The Relationship Between Food and Genes
Our ancestors lived a very different lifestyle than today with more exercise and energy spent looking for food. Our genetic structure is programmed for the typical diet of the hunter-gatherer based on nuts, berries, roots and seeds with the occasional feast of meat. This original type of eating is known as the Paleo Diet and is characterized by natural raw foods eaten in their unprocessed form.
The modern-day diet of calorie-laden, sugar-rich processed foods is a far cry from what our bodies are conditioned to expect, and not surprisingly it creates some serious health issues. When we eat predominantly refined foods, we lack many of the natural vitamins and nutrients that are stripped away.
Our metabolism is controlled by our genetic makeup which expects a proper nutrient-rich diet. Certain genes within our ethnic makeup determine exactly what diet our individual body needs. While some people perform better on a protein-rich diet, others require a diet high in unprocessed carbohydrates. This is known as food typing.
Researchers at the University of Jerusalem are pioneering the field of nutrigenomics which studies the connection between food and gene expression. They confirmed that food affects genetic expression and they hope to develop a blood test to analyze an individual’s genes and then advise them on what they should and should not eat.
Returning to a Paleo diet puts an emphasis on eating natural and organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and free-range meats. It eliminates refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, cookies, cakes and dairy products. Although this can sound unacceptably severe, the results can be astounding.
Research on How Foods Affect Gene Expression
Recent research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NYNU) fed overweight patients different diets and studied the effect upon their gene expression. They found that a diet with 65% carbohydrates caused many gene groups to work overtime and this caused inflammation in the body. These genes were also associated with cardiovascular disease, class 2 diabetes and dementia – all modern-day diseases related to lifestyle.
Researchers found that eating more than one third of the daily diet in carbohydrates stimulated the genes to create metabolic inflammation. Symptoms included feeling warm, being mentally sluggish, retaining fluid and battling flu-like conditions. It became evident that our genes respond to what we eat and the body’s immune system reacts in response.
The study resulted in two important conclusions. It recommended we should eat 5-6 small meals spaced out throughout the day rather than three meals of varying sizes. It also concluded that regardless of how much a person ate, if their diet was high in carbohydrates it would negatively affect the genes that control lifestyle diseases. Eating a balanced diet as opposed to a carbohydrate-rich diet slowed down the genetic activity in the genes linked to heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes.