Metabolic Typing and Paleo
Based on Dr. Weston Price’s work, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and their Effects” and the subsequent book by William Wolcott and Trish Fahey, “The Metabolic Typing Diet”, this would suggest that although the Neolithic diet has not been around as long as the Paleolithic diet, it would appear that sufficient adaptations and genomic expressions have been made that consumption of some grains and dairy have a positive effect for certain people. The Paleo Diet seems to conflict with the diets of even continental neighbors like the African Masai and Bantu tribes who eat vastly different diets but both are considered very healthy and without “Western” diseases. The Masai tribe thrives on cattle milk and blood; no grains, vegetables or fruits. The Bantu tribe is a very low fat diet, like what is advocated today because of their nonexistent coronary artery disease (“Live Longer Now” by Nathan Pritkin). Although I am fascinated by the successes noted by individuals like Professor De Vany while on a Paleo diet, what are your thoughts for athletes who wish to peak perform? Is a Paleo diet right for everyone and am I just missing the boat on this? Is Metabolic Typing just out of date science or worse yet, junk science?
Great Questions! Lets look at this piece-by-piece.
Dr. Price’s book is an excellent resource that details some vastly different nutritional approaches which confer dramatically improved health on the various indigenous peoples as compared to westernized diets. We can see an illustration of this with 3 different peoples today: Okinawans (almost Zone proportions- 40/30/30 loads of seafood and veggies. Most of their carbs come from nutrient dense tubers) Sardinians- (very high fat intake in the form of olive oil, moderate grass-fed protein sources, loads of veggies, and some grains) and people from the high Andes regions (high carb intake from a wide variety of potatoes and legumes, moderate at best protein and fat intake from small game and dairy). Now ALL of these people show markedly reduced rates of Westernized diseases and this is most likely due to an almost complete lack of refined foods, however the Andeans are quite short as compared to both the Okinawans and Sardinians and this squares with what Dr. Price found in his travels. Here is an excerpt from his site and a link to the whole text:
“Africa also afforded Dr. Price the opportunity to compare primitive groups composed largely of meat eaters, with those that were mostly vegetarian. The Masai of Tankanika, Chewya of Kenya, Muhima of Uganda, Watusi of Ruanda and the Neurs tribes on the western side of the Nile in the Sudan were all cattle-keeping people. Their diets consisted largely of milk, blood and meat, supplemented in some cases with fish and with small amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables. Rich in animal fats, these diets provided large amounts of the fat-soluble vitamins Price discovered to be so necessary for proper development of the physical body and freedom from disease. The Neurs especially valued the livers of animals, considered so sacred "that it may not be touched by human hands. . . It is eaten both raw and cooked."2
These tribes were noted for their fine physiques and great height—in some groups the women averaged over 6 feet tall, and many men reached almost seven feet. Examinations of their teeth revealed very few caries, usually less than 0.5%. Nowhere in his travels had Price yet found groups that had no cavities at all, yet among the cattle-herding tribes of Africa, Dr. Price found six tribes that were completely free of dental decay. Furthermore, all members of these tribes exhibited straight, uncrowded teeth.
Largely vegetarian Bantu tribes such as the Kikuyu and Wakamba were agriculturists. Their diet consisted of sweet potatoes, corn, beans, bananas, millet and Kafir corn or sorghum. They were less robust than their meat-eating neighbors, and tended to be dominated by them. Price found that vegetarian groups had some tooth decay—usually around 5% or 6% of all teeth, still small numbers compared to Whites living off store-bought foods. Even among these largely vegetarian tribes, however, dental occlusions were rare, as were degenerative diseases.
Many investigators have mistakenly claimed that Bantu groups consumed no animal products at all. Some tribes kept a few cattle and goats which supplied both milk and meat; they ate small animals such as frogs; and they put a high value on insect food. "The natives of Africa know that certain insects are very rich in special food values at certain seasons, also that their eggs are valuable foods. A fly that hatches in enormous quantities in Lake Victoria is gathered and used fresh and dried for storage. They also use ant eggs and ants."3 Other insects, such as bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies, moths, cricket, dragon flies and termites are sought out and consumed with relish by tribes throughout Africa.4 These insects are rich in the fat soluble factors found in blood, organ meats, fish and butterfat. It is significant that the vegetarian groups practiced the feeding of special foods during gestation and lactation. Apparently carnivorous groups found no need to supplement the diet, as it was already rich in the factors needed for reproduction and optimum growth.”
The link to the full text is here:
I made a few key points bold. If you notice Dr. Price observed much better health among both the agriculturalists and pastoralists as compared to the white settlers who consumed a highly refined diet, however the pastoralists, who consumed much larger amounts of fat and protein, were much taller and robust than their agriculturalist neighbors. It is important to note that the Bantu were absolutely NOT adverse to eating meat (or insects for that matter) but rather had adopted an economic strategy that forced the consumption of lower quality grains and legumes. This high consumption of grains and legumes is partly to blame for the Bantu’s diminished stature due to a high intake of antinutrients in the form of phytates that made dietary mineral sources unavailable for bone growth. This is despite a fairly sophisticated system of fermentation and processing that reduced much of the phytates in the Bantu food. This is a classic demarcation between Paleolithic and Neolithic peoples. Namely height and bone/dental formation in Paleolithic peoples being far superior to that of agriculturalists.
As an aside: Nathan Pritikin completely misrepresented the Bantu diet and ended up committing suicide when his ultra low fat diet failed to cure his cancer. Plenty to be learned form that story.
