Can Your Genetics Actually Tell You What You Should Eat?

March 3, 2022
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How do you decide what to eat every day? Maybe it’s a blend of something you’re craving, something that you think is good for you, and something you enjoy cooking (or at least, something you know you can cook quickly with the ingredients you already have on hand). Sounds like a simple enough decision matrix, right?

Well, there’s another factor that can help you decide what to eat, and it’s much simpler than trying to decode different diet benefits. It’s called nutrigenomics, and understanding it might be the key to eating in a way that makes you feel your best. Here’s what to know about nutritional genomics, the most important genomic nutrients, and how to incorporate them into your diet.

What is nutrigenomics?

Nutrigenomics studies the relationship between the human genome, nutrition, and health. It offers a personalized look at how different foods, nutrients, and compounds can impact how you feel on a day-to-day basis. If you think of your genome as the road map to your DNA, nutrigenomics is the part of the map that shows you a list of the gas stations closest to you that have the premium fuel you need to keep moving.

Certain subsets of the population can significantly benefit from nutrigenomics, like people at risk for type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Diet can be a major trigger for these chronic diseases. Precision health providers are able to look at the genetic expression of the individual to understand if any mutations might further increase the risk they have of developing the disease, and then offer suggestions about what nutrients to prioritize and why.

What nutrients do I need for a genomics-based diet?

Of course, like everything else in precision medicine, your doctor will recommend nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are specific to you. However, there are several vitamins, micronutrients, and food sources that your healthcare provider might commonly recommend. Here are the best nutrients for a genomics-based diet and what food sources you can get them from.

Protein

Protein is a necessary building block of our cells, and it’s responsible for repairing and rebuilding your body’s tissues (hence, why it’s so important to eat protein after a workout). While protein is most commonly associated with animal products like meat and dairy, you can find it in plenty of non-meat sources if you’re plant-based.

For animal sources, look for grass-fed, lean, and unprocessed meats, as well as low-fat dairy, eggs, and certain types of fish (more on those later). For plant-based protein, reach for quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, and nut butters. But make sure you’re checking the label on your nut butters – you want to avoid any seed oils or vegetables sneaking in.

Complex carbs

Complex carbs are great sources of fiber, vitamins, and micronutrients; these long, complex chains of sugar molecules are turned into glucose and used as energy. Some of our favorite complex carbs are legumes (like black beans, navy beans, and pinto beans); grains (like quinoa, oatmeal, buckwheat groats, and brown or wild rice); and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, acorn squash, and potatoes.

Nuts

Nuts are a high-quality source of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Pro tip: as tasty as they may be, avoid store-bought nuts roasted in salt and highly inflammatory seed and vegetable oils. (These include canola, corn, cottonseed, soy, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, and rice bran). If you want that same satisfying taste, roast raw nuts in healthy oils at home. Raw almonds, walnuts, and cashews and especially great for this.

Seeds

Seeds provide your body with fiber, healthy fat, micronutrients, and antioxidants. And although it may be counterintuitive, avoid seed oils as much as possible; they’re highly inflammatory. Instead, add ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds to your diet in smoothies, oatmeal, or even as a salad topper.

SMASH fish

SMASH stands for a few favorite nutrient-dense fish: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. All of these fish are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Because these fish are on the smaller side (and at the bottom of the food chain), they have lower concentrations of mercury. As usual, check the ingredients on any canned fish you buy to make sure they haven’t been packed in vegetable or seed oils.

Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient that helps with methylation (which is a biochemical process that regulates gene expression and can help optimize several biochemical reactions in your cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive, and detoxification systems). Basically, choline is here to keep your body functioning properly. It’s found in organ meat, SMASH fish, eggs, and spinach.

Cruciferous vegetables

These vegetables are rich in vitamins C, E, and K, as well as micronutrients, minerals, and fiber. Some of your favorite greens are cruciferous veggies: arugula, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, to name a few.

Vitamin A

Turns out, there is some truth to the old myth that eating carrots is good for your eyesight. Vitamin A boosts your immune system and helps with the growth and development of eyes and bones. Foods high in vitamin A tend to be orange in color: sweet potatoes, carrots, peaches, papayas, and mangoes. Vitamin A is also found in organ meat, SMASH fish, eggs, and greens.

Vitamin B

Okay, technically vitamin B consists of 12 different vitamins, most of which don’t stay in your body for very long. The B vitamins are also crucial for methylation and cellular energy. Find your B vitamins in salmon, organ meat, eggs, leafy greens, beans, and other legumes.

Vitamin C

Want to protect yourself from the common cold next year? Add more vitamin C to your diet. It’s a powerful antioxidant that helps protect your immune system, improve skin health, and decrease inflammation. Guava, kiwi, bell peppers, strawberries, and of course, oranges, are all packed with vitamin C.

While this list of genomics-based nutrients is a good start, your nutrigenomics journey will be much more beneficial with the help of a precision medicine provider’s recommendations that are based on your unique physical and genetic makeup. Remember, each person is different, so you'll have to experiment to determine which foods are best for your genetics, your labs, and your lifestyle. At the end of the day, it’s all about finding the foods you enjoy, adding some variety to your diet, and continuing to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

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