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Finding Your Dietary Zone
by Dr. Marc E. Matson

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How we balance our diet is as important as what we eat. As different engines require different fuels for optimal performance, so do we each have our own unique requirements and nutritional needs for reaching our peak performance and optimal lean body mass. The area of nutritional research is exploding with new insights and discoveries which are being fueled by growing interest in the importance of our diet in optimizing health, vitality and longevity. Yet much controversy still exists.

Exploration in the science of diet and nutrition often leaves the average person more confused than ever. With some experts recommending diets high in carbohydrates and low in protein, and other experts recommending the very opposite, how can everyone be right-or wrong, for that matter? My view is that each and every one of us should develop an understanding of which foods (and how much of each) make us feel our best.

Many writers and scientists have offered guidelines and given us areas to consider when searching for our own personal diet ideal. One approach gaining popularity is the Zone Diet. Dr. Barry Sears has written a couple of books based on the scientific research into the effect of the ratio of carbohydrate, protein and fat in our diet on the hormonal balance between insulin (which is released when carbohydrates are consumed) and glucagon (which is increased with protein consumption). The balance between these two hormones has a great deal to do with whether the body stores or burns fat.

The macronutrients whose ratios are key in finding this balanced dietary zone are carbohydrates (breads, fruits, juices, legumes, vegetables, whole grains, sweet foods, etc.), proteins (beef, chicken, dairy, eggs, fish, etc.), and fat (butter, oil, nuts, etc.). Some research in the area of balancing these ratios recommends as ideal a balance of 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% quality fats. Eating very carefully and only the right goods without balancing the proper ratio for your individual needs may not result in maximizing health and wellness.

According to this approach, approximately 25% of us are very sensitive to the amount of carbohydrate in our diet, and produce excessive amounts of insulin with carbohydrate consumption. Another 50% of us are moderately sensitive to the amount of carbohydrate in our diet and a "lucky" 25% of us seem to be able to tolerate as much carbohydrate as we want without upsetting the hormonal balance between insulin and glucagon.

People who are over-reactive to carbohydrates or have carbohydrate-intolerance tend to gain and hold weight easily, crave sugars, sweets and carbohydrates, and often have problems with blood fats and sugar. Familial tendency towards hypoglycemia or obesity is another key indicator for someone who would benefit from the "zone" approach.

A number of other researchers recommend a diet much higher in carbohydrate than the zone's 40$, with much lower protein and fat ratios, such as 70% carbohydrate, 20% protein and 10% fat. Many of these programs are recommended for people with high blood fat profiles or who have high coronary risk. Some of the diets which fall generally into this category include McDougal, Pritikin and Ornish. These diets have been tremendously helpful in many cases in weight loss and improved cholesterol and lower coronary risk. There are some people, however, who when following this high carbohydrate/low fat diet actually gain weight and experience an increase in blood fats, opposite of what we would expect.

Metabolic profiling is another approach to finding your optimal ratio of these three key macronutrients. A number of different researchers have contributed to developing these guidelines which base the ideal ratios of these nutrients on the rate at which an individual metabolized or "burns" their foods. Dr. George Watson developed classifications of fast oxidizers (burners) or slow oxidizers. Dr. William Kelly developed a computerized system of metabolic profiling which helps provide insight into what ratio of macronutrients would be recommended for each individual.

Fast burners tend to process their food rapidly, often with high energy and strong mental function. Fast burners often don't enjoy sweet desserts, but prefer fatty or salty snacks. Although they may have a strong appetite and prefer several large meals per day, digestive processes may actually be somewhat weak and inefficient. These fast burners may need frequent feedings to prevent energy crash and low blood sugar problems.

The other main metabolic type are the slow burners. Slow burners tend to "burn" their foods very slowly and often have poor appetites. Slow burners tend to like sweets but generally are unconcerned with food and eating. It is interesting to note that the recommended ratios of macronutrients for fast burners parallel the recommendations in the zone approach (approximately 45% protein, 35% carbohydrate and 20% fats), whereas the slow burner profile parallels the advocates of a high carbohydrate/low protein and fat diet (approximately 70% carbohydrate, 20% protein and 10% fat). The metabolic approach may offer some help in understanding why some individuals have followed one or another approach diligently and not gotten good results. Perhaps the diet they chose was not suited to their metabolic rate, and so did not offer the benefits which others experience.

