Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
13 Oct

Dear Mark: Metabolic Typing

401449768 f0c0294576Dear Mark,

I’d love to see your take on the validity of the metabolic type diet. I have found that a primal-style eating plan similar to yours works wonders for me, but I have seen some people comment that they maintain lean bodies with a very different approach than you. One commenter even stated that he gains weight when he increased fat calories. It seems like people can react differently to certain foods.

Metabolic typing periodically gets a boost in press every once in a while. The premise of typing suggests that people have distinctive metabolisms that are best served by a corresponding nutrition profile. Presumably, these metabolic distinctions are genetic differences based on your ancestors’ geographic origin. For example, if your ancestors are from the South Pacific islands, your nutritional needs differ significantly from those of the Lapps in Scandinavia, etc.

(Metabolic typing is different from the “blood type diet” you might occasionally hear about, but some people try to emphasize what they see as the overlap between the two “theories.”)

Traditional metabolic typing uses three categories: protein type, carbo type, and mixed type. As you can probably guess, “protein types” are supposed to eat protein- (and fat-) rich diets. “Carb types,” according to this theory, do well with a high carb, low protein and fat diet. “Mixed types” are supposed to thrive on equal parts proteins, fats and carbs.

And it gets more intricate/convoluted from there. Your “type” theoretically shows if your sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system is “dominant” in your personality and physiology. Some of the tests and descriptions go into detail about everything from “fast/slow oxidation” to endocrine gland dominance. Supposedly, if you eat “according to your type,” you will finally be able to maintain good health and a normal weight. You can get long, exhaustive testing and reports that gives you this information, usually for a certain price. (Imagine that.)

What’s my estimation of this theory? Hooey, humbug, nonsense. But let me tell you why.

In last week’s post Did Grok Really Eat That Much Meat?, we cited research highlighting the substantial role that animal sources (fish/meat, fat/protein) played (and still play) in traditional hunter-gatherer diets. The study established a range of animal source intake between 45-65% of total energy intake. While the 20% difference isn’t exactly trivial, it’s still pretty minor in the grand picture.

It’s true people sometimes respond slightly differently to particular foods (like raw nuts, for example), and occasionally we find tolerance related patterns within particular ethnicities. An example of this pattern would be the fact that most of the world has a higher level of lactose intolerance than certain European ethnic groups. Nonetheless, we’re still talking about pretty targeted food sources. Despite these relatively minor patterns and individual issues, the fact is we all share the same biochemistry. (As in, our bodies all pump out insulin in response to carb intake….) Some people might be more sensitive to lectins, but lectins are still processed by those people’s bodies the same way they are by everyone else’s systems. The same goes for other food sensitivities, even those that may show a population-based pattern.

Let me say it this way. Having particular sensitivities to foods or preferences for foods doesn’t equate with the need for a different macronutrient composition in your diet. One size fits all may not be exactly right – there is a range. But that range is much narrower than the metabolic typing theorists want to suggest… We each might prefer to get our protein through a unique combination of meats and other foods (nuts, etc.), but we share the need for significant protein intake.

There are, indeed, other individual factors that influence our nutritional needs and sensitivities, but I’d argue that these don’t have anything to do with where Great-, Great-, Great-, Great- (and so on) Grandpa came from. They have to do with age, gender, personal medical condition and hormone balance, exposure to toxins and allergens, etc.

And then there’s the part about weight maintenance/loss. Sure, some people out there have a harder time gaining muscle mass despite their best efforts. Some people, while they’re perfectly healthy, have a harder time maintaining a “thin” physique. But a type report isn’t going to offer any new answers. Controlling your hormonal balance by minimizing carbs is the key. (And as for those people who eat carbs but look thin, they’re still throwing their body into hormonal havoc, despite their denial. Thin doesn’t necessarily equal health.)

Once again, within our individual ranges, we can all expect to achieve a healthy body by practicing what we know to be true over millions of years. At the end of the day, there’s undeniably a surprising consistency in our nutritional needs. A hunter-gatherer style diet (cornerstone of the Primal Blueprint) has held up time and time again as offering the best promise for true health and best protection against chronic disease.

Thanks, as always, for your questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming!

trp0 Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

No-Duh Study: Exercise is Good and Lowers Obesity

Dear Mark: What is a Healthy Body Weight?

Primal Blueprint for Men and Women?

Skinny Fat: Where Skinny Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Healthy

Art De Vany: Metabolic Shifting

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’ve been a big fan of this blog and the Primal Blueprint for about a year, but if your goal was to write a post that has me rethinking my faith in you as a quality source of health information, as well as your motivations, then well done.

