If you haven’t ever thought about genetics and nutrition together, there’s a fascinating interaction that can affect health and disease.
Growing up, entertaining was easy. Meat (usually a roast) and three veg comprised most meals. Everyone ate the same thing. That was until the day a VEGETARIAN accepted my mother’s invitation, throwing my mother into a complete state of panic. What to make? How to prepare something that would attempt to replace meat? A mashed mixture of beans dipped in egg and crumbs with a piece of uncooked macaroni as a ‘bone’ substitute (meant to resemble a lamb chop), provided the solution.
Ask friends around today, and you’ll spend a fair amount of time gleaning personal food preferences beforehand and then searching for recipes to match. Ben’s the Banter, Hazel is Paleo, Mike is a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, Lydia is the vegan, Terese eats everything but broccoli, beetroot and shellfish … it’s exhausting! Meaning the planning for what’s intended to be a simple dinner is equivalent to organising a small wedding.
Becoming aware though of what works for each of us, with the help of tools such as Nutritional Genomics, we’re working towards a longer, happier, healthier life. So yes, people’s dietary needs are far more specific and personal than in the past, but the pay-off is worth it.
Dietician Judith Johnson, RD, co-author of Genes to Plate – Nutrition Made Personal, had this to say: ‘You are unique – there’s only one of you! No duplicates. No other versions. Even if you’re a twin, there’s just this one you.’
“Health is becoming personal. Exercise, diet, lifestyle, leisure – we’re all doing it our own way. Finding what works, based on what we know. We don’t buy the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach anymore. It’s the 21st century. Advances in genetics are changing how we see ourselves. Scientists have discovered that we can change the way our genes behave. They’re not the set-in-stone blueprint we once thought they were.
How you live can directly affect how your genes are expressed. This is how we are beginning to prevent and manage chronic disease. This is how we can optimize our mental and physical performance and extend our vitality, even as we age. This is how we can eat: for our genes. Nutrigenomics studies the interaction between our diet and our genes, especially regarding the prevention or treatment of disease. Most people have tried every diet known to man but they end up putting on all the weight they lost. If you heal the biochemical pathways first the weight should take care of itself. Counting calories is not good enough anymore: each person is an individual; each person has a different set of genes, so their food needs are different too.”
Dr Yael Joffe (currently Adjunct Professor, teaching Nutrigenomics at Rutgers University in the USA and co-author of the book), adds: ‘Nutritional Genomics, often commonly referred to as Nutrigenetics and/or Nutrigenomics, is a scientific discipline that studies the interactions between our genes, our diet and our lifestyle. It is, in essence, personalised nutrition. Basically, the degree to which diet influences the balance between health and disease depends on an individual’s genetic make-up and dietary components can alter the way genes behave (gene expression).
‘Although there is good evidence that certain genotypes (our gene profiles) are more severely affected by specific dietary factors than others, we should remember that no genotype is completely immune to the harmful effects of a poor diet and lifestyle. Furthermore, it is unlikely that any single gene or risk factor will have the predictive power needed to confirm the likelihood for a particular chronic condition such as cancer or diabetes. This is because diet-gene interactions are strongly influenced by environmental, socioeconomic and behavioural factors that can modify or enhance the effects of genetics. For this reason, dietary recommendations based on a person’s genes must be seen in context of all other nutrition and health assessments and, to be most effective, should be accompanied by long-term lifestyle changes.’
FOUR CORE METABOLIC PATHWAYS
‘What inspired the book?’ I asked Judith.
‘The need to show our clients the impact of changing eating habits and food choices on chronic illness. We needed a tool to educate and demonstrate that changing your foods can be easier than you think. I believe it’s the first book of its kind ever written, in that it describes foods and nutrients that can change the way your genes behave based on the four core metabolic pathways of the body, which we need for daily functioning and prevention of chronic illness.’
These four metabolic pathways: detoxification, methylation, oxidative stress and inflammation, are divided into sections and explanations, together with recipes for improving each.
Detoxification: The liver, being the major detoxifier in the body, sometimes needs help to neutralise everything from external toxins, alcohol or pollution.
Methylation: ‘Most complex chronic disease has DNA methylation imbalance as a fundamental piece of the disease puzzle,’ says Dr Kara Fitzgerald, ND, IFMCP. The methylation process impacts who we are, what we look like, and how we feel. It is involved in just about every major bodily function, from how we make energy from food to how we respond to stress, to liver detoxification and brain chemistry, yet few of us (myself included) are aware of it.
Oxidative stress: ‘Oxidative stress is like human rusting. It’s the gradual “wear-and-tear” that happens over time due to cumulative exposure to time and air (a.k.a. life) and little cellular vandalisers called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). ROS comes in the form of toxins such as air pollution, cigarette smoke etc. or it can be a byproduct of our natural daily processes such as respiration, inflammation and exercise.’
Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is associated with every major disease known. When parts of our body ‘randomly’ become inflamed and stay that way, the regulatory control is lost and the inflammatory process becomes destructive. Inflammation is largely controlled by our genes. Sometimes, our switches don’t flip to the off-mode fast enough and inflammation persists for longer than needed, causing detrimental harm to the body. They act like highly specialised switches, turning inflammation on or off as appropriate.
‘…by simply improving the four main biochemical pathways in the body, you can allow optimum health to occur,’ adds Judith. ‘It’s about being gene smart and proactive about your health.’
So yes, the old ‘meat and three veg’ dinner days may be over, given each individual’s dietary requirements, but armed with Genes to Plate, you’ll feel more able to whip up a great selection of delicious, healthy dishes to suit everyone’s needs!
Genes to Plate is co-authored by: Dr Yael Joffe, PhD, RD: A world expert in Nutrigenomics and founder of the Centre for Translational Genomics in Cape Town. Judith Johnson, RD and Alex Royal, RD: Dieticians specialising in Nutrigenomics.