Is there such a thing as a DNA Diet and is it for you? In this blog article, I explain how your genes provide the information to create a diet that is unique to YOUR DNA and your health.
Genes, genes everywhere!
Suddenly everyone is talking about genes, genetic testing, and DNA. How so? It began with our interest in tracing our ancestry. Which is now made possible by companies like 23andme and Ancestry. Fascination with our heritage played a huge role in bringing genes into the spotlight and in a day to day conversation. It did not take long before we learned that the same DNA information stored in your unique raw data files (see 23andme) could also be used to interpret how your genes are performing for your health. You upload your data to an interpretive software and bingo out comes a story of your genes! I won’t bore you with the intricacies and challenges of using these types of services. Nor will I tell you that most people have no idea what the report means when they get it. However, I will tell you that your genes provide the deepest insights into how your body operates. And the biggest contributor to how your body operates is food.
About You and YOUR Genes
Let’s begin at the beginning. If you have been following my blog, you know I talk a lot about genes and what they do. Explore this topic more. Here I’ll just do a quick review. And if you want to get to the part about your DNA Diet and skip the explanations, jump down to the end of this article.
Chromosomes are those X-like structures you learned about in biology. They are inherited from your parents. They are located in the nucleus of each of your cells.
Chromosomes are made up of different genes, and each gene houses your DNA.
DNA is the instruction material for YOUR unique human blueprint. Yes, DNA determines exactly who YOU are.
Genes are responsible for making proteins. Proteins provide structure for your body (think muscles) and also function (think moving information around the body). Proteins are therefore essential to life. To produce proteins, you have to active genes. Each gene contains instructions for a unique protein. Depending on what you want a protein to do, you have to activate the right gene for that job. Many things can activate genes, including food (we call this nutrigenomics), exercise, stress and also toxins from the environment. YES, this is true.
Genes hand over your unique information
When genes are activated, they hand over unique information stored in your DNA to an interim messenger called Messenger RNA. This process is called transcription. Transcription occurs in the nucleus of each of your cells where your genes reside. Messenger RNA leaves the nucleus and travels to protein-making factories in the cell called ribosomes. Here the genetic information from messenger RNA is translated into proteins. From here, proteins head to where they are needed in your body and perform their designated task. This transcription-translation process occurs the same way in all of us.
So how come we are different?
Errors in the Protein Production Line
Like any production line, kinks or errors can occur along the way. Errors in protein production create the traits that make us different. They can also determine how your body uses information from the food you eat. How your body uses food information or nutrients forms the foundation of your very own “DNA diet.”
Let’s take a look at how these kinks or errors occur and then we’ll talk about food and diet.
How Protein Errors Occur
Errors in protein production occur when the protein recipe provided by your genes is not followed. Imagine making a cake that calls for coarse brown sugar and you use fine white sugar. The cake looks and tastes basically the same. It might have a slightly different color. It’s still a cake. Yet the ingredients are a little different. When genes make a slight error in the protein recipe we call it a SNP or single nucleotide polymorphism. These errors are not fatal. They occur in all of us. One error is neither life-threatening nor fatal.
What happens when the protein recipe is wrong?
Are you now wondering if you run into problems when genes make a mistake in their protein recipes? Let me give you an example with some wordplay.
I say: “Two of my friends just got engaged. They are very happy.” Then I say “Two of my friends just got encaged. They are very happy.“ You realize in the second sentence that I said the wrong word. A slip of the tongue. You still understand what I mean, and go about your day. It’s the same with kinks or errors in the protein production line. Errors occur, but for the most part, your body recognizes the occasional error and just goes about its business.
Here’s what you need to know
An error here or there in the protein production line does not shut down production and bring protein production to a halt. However, when your gene machinery gets out of balance and kicks out a series of protein errors, we create workarounds for these errors. In a factory, we might shut down the production line and engineers figure out where the errors are and fix them. We can’t shut down human protein production, but we can create alternatives when we have a series of protein errors.
This is how we create a DNA diet, and it is built specifically for you. A DNA diet contains the food information you need to operate, and includes additional nutrients to work around those protein errors.
No one has the same DNA as you. What you eat is unique to YOU. It is shaped by your DNA and not your neighbor’s.
What about Dietary Guidelines and Guidance from the Government or Health Institutions?
A lot of what we know about which food to eat and how much is shaped by nutrition research that studies the dietary patterns of large populations. In the USA the NHANES survey health experts interview 5000 individuals across the country every year. These interviews gather important data about health, exercise, and diet. This type of research correlates nutrient deficiencies and nutrient excesses with disease (AKA how what you eat or don’t eat may be related to heart disease, diabetes or cancer for example).
