The Infamous Blood Type Diet

(Getty Images, 2018)

Nowadays it seems like fad diets are all the rage. There are so many options out there it’s pretty hard not to be overwhelmed. One day it’s low carbs and high protein, then it’s intermittent fasting or going all raw. How do we know if any of these diets work or are good for you at all?! It’s been a while since the whole lemon detox craze was exposed, but it didn’t stop the rise of juice cleanses and detox teas taking the spotlight instead. Some say it’s just an expensive laxative, but they sell the lifestyle pretty attractively. As a naïve teenager, I had dreamt of the day when I could get my hands on the juice that would make me gain razor sharp abs.

(Okay, I knew that wasn’t how it really worked but it was a nice dream.)

Maybe I should thank my over-zealous need for researching for not getting myself into any sort of crazy dieting fad, but it didn’t sap my interest in them. I still wanted to know the literature behind it all and why there was such a large following for something that seemed so bizarre to me.

So, when I came across the Blood Type Diet, I was intrigued, if not a bit sceptical. This diet blew up over 20 years ago when naturopath Peter J. D’Adamo wrote “Eat Right 4 Your Type,” a book that circulated every bookstore as a bestseller, and is still floating around today. The idea is that there are 4 different diets to follow for the 4 different blood types. According to the book, a person could trace back to their ancestral dietary habits through their blood type, and so could eat what was most natural and beneficial for their body makeup. It wasn’t just a guide for eating, but an all-inclusive tome of wisdom against illnesses for a pathway to longevity.

Those with the A blood type came from cultivators of grain, in a time when the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was no longer viable. This means that their diet is plant-based, with a focus on fruits and vegetables, as well as beans and legumes. O’s are said to have a well-developed ability to digest meals containing protein and fat due to a higher presence of certain chemicals in their digestive tract. As a result, they would benefit the most from consuming foods high in protein such as lean meats, poultry, fish and vegetables, but to veer away from grains and dairy. They were also encouraged to engage in regular high intensity workouts as opposed to the calming exercises suggested for blood type A’s such as yoga and meditation.

Those with the B blood type came from a culture dependent on herding and domesticating animals, evident in their diet of meat and cultured dairy. B’s are heavily encouraged to eat green vegetables, low-fat dairy and certain red meats, a more omnivorous diet than the AO types which are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. The AB blood type is rare; it’s in less than 5% of the population, and is the ‘newest’, being a mix of A and B. This means those of AB blood would share both the benefits and challenges of the A and B type.  That being said, a diet of seafood, dairy and leafy greens is the best bet, whilst avoiding caffeine and alcohol would be advisable to keep stress low and manageable.

Now, to address the question on everyone’s mind: is there any real science behind this? The book covers a whole lot more about how eating certain foods and avoiding others work based on the ‘lectin connection,’ can be beneficial. Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins found in foods, a type of super glue, if you will. According to D’Adamo, a chemical reaction occurs between your blood and the foods you eat, and when the lectins in certain foods react negatively with your blood type antigen, they will begin to target your organs or bodily functions. When they stick, they begin to build up and your body recognises it as a foreign invader, without realising the organ trapped inside. It isn’t as scary as it sounds, but D’Adamo says it does lead to bloating, changes in bowel habits, hormonal fluctuations, and a whole slew of other problems.

As someone with the A blood type, following its diet wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary for me. Luckily (or scientifically?) it spoke to my preferences for food and exercise, but I wondered how many others could say the same. Obviously, this diet has been largely debunked in recent years. Its broad generalisations and highly specific instructions meaning to fit billions of people all over the world has no substantive support. Like any diet, it works because it places certain restrictions and promotes a healthier lifestyle through regular exercise and the avoidance of processed foods. Either way, it made for an interesting read, and taught me one thing – any dieting solution should be taken with a grain of salt, as well as a habit in extensive research. It took the world by storm because it was new and sounded impressive.

After all, wouldn’t it be comforting to know that the answer to all our health problems was right under our noses?

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