Personalized diets are one of the biggest nutrition trends to pop up in the last few years but are only recently getting close scrutiny. Are they what they promise: a smart way to consume the right foods based on your own body’s unique design? There has been plenty of debate in the medical community about whether this new way of eating is wise or just another version of the much-discredited “blood type” diet of years past.
What is Personalized Nutrition?
The logic goes like this: practically everything we do in life is tailored to our needs. In addition, our reading habits, exercise habits, work routines and social activities are all personalized and individualized to a great extent. So, why not our food choices? Most diet plans in books and offered by experts are pretty much one-size-fits-all affairs. Wouldn’t it be better if our optimal dietary regimen were calculated to fit our body type, DNA and other physical parameters?
Consider that certain people can eat carbohydrates till they’re blue in the face and not gain an ounce. Others need only look in the direction of a candy bar or plate of pasta and extra pounds appear. It has always been one of the mysteries of dieting that it is invariably easier for some people than it is for others. So, what gives? Can diet plans be individualized for success?
Some medical research has shown that genetics can play a dominant role in individual weight management. That might be why one person can eat sweets and fatty foods without any weight gain, while others struggle mightily to keep the pounds off. If genetic factors really do play such a large role in fitness, health and body weight, then personalized dieting should make sense.
What to Know about “Genetic” Meal Plans
Every person’s body, according to the genetic theory, will metabolize and process food quite differently. Of course there are many factors that go into the equation, like age, stomach chemistry, stress, body type, and genetics. Nutritionists have long offered personalized advice based on specific, demonstrated reactions that certain people have to different foods. For example, one person might not be able to tolerate dairy while others have no problem with it. Personalized nutrition and health advice has been around for decades.
There have already been studies that showed rather conclusively that not everyone can tolerate wheat or dairy products. About half of the population has a problem with one or both of these substances. All of which lends credence to the personalized nutrition theory.
The studies actually focused primarily on glucose levels of subjects after those subjects ingested various foods. Based on how each person reacted to a list of different foods, the researchers were able to construct personalized diets for them in order to help minimize blood glucose levels.
Because so many physical ailments, like diabetes, begin with elevated glucose levels, the researchers used that as the guiding light of the study, so to speak, and were able to achieve success in lowering the levels in subjects. This is the foundation of personalized dieting theory, which assumes that after a bit of testing and manipulation, a person’s optimal eating plan can be established. In fact, liver disease, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and other maladies are all associated with higher than normal blood glucose levels, so keeping glucose down is almost always a good thing for individual health.
Expense is a nearly prohibitive factor for most consumers who want an individualized diet plan. Starting at about $500 a pop, a personal eating plan comes with no guarantees and the FDA is not involved because the clinics are merely offering “nutritional advice.”
In the event that your plan doesn’t work, you really have no recourse as a consumer. Further, don’t expect the plans to treat any ailment that you already have. They are, so far, only nutritional in nature, meaning that you are advised what food you can tolerate and which ones you should avoid.
The biggest critics of genetic diet plans are people who advocate elimination diets. This method is an old fashioned way of finding out what your body can and can’t tolerate. Elimination dieting is a reliable way to discover what gives you heartburn, gas, allergic reactions and a wide range of other physical problems.
What seems like a daunting task, of finding the “right” diet for your body, is actually quite simple with the elimination method. That’s because there are only about a half-dozen foods that account for more than 90 percent of all known food allergies.
Using a carefully planned food journal, anyone can spend a few months eliminating the eight “problem” foods in order, to see which ones are causing any problems. This is essentially what the personalized diet plans aim to do but at a much greater cost.
For the first month, according to the old elimination plan, you cut out the list of eight foods that are known to be troublesome (wheat, eggs and milk are key culprits) and then slowly reintroduce each one over the course of the next several weeks.
The journal is of utmost importance in the elimination plan, as is paying attention to your body’s reaction to each “new” food item as it is reintroduced. This tried-and-true method is a smart, safe way to find out what foods are causing physical problems. Things like acne, headaches, nasal congestion, stomach disorders, and a host of other ailments can be discovered and addressed using a simple elimination plan.
The eight foods commonly eliminated during the first month of an elimination diet are shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, milk, wheat, eggs, and soy. Eliminating all eight for a month can be pretty challenging for anyone, but whatever you miss the most can be the first thing reintroduced.
Take careful notes, watch for allergy-like symptoms, and notice how your body responds to each meal. People often find that an elimination diet helps them get in touch with the way their bodies respond to various foods. It often happens that a person discovers an allergy or bad reaction they never even knew they had.
In addition to conducting an elimination diet at least once in your adult life, most medical experts and nutritionists recommend simply eating a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as proper amounts of protein and fat. Regular exercise, minimal alcohol intake and no tobacco consumption usually round out the standard advice.
There may come a time when so-called DNA dieting will be the way to go. Right now, intricate personalized diet regimens are overly expensive and not accessible to enough consumers to make them a valuable addition to the public health arsenal.
Note: Never begin a new eating regimen or drastically change your eating habits before consulting a medical professional.