    Matt wrote on February 15th, 2012
  2. I do not think it matters that this site is coming up on MT google searches as anyone who reads the comments will realise that MT is a much more sophisticated method of working out what diets us as individuals should be following than the primal diet.

    here are some observations from me:
    1) Mark and Rob Wolf have vested interests in the primal diet, so unfortunately (and very sadly) they cannot advocate the MT diet, no matter how much they actually agree with it (and from Mark’s arguments on this post, it seems that if he dug a little deeper, he probably would agree with MT!).

    2) I was a Vegetarian for 12 years, followed the Weston A Price diet for 3 years and the primal diet for 2 years. I never felt well on any of them.

    3) I recently had a Metabolic Typing Consultant work out my type and found out that none of these previously mentioned diets quite hit the mark. I am the mixed or Mediterranean type diet; low fat, lean meat (mainly fish), no dairy and 40% carbs. I have never felt better, and I was convinced before I had this test that I was gluten intolerant (I had not eaten gluten for 8 years). I KNOW without a shadow of doubt that MT works.

    4) There are just too many people around who thrive on a vegan diet for this primal diet to be universal for everyone – sorry Mark, you do a sterling job and I know that you have built up such a reputation behind your work that actually you cannot now put your hands up and say MT works, yes, the primal diet works for YOU, but not for everyone. How fantastic for people who find your site and follow the primal diet and coincidentally are protein types and they never felt better, but there are two other types out there, for whom the primal diet DOES NOT WORK!
    I am one of them.

    5)Please everyone Google Kriss Carr at Crazy Sexy Life and see for yourself what a radiant, amazing cancer survivor she is – on a raw vegan diet. Please look up Andreas Moritz, who looks amazing on his 25-year-long vegan diet. Please read ‘Born to Run’ and find out about the tribe who runs ultra marathons barefoot on nothing but a plant-based diet. Remember though, just as the primal diet – the vegan diet is not for everyone!

    6) The ONLY thing that makes sense to me, after literally years of searching for the right diet, is the metabolic typing diet – every single person is an INDIVIDUAL and needs a diet to match.
    The primal diet is so attractive, so convincingly real and based on so much evidence from our past that it is easy to get drawn into it – but it is not for everyone. Of course an inuit is going to suffer on a high carb diet! but let’s look at it another way, vegetarians from China or the Indian subcontinent would suffer just as badly on a high protein/fat diet. Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear about this side of things so much in paleo circles.

    7) My friend survived bone cancer and is now pregnant after following a detox diet and getting metabolically typed, she is the healthiest that she has been for years.

    8) The test is not expensive or very involved at all. I spent an hour with a consultant initially, did a two hour glucose and protein challenge test the following morning at home and then spent another half hour with the same consultant who gave me my diet plan. Simple. The best money I have spent in a LONG time. You can even do it over the internet. I am so pleased that at last I need do no more guesswork or experimentation with my diet, no more hours and hours wasted on the internet researching and at last I have found my health.

    Louisa wrote on February 17th, 2012
    • WOW!!!!!! Well said!!!!! Bravo!!!!!! Lets get rid of all dogmatism!!!!

      Daniel Rold wrote on July 1st, 2012
  3. Tyler, I am Chinese and I’m wondering where you get the idea that Asians are carb types. Have you ever been to a 7 – 9 course Chinese banquet? I have been to many. The majority of dishes are animal: seafood soup to start, then beef, pork, chicken, duck, and shrimp. Usually 1 green vegetable dish, 1 noodle dish and of course rice. I have never done an MT test but I am definitely on the protein type side, but do fine with moderate amounts of rice.

    Jason wrote on February 17th, 2012
  4. Metabolic Typing is absolutely the best way to get your body on track. Yes, after being on it for awhile then one finds what adjustments are required. For me I needed a bit more fat. I’m a protein type.

    I’ve lost about 100 pounds in the last eleven years; the first 30 after I started using coconut oil and then the rest after I discovered the MT by reading Dr. Mercola’s email health updates.

    Yes, it went slowly but I never once “dieted”. Gradually my craving for sweets lessened and my appetite decreased. I lost a little every month until I leveled out at the top of my recommended weight range.

    I’d like to be a bit thinner but I absolutely will not diet. I am what I am. I haven’t been this weight in about 40 years!

    fbl wrote on February 17th, 2012
    • Yes, and your gradual weight loss is the inverse of the gradual weight gain that happens to so many people over an 11 year period. Seems like you have found what works best for you. :-)

      rarebird wrote on February 19th, 2012
  5. There are many aspects of Mark’s Daily Blog that I appreciate. One of them is that there is always great food for thought in the articles and the comments that follow. I value anything/anyone that/who encourages me to stop and think – to examine my own perceptions, to evaluate my belief system, or to change my behavior for the better.

