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Food, nutrition and our genes

Watch Melissa talk about nutritional genomics, its importance to nutrition science and its potential to help personalise our nutritional requirements.
MELISSA ADAMSKI: So nutritional genomics is a new area of science, and it’s an incredibly important one to consider for the world of nutrition, because nutritional genomics looks at how our genes, nutrition, and health all interact, and it has the potential to really revolutionize the world of nutrition. As we learn more, we may be able to personalize an individual’s nutrition requirements, specifically to that individual. Which is pretty exciting, because at the moment, what we’ve mainly got are nutrition recommendations that are basically a one size fits all. The first area of interest is nutrigenetics.
And this area looks at genes and our genetic variations, and how these may guide our nutrient requirements, or the amount of nutrients that we as an individual need for good health. Secondly, we have nutrigenomics. And nutrigenomics looks at the foods that we consume, or the nutrients that we take into our body, and how that can affect gene expression, or the information that our genes put out. And finally, we have epigenetics. And epigenetics is a second layer of instructions that sits just on top of the instructions that our DNA puts out. And this second layer of instructions can be affected by our environment, such as nutrition, the way we exercise, environmental toxins, and things like that.
So as you can see, nutritional genomics is an interesting area, but one that’s incredibly complex, because there’s so many different facets that we need to consider about how genes, nutrition, and health all interact. At the moment, there are many people who are really excited about this space and are starting to look at how they can implement that information into their daily eating habits. So how can we use food as medicine to start to affect our gene health, or our DNA health. But because it’s a new area of science, there’s still a lot that we need to learn, especially about how we can use nutrigenetics, or nutritional genomics, to tailor our nutrition recommendations.
So while there are a lot of genetic tests out there that are currently saying that you can use this information to enhance your diet specifically for you, and there may be some health care professional starting to use this space, there is still a lot of ways that you can optimize the health of your DNA without getting bogged down in a lot of that detail, because there’s still a lot we don’t know, and it is a gray area. So some simple things that you can start to do are looking at specific nutrient rich foods to understand how these nutrients can affect your DNA health.
There are many ways that we can start to use foods to help optimize the health of our DNA. There are three main areas that you can start to consider If you’re looking to use foods as medicine, in regards to nutritional genomics. First thing, we have a group of foods rich in nutrients that help to prevent DNA damage. Now DNA damage is important to prevent, because damage to our DNA, such as mutations, can lead on to more serious health conditions, such as chronic disease or cancers.
So having a diet rich in nutrients, such as carotenoids, as you can see from our brightly colored orange, yellow, and red foods, and our dark green leafy vegetables, and foods rich in vitamin E, such as ours seeds, and nuts, and our avocado, these foods can help to prevent DNA damage from occurring. Now, let’s look at foods that are important for the making of DNA, or DNA synthesis. So foods rich in nutrients, such as folate, you can see here once again our dark green leafy vegetables, but then also our pulses or legumes. We also have a number of fruits, such as oranges just are a source of folate.
And also whole grain foods, which in some countries are fortified with folic acid. And next, we have vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is found mainly in animal based foods, such as dairy products, eggs, seafood, meats. And we also have zinc, which is found in many of these foods as well, but also in things such as wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, and nuts. Finally, we have magnesium. There are a number of magnesium rich foods, such as cocoa. Dark chocolate is the source of magnesium. We have bananas and avocados. Now, please remember that these are just a few examples of some of the key foods rich in these nutrients.
And there may be others, but we’ve decided to highlight just a couple of the main ones for you. Finally, we have foods rich in nutrients that are incredibly important for DNA repair. Now, DNA repair is a very important mechanism in the body, because the body has the ability to repair areas, or mutations, that may have occurred due to DNA damage. And so we want these to be functioning well. And there are a number of key supporting nutrients that can assist with DNA repair. So we have nutrients such as vitamin B3, or niacin, and that’s found in foods such as peanuts, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, and some animal products, such as chicken.
We also have folate again, so our green leafy vegetables, a number of fruits, and fortified whole grains. As you can see, there are a wide variety of foods rich in key nutrients that can support the health of our DNA. It’s important to remember that it’s not just about the nutrients in foods though, so just taking a supplement of some of these key nutrients may not provide the same benefits as eating foods rich in these nutrients. And that’s because foods do contain so much more than the nutrients that we all know about. There are so many unknown properties of foods, such as our bioactive molecules, our antioxidants, and our polyphenols, et cetera, that we’re only just starting to learn more about.
So while we’ve learned a lot about genetic variations, or variations in our genes that make us all individuals. It is important to consider that the research is only just beginning in this space. If you’re interested in genetics and health, may be thinking, well, according to my genes, should I be eating more or less of a certain nutrient, and is increasing a diet rich in these nutrients really the right thing to do for me? But remember that the research in this space is only in its early stages, and we still need to learn a lot more before we can make specific dietary recommendations to everybody out there based on their genetics.
What we can do is make sure that we’re having a balanced healthy diet, and increasing our consumption of foods rich in nutrients that support DNA health.

Watch Melissa talk about nutritional genomics, its importance to nutrition science and its potential to help personalise our nutritional requirements.

With advances continuously being made in the biotechnology space, healthcare professionals and the general public have access to an ever expanding range of tools and tests to help advise them on their health.

Nutrigenetic tests are now available both online and through healthcare professionals around the world; claiming to provide individuals with information contained in their genes which may affect their nutrition requirements and also risk of developing certain diseases.

Talking point

Within the Comments, consider sharing with other learners your thoughts on the following questions:

  • Have you had a nutrigenetic test conducted to learn more about nutrition, health and you?

  • Would you be interested in having a genetic test if it could provide you with information on how your genetics influences your nutrition requirements?

If you answered Yes to either question, explain how you’ve used the test results to improve your health choices or how you plan to use the results to modify your food intake to compliment your genetic makeup.

If you answered No to either question, consider sharing with other learners the reasons for your answer.

You might like to take some time to read comments made by other learners, and if you find these comments interesting, respond to them. Remember you can also ‘Like’ comments or follow other learners throughout the course.

Although it can be useful for other learners to hear of your personal experience, it’s good to be mindful of sharing too much.

Managing comments

Comments on a step can be ‘filtered’ which helps you access them in a way that’s best for you. You can do this by selecting comments by ‘All comments’, ‘Bookmarked’, ‘Your comments’ or ‘Following’ from the drop-down menu in the comments section of the step. You can can also sort by ‘Newest’, ‘Oldest’ or ‘Most liked’.

You can also bookmark comments to remind yourself of certain contributions that you might wish to refer back to at a later stage.

Mentioning other learners

When replying to a comment, you can also mention other learners that are taking part in the comment thread. You can do this by entering the learner’s profile name as part of your reply. For example, @User3320607 That’s an excellent description! @User4499578 What do you think?

Please note, you can only mention others who are in the thread and cannot use the mention functionality in stand alone comments.

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Food as Medicine

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