With Food, Not All of Us Are Created Equal

A personalized and individual approach to nutrition is something we all want, but new findings this past summer from the American Society of Nutrition say that it might be vital, rather than just a nice perk, to providing better, long-term health benefits. 

This conclusion came after 1,000 participants (mostly twins) had their blood tested for markers such as sugar, insulin and fat change in response to specific meals. They also tested level of physical activity, sleep, hunger and gut bacteria. The results reveal that some people had widely different blood responses to the exact same meals. For example, some people had longer and more sustained increases in blood sugar and insulin than others and this sort of blood response is linked to weight gain and diabetes. Others had fat levels that peaked and lingered in the bloodstream hours after a meal which is a risk factor for heart disease.

So why such drastic differences? Part of it is genetics, but not a significant part. We know this because identical twins who have the same genes and live in the same environment also had different responses to identical foods. So, we can conclude there’s something much bigger at play here than the often-cited culprit of “it’s just genes. So, we can probably assume that the personal differences in metabolism can be due to factors like the population of gut bacteria (which is different in every single individual, regardless of genetics), sleep habits, how they time their meals and exercise habits. Thus, the standard way that foods are labelled are a good starting point, but is probably insufficient at assessing food for individuals. 

Since we can’t expect everyone to go out and get their genes tested just for more specialized nutrition advice, here are some general guidelines we model our nutrition philosophy by:

  • For a healthy gut, eat more soluble fiber, probiotics and prebiotic foods. For more specifics on what foods these include and how they benefit your health, check out this blog post.
  • Get at least 7-8 hours of continuous sleep each night.
  • Make sure you’re getting in your three main meals with snacks. This should come out to eating every 3-4 hours to prevent overeating and maintain energy. 
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes per day at least 5 days a week to stay active.

The bottom line? These findings have brought to light the notion that one size does not fit all when it comes to food. Some food may provoke a positive response in some and detrimental metabolic effects in others. This means that nutrition recommendations likely require a deeper look beyond just height and weight, even ethnicity. Exercise, sleep, meal timing and even the state of the gut may need to be looked at for lasting changes in not only weight, but health. If this is indeed what’s required for success, one would want to consult a registered dietitian to get a nutrition expert’s look at how to best optimize health through food — by treating the individual. 

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