Insights from these types of studies provide guidance for recommended daily intake of nutrients which you may know as RDIs or DRIs (Daily Recommended Intake). The strength of this type of research is providing general health guidance and to shape public nutrition policy. It is based on what we know about the relationship between food and disease. It emphasizes which foods to include in your diet to prevent different diseases. The weakness of this type of research is that it cannot account for individual differences. And who you are as a unique human is defined by your DNA and not your neighbor’s.
YOUR nutrient needs are not your Neighbor's
When I am teaching practitioners about nutrigenomics (how food interacts with our genes), I always say that food works the same way in all humans. Humans share the same basic biochemistry. Think of your biochemistry like the chip that handles all the functions in your Smartphone. Your biochemistry drives how you function. The chip in your phone may be a little different depending on the type of phone you have, but how the chip works in your phone is basically the same way as your friend’s. It’s the same idea in humans. We all need the same nutrients. What makes us different is how much of each nutrient we need, and not whether we need those nutrients. Your genes determine how much you need!
Regardless of whether we are talking about Vitamin D, calcium, zinc or Vitamin C, each of us need these nutrients to function. The difference between you and I is: you might need more Vitamin D than I do. I might need more zinc than you do. Those SNPs or protein errors that shape your biochemistry or nutrition circuitry are the reason why.
What about best-selling diets?
Listen carefully. Your genes could not care less about any diet other than the one that works for you. Genes don’t sell books about diet. They don’t have a dog in the fight! Genes are uniquely you. What works for you is determined by the patterns of your SNPs (Gene spelling errors) and not by a best-selling book, regardless of how many people have “done well” on that diet. Trust me on this.
But aren’t those diets healthy?
It depends on which food is in those diet plans and how well your body (genes) handle that food. What we do know, and I teach this at The Genomic Kitchen, is that certain food harmonizes very well with human genes. This is why experts recommend cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or kale because the bioactive sulforaphane that is created when you chop them interacts beautifully with genes to turn on your antioxidant defense system. We know that fermented foods have a synergistic relationship with beneficial bacteria in your gut. The molecules these bacteria create (short-chain fatty acids) are powerful communicators with your immune system.
We know that many herbs and spices can turn off genes that create fiery inflammation in your body if they are left in the “on” position. Some of the same herbs and spices can protect your DNA as well. In contrast, some of us do not handle high levels of fat and some of us need very specific forms of fat. I am one of those people. And yes, it is true, for some of you, carbohydrate whether it is whole grain or not, is not the perfect partner for your genes, even if it delivers lots of nutrients and fiber. It doesn’t mean you avoid carbohydrates of fat. It means you fine-tune which forms of these nutrients you eat, and how much. Your DNA is the ultimate guide to which food, which nutrients and how much.
What will a DNA Test do for me?
For thousands of years, we humans have survived without knowing our DNA information. From longevity research and also research into non-traditional or primitive societies, we know that humans have eaten uncomplicated, unprocessed food. Much of it grown or hunted locally. Herbs and spices, nuts, seeds and berries that grow locally have always been an important part of what we eat around the world, as are the animals we raise and the seafood we catch. We also know that eating is also a way to connect with family and community. Yes, indeed, your genes respond to emotions and contact with others.
In times gone by, the food we ate did not come with a label providing grams of fat or percentages of nutrients. These days, food has become more complex. It is often re-formulated into shapes and products produced by machines. Carbohydrates are mashed together with fats in combinations that never existed in nature. Artificial flavors and coloring are added to create acceptance by mimicking the hues of nature. And we do not know whether our genes can handle these unnatural combinations.
Genomic testing (your DNA test) provides you with a snapshot of your genes and insights into how they are functioning. Health practitioners who are trained to interpret genomic information can detect strengths and weaknesses in the biochemical circuits your genes direct. Your genomic information is paired with lab testing to further evaluate the efficiency of your genes. From we can now create more precise guidance on which nutrients you need more of and how much of each you need. This is precision work. You can’t buy it over the counter.
Can I follow a DNA Diet without a DNA Test?
Genomic testing is still in its relevant infancy and many of you may not be interested in it yet. For sure, if you have been struggling with unresolved health issues, even though you have followed the best health and medical advice, then I recommend DNA testing. But for some of you, you’re not ready yet but want to know how you can make food choices that harmonize with your genes.
It is for this reason that we created The Genomic Kitchen Ingredient Toolbox. Our Ingredient Toolbox contains familiar ingredients that you can immediately put on your grocery list and easily add to your plate. These ingredients are organized into a system we call M.I.S.E. The M.I.S.E. system is rooted in the science of how food influences master genes that impact long-term health. Choosing these ingredients allows you to eat in harmony with genetic pathways associated with oxidative stress, inflammation, and metabolism and optimize gut health. They allow you to start the journey of fine-tuning the biochemical circuitry of your body and eat in accordance with the language and flavor or human DNA.