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Your DNA's Guide to Healthy Eating



A quick Google search on healthy eating reveals just how many opinions on how to eat healthy are floating around.


Don’t simply take the advice of the first article to pop up in your search or believe everything you read on Facebook. The following guide on healthy eating is backed by our expert registered dietitians to provide you with trustworthy recommendations so you can do right by your body.


How Do You Really Eat Healthy?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020, healthy eating generally focuses on the following dietary habits:

  • Consuming whole foods
  • Staying away from highly processed foods
  • Choosing foods that are low in salt, sugar, trans fat, and saturated fat
  • Eating a wide variety of foods so you don’t end up having too much or too little of any one nutrient

A quick Google search on healthy eating reveals just how many opinions on how to eat healthy are floating around.


A good indicator that you are engaging in healthy eating habits is when food doesn’t feel restrictive, and you feel good from the inside out because you are consuming adequate levels of nutrients for your body.


The tricky part is that healthy eating can mean different things for different people. Determining the optimal diet for any one person is not a one-size-fits-all solution because each of our bodies are unique.


Each person has slightly different nutrient requirements due to their genetic makeup that affect how nutrients are metabolized, how they are transported throughout the body, and even how waste and toxins are removed.


Medical Benefits of Healthy Eating

Eating the right amounts of both macronutrients and micronutrients for your body can improve your overall health as well as reduce your risk of certain diseases.


Reduced Risk of Chronic Disease

Eating more potassium and less salt is connected with a lower risk of high blood pressure. Similarly, certain cancers are associated with alcohol consumption, a low intake of fruits and vegetables, and even eating red meat.1


According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly 1.8 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020. While healthy eating does not guarantee you will never get any form of cancer, the World Health Organization states that 30–50 percent of cancer cases are preventable with changes to a patient’s lifestyle and environment.


Healthy eating can also help lower your chance of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), or help manage symptoms if you already have some form of the condition. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health compared two groups of people following two different dietary patterns. The study found that major dietary patterns are predictors of plasma biomarkers of CVD as well as obesity risk.2


Another study found that the Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts or extra-virgin olive oil may minimize the occurrence of major cardiovascular events in high-risk individuals.3


What we eat can influence our weight, as well. According to the CDC, obesity affects almost 40 percent of adults in the United States and is linked to an increased risk of certain chronic diseases. These include CVD, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and various types of cancers, especially in adults.


Improved Cognitive and Mental Health

Researchers have also found a correlation between being overweight and mental illnesses, such as anxiety and clinical depression.4


Nutrients that can be beneficial for your mental health are antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind), phospholipids, folate, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.5 Conversely, simple sugars and saturated fats are considered detrimental to cognitive function.


Getting adequate amounts of nutrients like vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate are also linked to cognitive health. These nutrients are involved in homocysteine metabolism (relating to amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins).6 Individuals who have low levels of these B vitamins and high levels of homocysteine were found to suffer from dementia, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and more.


How to Enhance Your Healthy Eating Efforts

Now that you know the benefits of healthy eating, here are some ways to incorporate this knowledge into everyday actions.


Know Your Macronutrients

Carbs, proteins, and fats all have a role to play in your overall health and wellness.


Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a great place to start your journey to eating healthier foods, as this is a category that confuses many people.


Maybe you love the crunch of certain carb-loaded snacks but have heard that carbohydrates are actually bad for you, so you should not eat them. The truth is, certain carbs are beneficial for your health while others should be limited. Cutting out all carbs, or any other food group entirely, can be dangerous for your body. Rather, you must learn to eat the right kinds of carbs from healthy sources—such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—and in the correct portions.


Carbohydrate Fast Facts

  • Carbs contain four calories per gram
  • Sugars are technically carbs and are one type of carbohydrate you should try to limit
  • Starches are also carbs and are found in plant foods—such as corn, potatoes, beans, seeds, and whole grains
  • Fibers are carbs found naturally in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes


Carbohydrates and Your Genes

Your DNA can actually affect how your body processes carbs. In fact, the FTO gene is associated with obesity and can influence the regulation of your appetite. A DNA test can show you if you have certain variants within the FTO gene, which are linked to a decreased risk of obesity on a higher-carbohydrate diet.7


The MMAB gene also plays a role in healthy eating by aiding in the breakdown of certain fats, proteins, and cholesterol. Some people have variants linked with a lower HDL cholesterol—again, that’s the good one—when they follow a high-carbohydrate diet, which indicates that these individuals could benefit from following a low-carb diet.