Regarding the Masai:
“Atherosclerosis does not always lead to frank cardiac disease. A number of factors, besides the progression of atheromas, including the propensity of plaque to rupture and repair,(9) thrombogenesis, and vasospasm,(10) are necessary for the development of cardiac disease. According to Kinsella,(11) "clinical manifestation of ischemic heart disease is low compared with the prevalence of coronary atheroma," and Atrens(12) states, "death from cardiovascular causes may occur with minimal atherosclerosis and even extensive atherosclerosis may not become clinically apparent, let alone result in fatality." For example, the Masai have advanced atherosclerosis without significant symptoms or increased coronary mortality.(13)”
So although the pastoralists like the Masai have markedly better health than agriculturalists like the Bantu, they do suffer some adverse health consequences due to a diet that contains novel foodstuffs. It is important to note that the dairy the Masai consumed was grass-fed, not conventional grain fed. Grass-fed dairy has remarkably high levels of n-3 fatty acids, alpha lipoic acid, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), carotenoids, vitamin E and associated tocopherols and tocotrienols. Conventional dairy has essentially none of these items and is a source of concentrated grain lectins that can be highly problematic with regards to gut irritation and autoimmunity. Unless one has access to grass-fed dairy (which has some health concerns) one is reduced to consuming highly problematic conventional dairy.
To recap my main points with this first piece:
1-Eating non-refined foods is healthier than refined foods.
2-Hunter gatherers are healthier than pastoralists who are healthier than agriculturalists.
I want to talk next about metabolic typing and then wrap things up with some observations related to gene variations and nutrient quality as an indicator of a preferred diet.
Metabolic Typing (MT) is a process where-by an individual’s optimum ratio of protein, carbohydrate and fat intake is determined. The macronutrients can get apportioned as such:
General Macronutrient Proportions for Each Metabolic Type
Carb Type: 25% Protein / 15% Fat / 60% Carbohydrate
Mixed Type: 30% Protein / 20% Fat / 50% Carbohydrate
Protein Type: 40% Protein / 30% Fat / 30% Carbohydrate
One point to make is that MT is similar to the Zone in that it is concerned first with nutrient portions and second with nutrient quality. My friend, Ido Portal recommends MT and so does Charles Poliquin. They tend however to recommend “Paleo” foods within the context of MT as this ensures higher nutrient density and removes the most allergenic foods. This process is nothing unique. Barry Sears in Mastering the Zone has a flow chart for “Optimizing Your Hormonal Carburetor”. Mauro Di Pasquale has a flow chart for optimizing performance and recovery: http://www.metabolicdiet.com/images/md_tshoot.pdf. John Berardi offers a similar system for determining one’s best air fuel ratio. One Commonality of all these recommendations is that the ratios will fluctuate from time to time in accordance with activity level and other factors. Robert Lee notes in his book !Kung San: Men Women and Work in a Foraging Society that the !Kung diet varies form as much as 90% of calories coming form animal products at certain times of the year to as little as 10% at other times. TS Wiley and Bent Formby, authors of Lights Out: Sleep Sugar and Survival recommend cycling periods of higher and lower carbohydrate consumption based on the time of the year. The take home message from all this?
1-There is no one “Paleo” diet with regards to macronutrient ratios. There are some trends and there are certainly some foods that are NOT representative of what our ancestors evolved to eat.
2-ALL of the Hunter-gatherers experienced variability from season to season and obviously form location to location.
3- Metabolic Typing and all of the other sophisticated nutrition approaches mentioned above recognize that there is variability from individual to individual, even variability for that individual from time to time. Nothing about this is at odds with what we know about our ancestors (people are different) or their nutritional situation (things change).
This segues nicely into the question of genetic variability. A powerful point is made by the information in the book African Exodus by Christopher stringer. Now no one would spend a moment debating what a Chimpanzee diet should consist of, right? The interesting thing is that there is GREATER genetic variation among a family group of 60 chimps than the TOTALITY of humanity. The chimp family line is remarkably old and highly varied. Genetic variation implies a potential to adapt yet it is quite clear what the eating and dietary practices of chimps include (it is clear for humans as well, but less broadly known…hence this Q & A). Human beings despite loads of outward differences are stunningly similar compared to most other organisms. Our ancestors were pinched down to only a few thousand individuals about 100,000 years ago and we have accrued little genetic variety in that time. Now humans ARE opportunistic omnivores and some adaptation has occurred (some populations can tolerate lactose better than others) but the interesting point to make is that the location of greatest change is the area where the germ line is oldest, Africa. Specifically the !Kung People. Wherever agriculture has been established the longest, people show some adaptations towards that end. As was made clear previously however, agriculturalists are NOT healthy in comparison to HG’s or even pastoralists. If you happen to be of northern European or Native American origin you are faced with a few decades to perhaps a few thousand years to adapt to a completely new lifeway. We see this reflected in the earlier and more ubiquitous disease of affluence in these populations.
1-Humans have very little genetic variation in comparison to other organisms.
2-Little genetic variation indicates adaptation to a specific lifeway.
My final point involves food quality and really could have been the first and only point to be made. Grains, legumes and dairy are completely inferior to meats, vegetables, fruits nuts and seeds. Loren Cordain illustrates this point in this paper:
In simple terms if one consumes large amounts of grains, legumes and dairy not only are they subjecting themselves to high glycemic, insulin and toxic lectin load one is by default displacing the MOST nutritious food possible.
As to peak athletic performance a Paleo diet is advocated by: Charles Poliquin (US Olympic Track team strength coach) and Joe Friel (Us Olympic Triathlon team coach). Put as much or as little stock in those facts as you like but I think the nutrient density issue is an open and shut case for any endeavor. Regardless of the amounts or ratios of foods consumed, if one chooses lean meats, veggies, fruit nuts and seeds one will be optimizing intake of vitamins, minerals and a slew of phyto-nutrients. A paleo diet need not be low or high carb. As mentioned previously there are some guidelines but what a paleo diet is mainly about is QUALITY of food.
Thank you for the excellent question
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