Talking With Your Genes: The Food-Gene Conversation
Here is a little-known fact: the food we consume at each meal “talks” with our genes.
Yes, as improbable as it seems—a vibrant “conversation” occurs every time you eat or drink.
While it has been known for centuries that food can be healing medicine, it was not until the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 that researchers were able to fully understand this food-gene conversation called nutritional genomics.
Today, we know that genes “listen” to the dietary information in a meal, switching on or off like Christmas tree lights. They orchestrate processes including digestion, absorption and utilization of nutrients that promote health and longevity. But even more importantly, clinicians can now better understand the language of these food-gene interactions using genomic testing.
In this era of genomic medicine and personalized health, the old adage “You Are What You Eat” has a new twist: “You are the Sum of Your Food-Gene Interactions”. A healthy “conversation” supports health and longevity; disrupted food-gene “conversations” can over time contribute to a chronic disease process.
Genomic testing can proactively identify where there are faulty genes that need more support, and enable us to develop personalized dietary strategies that can circumvent or alleviate a poor “communication” at the food-gene interface.
Centenarians from around the world are good examples who have intuitively mastered the “language” between their different food-gene interfaces to survive and thrive well beyond 100 years of age. They learned essentially by trial and error over many generations what foods and beverages support a healthy food-gene conversation.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait generations to figure out what foods and beverages are best for your genes. Genomic testing expedites that process. It matches the best foods to converse with your genes at each meal, maintaining a healthy food-gene interface and keeping your biological systems functioning optimally. Additionally, genomic testing can identify which nutrigenomic interventions are necessary to keep the food-gene conversation operational when there are gene “switches” that are malfunctioning.
Think back to that string of Christmas tree lights – if one or more bulbs malfunction, it prevents other lights on the same strand from turning on. In a similar way, if one gene is not working it can adversely affect other genes downstream in other cellular, biochemical and metabolic processes – increasing the risk of a chronic disease.
We now know how to change all that. That is the power of nutrigenomics.
For the thousands of people who have benefited from our genomic testing and nutrigenomic interventions, feeding your genes with the foods and beverages to support optimal gene function is not a slogan but a way of life.
But that transition is not always easy.
We understand that translating the science of nutritional genomics into practical steps that can be sustained over time can be challenging—even for the most organized person. When trying to juggle the demands of work and home, and still finding the time to create, prepare and serve healthy meals for yourself and your family, simple and quick have to be the first two ingredients.
Start with a few basic guiding principles—use organic or pesticide-free, whole, nutrient-dense foods that are fresh or frozen, as much as possible. Minimize how often you use highly processed foods. Try for the “1/3” rule for your macronutrients- 1/3 healthy fat, 1/3 healthy carbs, and 1/3 lean protein.
Recent research from Norway showed that this even distribution of calories between fat, carbs and protein was the best combination of macronutrients to “talk” to a healthy person’s genes. Of course, everyone has a different genomic profile, and it is best to individualize these caloric recommendations using genomic testing whenever possible. Nevertheless, this macronutrient information can be a good starting place to create a balanced meal.
We recommend 4-6 servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables (purple, red, yellow, green, orange) per day – for reasons far beyond the official dietary guidelines. Not only do they contain important vitamins and minerals, these “colors” signify higher content of key bioactives – constituents of foods that are considered “non-nutrients”.
These bioactives are not actually vitamins, minerals or other nutrients. They are compounds found naturally in foods – typically in small amounts – that create a powerful conversation with your genes.
You’ll also want to include herbs and spices in your cooking, including basil, cilantro, oregano, fennel, cumin and turmeric. Not only do these herbs and spices enhance the taste of a food or meal, they also contain bioactives that “communicate” with important “master genes” involved in health and longevity.
Maintaining a healthy food-gene interface doesn’t have to be complicated. You may already be using many of these culinary genomic principles without even knowing that you are creating a healthy food-gene conversation. We understand the challenge of juggling the demands of work and home, and still trying to create healthy meals. In our kitchen we love making meals that are easy to prepare, taste good, and are rich in nutrients and bioactives – and would like to share some of them with you.
These recipes require only basic cooking skills, and can be made in 30 minutes or less. Many can be made ahead of time, or used as leftovers for another meal. Try them out at home; see if you can come up with some of your own variations. Share with your family, friends and co-workers, and help each other be your healthiest so you have the energy to do all the things that are important to you in your life.
Clinicians, learn more about using genomics in your practice in our Genomic Medicine Certification Program.