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Nutrition and Genetics: How to Tailor Your Diet Based on DNA Test Results

Giulio Chiesa - Writer for Top10
a woman eating a diet based on her genetics
From my experience as a postdoctoral researcher specializing in biomedicine and biophysics, I've witnessed a growing connection between nutrition and genetics.

This development is mainly due to recent advances in personalized medicine, which are changing how we think about the relationship between our diet and our genes.

Tailoring your diet based on genetics—a key focus in nutrigenomics—is becoming more accessible and popular with DNA testing kits.

I'll walk you through how it works and highlight critical factors you should consider.

» Check out the traits you had no idea were tied to genetics.

1. Optimize Vitamin and Mineral Absorption

Your DNA can significantly influence how your body utilizes specific vitamins and minerals. For instance, gene variations that affect the metabolism of Vitamin C, D, B12, and iron can lead to lower levels of these nutrients in your bloodstream. This can result in various health issues.

  • Vitamin C: If you have a genetic variant that affects Vitamin C metabolism, you might need to consume more Vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, strawberries, or bell peppers. Otherwise, consider supplements.
  • Vitamin D: Variants in Vitamin D metabolism genes could mean you need more sunlight exposure or dietary sources like fatty fish and fortified dairy products.
  • Vitamin B12: Those with certain genetic makeups may require more B12, found in meat, eggs, and dairy, to maintain optimal levels.
  • Iron: If your genes affect iron absorption, you might need to increase your intake of iron-rich foods like spinach, red meat, or legumes.

» Find the best foods for your body with 23andMe's genetic insights.

2. Discover Your Caffeine Sensitivity

A genetic variant can significantly influence your body's response to caffeine in the CYP1A2 gene. This gene comes in two types: "fast" and "slow" caffeine metabolizers. If you have the "slow" variant, your body processes caffeine more slowly, which could increase your risk of heart attacks.

If you're a "slow" caffeine metabolizer, limiting your caffeine intake is advisable. Instead, you can opt for decaffeinated or caffeine-free beverages like herbal teas.

3. You Might Need More Salt

Your ACEI gene is crucial in determining your body's sodium needs. Depending on your specific genotype (the particular set of "alleles" or variations in this gene), you might need a higher sodium intake than what's typically recommended.

If your genetic testing shows a particular variation in the ACEI gene, your body processes sodium differently. If that happens, you should include sodium-rich foods in your diet in a balanced way. Foods like olives, cheese, and certain seafood can be good sources of sodium.

4. Manage Your Folate Levels

If you have certain mutations in your MTHFR gene, your body may struggle to properly process folate (a crucial B vitamin). This can lead to a deficiency, which might cause symptoms like tiredness, shortness of breath, and mood swings. For pregnant women, it's especially crucial as it can affect the baby's health.

To address this, include more folate-rich foods in your diet. Good sources are leafy greens, beans, nuts, and fortified cereals. Knowing your genetic makeup helps you choose the right foods to balance your folate levels and support your overall health.

5. How You Respond to Saturated Fats

Your genes significantly impact how your body processes saturated fats. Some people have a genetic variation in the APOA2 gene, which can lead to weight gain from a diet high in saturated fats. It's wise to limit foods high in these fats, such as fatty cuts of meat, butter, cheese, and processed foods.

Another gene, ADBR2, is involved in releasing fatty acids to be used as energy. Certain variations of this gene can reduce its activity, leading to a slower release of fatty acids and making it harder to lose weight through exercise.

» Ready to shed the pounds? Check out the best DNA tests for weight loss.

6. Carbohydrate Tolerance

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition where your body reacts negatively to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This reaction can damage your intestines and cause nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating, and anemia.

The likelihood of developing celiac disease is linked to specific genetic variants in the HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) gene. Most individuals with celiac disease have either the HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8 genotype. While having one of these genotypes doesn't guarantee you'll develop celiac disease, it does increase the risk.

If you carry these genes, it's a good idea to consider a gluten-free diet to reduce the risk of triggering the disease's symptoms.

7. Navigate Weight Management

Numerous studies have identified various genes associated with weight gain and obesity. The impact of each gene varies based on its function and your specific genetic variant. Since this area is complex, interpreting these risk factors and understanding how they apply to you requires a specialist's guidance.

There's also a link between your genetics, physical activity, and weight loss. While all exercise is beneficial for health and can help with weight reduction, certain types of exercise (like resistance training or aerobic training) may be more effective depending on your genetic background.

8. Maintain a Healthy Gut

Standard genetic testing doesn't give you information about your gut microbiome. The gut microbiome, crucial for your metabolism, needs to be analyzed through other methods, like stool samples. This microbiome is dynamic and changes over time, influenced by your environment and diet.

The gut microbiome plays a significant role in how your body responds to different diets. It affects nutrient absorption, digestion, and overall health. To support a healthy gut microbiome, consider a diet rich in diverse and fiber-rich foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also, fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi can be beneficial.

9. Identify Lactose Intolerance

If you have a genetic mutation in the lactase gene (LCT), you may have been born with lactose intolerance. This happens when one or both copies of your LCT gene carry a mutation that reduces its activity, making it difficult for your body to digest lactose, a sugar in dairy products.

If you're genetically lactose intolerant, you should follow a lactose-free diet. This means avoiding dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt or choosing lactose-free alternatives. Many non-dairy substitutes are available, like almond milk, soy cheese, and coconut yogurt.

10. Balance Your Genes, Environment, and Lifestyle

Your genetics are just one part of your overall health. Environmental factors, your lifestyle, and even your personal food preferences significantly influence your health and dietary needs. While DNA tests can reveal a lot about your health, it's not the sole determinant of your ideal diet.

As new research emerges, recommendations based on DNA tests may change. It's important to stay informed about these developments and be ready to adjust your diet accordingly. Keeping an open mind and being willing to adapt your eating habits can help you maintain optimal health as scientific understanding grows.

Nutrition and Genetics: The Evolution of Health

Integrating nutrition and DNA tests through nutrigenomics is transforming our approach to health. With the growing popularity of DNA testing for dietary guidance, uncovering diseases is becoming an integral part of many people's lives.

This advancement in nutrigenomics paves the way for a future where our meals are not just food but personalized nourishment tailored to the specific needs of our genetic makeup.

» Looking for an accurate and affordable DNA test? Try MyHeritage DNA.

Giulio Chiesa - Writer for Top10
Giulio Chiesa works at Boston University as a postdoctoral researcher. He holds a PhD in biomedicine and biophysics from the University of Barcelona. He's dedicated to exploring how synthetic biology and biophysics can help create new gene therapies.