We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat”, but this has never been more true than in today’s world of growing food sensitivities, genetically modified foods, and all too common nutrient deficiencies.
Nutrition is the heart and soul of our bodies. It’s the fuel that makes everything possible so you can live your daily life. Everything from energy levels, quality of sleep, focus, clarity, mood, aches and pains, and even the cravings you have for specific foods all depend on what you consume. What most people don’t realize is that your diet directly influences what you are at your core: your DNA.
What is the Best Diet?
Environment and diet are two of the largest factors influencing health. After the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, researchers began to speculate the idea of nutrients and diet influencing genes. As a result, a new field of research developed known as Nutrigenomics. The exciting findings that resulted could potentially enable personalized prevention and disease treatment.
If we take weight loss for example, there are many different styles of diet…low-fat, high-fat, low-carb, paleo, Atkins, South Beach…Which is most effective? The answer is not as black and white as we’d like it to be, and this is due in part to each of our unique genetic codes. For example, a Stanford University study that looked at the long-term effects of weight loss using different diets showed exactly this. A group of participants were put on a low-fat diet resulting in some weight loss; however when another group was put on a personalized DNA-based diet for 3 specific gene variations, they lost as much as 2 1/2 times more weight than those put on a random, non-personalized diet.
According to David Katz, MD, nutrition expert, and founder of the Yale Prevention Center: “This genetic testing is a brand new field, nutrigenomics, the link between genes and nutrition. It makes sense because our genes control hormone levels, enzyme levels – all the basic levels of metabolism. And how we metabolize food determines what happens to the nutrients and calories we take in.”
In other words we could be eating very “healthy” diets, but if that diet does not match our genetic profile, results may not be as effective.
What does your DNA say about nutrition?
Because we all have different genes and DNA makeup, what works best for each of us will be distinct. Testing your genes can give you insight to your nutritional needs and answer questions, such as:
- How well does your body process alcohol?
- How well does your body metabolize caffeine?
- Can you tolerate lactose?
- Do you have a sensitivity to gluten?
- Is your body genetically predisposed to lower concentrations of certain vitamins?
Genes, Diet, and Disease
If you constantly feel run down or unwell you may not be supporting your body nutritionally.
Genetic research completed at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has found that diets with one-third protein, one-third fat and one-third carbohydrates are the most effective at limiting risk of most lifestyle-related diseases.
Researchers at NTNU, found that “a diet with 65% carbohydrates causes a number of classes of genes to work overtime”. The response with this kind of diet is stress and inflammation, which then triggers genes associated with major lifestyle diseases, such as the development of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, dementia, and type 2 diabetes. From these findings, it was concluded that a healthy diet shouldn’t contain more than 40% of calories coming from carbohydrates.
Consuming excessive amounts of carbohydrates can present as everyday symptoms such as chronic low energy, digestive distress, headaches, mood swings, weight gain, skin problems, and low immunity. Genes related to lifestyle diseases (such as type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease) are sensitive to a higher carbohydrate diet. Of course, there is further research that needs to be done, but if we’re looking to reduce our risk for these common diseases, starting with diet changes is critical.
The best way to eat right for your DNA is to take a simple DNA test. If you have not taken a DNA test yet, these diet recommendations may be helpful in controlling your susceptibility to disease as well as your overall health:
- Consume a diet of one-third protein, one-third fat and one-third carbohydrates. Don’t get caught up on protein, fat or carbohydrates being “good” or “bad”.
- Eat breakfast and don’t skip meals.
- Eat fat and protein with every meal to control blood sugar and the release of insulin.
- Reduce simple carbohydrates as well as added sugars in the diet, including excess fruit consumption.
- Consume the majority of your vegetable intake from non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens…). Avoid starchy vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips).
- Avoid genetically modified foods.
By choosing what we put in our bodies every day, we are either contributing to or reducing our risk of disease. Our bodies and genes work only as well as the fuel we give them. Whether your goal is weight loss, increased energy, addressing specific chronic symptoms (such as headaches/migraines), or just to feel your best, the answer may lie in your DNA.