Life Science: Do Our Genes Really Affect Our Nutritional Intake?

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There are so many diets out its hard to keep track. What’s healthier? A keto diet? Going gluten-free? Low Carbs? Diet pills? Everywhere you look, someone else is telling you what to eat or better yet, what not to eat. For all of these diets, there really isn’t much of a scientific basis to them. So how do we stay healthy in this world of increasing processed and synthetic foods? Well, many people are looking to their genes.

Health scientists have been looking at our genes for a while; this isn’t new research. It’s been found that humans need their diets to be made up of one-third protein, one-third fat, and one-third carbohydrates. This is the standard for the human genome. So, diets that say high-carb or low-carb diets are the way to go, are just not very accurate. Carbs have a bad reputation this day and age, but they are more than just breads and pastas. Carbs also include beans, dairy, and salad greens like broccoli. Steamed broccoli can be used as an alternative to boiled potatoes in the carb section of your diet.

The basis for all of this is in gene expression. This refers to when information from a gene’s DNA sequence turns into, let’s say a protein that then becomes used in the structure or function of that cell. Scientists can track these processes and see which foods cause those genes to change. If you eat too little carbs, your blood sugar gets too low causing Hypoglycemia (symptoms include: shakiness, dizziness, hunger, weakness and difficulty speaking). You also begin to run out of energy quickly, become constipated and obtain mood swings as well.

If you eat too many carbs, it causes inflammation in your body, called metabolic inflammation. This type of inflammation results mild flu-like symptoms: redder skin, bloating, a feeling of body temperature rising and a less than sharp mental performance. Genes that are involved in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer are activated by these super-carb diets. Now, that’s not to say that you will obtain these diseases or can prevent them by eating a diet where carbs make up 1/3 of said diet, but it is worth noting. In eating better, we have a choice in whether or not to provide our genes the ‘weapons’ that they use in causing diseases.

High/low fat or protein diets are just as bad as these carb diets. They can result in other deficiencies that inhibit your body from functioning correctly on a daily basis. You want to give your body everything it needs to well, function every day. Keeping everything in balance will keep inflammation and other disease-enhancing genes in order. Light or fat-free products deprive you of the good fats that you need in your diet. Too much saturated animal fat is unhealthy, yes, but monounsaturated vegetable fats and polyunsaturated fish fats are good for you. The long names shouldn’t be discouraging; they are simply identifiers that describe the bonds’ chemical structures. Organic Chemists use long names for a lot of things, trust me, some are incredibly long. It doesn’t mean that it is a dangerous or unnatural product, it means that it just occurs in a more complex structure in nature, but this is beside the point.

Our genes as humans overall do affect how we should alter our diets, but a new more personalized form of nutrition is gaining increased popularity. Consumers, statistically, are more likely to follow personalized recommendations, rather than generalized ones. Companies like 23andMe for $200 will give you your full health report and ancestry. This is mainly to provide you with details about the history of disease in your family and other genetic health risks.

 Habit provides an at home kit that you send in to obtain diet recommendations. It tells you to prick your finger initially and then drink this carb, protein, and fat shake (it’s like chocolate, avocado, etc.). Afterwards, you prick it again and again for the last time a few minutes later. Lastly, you use the DNA mouth swab and you send it all back to them. They then provide you with a detailed analysis of how much protein, carbohydrates, and fat you are supposed to take in every day, as a ratio. This is an ever-expanding industry, with many new companies popping up telling you your genetic food profile.

A group of scientists at the University of Munich however, did an extensive search of articles and publications on the effectiveness of these personalized nutritional methods. They came to one conclusion: there isn’t one. There is no scientific proof that any of these specialized methods actually work. Scientists at the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics argue that personalized nutrition will not have the dramatic effect that’s expected. Under the current state of knowledge, personalized diets are no more beneficial than following the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 rule.

One could then argue that this is all very new research and that no one knows anything for sure. We do know that people will follow a diet more closely if it seems to be catered for them, so maybe it is helpful in that way of providing personal responsibility. With a multitude of companies telling you what to eat and how to eat it, its hard to know what to choose. All that matters is that you are providing your body with what it needs to carry out the day, everything else is up to you.