... TAILORED TO YOUR GENOME
Today, we know that healthy eating is important to keep our bodies in tip-top condition. This link between diet and health was first ‘proved’ in the mid-1800s by Scottish naval surgeon Dr Joseph Lind, who is credited with running one of the earliest ever clinical controlled trials. His study demonstrated that citrus fruits could protect sailors from scurvy. The watershed finding set the stage for lemons and limes to be issued as standard in sailors’ rations, and showed how healthy eating can save untold numbers of lives.
These days, science may have dissected almost every element of our diet, but many of us still feel at sea. Even when sticking to official advice, healthy foods that seem to energise one person can cause another to feel fatigued and bloated. In 2015, a team of scientists from Israel tracked blood sugar levels in the blood of 800 people over several days, making the surprising discovery that individuals’ biological response to identical foods varied wildly. Some people had a blood glucose ‘spike’ after eating sugary ice cream, while others’ glucose levels only increased with starchy rice – a finding at odds with conventional wisdom.
Our bodies’ idiosyncratic handling of nutrients seems to be down to our genetics, the microbes in our gut, and variations in our organs’ internal physiology. Clinical trials like those pioneered by Lind have given us general dietary guidelines, but nutrition research tends to assume all humans are the same, and so can miss the nuances and specific needs of the individual.
In the next 10 years, the emerging field of ‘personalised nutrition’ will use genetic tests to fill in those gaps to offer healthy eating guidance tailored to the individual. Some companies, so-called ‘nutrigenetics services’, already test your DNA and offer dietary advice – but the advice can be hit-and-miss. By 2028, we will understand much more about our genetics. Dr Jeffrey Blumberg, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, is one of the most outspoken advocates of this new science. He insists that DNA testing will unlock personalised nutrition. “I’ll be able to tell you what kinds of fruits, what kinds of vegetables and what kinds of wholegrains you should be choosing, or exactly how often,” he says.
Sadly, personalised nutrition looks set to make cooking meals for the whole family just that little bit more taxing.
“In the next 10 years, the emerging field of ‘personalised nutrition’ will offer healthy eating guidance tailored to the individual”