DNA Diets

What are they? Do they really work? Health and wellness is a big focus in our society and societies around the world. Many people are looking for more in depth answers to what makes their body tick and function at the highest level of health.

DNA testing has become very popular, even marketed to help you determine a variety of aspects of your health and genetics. This has led to a spinoff of DNA-based nutrition testing, suggesting that your genetics can tell you what to eat and what to avoid, especially when it comes to weight loss.

DNA diets are still new to the nutrition science scene, and understanding their potential pros and cons is helpful if you’re considering following one. 

What is a DNA Diet?

One way to understand what your body needs is through a DNA test. Looking at your nutritional needs, metabolic health factors and matching diet, a DNA test can reveal your genetic diet type, which vitamins you need to optimize, how your diet affects your cholesterol, if you’re sensitive to lactose and more.

Testing your DNA can also help to determine whether or not you have specific genetic variants that make you more susceptible to obesity, problems with alcohol intake, or food allergies or intolerances.

Some companies even say “eating for your genes” can help promote successful weight loss or improve performance. While this is attractive consumer marketing, being able to use a DNA test in this way is much more complicated than how it’s often presented, and these claims lack scientific evidence. 

The idea that ‘one diet fits all’ is not the case, as each individual and body type is different and every individual is unique. Your body has much different needs than your sister, mom, friend and partner.  Research has investigated DNA and how a diet can be created from each gene in our bodies to get a diet personalized and suited to you. 

How Do DNA Diets Work?

When you first start working with a nutritionist or company to create a diet profile for you, you usually get a diet recommended for a population. But when you are recommended a DNA diet it is mostly based on what would be optimal for YOUR body and your DNA composition. That way you can have a more personal diet, including meal plans, recipes and grocery lists to get you the results you are looking for. 

Nutrigenomics is the study of the relationship between nutrition and the human genome. Some researchers and diet developers believed that examining one’s DNA can help determine which diet would be most appropriate for an individual’s health. 

Why Do DNA Diets?

In a 2016 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who received personalized nutrition advice were more likely to adhere to a specific diet (in this case, the Mediterranean diet). A related paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that providing personalized nutrition information based on diet, lifestyle and genotype “produced larger and more appropriate changes in dietary behavior than a conventional approach.”

If you’re in good health and free from complications like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, a DNA test may suggest maintaining a balanced diet. A balanced diet means eating an array of food from each major food group, from proteins and carbohydrates to fruits and vegetables. You can make the most of this diet by focusing on more nutrient-dense foods, such as colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, high-quality lean protein and healthy fats.

Your cholesterol levels are another factor a DNA test will look at. This can reveal if you have a higher than average genetic likelihood for elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, decreased HDL (good) cholesterol levels or elevated triglyceride levels.

If you’re at risk for any of these, a DNA test may suggest a low fat diet. A low fat diet doesn’t eliminate all fats; just the unhealthy ones. Trans fats and saturated fats are unhealthy fats, which can increase harmful LDL cholesterol and increase your chances of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can do the opposite—decrease harmful cholesterol levels, build cell membranes and the covering of nerves and prevent heart disease.

Rather than eliminate fats entirely from your diet, focus on increasing your intake of healthy essential fats, such as eating more nuts, fish and avocados, while avoiding fried and greasy foods cooked with trans or saturated fats.

Depending on your cholesterol levels and other health factors, your DNA may suggest following the Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean diet is essentially a high fat and low carb diet. It may help improve healthy cholesterol levels and keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Similar to a balanced diet, the Mediterranean diet can be beneficial to follow even if you’re healthy and not at risk for certain health conditions.

A DNA test can reveal if you have an increased genetic likelihood for lactose intolerance, which may explain uncomfortable side effects that you might experience from eating lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in milk. Based on your genetic makeup, your body may have trouble properly digesting it. As a result, you may experience bloating, cramps, stomach pain and other uncomfortable side effects.

If you’re at risk for lactose intolerance, consider replacing milk with lactose-free alternatives, such as almond milk, oat milk or flax seed milk. You may also want to try going several weeks without eating dairy to see how you feel. If you notice an improvement, continue limiting or eliminating dairy and lactose from your diet.

A Gluten free diet is also suggested for some individuals after taking a DNA test. Gluten sensitivity can cause more than an upset stomach. Symptoms can range from nausea and hives to difficulty breathing and malnutrition. Because of a wide range of potential symptoms, gluten sensitivity can be difficult for physicians to diagnose. Your DNA can reveal if you’re genetically predisposed to one form of gluten sensitivity, celiac disease.

Overall, If science and genetics have taught us anything, it’s that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet recommendation. Everyone’s body has unique needs; by focusing on what our body tells us versus what the latest health article says, we can work towards better health.

DNA diets are a fairly new concept and one that may become more mainstream, but some experts believe the science behind it isn’t totally there just yet. It is beneficial to know the certain biomarkers for your health and ultimately eliminating refined sugars and junk food from your diet, but do you really need to do a DNA test and blood work to know this, not necessarily, but it will provide more answers than trial and error. In the end if it allows you to change your habits and live a healthier lifestyle than great. 

Through DNA testing, you can get to know your genes a little better and understand how they factor into your diet. With these insights, you can make more informed decisions to help you enjoy better health!

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