By Peter Jaret
Most nutrition experts say that nutritional genomics hasn’t yet evolved to the point at which we should be pursuing personalized diets. But studies are turning up genetic links to a wide variety of common foods and, for those with a family history of conditions including heart disease or certain types of cancer, it can’t hurt to learn more about what foods may work well with your DNA and which may not. Among the highlights:
Genetic variants determine whether people metabolize caffeine fast or slowly. Genes may even influence how much of a buzz we get from caffeine. Individual differences could explain why some people are unusually sensitive to the stimulant.
Broccoli, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables
A healthy choice no matter what your genetic profile, cruciferous vegetables may offer especially powerful protection against heart disease and cancer in people with a genetic variant that slows the breakdown of the disease-fighting compounds in these foods, allowing them to linger longer in the body.
Long associated with lower risk of cancer, green tea has been shown to be especially beneficial in preventing breast cancer in women with a particular gene form that slows the breakdown of catechins, the potent substances in tea that are believed to help boost immunity and fight cancer.
Spinach, asparagus and other folate-rich foods
A common variant of the gene known as MTHFR makes it harder for the body to use folate, a nutrient in spinach, asparagus, oranges and other foods that’s associated with lower risk of heart disease and colon cancer. Individuals with this variant may need twice the daily recommended intake of folate to stay healthy.
Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to protect against heart disease and diabetes, but new genetic studies show that certain gene variations may amplify or lessen the benefits by influencing how alcohol is metabolized.
A study by researchers at the University of Florence, in Italy, found that consuming fish and fish oils may be an especially effective way to lower cholesterol among people with a particular gene variant called LPA.
Corn oil, safflower oil and other polyunsaturated fats
A variant form of a gene dubbed PPARA, which plays a role in cholesterol metabolism, has been shown to alter the body’s response to dietary fats. People with this variant benefit from a bigger- than-normal drop in triglycerides when they consume the polyunsaturated fats found in many vegetable oils, such as corn and safflower oil.
A component of turmeric, a spice common in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, curcumin has been associated with lower LDL-cholesterol levels. Now new findings suggest that it can activate key genes involved in cholesterol metabolism.