HEALTHY EATING Work with genes in making choices

By CAROLYN O’NEIL

It’s all about you. Research on genetics and nutrition is proving that statement to be true as scientists learn more about the powerful connection between our genes and our diets.

Just as many have suspected all along, some people are wired to be naturally thinner, and others may have been born with a genetic makeup that predisposes them to being overweight.

But geneticist and registered dietitian Ruth DeBusk says you don’t have to accept defeat because of your DNA.

“Genes matter, but they’re not necessarily destiny. Our challenge is to learn what our genetic makeup is and then to make the appropriate diet and lifestyle choices throughout our lives,” she said.

In a commentary written for the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, DeBusk says that there’s a dynamic interaction between our genes and environmental factors, including what we eat. “Food is a major environmental factor that ‘talks’ to the genes,” she said. “There are components within food, called ‘bioactive food components,’ that interact with our genes. So, change the environment and you potentially change genetic outcomes. How powerful is that?”

Eat sensibly and try not to splurge

Unfortunately, there’s no magic “skinny gene” pill. But knowing you have some control over your genetic blueprint can motivate lifestyle changes. Tall and trim, Maye Musk has been a professional fashion model for more than 40 years.

At 61, her hair has turned from blonde to silver and she’s found new popularity at the Ford Modeling Agency because some clients want older models that exude glamour and health. But she wasn’t always slim.

“Everyone in my family is overweight, and I actually started my career as a size 16 model. Now I’m a size 8, but I have to fight my genes everyday. I try to eat perfectly every day and not let the wheels come off with too many splurges. And although I don’t always enjoy it, I am disciplined at going to the gym and, of course, I walk as much as I can, too.” Musk, who is a registered dietitian in New York City, says that although she’s armed with the facts on food and nutrition sheer determination keeps her at a healthy weight. The ability to do so is probably in her genetic code, too.

Diets can be tailored to your body type

How can the emerging genre of nutritional genomics help us make better choices from restaurant menus or decide what’s best for our car cup holders? It depends on the health problem you’re trying to avoid. From food allergies to diet-related cancers, the best nutrition advice is tailored to your food preferences and even personality. Although enjoying a great meal is the mission, Robert Gerstenecker, executive chef at Park 75 restaurant at the Four Seasons, has launched a dining concept that fits in with personalized nutrition. The three- course Kitchen Uncorked menu is customized for each guest. Don’t like peas? No worries. Got to have morels? He’ll make you morel risotto. “Each person at the table can have a unique experience,” he said.

DeBusk says genetic testing for food needs is in its infancy.

“Will there be 6 million different diets? No, but it’s definitely not one size fits all.”

So, although current nutrition advice is based on population studies linking foods high in saturated fats with more heart disease and those high in anti-oxidant-rich plant foods with less cancer, in the not-so-distant future, nutritionists specializing in genetics may be able to identify exactly which of us can happily butter our bread and who better eat more broccoli.

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