Part 2 of our “What is the Best Diet For Me?” blog series. Check back here often so you don’t miss an installment, or subscribe to our newsletter!
In our last post, we considered food not just as a source of sustenance, but a source of information for our bodies, a blueprint for the body to know how to process what we eat. But what, how much, and how frequently we eat aren’t the only signals we need to consider for optimal health.
Our genetics play a huge part in how the body processes food.
Health is not only about our percentage of body fat. One person could be their healthiest self with very lean musculature, while the next person could be their healthiest with a percentage of subcutaneous fat. The key words are optimal health.
This is genetics as they relate to nutrition.
Think of the body like a car.
Some cars take unleaded fuel, while some take diesel fuel. They won’t run well (if at all) on the other type of fuel, so other things break down if you try to put the wrong type of gas in the tank. If your body is genetically predisposed to high cholesterol, then a plan like the ketogenic diet is not for you. That diet is low-carb, high-fat, and many of the healthier fats, like butter or coconut oil, are high in cholesterol.
Our DNA is determined by our ancestry, but it is also influenced by our environmental exposures and our diet. When we eat in a manner closely related to our ancestors, we tend to experience our best health and energy. Our bodies are programmed within our very cells for those food choices to click. It’s when highly processed foods are introduced into our diets that we begin to experience a detrimental impact, be that fatigue, weight gain, or the development of chronic diseases.
We’ve all heard someone in our lives refer to themselves as “big boned,” and maybe they’re speaking of the pounds they’d like to lose in a tongue-in-cheek way, but they very well could have a larger skeletal frame. Some people are destined to keep a higher percentage of body fat because it’s programmed into their genetics.
Someone else could be trying to gain weight if their body type is leaner than they’d like. It’s no different than someone genetically predisposed to being tall.
What matters is that when your body is purring along at optimal capacity—with plenty of energy, clear thoughts, and good sleep and stress reduction—you’re the healthiest you can be. Perhaps that means your outward appearance matches what society says is the ideal body image, but it might not.
That’s not to say you’re failing; it means your genetics are your own and no one else’s.
Any attempt to defy that predisposition could tilt your needle out of the optimal health range and into feeling increased fatigue, slower energy boost, and opens you up to the potential of chronic illness.
The Foods That Nourish You
These days, there are labs we can turn to for a clear genetic blueprint for how we should eat. Two of these are DNAFit and Stratagene, and they can help you understand how to shape your approach to food based on your genetics. Your genes say a lot about what nutrients you need, what supplements you could benefit from, and which foods you should avoid.
Not everyone has the money for these detailed assessments, however. Don’t fret. It’s quite possible, through mindfulness of your reactions to foods, that you can determine which foods make you feel like a superhero, and which ones drag you down.
For example, if you decide to on a plant-based wholefood diet, but quickly discover it makes you feel worse, you could have a genetic sensitivity to plant lectins, and despite the diet being wholesome and nutritious, those particular nutrients are not kind to your system.
A good rule of thumb for any healthy approach to eating is to avoid fake foods, highly processed carbohydrates, and refined sugars.
But you’ll become aware rather quickly which foods improve your energy and weight, and which you do not tolerate well.
Consider journaling not only the foods you eat and their macronutrient content—carbs, proteins, and fats—but how you feel in the hours after eating. By doing so, you’ll see in black and white exactly which nutritional elements your body runs well on and which nutrients bog you down.