Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spaghetti Squash and the Blood Type Diet

I've been fascinated by the subject of nutrition ever since I was in nurse's training, ages ago. As part of our basic nutrition class, we were required to keep food and activity diaries. Everyone else complained about having to do that, but I thought it was interesting. I guess that's when I got hooked on the science of food and metabolism. (But please don't ask me to explain the Krebs cycle...)

For all that, my main interest in food during my 20s and 30s was mostly confined to how it tasted. I was interested in learning cooking techniques, using fresh ingredients - to the point of growing most of my family's food for a short time - and trying new things. I didn't think too much about how certain foods, regardless of quality or taste, could affect my metabolism for better or worse.

That changed in my early 40s when I discovered that I have an allergy to eggs. This bit of information explained a lot of things, like why it was that after a couple of bites of an omelet, I had trouble swallowing, and why I had frequent bouts with symptoms that seemed like violent cases of food poisoning.

The process of adapting to this allergy, and working with a naturopathic physician, brought me back to my former interest in food as it relates to metabolism. That, in turn, brought up a lot of questions. For example, if a vegetarian diet is so good for people, why do some people gain weight when they become vegetarians? Why is it that some people can live on bread, tofu and fruit and look and feel great, yet, why is it that after two days without meat, I have no energy? Why is it that soy and lentils, two protein sources that are highly touted as meat replacements, leave me feeling like my head is in a fog and my feet are in concrete boots? And why is it that eating a hamburger makes me feel so good?

I found answers to these questions several years ago in a book called "Eat Right 4 Your Type," by Dr. Peter D'Adamo. In it, he explains that blood type determines how food is metabolized. He describes how blood types evolved, beginning with the earliest humans who were hunter-gatherers. Their diet was largely animal protein and fat, with small amounts of carbohydrate. This diet provided the huge amounts of energy needed to survive harsh conditions. People like me with Type O blood, the oldest blood type, retain those ancient metabolic characteristics. Grains and dairy, which were not part of the early human diet, are not well tolerated by our systems.

Thousands of years later, when humans began to settle down and create permanent communities, they started cultivating crops. This is when grains were introduced to the human diet. With this addition to the food supply, human metabolism began to adapt and a new blood type, Type A, began to appear. People with Type A blood do very well on a diet of grains, vegetable-based proteins and carbohydrates. Meat and dairy, not so much.

Further along the evolutionary trail, humans domesticated animals and added dairy products to their diet. And again, blood type adapted. Type Bs have many more choices for dinner because they can enjoy a range of meats, dairy, vegetables and certain grains. The newest and rarest blood type, AB, is the most idiosyncratic of all blood types, combining metabolic characteristics of both Type A and B, with a few of it's own eccentricities.

I revisited this information recently as I was thinking that it's past time for me to shed a few pounds. I know that I do best when I stick to meat, fish and vegetables, but I do love those "white" carbs, especially bread and pasta. I had a taste for spaghetti with a rich, thick Bolognese sauce, but I was trying to talk myself out of it. Pasta really sticks with me and not in a good way.

And then I remembered - spaghetti squash! 

Now, I'm not going to lie to you. It doesn't taste like pasta. But it doesn't taste bad, either. It's easy to fix. The strands of the cooked squash hold their shape and look very much like spaghetti, hence the name. The flavor complements the sauce nicely. And after dinner, I don't have that stuffed feeling I usually get from eating pasta.

If you are unfamiliar with spaghetti squash, here are a few photos.

This is what to look for at the grocery store or farmer's market. Oval, pale yellow, smooth skin.

To cook, cut in half, scoop out seeds, and place, cut side down, in a baking dish with about 3/4" water. Bake at 325- 350 for about 20-25 minutes depending on the size of the squash. To check for doneness, turn over a piece and use a fork to see if the strands separate easily.

When the squash has finished baking, scoop out the strands of "spaghetti." Season with a little sea salt, butter if desired, and top with your favorite sauce.

Spaghetti squash is delicious and nutritious, no matter what your blood type is. If you've never tried it before, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

See related post: Eat Right 4 Your Type