Updated: Jul 6
My grandparents developed a fascination with our family geneology in their later years. Now in their late 80's, Frank and Dorothy Donner continue to exercise, eat well, stay active in their investment club and church choir, and travel.
In travel, they pursued discovering everything they possibly could about our strong Polish heritage. By visiting Poland a number of times, my grandmother was able to trace our lineage back several generations. She wrote a short book on what she dug up on our collective ancestry. I found this fascinating, and as I grow older, my own fascination with geneology and genetics is increasing.
My interest in geneology tends to lay along the lines of epigenetics. Epigenetics is essentially the study of how our environment and our choices affect our genetic expression. It is what makes us unique and interesting. (If you are interested in this concept, get this book. It's one of my favorites).
Our heritage and family genes play a huge role in our individual optimal nutrition. Consider this: I am a 5'11", olive skinned woman from cold European regions. My tan skin comes from somewhere, but my height and my build are certainly of an Eastern European nature. What was happening in my great-great-great-great grandparents' lives, generations ago? I am certain my family was not lounging around a warm tropical climate, spearing fish and enjoying bowls of poi and rice. We were probably killing animals, freezing our asses off in some unstable nation.
So what happens if I try, say, the vegan diet?
Since my metabolic type is that of a fast oxidizer (which means my cells metabolize carbohydrates into energy at an accelerated pace), I would be a mess eating only fruits and vegetables. I would be hungry, cranky, lethargic, foggy, and bloated. I know this. I have tried.
However, if your ancestors spent centuries in the Mediterranean, or on a tropical isle, or in a rainforest on the equator, you will have different dietary needs. In order to adapt to a warm and constant temperature, your body will thrive on lighter, less dense foods. Fruits, fibrous vegetables, rice, grains, and lean meats would be excellent diet staples for you. Part of your metabolic type would be that of a slow oxidizer- your body converts carbohydrates to fuel at a slower pace, and is consequently satisfied with less and lighter food.
Your oxidative type is one piece of this metabolic puzzle. Another piece of the puzzle is discovering which part of your autonomic nervous system is dominant. The autonomic (or automatic) nervous system affects all areas of metabolism outside of your control- heart rate, peristalsis, respiration, etc. There are two branches of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic branch and parasympathetic branch of the nervous system balance each other out.
For instance, the sympathetic branch dilates pupils. The parasympathetic branch contracts pupils. The sympathetic branch raises blood sugar by releasing glucose. The parasympathetic branch lowers blood sugar by sending glucose into the liver for storage. The sympathetic branch increases the heart rate. The parasympathetic branch decreases the heart rate.
Most people favor one branch of the autonomic nervous system, and dietary choices can influence this favoritism.
Example: someone with sympathetic dominance may be prone to indigestion, heartburn, insomnia, and high blood pressure. But that person may also have excellent concentration and be highly motivated.
Someone with parasympathetic dominance may suffer from diarrhea, allergies, fatigue, cold sores, and excessive appetite. But they also could be an emotionally warm person, one who is slow to anger and socially outgoing.
I tend to trend more toward the sympathetic dominant side of things. If I eat according to my metabolic type, some of the problems fall by the wayside and the strengths increase. It's a very interesting self-experiment.
According to Metabolic Typing, most people fall into three categories- protein type, carbohydrate type, or mixed type. Protein types need heavier proteins, high in purines, and less carbohydrates (please note I did not say, "no carbohydrates"). Carbohydrate types need more fruits, vegetables, and starches. Mixed types get to eat most things and still feel great.
One of the things I love about the study of nutrition is the bioindividuality of all people. There is no "diet prescription". Eat according to what your body wants. Eat less of it if you want to lose weight. Move more. Drink wine sometimes. Balance your hormones. And try to not to stress. Life should be way more fun than we try to make it.
I love this topic, and if you have questions about it, ask them on Instagram or Facebook. Play nice, please.
Jennifer Woodward, FDN-P