    I don’t have a dog in this particular fight. I’m not emotionally, intellectually, or financially invested in anyone, or anyone’s hypotheses, being right – or wrong. And, make no mistake – everything from what our Paleolithic ancestors ate to what effect their diet had on their metabolism to “typing” diet systems is nothing more than a hypothesis – at this time. A hypothesis is nothing more than an educated/informed hunch at best.

    What I am invested in is whatever optimizes my own health, regardless of the politics or particular hypothesis involved. I take a pragmatic approach – whatever works, stays – whatever doesn’t, goes. Whatever helps me to try new things or to eliminate old bad habits is IMO a “good thing”. I don’t have to embrace the explanation for why that “thing” works or doesn’t work.

    Even in the most rigorously conducted scientific research, the interpretation of the results is constrained by individual perception and the current state of knowledge. The results may stand the test of replication, but those interpretations are often revisited over time and amongst the scientific community.

    Read the anthropological literature about the Paleolithic diet. What you’ll find is that what we can safely say is that it was diverse – and therefore likely to be more nutritious than the more limited agriculture based diet. Neither plants nor animals (including humans) thrive on monocultures. Entire ecosystems depend on diversity. Diverse food sources are not only more nutritious and less susceptible to crop failure (famine), they are less likely to promote allergies in susceptible animals (including humans).

    We also know that carb digestion – converting starch to sugar – begins in the human mouth. And, likewise we know that carb/sugar in the mouth promotes poor oral health – caries and periodontal disease. We know that the bacteria involved in periodontal disease are also implicated in cardio-vascular disease and specific organ failure (e.g. renal/kidney failure).

    And, on it goes like that. At this point, I have studied and eliminated the blood type diet as not being useful to me. If you read the profiles of each blood type – given that you know your own type and the types of several other people whose types represent the range of blood types – you may notice what I did. Some of the profile may fit but much of it doesn’t. Some of what is supposedly true for a type A may be observed to be true for the type Os that you know – and so on. The general impression that I come away with is that I am looking at an example of the “Barnum Effect”.

    Skeptic’s dictionary:

    “The Barnum effect is the name given to a type of subjective validation in which a person finds personal meaning in statements that could apply to many people.”

    So, in this instance I would echo Mark’s assessment of “humbug”.

    The jury is still out for me regarding metabolic typing since I have just started reading about the hypotheses behind it. At this point I can say this much. I took the metabolic test some years ago when I was eating a heavy “healthy” carb based diet. At that time, the answers that I gave – about how my body behaved – resulted in my being assessed as a “mixed type”. However, if I were to take that test again today as a person on a low carb, high fat/protein diet, my answers would be very different. I am planning to retake the test just to see what the results would be – and to see how the hypotheses would explain both sets of results.

    Peace out.

    rarebird wrote on February 19th, 2012
  6. Hey Mark.

    I was wondering what your take on Weston A Price’s research regarding the different ethnic groups and their diets is. Basically, how can the traditional Swiss diet be so focused on dairy and comparatively little meat and veggies? How can some African tribes thrive on blood, meat, and milk alone? I have attached the link that I read on Weston A Price’s website, and I would love if you responded, because I am a little confused as to how Grok’s diet and those diet can be so different-did the neolithics evolve a new diet that we should look into before adopting the Primal lifestyle? http://www.westonaprice.org/traditional-diets/ancient-dietary-wisdom

    Pranay wrote on March 18th, 2012
  7. HI Mark,

    I am 57 kg, 28 years old female.I have been experimenting with my die for a while now. I am originally from Lithuania and our diets there are based on starches like potatoes and rye bread50%, vegs10% and protein 15%, saturated fat25%,(hardly any fruits,but tea with sugar most of the time) I never had problems with weight once I or any hormonal problems once I lived in Lithuania. I moved in to London to work as a Personal Trainer, being in this industry I have amended my diet to high protein(120g), low carbs(100g, mainly veg sources and some fruits), low saturated, high non saturated fats(100g). I have noticed that instead of getting lean, I started gain fat, especially on my thighs-i never had this before, my periods also stopped, I got cellulite and really struggling with energy levels, feeling thirsty all the time,feeling hypoglycemic most of the time. I was questioning myself what happened. And decided to return to my Lithuanian diet as an experiment (by keeping calorie intake the same. I have been on my “Lithuanian” diet for about 2 months. Interesting enough, my periods got back and I started losing weight from my thights, also my nails started to grow (this is the first time after a long time).If some days I reduce my carbs and increase protein and fat, I cant function the next day, I am falling asleep, cant even work! It seems high carb diet actually is balancing my hormones. Please let me know your thoughts about it. Thanks,

    egle wrote on June 6th, 2012
    • Such a shame.

