I spent a few days for Christmas with my sister in San Francisco. My sister and I have often had many heated arguments about dietary matters. Back when my mother was alive, both she and my sister would frequently go on the low carb, high protein Atkins diet in order to lose weight. The Atkins diet never struck me as a diet that was even remotely healthy – all that meat and steak day in and day out, washed down with thick cream… guaranteed to pickle your arteries with cholesterol and send you off to the cardiologist in no time flat. I would lecture my mom about the deleterious effects of such a diet to no end, but it didn’t seem to sink in at all. It really worked for losing weight and giving my mom that slim, trim figure that she was known for, and that’s all she cared about. And my sister took after my mom when it came to dieting.
One of the most formative influences in my life, especially when it came to diet, nutrition and natural healing, was my best friend John Hopkins, proprietor of Oh Happy Days Natural Food Store in Altadena, California. Just as zealously as my mom and my sister were in following the carnivorous Atkins diet, Brother John, who I like to call Saint John, the health food Gandhi of Altadena, was a staunch vegetarian. Vegetarianism is a dietary way of life with a lot of good, solid epidemiological evidence to back it up. It really does seem to reduce the risk and occurrence of morbidity and degenerative disease, especially as one ages. Brother John called fresh fruits and vegetables the protective foods, and from my own personal experience, I would have to agree with him. Although I may not be a complete vegetarian, as an herbalist, I have always felt that a plant centered diet is the foundation of good health.
When I was living in Romania, I was involved with a bunch of Romanian yogis who were vegetarians of the ovo-lacto-vegetarian persuasion, who included eggs and dairy products in their diet. At that time, communism had only recently fallen in Romania, and the food and dietary options available to the Romanian people in those days were still quite limited in terms of protein sources. There were walnuts and sunflower seeds, but other nuts and seeds were in short supply. Avocados, a mainstay of the California diet, were unheard of. We had all the feta style cheese that we wanted – from cow, sheep or goat milk, take your pick – and we had eggs, and without those protein sources, we’d be sunk. When it came to eggs, the yogis had some mighty strange notions – they considered the cholesterol-rich yolk the healthy part of the egg, and discarded the protein-rich whites, which are usually considered to be the healthy part of the egg back home. We also had beans, but these were mainly white or navy beans and chickpeas.
In the early days with the yogis in Romania, I was living with them in their ashrams in a rather squalid, slum-like neighborhood in Bucharest. And I ate what they ate – no meat at all. I also adhered to their intensive regimen of yoga training, and the young yogis, who were considerably more youthful than myself, were always telling me how pallid and run-down I looked. But then, wanting a little more privacy for myself, I moved out and rented my own apartment. And, as a kind of little experiment on the sly, I went out and supplemented my vegetarian fare with a chicken leg at a restaurant in town about once or twice a week. Of course, I didn’t breathe a word about it to my yogi friends, but I kept on getting spontaneous complements from them about how healthy and robust I looked. I just smiled and said, “Thank you!”
When it comes to keeping my diet in order, I tend to follow the dictates of my natal astrology chart. With my natal Ascendant in Scorpio, I need some meat in my diet to nourish my blood and hemoglobin adequately, due to the Martian classical rulership of this sign. But at the same time, Scorpio is also a Fixed sign, and Fixed signs generally have problems with elimination and detoxification – and so, my diet should include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to cleanse and detoxify the blood and lymph, as Scorpio, a Water sign, has an affinity for the vital fluids of the body and the moist, flourishing Phlegmatic and Sanguine humors. One of the things that my sister told me she found out about our family medical history in our dietary arguments over the holidays was that Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory disorders of the GI tract ran in my mom’s side of the family – and I have the two fiery, Choleric planets, the Sun and Mars, associated with inflammatory disorders, in direct opposition along the Taurus / Scorpio axis, with Mars, most closely linked with pathological inflammation, conjunct my Scorpio Ascendant. Between Taurus, which rules the mouth and throat, and Scorpio, which rules the rectum and anus, I have the whole GI tract contained within this inflammatory opposition – and believe me, I have really had to watch my digestion all my life. Because of the influence of Mars, its classical ruler, which rules the bile, Scorpio can also have bilious problems from eating too much meat.
