In the world of nutrition, one size does not fit all

November 5, 2018

Have you ever followed the general food guidelines and found they don’t work for you?  Maybe you felt like you weren’t getting enough protein.  Maybe you were craving more veggies.  Or maybe it was too many calories.  You are not alone.

There is not a one size fits all answer to nutrition.  Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, scientists have been working hard to understand how our genetics and what we eat work together to keep us healthy.  Not only that, but also how diet can contribute to or alleviate chronic illnesses, like diabetes and IBS.

Not surprisingly, our genetics play a significant role.  For example, a low sodium diet is often recommended as a non-prescription method of reducing blood pressure.  However, some people experience an increase in their blood pressure when they go on a low sodium diet.  Doctors have seen this happen to enough patients that it is clear that there is something we don’t understand about the connection between dietary sodium intake and blood pressure.  The answer likely lies in our DNA.

There’s a similar story behind coffee.  You may have heard that coffee is part of a healthy diet.  While that may be true for some people, it isn’t true for everyone.  The difference is in the CYP1A2 gene.  Some people have a genotype (a version of a gene) that allows them to metabolize the caffeine faster, while others have a genotype that results in slower metabolism of caffeine.  The difference in metabolism can have a significant impact on the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, diabetes, and impaired kidney function.

Genetics plays a role in how your body responds to a high protein diet, too.  Scientists found that people with a specific genotype of the FTO gene had a reduction in fat mass after following a high protein diet for two years.  Individuals in the study who had any other version of the FTO gene had no change in fat mass.

As we learn more about the relationship between genotypes, diet, and disease, food guidelines can be tailored to the individual.  Can you imagine a day when figuring out how to eat healthy isn’t a guessing game?  That day isn’t here yet, but it is certainly on its way!

If you’re interested in the scientific details, check out the following scholarly journal article.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Food Forum. Nutrigenomics and the Future of Nutrition: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2018 Jul 25, 44 – 56.

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