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What should I be eating for good health?

Your body’s biochemical make-up is as unique as your fingerprints; we’re all very different in the way our bodies process foods and utilize nutrients. It’s not possible to expect one diet regime to work for everyone and supports the concept of ‘typing’ yourself, according to certain aspects of your metabolism.  This is called metabolic typing.  In a nutshell, it’s about understanding exactly what your ideal daily ratios of fats, proteins and carbohydrates should be. These ideal ratios keep you in great health and at a good body weight.

Genetic dietary needs

Throughout man’s evolutionary history, people all over the world were forced to adapt to widely varying environmental circumstances. Things such as very different climates and food supplies are just some examples.  For example, traditional Eskimos thrive on very large quantities of meat and fat. However, people born in the tropics stay healthy eating fruits and grains and other light vegetarian food.

For decades, scientists have observed that people who eat according to their genetically-based dietary needs have virtually no incidence of cancer, heart disease, or any other degenerative ailments.

A mainstream diet paradigm

Currently the food pyramid tends to be used the world over, to give guidance to the general population around ‘healthy’ ratios of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins).  In fact, this pyramid is by no means a healthy dietary plan for all to follow. The reason being, that it is so devastatingly high in carbohydrates. This traditional notion advises a daily intake of 60% carbs, 25% protein and 15% fat.

The problem with this advice is three-fold:

  1. It doesn’t differentiate between the qualities of the carbs mentioned
  2. Eating this many carbs (unless mostly simply vegetables) plays havoc with blood sugar. It causes both weight gain and the potential for the development of lifestyle diseases
  3. The food pyramid (and any other formula diet) does not take into account individual fuel needs
Differentiating carbohydrate qualities

When people consume carbs, most tend not to be too concerned about the quality of this macronutrient.  In fact, grains like pastas and commercial breads are staples in the daily diet. Processed carbohydrates require huge amounts of energy to digest in the body because they are, by nature, devoid of good quality nutrients and enzymes.  This results in a depletion of your own important reserves of both.  On the other hand vegetables are a far healthier, nutrient-rich choice.  Whole-grains and high quantities of fruit, although a better choice than processed grains, can still cause problems (see below).

Blood sugar effects of carbohydrates

Carbohydrate is the only macronutrient that alters blood sugar.  This is because the starches break down relatively quickly into sugars in the body.  When high-glycaemic (high sugar-release) carbs are eaten regularly, they break down extremely rapidly into sugar. This has a devastating effect on blood sugar levels.  High glycaemic carbs include grains, certain fruits, sweetened juices and simple sugars (found in sweets, chocolates, table sugar and even artificial sweeteners).

In addition, because people are made to fear fats and certain proteins (such as animal meats), they tend to be overlooked when the choice is made for a ‘healthy’ meal/snack.  Proteins and fats actually control blood sugar levels very effectively by ‘dampening’ the rising blood sugar.

But juice is healthy, no?

Let’s take a juice as an example of what happens internally.  When fruit is commercially juiced, the fibre is excluded. This makes the sugar content very high.  Simplistically, when blood sugar becomes high, the pancreas produces insulin. This results in a signal sent to various cells to ‘open’ to receive the excess glucose. If you do physical labour throughout your day, you might be better able to handle this excess glucose as your muscle fuel would need to be replaced fairly frequently.  However, most of us are not particularly physically active during any given day and so the excess glucose tends to be stored as fat.  If this insulin production and resulting signal happens frequently enough, the cells that receive the insulin signal can become ‘deaf’. They therefore require more and more insulin in order to perceive the signal to open and allow the glucose in. This can lead to a condition called ‘insulin-resistance’, the precursor to diabetes. Once the cells have absorbed the excess glucose, blood sugar will start to drop, leading to stimulation of the adrenals. They output adrenalin, which results in a picking up and stabilising of the blood sugar to more normal levels.

The problem with this pattern is that it’s very stressful for both the pancreas and adrenals and can lead to various health issues and lifestyle diseases. 

High carb diets don’t take individual fuel needs into account

If you burn (oxidise) your carbs quickly, you’re said to be a fast oxidiser. If you burn them slowly, you’re a slow oxidiser.  Fast Oxidisers require far more proteins and fats in their diet than Slow Oxidisers. In addition, the Autonomic Nervous System plays a crucial role in fuel needs, as it is the master regulator of metabolism. It consists of two branches – the sympathetic (Sym) and the parasympathetic (Para).  These relate to how efficiently your body uses its fuel and you may find that you’re more dominant in one or the other.

People more dominant in the Sym system tend to do better on a diet higher in carbs.  They are usually tall and slim, have good muscle definition, a short temper, good concentration, crave sweets and tend towards heartburn. Those who are Para dominant tend to do better on a higher protein and fat diet. They usually have broad shoulders, are strong and powerful, cautious, creative, crave meat and salt and tend towards low blood sugar.

Your specific fuel needs

You can see how important it is to know what your specific fuel needs are.  Having this understanding will provide you with an easy and extremely powerful way to stay in both great health and great shape.

Simply cutting down on your intake of carbohydrates (all but vegetables) will already see you improving blood sugar management.  Adding good quality fats (like butter, coconut fat and cold-pressed plant oils) and proteins (grass-fed, free-range or organic beef and lamb, naturally-raised chickens and wild fish, raw nuts and seeds) will lead to improved emotional stability, increased energy and a reduction in both sweet cravings and body fat.

Tanya Wyatt, Happy Valley pond

Tanya Wyatt

Tanya has written regularly for various health and fitness magazines such as Men’s Health, Marie-Claire, Cosmopolitan and Shape (she also served on the advisory board for Shape), as well as for local South Africa newspaper publications. In 2004, Tanya wrote two internationally released health and fitness-related books, both  published by New Holland. She recently wrote her third book, currently submitted to publishers for consideration.