Personalised Nutrition: what is it and does it really work?

Everyone’s looking for that perfect diet, the one that’s just right for your own individual body type and allows you to finally lose those stubborn kilos once and for all. But while it might sound too good to be true, thanks to recent scientific advances, it’s now possible to have a diet that is specifically tailored to your genetic makeup. In fact, such is the promise of ‘personalised nutrition’ that it’s spawned a whole new industry, one that’s expected to reach a value of over $70 billion globally by 2025. But are these ‘DNA diets’ really as good as they sound?

It’s no secret that people respond to different foods and diets in different ways – we all have that friend or family member who can seemingly eat whatever they want and never gain weight – but exactly why and how these differences exist has long been a mystery. However, since the sequencing of the human genome back in the 1990s and early 2000s, the emergence of ‘nutrigenomics’, the science that looks at the relationship between our genes, what we eat, and our health has begun to provide some answers.

As humans, approximately 99.9% of our genes are identical, but it’s the 0.1% difference that makes us all unique. Our individual genetic makeup means that the way in which we metabolise nutrients, the interactions of enzymes and the biochemical reactions that occur in our bodies differ from person to person and therefore so do our responses to what we eat. And this is where personalised nutrition comes in.

How does personalised nutrition work?

Personalised nutrition is based on the idea that customised nutrition advice is likely to be more effective than the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.There are now services available to the public through genetic testing companies which profile an individual’s DNA, provide a report based on their genetic makeup as it applies to their nutrition and lifestyle, and guide them to the most-likely-to succeed diet.

A report may provide information such as how an individual processes and stores fat, their ability to breakdown cholesterol, their caffeine sensitivity and food intolerances as well as their risk of certain chronic diseases such as obesity and cardiovascular disease.

What are the benefits?

Personalised nutrition promises to help clients achieve optimal health and disease prevention based on their own individual genetic makeup. There is the potential to assist an individual in working towards goals such as improved body composition and exercise performance, while also informing them about chronic diseases they may be predisposed to, allowing them the opportunity to make changes to their lifestyle to reduce these risks.

But is it too good to be true? 

When considering the future of personalised nutrition, the key word is ‘potential’. There’s no doubt that it holds huge promise, however, we need to better understand exactly how our genes interact with the food we eat before we can be sure of the legitimacy and usefulness of lifestyle interventions based on this information.

It’s important to bear in the mind that analysing an individual’s genetic makeup only provides part of the picture, and it should be acknowledged that there are many other factors besides our genes that affect what we eat – emotional, economic, religious and social as well as existing health conditions. This may in part explain why recent studies looking at the benefits of personalised nutrition have found little benefit in terms of weight loss compared to standard dietary interventions. At this stage, the bottom line is that personalised nutrition has promise, but more research is needed before we can determine how this can best be put to use. For now, the safest bet for those wanting customised nutrition advice is to seek advice from a dietitian who can provide recommendations based on lifestyle, diet, likes and dislikes and support and guide you towards achieving your goals.

By Nutrition Australia NSW

Skye Swaney, APD