Considering the theory of Bio-Individuality, it’s not surprising that there are what seem like hundreds of dietary theories floating around. Since we all thrive on different foods and combinations of foods, experts will no doubt find many protocols that show increased health.
These protocols can be confusing. While doing research for this post, I realized there were theories I hadn’t even thought about in years! Rather than picking just one protocol, I look at the components of different dietary theories and pull out the parts that feel right for me. I choose those foods that feed my body and weave in lifestyle components that nourish me, body and soul, to create a dietary lifestyle that makes me feel my best.
For myself and my clients I recommend concentrating on mostly whole, unprocessed foods with vegetables, fruits and water at the center of everything. From there everything else is negotiable. We choose some or all of the following and decide in what forms these will come: nuts and seeds, legumes, fish, meat and poultry, dairy, eggs, sweeteners, oils and fats, whole grains, drinks, soul food and physical activity.
Sometimes it helps to start with an understanding of some of the dietary theories and use them as a blueprint or jumping off point. Adding, removing and tweaking the components until they fit the clients needs.
We adjust from there as needed, because just like the seasons of the year will change and the seasonal foods with it, we all go through seasons where the particular details of what nourishes us best will change as well.
Here are a few of the dietary theories I find useful in helping people figure out what dietary lifestyle works best for them.
The philosophy of macrobiotics is based on eating only natural foods, and balancing yin and yang in the body. The theory was created in Japan by George Ohsawa in the early 1900s. I was introduced macrobiotics in Alicia Silverstone’s book The Kind Diet, although her version is completely vegan and does not include fish.
The concept of the balance of opposites is intriguing and a good reminder that our body will always seek homeostasis. Looking through this “lens” of balance we can deconstruct cravings to understand what the body is seeking and how to find a better balance.
However, this way of eating may not be right for those who are not living in Japan as most of the foods included are very specific to that region.
Foods Included: Whole grains (about 40-60% of the diet), fresh vegetables, beans, soups, sea vegetables and fish only 1-3 times/week.
Foods Restricted: dairy, meat, eggs, refined sugar products, chocolate, tropical fruits, coffee, hot spices, nightshade vegetables.
Another system of balance, Ayurveda incorporates healing foods and encourages eating for your body type and with the seasons. This is based on the doshas Vatta, Pitta and Kapha which encompass mind and body types, the elements, and seasons.
Ayurveda, like Macrobiotics, is about balance. It is another way to look for imbalances and find through root of why someone may be struggling on a particular diet or food.
Foods Included: very little or no meat except during colder months, fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. Meals are balanced to include: something warm, protein, salad or vegetable with oil, spices and flavor, and a small sweet for dessert. Each meal should cover all 6 tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent and bitter.
Foods Restricted: heavily processed foods, excess sugar and caffeine, large amounts of animal protein.
Again, a strict version of this theory may not be right for those who are not living in India as many of the foods included are very specific to that region.
Vegan diets exclude all animal foods (meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, sometimes honey) with 2 schools of thought:
- Animal foods should be restricted because we are not meant to eat them and so they cause disease.
- Animals are sentient beings and should not be a commodity. This is based off an ethical argument.
When based primarily on whole and unprocessed foods veganism can be a wonderful change for many people. However, with its popularity, an abundance of highly processed vegan products have hit the market, so just being “vegan” is not synonymous with “healthy”. However when based on whole unprocessed foods, veganism helps crowd out overly processed and sugar loaded foods for those on a Standard American Diet.
Foods Included: Whole foods based veganism emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Foods Restricted: animal products and animal by products such as honey and dairy
Raw food diets are based on unprocessed and uncooked plant foods with the belief that eating food above 116 degrees will destroy the enzymes in the food needed to help your body digest and absorb nutrients from the food. Sprouting is also encouraged to help with digestion and nutrient absorption.
Raw foodism is a reminder that eating your foods prepared in a variety of ways is important. While I do not believe that all plant foods need to be raw in order to provide the most nutrition, I do believe that prioritizing some raw foods daily is important.
Foods Included: Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, dried fruit, seaweed and coconut milk. About 75% raw.
Foods Restricted: meat, dairy and food cooked about 116 degrees
Paleo and Traditional Diets
Paleo and other “Traditional” Diets are based off the principal that we should be eating what our ancestors ate. These foods are more biologically appropriate than many modern foods that were not available thousands of years ago.
These diets are often based off of research done on our paleolithic ancestors or the diets of indigenous populations who haven’t modernized. They are typically based on a hunter/gatherer style diet, however what is included varies based on the theory.
Paleo diets typically restrict diary and grains, while the Traditional diet based on the Weston Price Foundation model includes high quality, mainly raw dairy and sprouted grains. Legumes are typically not included in either.
These diets can be very beneficial as they encourage lots of vegetables, some fruits and only whole and unprocessed foods. However, they tend to overstate the amount of animal protein needed.
Foods Included: organic/grass fed/pasture raised meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, roots, nuts, raw milk, organ meats, fish eggs, butter, sprouted grains.
Foods Excluded: refined sugars, low or no fat dairy or all dairy, grains, beans, potatoes, processed oils.
Blood Type Diet
The blood type diet theorizes that each blood type (O, A, B and AB) came from a different time in human evolution and so we should base our foods on those available to our ancestors ate during those time periods.
Type O is the oldest and most common blood type. Humans began as hunter-gatherers, living primarily off of meat, wild plants and roots. Dairy and Wheat had not been introduced and should be avoided.
Type A developed when humans started farming. Our diets moved from meat to plant based, centered on grains, vegetables and beans plus small amounts of milk from domesticated cows. Blood type A is most suited for plant based diets.
Type B developed with the Nomadic people whose diet was a combination of cultivated plants and animal foods. These people have the ability to absorb nutrition from both plant and animal foods plus larger amounts of diary.
Type AB was the last to evolve. This rare blood type is usually able to tolerate a mixed diet.
Truly the main benefit of looking at your blood type is to use it as a baseline for the foods you may thrive one. Type O people will likely feel best without wheat or dairy and eating animal foods regularly, Type A people will thrive on a plant based diet and should be wary of a more paleo centered protocol. However they are mostly a starting point and the details of this protocol as laid out by its creator Dr. Peter D’Adamo are less important than using it as a general guide.
Foods Included and Restricted are based on each type.
There are many more theories out there. Understanding which you are attracted to and why can be the starting point to your chosen dietary lifestyle. Whatever components you choose, put an emphasis on whole unprocessed foods with fruits, vegetables and water as your foundation.