How Your Genetics Influence Your Diet

Category: Health  

Our genetic material influences nearly every cell in our bodies. It only seems natural, then, that genetics would also play a strong role in the determination of individual dietary protocol, right?

Wrong. Well, sort of.

"DNA" diets.

While “DNA diets”- aka, diets based on genetic material- have become somewhat trendy in recent years, the majority of the scientific literature do not support the notion that genetics play a large role on individual dietary needs, especially with regards to the inclusion or exclusion of certain foods in the context of weight management.

Genetics do, however, play a role in any one individual’s predisposition for certain health conditions that may be treated with specific dietary protocol: conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), crohn's disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), and diabetes are all good examples. Some of these conditions seem to have greater heredity than others.

Conditions like diabetes and hypertension, for example, occur with some regularity in families, thanks in part to a combination of genetic predisposition for diabetes and/or high blood pressure and the presence of shared lifestyle habits that set the condition in motion.

Overweight and obesity: genes vs. environment

Overweight and obesity also, in many cases, arise due to the potent combination of genes and environment: genetics are not the overwhelming determinant in the development of overweight or obesity, but the genetic predisposition for weight gain becomes difficult to escape when in the presence of an unhealthy environment, ripe with high calorie foods and low incentives to exercise.

While a number of studies have found small associations in weight loss and individualized nutrition protocol in patients with a genetic predisposition to obesity, the effect size is still relatively small, with genetically predisposed patients showing a minor to moderate improvement when high sugar and high fat foods are removed from diet. This is largely because these foods have been shown to exacerbate weight gain in individuals with a genetic predisposition to obesity.

Genes and dietary protocol: where to go from here

In the absence of disease or diet-related health condition, however, genes appear to play little to no role in determining the “best” diet for any one individual. These diets are often little more than scams, preying upon consumers desperate for individualized solutions for weight management.

Naturally, there is always the potential that research will elucidate the role between genetics and diet in the future: given the powerful role of genetics, it does seem possible that some degree of our genetics may influence our dietary needs and subsequent health status.

Until then, however? Stick with a nutritionist or registered dietitian, who can help create a personalized nutrition plan based upon your medical history, food preferences, and lifestyle.

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Genetic material do play a role in some health conditions

However, it’s important to note that foods high in sugar and high in saturated and trans fat already tend to promote weight gain, even in the absence of a genetic predisposition to obesity. Naturally, removing them from dietary protocol is thereby beneficial for any consumer, and does have the potential to improve weight management or produce weight loss.

In all of these instances, genetic material plays a role in a health condition that may be treated or remedied with certain dietary protocol.