Nutrition and health have long been linked, yet modern nutrition is a somewhat newer science. The first vitamins weren’t discovered until the early 1900s, in which they were then able to be used to treat micronutrient deficiencies.¹ In the late 1900s, diet related chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers were on the rise and led to the development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In more recent years, the science of nutrition has significantly expanded due to large scale nutritional research studies. These advances have helped scientists to understand that dietary patterns and the foods we eat help to explain diet-related chronic disease, rather than focusing solely on individual nutrients.
The more we learn about nutrition, the more we realize that there are numerous areas impacting our food decisions. Nutritional status is influenced by environment, genetics, behaviors, and much more. These factors also play a large role in potential development of chronic diseases. The CDC emphasizes the importance of good nutrition for living a healthy life for current and future generations. Those who follow a healthy eating pattern may decrease their risk for diet related chronic diseases and complications.
Although a link can clearly be seen between diet and certain chronic diseases, the path for disease development isn’t always clear. Other determinants of health, including our environment and behaviors, play a significant role in health outcomes. Our environment includes resource availability, social supports, socioeconomic conditions, climate, exposure to various substances, and much more. Some behaviors that may affect health include dietary decisions, physical activity, and substance use.
Your Genes, Diet, and Chronic Disease
Chronic diseases are often complex in origin, meaning there is not one individual cause. Scientists have determined that nutrition and genetics play a significant role in the development of certain chronic diseases. Nutritional genomics is a newer field of nutrition that investigates the interactions between genetics and the diet, and the implications for health, disease prevention, and overall healthy aging.² This field of study explores both how variations in the genome can affect the way we breakdown, absorb, and utilize nutrients, as well as how variations in our dietary intake can impact our gene expression.
What does a healthy diet look like?
As the field of nutrition has expanded, we have grown to understand that there is no ideal healthy diet. Having a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition does not allow us to consider our varying environments, cultures, accessibility, genetics, and medical conditions. This means that a healthy diet for you may differ from a healthy diet for your friends and neighbors.
Luckily, science has allowed for the creation of general recommendations for a healthy diet, which are a great place to start. The most recent edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus on customizing your plate to follow a healthy dietary pattern throughout your lifetime. A healthy diet from these guidelines includes:
- Vegetables: All types - dark green, red/orange, legumes, starchy vegetables, and others
- Fruits: With an emphasis on whole fruit
- Grains: 50% or more as whole grains
- Dairy: Low-fat or fat-free dairy, and fortified dairy alternatives
- Proteins: Lean meats and poultry, seafood, eggs, and other proteins such as legumes and tofu
- Oils: Vegetable oils and oils found in foods such as nuts
Your DNA and Diet
Although general recommendations for a healthy diet are very useful tools, the advancements in science allow us to uncover even more information about our nutritional needs. Knowing your unique DNA code allows for personalized nutritional recommendations. With the growing knowledge of nutritional genomics, as well as the many other factors that impact our nutrition and health, personalization is a crucial component in our diets.
A personalized diet further assesses your individual needs, with the goal of optimizing your health outcomes. Research studies have shown improved health outcomes with dietary modifications based on genotype, such as improved blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and BMI. Understanding our own genetic codes may be the next level needed for prevention of diet-related chronic conditions.
The first step to understanding how your genes respond to food is taking a DNA test. GenoPalate offers a DNA testing kit as well as an option to upload DNA data if you have already done DNA testing services such as 23andMe and Ancestry. Your DNA data is translated into nutrition and food recommendations, so you can eat smarter. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to health. It’s important to know where these differences exist and where to begin making changes. Our genetics can give us clues to these differences and provide us insight on our personalized dietary needs.
1. Mozaffarian D, Rosenberg I, Uauy R. History of modern nutrition science-implications for current research, dietary guidelines, and food policy. s. BMJ. 2018;361:k2392. Published 2018 Jun 13. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2392
2. Stover PJ, Caudill MA. Genetic and epigenetic contributions to human nutrition and health: managing genome-diet interactions. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(9):1480-1487. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2008.06.430