Trying to figure out what you should (and shouldn’t) be eating can be incredibly confusing. If you’re wondering why the Keto, Pegan or 5:2 diet works for some and not others, leading expert on culinary genomics Amanda Archibald, has the answer.
Your genes don’t care about fad diets
We each have a unique gene blueprint. The variations in our genes not only shape our nutritional needs (as well as shape which exercise and lifestyle factors influence gene behaviour), but can also be the reason some people find it harder to lose weight. This is why the one-size-fits-all trend diets don’t work for everyone.
Let’s take a look at the trendy keto diet. While a keto diet may equate to weight loss for some, for others the initial weight loss may be accompanied by elevated levels of Triglycerides or “bad” LDL cholesterol, which is not healthy. The fact is some people can tolerate higher intakes of fat, including saturated fat, compared to others and that’s because of their genes.
Can eating for our genes make a difference to our health?
The short answer is: yes. A personalised diet based on our own DNA takes away the guesswork by providing you with the ultimate guide to food – right down to the nutrients you need, how much, and even how to cook your food for optimal health.
Humans share 99 per cent of the same genes and as humans, our genes essentially respond to food the same way in all of us. Now having said that, variants that we call Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (or SNPs) explain the differences between us. This means our traits like eye colour, or straight versus curly hair. This also explains why some people can eat insatiably and never gain weight, and others are not so lucky.
Genomic testing – a DNA test – identifies gene variations in each individual and allows health practitioners trained in nutrigenomics (how food influences your genes) to fine-tune diet and exercise recommendations to work in harmony with the unique gene combination that is right for you. For instance, you might need more foods rich in vitamin D than someone else, whereas they might need more seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids than you.
What is culinary genomics?
Culinary genomics combines the science of nutrigenomics with the culinary arts. It ultimately puts the right ingredients, prepared in the right way, onto your plate, ensuring the transfer of optimal nutrition information to your genes.
While eating for your genes is personalised, there are some broad approaches that can be adopted by everyone. Some of my top tips include:
1. The basics
Don’t eat the same foods day in, day out. Each ingredient has a unique nutrition signature and variety is important. Try to choose a wide variety of food, mixing up cooked and raw ingredients, with an emphasis on cruciferous vegetables, herbs and spices. Eat seasonally, as each season also brings unique nutrition information through in-season produce.
2. Master genes
Our master genes (considered potentially more influential than other genes) direct and determine the efficiency of important processes in the body, such as how we handle inflammation, oxidative stress, detoxification and how we metabolise fats and carbohydrates. Foods that activate (or deactivate) these genes include blueberries, grapes, kale, onion, turmeric, watermelon, apples, leeks, edamame, bok choy, cabbage and radishes.
3. Oxidative stress
Vegetables from the cruciferous family – like broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower – help to reduce oxidative stress which can lead to inflammation, but their effectiveness depends on how you prepare them. When you cut these vegetables, you activate a natural chemical process that produces the phytochemical sulforaphane, which helps to switch on powerful antioxidant genes to produce enzymes that fight oxidative stress. To maximise sulforaphane, you need to chop up your cruciferous veggies an hour before cooking.
Other foods provide essential nutrients that ensure the smooth running of essential biochemical cycles in our bodies – one of these cycles influences how well your brain handles mood, anxiety and even sleep. Add Brazil nuts, spinach, mushrooms, avocado, oranges, eggs and sunflower seeds to the shopping basket.
There’s no need for exotic superfoods. Lentils and sesame seeds for example, have a large number of vitamins and minerals that support the work of proteins created by our genes and are needed for good health.
6. Gut health
Pay extra attention to ingredients like kombucha, asparagus, yoghurt, miso and tempeh. These are essential to the inner workings of your gut. We need a healthy gut to absorb all the key nutrients from foods and maximise the genomic process.
Ms Amanda Archibald presented at the 7th BioCeuticals Research Symposium, 3-5 May in Sydney, to more than 400 health professionals. She presented on her unique culinary genomic approach drawing particular attention to the food-gene relationships related to long-term health, inflammation, oxidative stress, blood sugar and fats, and gut health.