The IRS1 gene is another gene involved in how your body processes carbs.8 Some variants of this gene tend to show decreased insulin resistance when the individual consumes a higher amount of carbohydrates.


Protein

Protein is a critical component of healthy eating. It plays a huge role in the creation—and, subsequently, the maintenance of—every cell we have in our bodies. Protein fuels these cells and powers us, so we should aim to fuel our systems with it each and every day. Research from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition even reported a 69 percent lower risk of hip fracture when postmenopausal women increased their protein intake, specifically from animal sources.9

Protein Fast Facts

  • Protein contains four calories per gram
  • Protein can be found in meat, eggs, seafood, dairy products, nuts, and soy products 

Protein and Your Genes

Certain variants of the DHCR7 gene have shown decreased insulin resistance with higher protein intakes. However, research doesn’t necessarily indicate that getting all your protein from animals is best. Instead, a combination of both animal and plant protein is ideal.10

Individuals who limit or avoid animal products, including vegans and vegetarians, need to be mindful about consuming protein from a variety of appropriate sources.


Fats

Fats have a mixed reputation across fad diets. However, there are good and bad kinds of fat and the types of fat you consume play a significant role in your healthy eating.

Fat Fast Facts

  • Fat contains nine calories per gram
  • Good sources of fat are oils, seeds, nuts, seafood, meat, and dairy products
  • Healthy fats include omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, medium-chain saturated fats, and monounsaturated fats
  • According to research from St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, fats that may have adverse effects on your health include long-chain saturated fats and trans fats.11

Fat and Your Genes

Your DNA can tell you a lot about how your body metabolizes and uses fat. The LEPR gene provides us with instructions to make a protein that acts as a sort of receptor for leptin—the hormone that lets your brain know when you are full.12 Naturally occurring variations within this gene correlated with a decreased body mass index (BMI) when consuming a low fat intake.

The CETP gene helps regulate the transport of cholesterol to your liver to eliminate it from the body with waste and toxins. Some naturally occurring variants within this gene are linked to increased HDL (good) cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels when consuming a high fat intake.


Know Your Micronutrients

Let’s learn more about vitamins, magnesium, potassium, iron, and calcium, and what makes them so important when developing your healthy eating habits.


Vitamins

Vitamins are a group of nutrients that humans need in order to develop, grow, and maintain their health. There are many different vitamins, and each plays a different role in our bodies. Some help us fight off illnesses and infections while others aid in keeping our nerves healthy and ensuring our blood clots appropriately. They can also help our bodies properly turn food into energy and get to sleep faster.

For instance, vitamin A is needed for healthy vision, skin, mucous membranes, teeth, and bones. It comes from many leafy greens and dairy products. Vitamin C, on the other hand, is a powerful antioxidant that we need for immune system support and iron absorption. We can get it from citrus fruits and lots of different vegetables. To help you get the vitamins you need from whole foods, read about the best foods to get all your vitamins. When taking a vitamin in supplement form, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before trying a new brand or dosage, as they could interact with medicines you’re taking.


Minerals

Magnesium is involved in over 600 enzymatic reactions, like protein synthesis and energy metabolism.13 It has a key physiological role, particularly in the heart, brain, and skeletal muscles. Including magnesium in your meals definitely contributes to healthy eating, as it helps keep our blood pressure normal, our heart rhythm steady, and regulates other crucial bodily processes.

Potassium is an essential mineral and plays a major role in our bodies when it comes to the intracellular osmolarity and resting membrane potential.14 It has been known to affect the endothelial and vascular smooth muscle functions, and high intakes have a great track record of shifting blood pressure to a preferable level. Furthermore, a low intake of potassium is connected with an increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.15

Iron is another essential element, and that proves true for almost all living organisms. It participates in a wide array of metabolic processes, from oxygen transport and DNA synthesis to the transport of our electrons.16

Calcium is needed for healthy bone mass. It is often recommended to people with osteoporosis that they take a calcium supplement to slow bone loss.17


Which Foods Should I Eat and Which Should I Avoid?


To achieve a more balanced diet, focus on whole foods when you go on your next grocery run. To get the most out of this category, make sure you have the following included on your list:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy starches
  • Grains
  • Meat and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Legumes


To promote healthy eating, you also want to steer clear as much as possible from things like:

  • Very sugary foods
  • Highly processed foods
  • Refined carbs
  • Desserts heavy in trans fats
  • Snacks loaded with salt 


Do I Need to Diet? How Can I Turn This Knowledge Into Action?