And so, there it is – different strokes for different folks. I have found that the natal astrology chart is a pretty reliable guide in dietary matters, like a dietary and overall health maintenance manual for your bodymind. Another thing that many holistic healers have found to be very valuable as a guide in dietary matters is the Blood Type Diet – and it just so turns out that my sister and I have two different blood types, even though we’re siblings. My sister, not surprisingly, is a type O – the hunter / gatherer, and most meat-friendly of all the blood types – whereas I am a type B – the omnivore. In Japan, where I was born, the whole matter of blood types is quite the rage, although not so much as a system of dietetics as a guide to one’s personality and behavior.
Although I have some credence in the idea that different blood types, in a general sense, may thrive on different types of diets, I have quite a few reservations about adopting the whole Blood Type Diet, as outlined in Peter D’Adamo’s book, Eat Right for Your Type, hook, line and sinker. Nevertheless, I have many colleagues as holistic healers who swear by it. One of the nagging unanswered questions I have from that book is that there are two herbs – Rhubarb root and Red Clover – that are on every blood type’s “do not take” list. Now, Rhubarb root I might be able to accept, since it is a vigorous laxative / purgative, and not for everybody; but Red Clover??? It’s one of the mildest, most innocuous herbs that I know of! Why the heck is it on every type’s “do not take” list? I think I first noticed this peculiar anomaly when I was perusing the book at Oh Happy Days, Brother John’s health food store, which is frequented by quite a few eccentrics – and I vividly remember falling into a crazy argument about the whole Red Clover question with one of them!
The blood type diet book also seems to fall into some magical thinking as far as I’m concerned – it chalks everything up to what they call “lectins” which precipitate a kid of harmful coagulation of the red blood cells and hemoglobin in your bloodstream. For me as a type B, I’m OK with duck and turkey, but chicken is supposed to be bad for me, and to set off these “lectins”. But golly, gee – all these varieties of fowl seem to be pretty similar to me. A colleague of mine, and an ardent follower of the blood type diet, told me not to eat sesame tahini, that it was bad for me, and advised me to have almond butter on my morning toast instead. But when I took a serum IgG antibody blood test for hidden food allergies, I found out that I was allergic to almonds (they do give me problems if I eat too much of them), but not to sesame! But the blood type diet people just counter that the whole blood type thing with the “lectins” is one thing, and food allergies are another, and that both operate independently of one another. Lamb is supposed to be the best meat for type B’s like me, and I must admit that I feel pretty good after eating lamb. Might also be the Greek in me – who knows?
I went to acupuncture school and got my license way back in the early days of acupuncture in California. At that time, the curriculum, or instructional program for licensing in acupuncture and Oriental Medicine was quite short and sparse, and did not include a bona fide course in nutrition. This deficiency in my training prompted me to take a continuing education course in nutrition, which I enrolled in, eagerly hoping to get filled in on some of the nutritional basics I had missed out on in school. The abstract of the course sure looked promising. But when I actually took the course, I was quite dismayed to find that about three quarters of it, after a pretty perfunctory introduction to the subject, was – Peter D’Adamo’s blood type diet! My heart sunk to my feet – there was nothing about this in the course description! I could have just bought the book and read it, at considerably less expense than paying for the course, and gotten my continuing education credits elsewhere.
And so, my “inner jury” is pretty much out on the blood type diet. The Red Clover question still nags me, I must admit, and I can’t quite figure out what the magic of these “lectins” is all about. And colleagues of mine in the natural healing business continue to get remarkable results with it, even to the extent of healing chronic and recalcitrant diseases in their patients. And my sister, the type O hunter / gatherer, is filling up on meat, this time under the auspices of the Paleo diet. Doesn’t all that meat really drive up your cholesterol, doesn’t it really acidify your blood and load it with harmful toxins? My sister is quite a zealot about exploding what she sees as these “myths”. But a huge amount of epidemiological evidence does show that a plant based diet does indeed lower rates of morbidity and degenerative disease, and prolong the lifespan considerably. Just ask Ancel Keyes, the discoverer of the plant-based Mediterranean Diet, who lived to be over a hundred on his diet. And remember that Saint John, the health food Gandhi of Altadena, is smiling down on you when you choose to go vegetarian!