What you can learn from a DNA diet test
Are you finding it impossible to slim down? Struggling to gain weight? If so, your DNA might just give you the perfect solution.
DNA testing kits have grown in popularity for the information they offer about our ancestry and susceptibility to certain diseases, among other things. Now DNA testing kits are influencing our eating habits too, giving us unparalleled insight into our individual nutritional needs. Our genetic makeup can then be analysed in order to create specific diet plans that will best help us meet our nutritional needs.
How DNA tests can help improve our diets
Thanks to the recent advances in DNA testing, many companies can use our DNA to figure out what we should be eating. Take DNAFit, one of the biggest names in genetic diet testing. They test 45 gene variants to decipher our nutritional needs and metabolic health factors. From this information, they then collaborate with dietitians and personal trainers to deliver a DNA diet plan which tailors nutritional guidelines and workout routines to users’ genetic requirements.
For example, they can identify whether we have a greater need for foods containing vitamin D, omega-3 fats, and antioxidants, and what our genetic tolerance is to carbs, lactose, and saturated fats. DNAFit can also help us understand our body’s physical capabilities, uncovering how we react to endurance training, our resilience to injury, and how well we recover from exercise. This information is then used to craft bespoke fitness plans.
The science behind the technology has been questioned by some, who doubt that testing just 45 gene variants out of the ten million we have will provide accurate results. Despite this, the testing kits have proven very popular with athletes—including former soccer player Rio Ferdinand and Olympian Greg Rutherford, who have started using DNAFit to customise their diet and fitness plans.
The science behind DNA diets
The notion that our genetic makeup affects how we metabolise foods has been championed by scientists for some time now. In 2017, a study in the online journal Genetics found that diets which are healthy for some can cause others to put on weight. The researchers explored four different genetic strains in mice, splitting them into groups where all of the members were as genetically identical as possible. The mice were fed various diets, some of which are considered to be healthier than others.
The research team matched the mice’s nutritional plans to different human diets from across the world, including Japanese, Mediterranean, and a high-fat and high-refined carbohydrate diet dubbed the “American diet”, but also included key “active ingredients” due to their supposed health benefits. Mice were chosen due to the similarity of their genetic makeup to that of humans, and both species also share a predisposition to cardiometabolic problems like heart disease and diabetes. Each mouse received the same calories for each meal, and the scientists looked at the health implications of these diets compared to a standard chow diet.
The six-month-long study found that the different genetic groups experienced varying health effects and, although most of the mice remained healthy on their new eating plans, no single diet enhanced health across all genetic makeups. For instance, although the Japanese diet had no adverse effects on three out of the four mouse strains, it caused liver damage in the remaining strain. In addition, whilst the fatty American diet caused health problems in all the mice, the severity differed across the board. Consequently, a one-size-fits-all approach to dieting appears to be misguided, so tailoring how we eat according to our genetics could be the way forward.
Diets often recommended by DNA tests
Below, we have outlined some of the diet types that may be recommended by DNA testing companies
A balanced diet
For those that are healthy and do not suffer from high cholesterol or high blood pressure, a DNA test will likely suggest maintaining a balanced diet. This involves consuming a wide range of foods from each major food group, as well as avoiding processed foods, added sugars, and trans fats as much as possible.
A low-fat diet is often recommended if a DNA test shows that somebody is genetically predisposed to different levels of cholesterol or triglyceride, which impact the risk of heart disease. This doesn’t mean cutting out all fats—merely the unhealthy ones. These include trans fats and saturated fats, which can increase the low-density lipoprotein levels which raise cholesterol. Instead, a low-fat diet encourages the intake of healthy essential fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which can decrease cholesterol levels.
DNA testing kits can tell us if we have a genetic predisposition to high blood sugar levels. A low-carb diet may be recommended as a result, as this helps tackle health problems associated with excessive blood sugar. Cutting carbs in favour of lean proteins and healthy fats can lower the risk of heart disease, control insulin levels, and combat metabolic syndrome.
Gluten sensitivity can be particularly unpleasant, yet the array of potential symptoms often makes it hard to diagnose. A DNA can show us if we’re predisposed to one type of gluten sensitivity, namely celiac disease and certain DNA testing companies will create a personalised gluten-free diet plan if this is the case.
A DNA diet test can determine whether we have a higher than average genetic likelihood of lactose intolerance. Those that are lactose intolerant will have to cut out food and drink containing the sugar in order to avoid the associated side effects, and will probably be advised to replace cow’s milk with lactose-free alternatives, such as oat milk, and encouraged to eat more calcium to replace those contained within dairy products.