I’m rounding out the final few months of my postgrad integrative & functional nutrition studies, and the subject matter is getting intense.
We’ve been doing a deep dive on nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics. It’s some complex stuff, and it kind of makes me want to hide my head in the sand.
But it’s also the future of understanding nutrition, disease prevention, and health, so nutrition professionals really should have a decent grip on this stuff.
Why is it so important?
Nutrigenetics looks at how our genes can affect our environment - even how we metabolize nutrients from our food. This is where most of the focus has been.
Nutrigenomics, on the other hand, looks at how our environment (like nutrition) can influence our genes. This is clutch, because this is the place where we can intervene. For a long time, we thought our genes were our destiny. We now understand that lifestyle factors such as diet, movement, stress, rest, sleep, mindfulness, community, etc. can dictate whether or not genes are expressed.
How you choose to live your life - the decisions you make everyday - can dramatically influence your genes and overall health. SO. COOL.
In a world where our motivators for health change are fear-based and shame-based; where we’re led to believe that our bodies are inept and shatterable; where we feel like our bodies can turn (on us) on a dime…
I think it’s lovely to realize that we wield some power. Quite a bit, actually.
It doesn’t feel like a heavy responsibility to me. It feels empowering to know that I have the ability to respond.
Now all this information is fine and good, but if you can't put it into action...then it’s not really serving us, right?
And this is TOTALLY the case when we start thinking about nutrigenomics and DNA testing.
If you’re a big nutrition and health buff, you may have heard of SNPs by now. A SNP is a variation in a DNA sequence. Often called “mutations”, these are very common things that we all have.
Direct-to-consumer tests like 23andMe test for these genetic variants. They are marketed to consumers as a way to learn how your DNA can influence your health. After submitting the test, you’re presented with your risk of certain diseases.
(It’s also important to note here that 23andMe sells your information to third party companies.)
Sounds good in theory, but do these tests really give us information we need? Or do they just scare us without giving us ways we can actually put this info into action?
At this stage in the game, my opinion is that it’s more of the latter.
First of all, it instills quite a bit of unnecessary fear in the consumer. Getting a DNA report that tells you you are at a greater risk for certain disease is scary. But it’s extremely important to consider CONTEXT (the thing almost always overlooked when it comes to health). The majority of SNPs seem to present minor risk factors at best. Just because there’s a genetic variation, doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a functional change in your DNA. SNPs may impact biochemical processes, but they can’t cause disease by themselves.
Test results can be even scarier when consumers aren’t given ways to apply this information.
These companies only offer an assessment tool. They don’t educate you on what to do with this information. To get a clearer understanding, working with a practitioner for further testing is probably necessary. But even still…it’s such a new field of study, that most practitioners don’t know what to do with it, either.
We’re not quite at the point where we can give specific nutrition advice based on individual genetic information.
It is most likely the future, but we’re not there yet.
There are still a lot of unknowns, but one thing that seems pretty certain is that a whole foods diet is paramount, regardless of what type of genetic variants you may have.
Since genetic expression can be greatly impacted by diet and lifestyle, I think that should be the area of focus.
In the scholarly article Do we know enough? A scientific and ethical analysis of the basis for genetic-based personalized nutrition, Ulf Gorman writes “personalized advice should avoid paternalism and instead focus on supporting the autonomous choice of each person.”
In other words, give people the permission, education and power to realize they have the ability to respond.
As I’m studying all this (and everything else), I’m trying to think of ways to funnel down all the information I have access to into ideas and practices that people can put into daily action.
One thing I came up with…eat more seeds.
Seeds provide food-based ways to get in the some of the nutritional cofactors necessary to buffer against the potential ill effects of genetic variants.
And even if SNPs aren’t on your radar, eating a variety of seeds gets you lots of minerals and other nutrients. So rather than just telling you to EAT MORE SEEDS, I crafted up this recipe for you to make. Whether or not you care about any of this stuff…this kale salad is SUPER TASTY, so make it anyway.
Sunflower seeds: vitamin E, copper, B vitamins like thiamine, phosphorus, selenium
Sesame seeds/tahini: iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.
Hemp seeds: vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc, as well as a great balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids
Cashews: cashews aren’t seeds, but they do contain minerals like copper, zinc and magnesium; plus antioxidants in the form of phytosterols and phenolic compounds
If you want to learn more about all this stuff and how it applies to you - along with ways to deeply support detoxification - check out my Deep Detox Mini Retreat.
I am ecstatic to be offering this workshop at the Hawthorn Farm Retreat Center in Medfield, MA. I attended a workshop here a few months ago, and was in awe by the beauty and magic of the place. I immediately looked into hosting my own mini retreat because I loved the space so much.
Vegan Kale Caesar Salad
1 head curly kale
1/4 cup raw cashews
1 scallion, chopped
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons tahini
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 Tablespoon + 1 tsp Bragg’s liquid aminos
1 Tablespoon + 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons water
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
3 Tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 Tablespoons hemp seeds
1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast
Be sure to pick out a fresh, crisp head of kale. Old, limp, soggy kale will never make a tasty salad. Ever. Reserve post-peak kale for soups and sautees...use the best of the best for this salad.
De-stem the kale, then chop up the leaves into small bits. Put them in a large mixing bowl.
Blend all of the dressing ingredients together until smooth. Pour over kale leaves and massage with clean hands for about a minute.
Sprinkle on the toppers, and gently toss to combine.
In my opinion, this salad tastes the best when it’s had a few hours (or a day) to marinate.