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Eat for your genes

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There’s no “one size fits all” diet and personalized dieting may be better for you.

The concept of a “one-size-fits-all” nutrition plan is outdated and interest in personalized dietary advice is growing. Personalized nutrition based on genetics may support better eating habits, greater weight loss and better overall health.

Nutrigenetics deserves public attention due to the immense potential to provide a basis for personalized nutrition, but it’s important to keep in mind that there is still much research to be done before it can be used in a dietary intervention,” says Elie Chamoun, a nutrigenetics researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Guelph. “This is still a relatively new and developing field of research which means there are many gaps in knowledge that remain to be filled.”

The major issues that arise in nutrigenetics research concern the complex nature of food, the variability within food, as well as the individual variability of physiological states that either promote or hinder a state of health or disease.

While certain people may be more prone to developing a disease, the possibility of avoiding an illness entirely through food selection depends on many factors. If eating more brussel sprouts meant preventing cancer according to genetic makeup, then personalized nutrition would be easy. In reality, personalized nutrition is a lot more complicated than that.

Chamoun stresses that a variety of factors can influence how our bodies sense, digest, absorb and metabolize nutrients, and that personalized nutrition must account for this complexity. One example is how the culture in which we are raised can shape our food preferences. If a child consumed a diet high in salt growing up due to the way traditional foods are made, they will develop a preference for salt independent of genetics.

“The maturation of taste and its consequences on eating habits appear to be influenced early in life by genetics, as well as by environmental and cultural experiences,” says Chamoun. “In adulthood, environmental and cultural experiences, rather than genetic predisposition, seem to be more correlated to how we perceive the taste of the food, and as a result, our eating habits.”

Several studies on the genetics of taste suggest learned behaviours can override genetic predisposition. This may explain, for example, why adults consume bitter vegetables which confer health benefits despite the bitter taste that instinctively promotes avoidance.

Many variables can come into play and more research needs to be conducted before recommending genetic screening for personalized nutrition to the public. Nevertheless, the buzz around personalized nutrition is great, and Chamoun is hopeful.

“Personalized nutrition has the potential to optimize health one day, but we’re just not quite there yet,” he says. “Until we can understand the full picture, we are unable to provide reliable and sound personalized nutritional advice based on genetics.”

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