What Nutrigenomics Can Teach You About Personalized Nutrition

Did you ever buy a diet book because a friend raved about it, but your experiences were like night and day? She felt invigorated and lost weight. You dragged yourself around and wondered if your bathroom scale was broken.

Scientists are starting to prove what you probably suspected for years. Different people respond differently to the same foods.

Recent studies show that individual genetic traits and metabolism rates determine what foods will help you lose weight and stay healthy. Even the government has modified its one-size-fits all nutritional recommendations to take into consideration factors like age, gender, and levels of physical activity.

A 2014 study by researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) found that personalized dietary advice based on a person’s genetic makeup improves eating habits compared to current “one-size-fits-all” dietary recommendations.

Nutrigenomics Improves Diets

Ahmed El-Sohemy, an Associate Professor in Nutritional Sciences at U of T and Canada Research Chair in Nutrigenomics, said:

“We conducted the first randomized controlled trial to determine the impact of disclosing DNA-based dietary advice on eating habits. We found that people who receive DNA-based advice improve their diet to a greater extent than those who receive the standard dietary advice. They’re also the ones who need to change it the most.”

Nutrigenomics is a field of genomics research that aims to understand why some people respond differently than others to the same foods. Personalized nutrition, a branch of personalized medicine, is an application of nutrigenomics that helps tailor dietary recommendations to a person’s DNA.

The researchers in the study collected data on the intake of caffeine, sodium, vitamin C and sugar from 138 healthy young adults. The subjects were then randomized into two different study groups–one was given DNA-based dietary advice for each of the four dietary components of interest, and the other group was given current standard dietary advice for the same dietary components with no genetic information.

The people who were informed that they carried a version of a gene linked to salt intake and high blood pressure significantly reduced their sodium intake, in accordance with the recommendation, compared to the group that received the standard advice for sodium intake.

No effects were observed for the other components of the diet. However, most subjects were already meeting the dietary recommendations for the three other components at the start of the study, and the researchers believe this might explain why no significant changes were seen in these intakes.

Why You Might Need a Personal Food Plan

It’s easy to doubt yourself when your sincere efforts fail to pay off. A diet that’s designed with you in mind will reward you with success. Each milestone you reach inspires you to keep going.

Personalized nutrition is especially important if you’re dealing with serious or chronic health issues. For example, if you have diabetes, you need to know that the glycemic index is just an average figure. Any specific food may have a smaller or greater effect on your blood sugar levels.

More than 80% of adults who lose weight gain at least that much back within two years. Permanent lifestyle changes that are realistic for you will help you to stay in top condition for the long haul.

Creating a Personal Food Plan

1. Talk with your doctor. Your doctor’s office is an excellent first stop. Follow your doctor’s recommendations about nutrition and exercise.

2. Consult a nutritionist. For additional assistance, your physician may refer you to a nutritionist or dietitian. You can also contact the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to find a qualified professional near you.

3. Keep a journal. Whether you work with a professional or on your own, a journal is a useful tool. Spot patterns by writing down what you eat and when.

4. Act your age. Your dietary needs change as you age. You may need to cut back on calories, and watch out for side effects of various medications.

5. Understand your BMI. Your body mass index and related metabolic rate are two concepts that can help you estimate your calorie needs. Search for free online calculators or ask your health team about how to take your measurements.

6. Consider your gender. Dietary recommendations are similar for males and females until about age 10 when puberty and hormones create a new scenario. At that point, women generally need fewer calories and more calcium and iron than men.

7. Explore your genes. Genetic counseling raises sensitive issues such as privacy, but may continue to play a larger role in health care and nutrition. Learn about your family’s medical history and talk with your doctor about your concerns.

8. Budget your time. Design a diet that fits your schedule. Do you enjoy spending hours in the kitchen or do you need a list of healthy take-out options?

9. Seek support. Programs like Weight Watchers consistently score high ratings because of the social support they provide. Let your family and friends know what they can do to help you eat healthy.

10. Exercise regularly. As always, physical activity is the other side of the equation. The safest way to lose weight includes more whole foods and daily exercise.

If you’re tired of generic advice that lets you down, start looking into personal nutrition. A diet that suits your personality and lifestyle will be easier to stick to and more likely to deliver the results you’re looking for.

Daiva E. Nielsen, Ahmed El-Sohemy
Disclosure of Genetic Information and Change in Dietary Intake: A Randomized Controlled Trial
PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (11): e112665 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112665