Are you confused yet? If so, it's understandable. I recommend that you take the time to understand these concepts, apply them to your own diet, and then carefully monitor the results-how you feel 30 minutes to 3 hours after eating, how well you digest your foods, how good your energy level is, what your weight gain/loss is. If after all these differing opinions and concepts aren't enough, let me mention a couple of other things to be considered when developing your own personal diet. Ancestry and the genes passed down to us from our parents also contribute significantly. If your ancestry is fairly clear and pure, determining the diet of your ancestors is a fairly easy process. I myself am a blend of at least 8 different nationalities. But ancestry can be a modifying factor in determining some general dietary guidelines.

Another group of researchers have contributed dietary guidelines based on blood types. Among the prominent researchers in this area is Toshitaka Nomi, a Japanese researcher who has published over 25 books on the subject. Drs. James and Peter D'Adamo have also published papers and books which define diets most suited to different blood types. General guidelines are as follows: Type O is thought to be the oldest blood type and individuals with Type O are recommended to eat a diet heavier in animal meat and fish, supplemented with carbohydrates. They do not do well with dairy or excessive amounts of grain, and they generally prefer active physical lifestyles.

Those with Type A blood are better suited to a semi-vegetarian diet supplemented with lean meats, like poultry or fish. Type A's may also have some difficulty with dairy products and excess grains. Type A's often prefer less strenuous physical activities. Those with Type B blood seem to have an ability to handle a wider variety of foods, and variety is often a key, along with balancing their macronutrients. Blood Type AB, which is the most rare, seems to be able to best tolerate dairy products, but has a lesser tolerance for meat and other animal products.

With the incredible amount of ongoing research, the factors which influence our diet will be better defined as time moves forward. Initially, new concepts and considerations will surely be added to this soup. giving us a large plate abundantly piled with "food for thought." Perhaps the most important of these considerations are metabolic rate and carbohydrate sensitivity.

Finding your own dietary zone is an individual process and can be accomplished relatively easily with some basic knowledge. You need to find the diet that lets you feel your best, look your best, and gives you the highest degree of resistance to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other serious illness.

The following basic rules provide some general guidelines which you can use to begin the process of dietary discovery.

1.) Eat a wide variety of simple whole foods. Eat them in their natural form with the least possible processing.

2.) Eat sufficient, high quality low-fat proteins (preferable free range and hormone free).

3.) Be moderate with your starch intake (root vegetables, rice, corn breads and pastas). Try to consume 1/2 to 1 cup fresh fruit and 4-6 cups fresh vegetables daily.

4.) Balance starch/carbohydrates with quality proteins whenever possible. (15 grams of protein with 2-3 cups low starch vegetables.)

5. Reduce animal fats and eliminate hydrogenated and processed oils (i.e. all fried foods, margarines, commercial salad dressings, confectioneries and baked goods). Instead substitute monosaturated oils and Omega3-rich oils such as flax, pumpkin and walnut oil.

6.) Drink at least 8 glasses of pure water daily. Substitute herbal and naturally decaffeinated teas for caffeinated beverages and sodas.

With 18 years experience as a gentle, effective healer, Dr. Marc Matson, D.C. is a health coach and clinical nutritionist, and Director of Health Care at the Heart, Wellness, Vitality and Longevity Center in Santa Rosa, California. He's completed a Master's program in Clinical Nutrition and is a doctor of Chiropractic certified in spinal trauma, sports injuries and rehabilitation. For more information call (707) 579-2923.

Related Info:
Eating For Health
How To Heal Yourself
The Health Benefits of Green Foods
Feeling Fat, Fuzzy or Frazzled?
Living Well: A Guide to Anti-Aging
Eating Well on a Gluten-Free Diet
The Truth about Cholesterol
Hidden Signs of Heart Attack in Women
Barry Sears on The Zone Diet
Managing Dietary Restrictions
Self-Hypnosis for Weight Loss

Alternative Health Practitioners


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