Very often, people fighting obesity hear that they should stop consuming rice and rice products because it promotes weight gain. Look at the people from other South-East Asian countries where rice is more a staple than in India. How many of them are overweight or obese? In fact, new research suggests that a diet based on rice is less likely to make you obese than a diet devoid of it. This is where nutrigenomics (also known as nutritional genomics) comes into play. It gives you a better understanding of your body’s requirement and the food it needs.
What is nutrigenomics and why does it matter?
There is a deep connection between food and genes. The food you eat has an impact on your genes and your genes have a profound impact on your nutritional requirements, metabolism and the ability to lose or gain weight. Every person’s genes respond differently to the nutrients consumed through food or supplements. This knowledge is profound in leading a healthy life. Armed with this information, an individual can make appropriate choices regarding his or her health and is saved from a lot of trial and error. While it sounds all too technical, it’s not anymore - you can get your genes tested to determine your nutrition needs, all without a single prick on your body.
Broadly speaking, nutrigenomics is the relationship between nutrients, diet and gene expression of our bodies. Many deem it to be the “next big thing” to fight lifestyle-linked diseases. The launch of the Human Genome Project in the 1990s and the subsequent mapping of the human DNA sequencing ushered in the “era of big science”, and jumpstarted the field of nutrigenomics. In the view of the increasing burden of nutrition-related, non-communicable diseases across the world, nutrigenomics could play an important role in developing more sustainable approaches to encourage dietary changes.
A promising future
Nutrigenomics is a systemactic approach that examines the relationship between what we eat and our risk and response to diseases, and also molecular mediators — genes, gene expression and biomarkers, such as hormones and metabolites. It uses many types of tools to identify the risk of disease and its progression, such as maintaining food diaries to record nutrient input, biomarkers to understand a body’s response, genomic assays to identify relevant gene variants and clinical data including age, weight, sex and BMI, to monitor the health impact of food.
For example, it can be used to recommend a low-fat diet versus a low-carbohydrate diet as the best way to lose weight.
A recent, multi-centre trial in the European Union showed that developing algorithms that integrated information on diet, phenotype and genotype and personalised nutrition approaches can offer bigger health gains than adhering to standard dietary guidelines.
In India, where the population is dense and disease burden is high, a nutrigenomic approach can be a game changer, especially in dealing with lifestyle diseases that constitute the lion’s share of the noon-communicable diseases in the country.
Pranav Anam is the Founder & CEO of The Gene Box