The future lies in personalising your diet, says Good’s nutrition columnist Ben Warren
Words Ben Warren. Illustration Janelle Barone, Makers MGMT
I think fad diets will be around for a while yet, and they do help people change their eating habits (when it comes to rethinking your diet, the hardest thing to do is actually make the change). Yet the real future of ‘what to eat’ lies in ‘personalised nutrition’ – eating the right diet for you. We are all different, we are genetically varied and our immune systems and autonomic nervous systems respond differently to the foods we eat. We also now know that we all have varying needs for vitamins and minerals, which depend on both our genetics and our environment. We truly need to individualise our nutritional intake for optimal expression of our genes.
To personalise your diet, you need to know what your body might be lacking in or need more of, and there are a number of tests you can take:
The HbA1c test is traditionally used to monitor type 2 diabetes; it’s a measure of how much glycation has occurred to your hemoglobin from sugar (or how much damage has been done to your red blood cells from sugar). Higher levels of HbA1c are associated with eating too many simple carbohydrates for your genetics.
If you are feeling a bit flat, get your vitamin D levels tested, as low vitamin D is associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression related to low exposure to sunlight. We really want to be above 80nmol for health, yet one study found 84 per cent of New Zealanders were below this threshold. If you are low, make extra effort to get more safe sun exposure and eat more foods containing vitamin D, such as sardines.
If you are tired, you may want to undertake a full iron studies test, as well as B9 and B12 tests, as without adequate levels you can’t make high-quality red blood cells. Adequate and high-quality red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen around your body, which is essential to your energy levels on a daily basis. If yours are low, increase your consumption of red meat and leafy greens.
Moving into more advanced testing, you can test to see how your body’s immune system is responding to the foods you are eating. Gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) is probably the most common problem. At the extreme end of gluten sensitivity is someone who is celiac – basically, a celiac has a severe immune reaction to gluten, resulting in a lot of collateral damage to the intestines and associated inflammation. Others have less severe reactions, which are regarded as sensitivities to certain foods.
Gluten is not the only problem; any food can drive an immune response, leading to increased immune activity and associated inflammation, giving rise to gut issue symptoms and immune dysfunction. I like people to do a blood test to measure the amount of immune molecules the body is making in response to 96 different foods, so people can then eliminate these foods to help improve how they feel.
The next level of testing comes in the form of genetic testing. With genetic testing we can see future risk and even tell you what foods you should or should not be eating. For example, if you have the DQ 2 or 8 gene it puts you at a much higher risk of being celiac (94 per cent of celiacs have this gene). If you have low copies of the AMY1 gene it puts you at an eight-fold increased risk for being obese from eating carbohydrates, indicating that high-quality natural fats and proteins will be a better choice for you.
There has been much work on a nutrient recycling system and the genetic aspect of it, called methylation. Genetic faults in this system are heavily associated with mental health issues, fatigue and a build-up of a toxic byproduct that is associated with heart disease.
The future of nutrition therefore lies in integrating your genetic susceptibilities and mitigating your weak genetic links with personalised nutrition to optimise the expression of your genes, not only for minimisation of future health risks but to achieve the best possible version of ‘you’.
Ben Warren is a nutrition and holistic health expert. Visit bepure.co.nz