What Is the Main Idea?

Based on the open access paper “Interactions of Carbohydrate Intake and Physical Activity with Regulatory Genes Affecting Glycaemia: A Food4Me Study Analysis” published in the journal Lifestyle Genomics, this post looks at the concept of personalized nutrition. What is it, why should we care about it, and what is the research currently finding?

What Else Can You Learn?

Read this post to learn more about the factors that should be considered when designing a dietary plan. These are things you could discuss with your dietician or healthcare professional to ensure they are getting the full picture.

Food and Exercise Don’t Affect Everyone in the Same Way

We all know that what we eat and how much we exercise can affect our appearance and health. However, obviously not everyone who eats the same food and does the same exercise ends up with the same body type. Other factors, including genetics, have an influence. This makes it difficult for physicians and dieticians to help: There is no universally effective plan for nutrition and exercise. Personalized nutrition might be the answer.

What Is Personalized Nutrition?

Personalized nutrition involves considering a broad range of information about a patient when designing a dietary plan. As with personalized medicine, this approach can integrate data about the patient’s phenotype (their physical and observable body), genotype (their genetic makeup), lifestyle, and clinical history, including biochemical parameters. Personalized nutrition planning may also consider individual food preferences, although this has not always been the case.

The result should be a dietary plan that helps the patient to achieve a goal: for example, reduce their body weight, maintain a lower body weight, manage metabolic conditions like diabetes, or manage food intolerances.

What Is the Food4Me Project?

Food4Me is a special clinical trial focused on the effectiveness of personalized nutrition. There are multiple studies within the project. It describes its mission as understanding the relationship between food and gene expression with the aim of designing a better, healthier, and more individual diet.

The paper “Interactions of Carbohydrate Intake and Physical Activity with Regulatory Genes Affecting Glycaemia: A Food4Me Study Analysis” reports on one Food4Me study that looked at glucose homeostasis: the balance between insulin and glucagon that maintains healthy blood glucose levels. The researchers wanted to know how genetic background, physical activity, and carbohydrate intake interact to influence this important balance.

What Did the Study Involve?

The 1,271 participants in this particular study each completed online questionnaires about their diet, lifestyle, and body type. They also provided blood samples to measure glucose, cholesterol, and other important parameters, and buccal cell samples for genetic analyses. The researchers looked for the expression of 15 genes known to be involved in carbohydrate metabolism or in energy-related processes that affect glucose metabolism. Their expression was used to calculate the participants’ genetic risk scores (GRS), referring to the likelihood of issues with carbohydrate and/or glucose metabolism.

What Is the Significance of the Study?

The expected trends were found. There is a clear impact of carbohydrate intake and physical activity on the concentration of glucose circulating in the blood, and this is influenced by a person’s individual genetic makeup. This means, for example, that while increased physical activity is related to a lower blood glucose concentration, more exercise cannot be the only thing that a healthcare professional or patient considers in glucose level management.

Results like these are the first step towards more effective personalized nutrition. As researchers gain a better understanding of this interplay and other similar food–exercise–genetics relationships, they can start to find the patterns that will support more people in achieving their goals related to the nutrition that’s healthy for them. The Food4Me project has already shown benefits in terms of providing advice to patients and understanding glycemia.

In the meantime, we all need to be aware that the same approach to goals like weight loss and blood glucose management won’t work for everyone. We have to be prepared to try different approaches or even look into what genes our body might be expressing to see if there are any complications.


Note: Two of the authors declared that they have a relationship with Vitas Ltd., which performs the dried blood spot analyses for the study. It is normal for authors to declare this in case it might be perceived as a conflict of interest. For more detail, see the Conflict of Interest Statement at the end of the paper.

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