The best diet for you? DNA could hold the answer

DNA and your diet (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON — No carbs? Low-carb? Plant-based? Dairy-free?

Testing out the latest fad diets may soon be a thing of the past. Scientists and nutrition experts are hopeful that DNA will one day determine what foods work best for your body.

“We’ve known for a long time that an eating pattern that works for one person won’t necessarily produce the same results in another person,” said Ali Webster, a registered dietitian and associate director of nutrition communications with the International Food Information Council.

Now, researchers are asking, “Why?”

Nutrigenomics, or the study of how one’s genes interact with food and drink, is a field that has taken off since the conclusion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. Clinical and randomized trials across the globe are examining how diet impacts genes and how genes respond to diet.

“Understanding the connections between diet and genetics means that we might no longer have to play this guessing game every single time we try out a new food or eating pattern,” Webster said.

“By knowing more about the relationship between our genes and the foods and beverages we’re consuming, we might be able to predict our body’s response to food before we even eat it.”

For the average consumer, the allure of nutrigenomics is personalized nutrition — an idea that tech companies are cashing in on.

With a swab of saliva, a few drops of blood and $300, Habit analyzes a customer’s DNA and delivers test results that contain information such as how one’s body processes fat, carbs, even caffeine. Similarly, DNAFit analyzes a person’s genetic makeup to help customers tailor their diets and workouts to enhance performance.

Before you spend hundreds on a bio-based nutrition recommendation, Webster has some words of caution.

“We’re not quite there yet with the research that’s been done so far,” she said.

“We don’t really have reliable information yet that could be routinely applied to a patient population, and the reality is that health professionals aren’t yet learning practical applications of nutrigenomics or personalized nutrition.”

Plus, Webster said environment and lifestyle shouldn’t be downplayed. Everything from exercise, to sleep, to gender influence one’s response to food and drink.

“Another factor to consider, which also complicates things, is the gut microbiome, which are the bacteria living in our GI [gastrointestinal] tract,” Webster added.

“And we’re only just beginning to understand how these microbes that are living in our bodies communicate with our organ systems and can also influence our response to diet.”

Yes, there’s still a need for further research, but Webster said nutrigenomics has the potential to be useful to nutritionists, doctors and dietitians, especially when it comes to treating and preventing diet-related diseases such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

“The goal is to move beyond some of these generic recommendations and to really drill down and get more specific into the needs of the individual,” Webster said.

“We know that personalization often increases motivation to stick with some kind of dietary plan, and motivation to make and continue to sustain any kind of change is really critical.”

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