Should you be eating according to your genetics?



What does getting back in shape post-pregnancy have to do with genetics?


Speaking from personal experience, the way in which my body changed during pregnancy, and the way my body has reacted to post-pregnancy life, there is more at play than how many calories I eat. I have carefully planned my diet for two (breastfeeding exclusively) and re-introduced exercise at 6 weeks post-partum (as per doctor recommendation). So why don’t I have perfect abs and skinny jean ready legs like Kate Middleton?


I know the way my body gained weight during pregnancy has to do with my genetic makeup, but the scientific world has not confirmed this 100%. Some research has started to uncover which genes are responsible for causing different amounts of weight gain during pregnancy but much more research is needed before a useful test could be taken to know ahead of time how much weight we should expect to gain during pregnancy for us moms or moms to be.


Even though there is no genetic test for predicting weight gain during pregnancy, there are genetic tests for predicting how key nutrients could impact your risk is of developing an unhealthy diseased state.  This is a topic worth talking about about and it’s called nutrigenomics.


I believe diet plans using Nutrigenomics are the way of the future.


How can our genes affect what you should eat? 


Your genes are codes for proteins (enzymes, transporters, receptors, hormones). It is these proteins that interact with nutrients in the food you eat to influence your nutritional status. Because there are variations in your genetic code you could end up being someone who makes the enzyme lactase, who doesn’t make lactase at all or who makes a defective version of lactase. Genetic code differences mean your ability to digest and use the nutrients in food is unique to you. This is a very good reason why you should steer clear of one-size-fits-all diets that try to tell you that because Jenny lost weight on her diet you will too. We do not all react the same way to the same food.


How can you know what your genetic profile is?


There are tests that have become available so you can get your DNA examined for specific gene sequences (the protein codes I have been talking about). The genetic testing will give you a report on which codes you were born with. But without the guidance of the researchers who have been studying what those genetic codes do the information is useless. I have evaluated some of the tests available and there is one test in particular that offers good guidance. It comes from the company Nutrigenomix. I recommend this test over others because a licensed nutrition professional (a dietitian) will be the one interpreting the report and creating a nutrition plan for you.


Who should consider genetic testing?


Anyone would benefit from being more aware of the foods they need to eat more of or less of to stay healthy. In particular, if you answer yes to the following questions you should consider getting your genes tested:


1.     Are you a coffee addict?

There are genes that code for the proteins that metabolize caffeine. By getting tested you can find out if you are a slow caffeine metabolizer, someone who cannot breakdown caffeine rapidly – 50% of us are slow metabolizers.  Research has demonstrated that slow caffeine metabolizers should consume less than the recommended limit of caffeine, keeping their intake to 200 mg / 2 cups of coffee, to reduce the stress to their cardiovascular system.


2.     Is your salt intake a little out of control?

The ACE gene is has been linked with regulating the response of blood pressure to sodium intake. You have a 70% chance of having the version of the ACE gene that puts you at a greater risk of high blood pressure when you have foods with high amounts of sodium (200mg is considered high).


3.     Are you planning on getting pregnant or are you already pregnant?

Inadequate folate intake has been linked to fetal neural tube defects. Two studies have shown that an individual’s ability to use dietary folate efficiently depends on a gene. If you are one of these individuals it is even more imperative you strive to eat folate rich foods and get to the recommended 400 to 600 mcg of daily folate. Knowing your genetic profile is not a guarantee that you will not get a chronic disease but it is a way to help you focus on your most important nutritional needs.  Please keep in mind that there is a lot of research still to be done to make genetic testing a necessity for everyone when it comes to nutrition and disease prevention. Simply by following government nutrition guidelines you can get most of the same results as someone who follows the Nutrigenomix test recommendations. And getting tested is costly, so be prepared to spend $300 or more on the test and the time spent with a nutrition professional.


Although the benefits you will see from taking a genetic test are not show stopping right now, we should all stay tuned because this topic is not going away. With every nutrigenomics study completed our genes become a more and more powerful tool we can use to help plan better diets.


You can also watch my segment on Global, Eat for your Genes.


Nutrigenomix is a Toronto based genetic testing company that tests for gene variants implicated in the metabolism of 7 nutrients: Vitamin C, Whole grains, Omega-3 Fat, Saturated Fat, Sodium, Folate, and Caffeine.

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