cook your food and prepare it in more varieties than the raw diet. This diet is a little less extreme in that you can have a yummy vibrantly colored WARM/HOT meal in the winter, which can help to suppress a vata dosha, but veganism avoids meat and animal products, dairy, butter, & eggs.
The rigidity of this diet’s limits can make it difficult not to create nutritional deficiencies after sustaining this diet for an extended period. The Weston A. Price Foundation has provided information on the deficiencies that are created by long term vegan and vegetarianism, and has many rebuttals to the major arguments presented by the vegan and vegetarian communities, (1). These deficiencies range from vitamin A & B12, to certain amino acids and saturated fats, and iron (2). I have also seen in my practice that vegans do tend to experience anemia more often. This can be explained by the fact that this diet does not incorporate heme iron. Of course you are still able to get a variety of iron fortified or non-heme iron foods, however, heme iron found in many animal products is absorbed at a much greater rate, 37-40 percent, while non-heme foods have a significantly lower absorption rate, about 4 %, (3). Vegetarian, Weston A. Price and Paleo diets. This brings me to discuss my next points about the vegetarian diet. In my Yoga community, vegetarianism is recommended for the purpose of increasing energetic processing time and avoiding energy taken on by animal products. “In yoga we are taught that a vegetarian diet is a way of practicing ahimsa (nonviolence) for all beings everywhere,” (4). However, one source states how a diet that also incorporates animal meat can also be viewed as spiritual.
“We can see meat as an offering from Pachamama (Mother Earth). Mother Earth nourishes us with plants and animals, and we take care of her in return. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to be—a symbiotic relationship between man and Mother, a beautiful and never-ending cycle of death and rebirth that’s happening in every single moment”
(4) This reminder of my spiritual relationship with food is why I always recommend pasture raised animals and that we teach consciousness of where our food comes from. You can be a vegetarian and still not be conscious of your food choices, especially if you are still incorporating highly processed, refined, or packaged foods into your diet.
An all plant based diet I have also found to be impractical and not always beneficial to recommend to my clients. I have attended many seminars with some of the world’s leading clinical nutritionist in their fields of expertise, and I have learned that it is not one size fits all when it comes to diet and supplementation. I feel this is best explained by a lecture given by Dr. Nicholas Gonzales, one of the most highly regarded Clinical nutritionists in the field of cancer therapy. He explains how a variety of diets are necessary when addressing disease, specifically cancer, so that the person can get the correct combinations of foods specific to their body’s requirements. As an understudy of the late Dr. William D Kelley, he uses an extensive questionnaire to pinpoint his client’s dietary needs.
“We divide patients into different metabolic categories, depending on each patient’s particular genetic, biochemical and physiological make-up. In this model, patients with solid epithelial tumors, such as tumors of the lung, pancreas, colon, prostate, uterus, etc. do best on a largely plant-based diet. Such patients have a metabolism that functions most efficiently with a specific combination of nutrients that are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and seeds, and with minimal to no animal protein. On the other hand, patients with the blood or immune based malignancies such as leukemia, myeloma and lymphoma do best on a high-animal protein, high-fat diet. Such patients do extremely well with a diet based on animal products with minimal to moderate amounts of plant based foods, the particular design of the diet again depending on the individual patient’s metabolic make-up. We find patients with pancreatic cancer always do best with a largely plant-based diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and vegetable juice, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Allowed protein includes fish one to two times a week, one to two eggs daily and yogurt daily, but no other animal protein. In our therapy, we use diets specifically because of the effect of food on the autonomic nervous system. This system consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches and ultimately controls all aspects of our physiology, including immune function, cardiovascular activity, endocrine function and the entire action of our digestive system. The sympathetic and parasympathetic systems have opposing actions on the target organs and so can adjust our physiology depending on needs and demands, enabling our bodies to react to any situation, condition or stress,”(5). For example, “a largely vegetarian diet tends to be very alkalinizing, and the neurophysiologic research documents that in an alkalinizing environment, sympathetic activity is reduced and parasympathetic activity increased.”
However, this is not always balancing to everyone. There are clients that are parasympathetic nervous system dominant, therefore, “a diet that incorporates pastured animal foods can stimulate the sympathetic system and tones down parasympathetic activity,” (5).
I agree that each person needs to be evaluated and assessed for the correct combination of foods in order to bring their unique physiology into balance.
The diet I recommend incorporates pasture raised animal foods, fermented foods, fats, vegetables, sprouted grains, nuts and seeds, and some fruits. The Paleo Diet is very similar to this approach in many ways. However, it avoids all legumes, potatoes, and grains and can be pre-conceived as a high meat or protein diet. As a clinician, I have found that some clients do better on more carbohydrates than allowed in the Paleo diet, and that it is more important to focus on avoiding inflammatory foods.
I have found in practice and through research that in general everyone can drastically reduce their systemic inflammation by avoiding wheat, dairy, corn, soy, and peanut products, as well as MSG, Trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup.
Most of these products are highly refined, processed, and can spike hormones such as insulin and cortisol. Limiting these foods can not only lower your inflammation quickly, in addition to the correct combination of foods for you, it can regulate blood sugar, regulate hormones, and balance your pH which will quickly get you on your way to achieving your health goals.
I have found more success in maintaining long term compliance with this method by showing clients how to take steps towards eliminating or replacing just these inflammatory foods, while focusing on the correct combination for them. Requiring my clients to memorize long lists or stick to rigidly to one diet without considering the importance of seasonal foods usually only reinforces an unhealthy “all or nothing” mentality. In my assessment, I try to consider cultural eating habits, prolonged dietary history, possible deficiencies, as well as your current symptoms to provide you with recommendations that will get your body balanced and functioning optimally in the shortest amount of time. Your dietary requirements and nutritional deficiencies are unique to you; therefore my services try to cater to your individual health needs.
Schedule your appointment today, and see what the best diet is for you!