      I was introduced to Metabolic Typing through college course work along with many other “diets”. MT is not really a diet, it’s a process to find out what each person is best suited to eat at that particular time in their life. It was the only methodology I have found to let the person dictate what foods are right for them rather than the Practitioner guessing or pushing their agenda. MT teaches you how to listen to your body and adjust accordingIy. I have seen people shift their needs as they went through the healing process. Whenever I get someone who is a Protein Type, I give them Marks site as a source of information so thanks Mark. MT just digs in a little deeper because there are some specific foods that react differently in certain people. MT teaches it’s advisors to monitor blood sugar levels, hormone levels, physical/emotional responses, digestion/elimination, and much much more. To think everyone would benefit from one style of eating is a bit naive. Oh yeah, MT has been around for over 30 years, so hardly a fad.

      Someone mentioned FDN. This is another great tool which teaches how to use functional labs to identify underlying hidden stressors in the body. Well worth seeing a trained FDN or taking the course yourself.

      I am also a CHEK Practitioner and FDN/MT is advocated within our teachings as well. In fact, I could argue that the CHEK Institute is the only true Holistic approach out there that is based on the most successful modalities, old and new, and enables us to create a very individualized approach to each person. As far as Marks diet and exercise approach, they are both cookie cutter, so they will only work for a select portion of the population. I bring up exercise because we will evaluate a person (could take 3 or more hours depending on your training level) to identify postural/muscle imbalances and design an exercise program specific to that persons needs (sound familiar?). Some muscles will be short and tight, some long and weak and therefore some are stretched and some strengthened. Spinal pathologies are identified, instabilities corrected, and many times we refer out to other professionals.

      This is why “One size fits all” exercise books along with diet books are ” Hooey, humbug, nonsense” and one should keep an open mind. I use this site as another tool or resource for my clients. The problem is when all you have in your tool box is a hammer (Primal Blueprint), the entire world looks like a nail.

      Michael wrote on June 30th, 2012
      • Excellent reply Michael, well thought about and explained. Shame to hear Sisson go on like this about a topic he obviously doesn’t fully understand. Makes me wonder about other posts he has made..

        David Stein wrote on April 15th, 2013
  8. I respect your opinions on this topic and I mainly agree that everyone should eat a range of foods but I think there is some validity for some people requiring more protein/carbs than others for their body types. I have read “The Metabolic Type Diet” and have expressed what I learned from it here on my blog: http://www.austinnutritionandfitness.com/2012/05/05/metabolic-typing/

    Can you read it and let me know what you think about it? All insight is appreciated. Thanks!

    Becky Nichols wrote on July 20th, 2012
  9. Hi you guys, you all sound like guys lol i’m a vegan, don’t attack me lol… but i am searching for the right way to eat, i was on the low fat high grains mcdougall program, and wasn’t losing weight like everyone else… so i bought a vitamix a couple weeks ago and have just been stuffing it full of fruit and veggies and i feel fantastic!! totally forgot about the grains haha… i also added some probiotic yogurt to my fruit smoothies and that seems to agree with me, so i’m wondering what the paleo diet IS really? is it sorta fruits and veggies with a bit of kind meat? coz i can sorta relate if that’s the case… i get sick sooo bad from processed foods, but i think i will ask my husband to pick up some grass fed meat and see if i get sick… i would probably be aghast psychologically, but if it affected my health positively i would be shocked!!!

    Elaine- wrote on August 10th, 2012
  10. If you are now a vegan then be very careful adding meat to your diet. Your gut will not be ready to process this food so you may want to take digestive enzymes with it. Also I think starting with eggs and yes, more yogurt would be a good thing before you try some meat.

    Vegan diets do not give the body enough protein and B vitamins. Most vegans substitute soy and that is a very bad idea, unless it is fermented.

    Good luck and yes, you were smart to eliminated the grains.

    fbl wrote on August 10th, 2012
  11. So if lots of protein is the key to a healthy and happy life. Why do Okinawans eat a half a pound of meat a week and the elderly there frequently live to be 100 years old or older?

    Could the need for protein as you age decrease?

    Matt K wrote on October 3rd, 2012
  12. Very interesting to read the comments here. I notice on the MDA forum that, while many have striking success with the paleo diet, many others struggle with it. Sadly, they are usually dismissed as not doing it properly. I’ve been turned off the forum for this reason. I’ve read about MT and done the test which says I am a mixed type. It’s too early for me to say it works, but that might explain why paleo wasn’t working for me. Glad to see good debate here. Thanks!

