Why Your DNA Should Determine Your Diet
DNA testing can tell you where your ancestors came from, what you’re predisposed to, and even which kinds of foods are optimal for you. Yes, you read that right: Your DNA can have a big influence on the types of food you should be eating.
We had health and nutrition expert Alison Gannett guide us through determining your diet by your DNA, eating for genetic predisposition, and the ways food can be medicine. When she was diagnosed with cancer, Alison made radical shifts in her diet, producing results that astounded doctors and ultimately making a full recovery. She now creates custom nutrition plans for other patients, based on the science of diet and DNA.
How DNA influences diet—and vice versa
Most of us understand the basics of genetics: We inherit genes from our parents, and their DNA combines to give you your own unique genetic makeup. That includes things like eye color and height, but also the risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart diabetes, cancer. Our genes even shape our metabolisms.
This has led to a field called nutrigenetics, which looks at how our genes interact with nutrients in food and drink. By looking closely at these interactions, health care practitioners can help us determine a more effective diet to keep us healthy.
Everyone’s DNA is unique, but extensive studies have shown general trends associated with genetics and nutrients. Components such as saturated fat, vitamin D, and sodium respond differently to different genomes, and genetic variation dictates the response of an individual.
In other words, understanding your DNA can help you understand how your body interacts with nutrients in the food you eat on a daily basis, proving that there really isn’t one single recipe for health. “Everybody is different, everybody’s genes are different, and everybody’s bloodwork is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all,” Alison notes.
Through genetic testing and bloodwork, Alison discovered her genes pushed her toward high blood sugar. But with adjustments to her diet, she was able to correct her body’s inability to process carbs. The information she gained through DNA work gave her and her doctors the tools she needed to find a healthier lifestyle—one helped her fight a malignant brain tumor.
Determining your unique diet based on your genes
Alison says taking steps toward genetically informed nutrition can be scary. “You don’t want to have your bloodwork done or your DNA done because you don’t want to find out what’s under the hood. But I think of all those things you’re going to find out as opportunities, not something that’s good or bad. It’s just information.”
High blood sugar is fixable. So are inflammation and allergies. Simply having a genetic predisposition doesn’t guarantee a bad result. Instead, tools such as DNA testing and nutritionists like Alison can help develop a diet that works with your DNA, instead of against it.
“There’s always a workaround for everything and it shouldn’t be looked at as something that’s depressing,” Alison says. “Because I got cancer, I now am empowered with knowing exactly what’s going on with my body at any given moment. And if something’s off, I can fix it.”
Alison recommends a series of steps to get started with genetically designed nutrition.
- Go to your doctor and ask to get your bloodwork done. Make sure you note any symptoms you currently have—for example, insomnia, migraines, or indigestion—that helps the doctors code your labs more easily.
- Or, try a local health fair that offers bloodwork panels.
- Then, bring your results to an educated functional or integrative medicine practitioner. Ask them if they do DNA work, so you can make sure they’ll look at both your bloodwork and your DNA testing and tie the threads together.
- You’ll also want to get a DNA test. Alison recommends NutritionGenome.com because it explicitly links your DNA results with nutrition.
Finding a diet that works for your genes and lifestyle takes work. It’s a process of trial and error, and the results can change as your body does. But diving in deep to figure out all the different components that are causing symptoms can make a huge difference in finding the foods that are right for you. “I look at it as an onion peeling the layers back,” Alison says.
“Illness in my view is the perfect storm of things. It’s really inflammation, genetics, the immune system, toxins, hormones, blood sugar balance, sleep, and mental and emotional issues. All those things together make the perfect storm,” she says. With expert help and genetic guidance, you can figure out what’s going on in your body—and how foods can help you heal and thrive.
Food as medicine
Understanding how to use food as medicine increases our ability for chronic disease prevention and management. This isn’t a brand new idea, and many universities throughout the U.S. are beginning to offer physicians formal training in how to use food to treat disease.
Genetic nutrition all goes back to epigenetics, or the study of how genes turn on and off. What we eat is just one component that causes chemical modifications around our genes that turn them on or off, including the genes that turn on and off for certain diseases. So by choosing the right foods based on our DNA, we can help prevent the genes connected to the diseases in our DNA from turning on.
It is important to note that your diet is simply one component of a healthy lifestyle that can prevent the expression of certain diseases in your body. But it’s the biggest component of your environment that you have direct control over. By understanding how your body interacts with food, you are more empowered to stay healthy.As Alison Gannet reminds us, “It’s just information.” That information can be used as tools to change your diet and use your food as medicine. “Take the big leap,” she says, and “get the work done, get your DNA and blood chemistry done and find a professional that can help you read it in a good way.” Understanding your body and how it interacts with your environment has the potential to radically alter your life.