We never recommend specific diets; your doctor can work with you on that. Instead, we’re all about leading you to discover your body’s unique needs. What works optimally for your body might not be what works for someone else’s. This is often where fad diets fail. Utilizing the insights of your DNA, you can start to make healthier, more effective decisions for yourself.

When you reject the diet mentality, you may end up being happier with your food plan because it becomes a choice rather than a forced or strict chore. Just do what is right for you and use your DNA as a foundation to guide you. There is no need to feel guilty for breaking away from a strict meal plan you have in your head. Moderation and making calculated decisions based on real science should be your goal.

To get closer to fully understanding how DNA can help you discover which nutrients and foods your body needs more or less of, download our FREE resource, Can a DNA Test Really Tell You How to Eat? There, you will get an even better sense of how genetic-based nutrition recommendations can fuel your quest for a long-term approach to healthy eating—with results that are easier to stick to and last.

References

1. Anand P, Kunnumakara AB, Sundaram C, et al. Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharmaceutical Research. 2008;25(9):2097-2116. doi:10.1007/s11095-008-9661-9.

2. Fung TT, Rimm EB, Spiegelman D, et al. Association between dietary patterns and plasma biomarkers of obesity and cardiovascular disease risk. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2001;73(1):61-67. doi:10.1093/ajcn/73.1.61.

3. Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet Supplemented with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil or Nuts. New England Journal of Medicine. 2018;378(25). doi:10.1056/nejmoa1800389.

4. Luppino FS, Wit LMD, Bouvy PF, et al. Overweight, Obesity, and Depression. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2010;67(3):220. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.2.

5. Parletta N, Milte CM, Meyer BJ. Nutritional modulation of cognitive function and mental health. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2013;24(5):725-743. doi:10.1016/j.jnutbio.2013.01.002.

6. Lim SY, Kim EJ, Kim A, Lee HJ, Choi HJ, Yang SJ. Nutritional Factors Affecting Mental Health. Clinical Nutrition Research. 2016;5(3):143. doi:10.7762/cnr.2016.5.3.143.

7. Sonestedt E, Roos C, Gullberg B, Ericson U, Wirfält E, Orho-Melander M. Fat and carbohydrate intake modify the association between genetic variation in the FTO genotype and obesity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;90(5):1418-1425. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27958.

8. Wang Y, Nishina PM, Naggert JK. Degradation of IRS1 leads to impaired glucose uptake in adipose tissue of the type 2 diabetes mouse model TALLYHO/Jng. Journal of Endocrinology. 2009;203(1):65-74. doi:10.1677/joe-09-0026.

9. Munger RG, Cerhan JR, Chiu BC-H. Prospective study of dietary protein intake and risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999;69(1):147-152. doi:10.1093/ajcn/69.1.147.

10. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best? Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2004;3(3): 118-130. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905294/.

11. DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH. Good Fats Versus Bad Fats: A Comparison of Fatty Acids in the Promotion of Insulin Resistance, Inflammation, and Obesity. Missouri Medicine. 2017;114(4):303-307. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30228616/.

12. Wauters M, Considine RV, Chagnon M, et al. Leptin Levels, Leptin Receptor Gene Polymorphisms, and Energy Metabolism in Women. Obesity Research. 2002;10(5):394-400. doi:10.1038/oby.2002.54.

13. Baaij JHFD, Hoenderop JGJ, Bindels RJM. Magnesium in Man: Implications for Health and Disease. Physiological Reviews. 2015;95(1):1-46. doi:10.1152/physrev.00012.2014.

14. Ekmekcioglu C, Elmadfa I, Meyer AL, Moeslinger T. The role of dietary potassium in hypertension and diabetes. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry. 2015;72(1):93-106. doi:10.1007/s13105-015-0449-1.

15. Chatterjee R, Yeh H-C, Edelman D, Brancati F. Potassium and risk of Type 2 diabetes. Expert Review of Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2011;6(5):665-672. doi:10.1586/eem.11.60.

16. Abbaspour N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R. Review on iron and its importance for human health. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. 2014;19(2):164-174. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3999603/.

17. Cumming RG. Calcium intake and bone mass: A quantitative review of the evidence. Calcified Tissue International. 1990;47(4):194-201. doi:10.1007/bf02555919.
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