New companies such as DNA Fit, Vitagene and Profile are popping up promising to offer a personalized diet based on your individual genetic makeup. The idea behind it is you receive an at-home kit, perform a simple cheek swab and send it back, then the companies sequence specific genes to determine what ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat and protein) is “ideal” for you. Touted benefits of following these plans include weight loss, optimal performance, improved skin and more.
While it sounds amazing and cutting-edge, further research is needed. Here’s what you need to know before trying one of these DNA-based diets:
THE DNA-DIET CONNECTION
Scientists know specific genetic variations, or polymorphisms, in part, dictate how we respond to specific diets and what our health outcomes will be if we follow a certain diet, explains Megan Baumler, PhD, RDN, director of the graduate program in dietetics at Mount Mary University. “What we don’t know is which genes, which polymorphisms, which diets or which outcomes,” she adds.
On top of that, these companies only sequence a handful of the tens of thousands of genetic variations that impact our nutritional needs. Plus, those aren’t the only things that matter: Lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, how much alcohol you consume and physical activity are also important factors.
WHAT THE SCIENCE SHOWS
Earlier this year researchers reviewed 39 articles on polymorphisms and calorie, fat and carb intake. In an article published in Advances in Nutrition, they concluded “current knowledge is too limited to derive dietary advice for weight management on the basis of genetic information.” An earlier clinical trial of 600 overweight adults published in JAMA found no difference in weight loss if a person followed a diet matched to their DNA or not.
COULD THE PLANS STILL BENEFIT YOU?
Science aside, some of the companies offer coaching to go over your plan or even meet with you regularly (in person or virtually) to check on your progress. This may help you stick to your plan and successfully adopt new, healthier habits. “Everyone needs different levels of motivation, and this support may serve to inspire somebody,” Baumler says.
Some also offer meal delivery or have stores where you can pick up their food products. While this makes eating according to your plan easy and saves time, you also may come to rely on these foods rather than learning how to cook for yourself.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“The science is too premature, and the evidence is too weak at present,” says George Patrinos, PhD, associate professor of personalized medicine at the University of Patras School of Health Sciences in Greece. Rather than spend the money on a DNA test, find a healthy diet you can sustain, which makes you feel good, says Baumler, who also recommends working with a registered dietitian if you need help.