Ounce by Ounce: DNA-driven menus?

Last month, I got all excited about DNA testing when I read this introductory paragraph to an article in Delicious Living Magazine:

Nutrigenomics evaluates how nutrition influences gene activity; in other words, the food you eat provides information to your genes about how they should function. One person’s food can be another’s poison. For instance, your immune system may have an inflammatory response to gluten that causes your genetic uniqueness to see the protein as a foreigner that must be rejected. Same goes for lactose, sodium, and cholesterol. Not everybody needs to be on a salt-restricted diet; not everybody needs to be on a cholesterol-restricted diet.

I immediately imagined that I could send a swab from my inside cheek & get back a totally individualized power diet to fuel not only my daily life, but my backpacks! I’d know exactly which foods to ignore & which to chow down with. Maybe the food list dictated by my genetic make up would even tell me how much of each food I should eat! Finally, all the experimentation & having to pay attention to my body’s food responses would be unnecessary.

Nope. The more I investigated, the less real information became available about how, exactly, a cheek swab would change my grocery gathering. At best, it seemed I might be sold some extra supplements. Certainly I could find out if my genes made me sustible to some chronic diseases such as diabetes, but a whole food diet plan? Not yet, Jo.

The science of nutrigenomics, it seems, is still in the making:

‘‘There is a solid base for nutrigenomics, no doubt about it. The potential is there,” Lineback said, comparing the science to the potential shown by biotechnology 10 years ago. ‘‘The science will develop, but there is a lot to learn.”–David Lineback, director of the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in College Park, a partnership of the University of Maryland and the Food and Drug Administration

NPR’s Science Friday, December 2003, provided perhaps the best introduction to nutrigenomics, explaining the original (& ongoing) research in understanding genetics and chronic disease as well as the more recent embracing of the science as a way to optimal health by a wealthy 30% of the population.

“Are we using only 50% of the [food] value because of our genes? Can we increase that to make 90% efficiency of our food?”

I’ve wondered this myself! Exciting to hear from Raymond Rodriquez (Professor of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Director of the Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA). His affirmative answer made my heart sing: nutrigenomics, as it continues to develop, could help us “make a better match” between our genonomes and the food we eat.

For now, though, we will need to use other methods than nutrigenomics to discover the dietary components that, as Raymond remarked later in the program, are “benefiting some, not benefiting others, sometimes harming other groups.”

Nutrigenomics is not, as I had excitedly anticipated, going to help us plan our backpacking menus. Yes, you can pop around the internet & find more than 1 company willing to send you a report for optimal health based on your cheek swab. It won’t, however, include information about food allergies, sensitivies and intolerances, all of which could limit our bodies’ ability to optimize food values.

Next blog, more information about the foods & food additives that might not benefiting, or even harming you and how to make sense of the information.

In the meantime, please ponder this Top 20 list; one of more of your favorite foods might be featured:

Common delayed-onset food allergies

  • cow’s milk
  • gluten grains (wheat & wheat varieties, rye, barley)
  • yeast
  • egg whites
  • cashew nuts
  • egg yolks
  • garlic
  • soy
  • brazil nuts
  • almonds
  • corn
  • hazlenuts
  • oats
  • lentils
  • kiwifruit
  • chili peppers
  • sesame seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • peanuts