How Your Genetics Affect Food Choices and Consumption

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Researchers say new information about the genetic links behind food intake, obesity, and diabetes could lead to improved prevention and treatment.

Your Genes and Your Food: A Strong Connection

You likely understand there are certain types of foods that are more likely to cause obesity, diabetes, and other health conditions. Fast food is one of those foods, and studies have shown that the consumption of fast food and diet foods can lead to health problems over time. Processed meats are another culprit. There have been numerous studies done that show how much DNA a person carries in the genes that control his or her propensity for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other eating disorders. Even more alarming is the fact that these studies have shown that most overweight people will gain back the weight that they have lost within a year or two, if they stay on the program.

However, of all these previous studies, the new study on food intake and genetics has recently been conducted. The study is the largest ever on the subjects of genetics and food.

The Largest Ever Study To Examine Genetic Factors Around Food Choices and Consumption

Doctors and researchers have identified over two dozen genetic sequences that may affect a persons food intake.

“The average daily intake of nutrients and foods, a major contributor of obesity, is partly influenced by our genetics,” says Chloé Sarnowski, who was a biostatistician at Boston University while conducting the study and is now a faculty associate at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Sarnowski is co-lead author of the study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

The researchers conclude your brain is influenced by various signals that affect your eating behaviors as well as regulate your body’s energy levels and balances. Those signals control many physiological functions such as appetite, energy, and responses to blood levels of key metabolic medications, hormones, and nutrients. Researchers now know genetic variations in these signals can therefore lead to extreme hunger, appetite, differing energy levels and — obesity.

“Despite the high correlation between genetics and our dietary choices, a limited number of genetic studies have integrated information about preferences for different nutrients or foods,” Sarnowski says. “We jointly analyzed the main nutrients that the body needs and uses in large amounts—carbohydrate, protein, and fat—to better characterize the genetic regions that influence our dietary choices.”

Study Highlights: 

  • 282,271 participants of European ancestry were studied and had their genes analyzed and examined for food consumption
  • The analysis showed 26 genetic regions associated with increased preference for foods containing:
    • More fat
    • More proteins
    • Higher carbohydrates
  • Within the brain, these genes influences specialized brain cells, throughout the entire nervous system, that are responsive to the fats, proteins, or carbs.

“When those areas of the brain are activated, it may explain why people are more likely to prefer foods or meals with higher amount of fat, protein, or carbohydrate,” says coauthor Jordi Merino, a research associate at the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Unit and Center for Genomic Medicine and a Harvard Medical School instructor.

The findings underscore why food consumption behavior differs among individuals: 

The discovery of the 26 genetic regions and resulting variants could be used in future research to determine whether diet composition is causally related to diabetes, obesity, and other common diseases. “While we know that diet composition is related to diseases, the causal link is harder to prove,” says co-senior author Josée Dupuis, chair and professor in Boston University’s School of Public Health’s biostatistics department.

“Our results could also help identify people more likely to follow specific dietary recommendations for the prevention of obesity or diabetes,” says coauthor Hassan Dashti, a Massachusetts General Hospital instructor of anesthesia, critical care, and pain medicine and a Harvard University associate professor of anesthesia.

“For example, if someone has a higher genetic susceptibility for preferring fatty foods, this information can be used to help this individual to choose foods with higher amounts of healthy fats rather than recommending other dietary approaches that might compromise adherence to these interventions.”

What does this mean for you and your family? 

Vita Medical Solutions offers a variety of genetic tests including the DNA Diet and Healthy Weight Test.

If you have had trouble losing weight or keeping the weight off, there might be an underlying cause in your genetic makeup. Your lifestyle might be out of sync with your genes. The DNA Diet and Health Weight Test can assist you in understanding why you can’t keep off those extra pounds or reach your target weight. The results available within 30 to 45 working days and discussed in simple language that you can easily understand.

This test is designed to help you look at genetic markers that are known to be involved in your weight. The results will closely analyze your food intake, helping you understand the interaction between what you eat and your genetic makeup as well as provide a recommended diet plan that can help you reach your goals. Besides all this, a detailed exercise plan and eating plan is included in your 70-page report!

With your results you will get answers to the questions that have been plaguing you for a while now. These will delve into the following healthy weight areas and providing a genetic profile for each:

  • Your weight loss ability: how able is your body at losing weight? Do you have the genes that will encourage weight loss and keep it off or more unfavorable genes that will make it tougher for you to lose weight?
  • How your body uses carbs, proteins as well as fats: what proportions of fat, carbohydrate and proteins should you have in your diet? What are the right recommendations for your genetic makeup but also for your age, height and gender?
  • Nutrients & vitamins: What nutrients and vitamins do you need? While vitamins and micronutrients are not directly involved in weight loss, they support functions in our body which affect your weight. Find answers to whether your genes may channel you towards any deficiencies, which nutrients and vitamins you should be taking more of and what foods you can get them from.
  • Cardio response/strength training/exercise regimes: Knowing how much you should exercise and understanding the exercise factors that enable you to lose weight is crucial! How does your genetic profile affect your response to cardio exercises? How intense should your workouts be? How often? What about your genetic profile for weight training? This section also includes details about your glucose response and much more.

Patients have different reasons for being tested or declining testing. For many, it is important to know whether a disease can be prevented or treated if a test is positive. Genetic test results might help a person make life decisions, such as family planning or insurance coverage. Your doctor and genetic counselor can provide information about the pros and cons of testing.

Are you a Candidate for Genetic Testing: 

To help assess whether you may benefit and from genetic testing, take our 1-minute assessment at: 

Call us 1.800.590.9292 (toll free) or email at [email protected]

Test. Know. Educate. Advocate.


For more information and to read the full article:

Journal information: Nature


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