    Jo wrote on October 10th, 2012
  13. Your explanation of why metabolic typying is hooey says nothing. Seriously, you make no valid points. Most of what you say is you repeating you don’t see how a diet plan that follows your Great-Great-Great…grandpas’ diet has anything to do with you now. As you did say, it takes more than that to discover your personal mix for sustaining energy without compromising the stability of health. “They have to do with age, gender, personal medical condition and hormone balance, exposure to toxins and allergens, etc.”

    Assesments for metabloic typing tests the several metabolic systems in your body; blood type, parasympathetic/sympathetic dominance, oxidation rate, catabolic/anabolic dominance, etc – the genetic aspect, that you speak of, is not even the whole picture but a tiny aspect for consiuderation of finding your metabolic type. Why explore this? Carbs may be terrible for most people — rightfully so — they shoot up insulin levels and increase fat storage, but for some people who oxidate slowly their ideal source for obtaining and mainting proper biochemistry and energy levels will be by having more carbs in their diet than protein, and even from there it’s a sliding scale throughout the day!

    M wrote on January 14th, 2013
  14. Although I can see where you are coming from, I believe you are missing the major point of why Dr Mercola’s plan will work for many people- much more so than the primal diet.
    That point is SUGAR ADDICTION.
    Like many I had -probably still have- an extreme and powerful sugar addiction; and although I didn’t allow myself to eat cakes, desserts etc, I could not go four sugar free days without horrible, severe withdrawal symptoms; which I would then satisfy with lollies or wine- terrible I know. But the truth is my life on the primal diet was one of binging every fourth day. Which is how I lived for years now- until recently. My weight is o.k- normal, – but I am getting slimmer on Mercola’s plan though-YAY.
    With Dr Mercola’s plan, because I am adding more good fat- not too much though- and because I am also adding a small amount of starchy carb like sweet potatoe, pumkin or carrot-which I NEVER normally would do- with my greens, I don’t get the four day withdrawal. Yes I still would like to have wine or sweeties, but it is controllable. I can resist. And I am full at the end of the meal, something I never am with my meat and salads/low carb veg.
    The other point is whether or not the proportions are exact- I am a mixed type, there is a psycological factor in thinking the programme is different from the many others that didn’t work for me -Atkins, primal, blood type etc, and even if you were correct about the types really being nothing but nonscence; the fact is, this way of eating is enabling me to limit my sugar intake to small amounts of fresh fruit after dinner, without any serious cravings. I am also off all gluten. Some of my previous binge day’s would be a whole block of blue cheese with crackers and wine for dinner.
    Now I can have a piece of cheese on a rice cracker at the end of my meal if I wanted to. Because it is allowed, I don’t feel that I have ruined my diet, so there is no need to eat the whole lot so I can be “good’ tomorrow.
    In regards to the wine, I am having a glass twice a week instead of my fruit.
    As a dotor I am sure you appreciate that often the biggest obstacle to get over is ourselves when it comes to our health, and Mercola’s plan seems to have the right tools to enable me to do this.
    Oh and I have had a binge night, but it consisted of a large bowl of home cooked popcorn in olive oil and two sugar free chocolate drinks with stevia!

    Rebecca Shawyer wrote on March 30th, 2013
  15. I never cease to be amazed at the opinions of people in the nutritional industry. Most of them have NEVER experienced Dr. Kelley’s metabolic protocol, yet they seem to have ALL the answers to its validity. After 28 years on a metabolic protocol, I would assume that I have a pretty good WORKING KNOWLEDGE of its validity. Having overcome, liver cancer, diabetes, polycythemia, lymes and related metabolic disorders…….I can assure you that Dr. Kelley has ALWAYS been way ahead of the curve for the past half century.
    Obviously others have COPIED HIS APPROACH, but have failed because of their inability to offer Dr. Kelley’s SPECIFIC supplements, which take all foods in general to a entirely different level. Just as his pancreatic formulations are the STRONGEST on the planet.
    Sincerely,
    Curtis R. Kuhn
    C.M.T. – E.L.A.
    A.A., B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

    Dr. Curtis R. Kuhn wrote on July 26th, 2013
  16. Chimpanzees have a greater genetic variation within their species than humans do (twice as much genetic variation) yet no one argues that various groups of chimps have substantially different nutritional needs (and the dates separating chimpanzee populations trace back 50,000 to 250,000 years further back than when all of the human populations north of the Sahara separated from sub-Saharan Africa.)

    lisa wrote on January 6th, 2014

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