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Double-Helix Diet

Optimizing a diet based on knowledge about an individual’s genome
August 1, 2005

One of the promises of the Human Genome Project has been that it will usher in an age of personalized medicine, in which drugs will be prescribed – or avoided – based on an individual’s genetic profile. Now research groups, led by labs at the University of California, Davis, and Tufts University, are pursuing a related strategy for improving health: trying to optimize diets based on knowledge of an individual’s genome.

Should who you are (genetically speaking) determine what you eat? To learn more, we sent Corby Kummer, one of the nation’s top food writers, to sample the current research. In “Your Genomic Diet,” Kummer gives a mixed review of the emerging field. On one hand, he found that scientists such as Raymond Rodriguez, director of the Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics at Davis, are doing exciting, albeit preliminary, work on the complex interactions between nutrients and the genetic variants common in different population groups.

On the other hand, Kummer suggests, the dietary advice dictated by nutritional genomics is mostly common sense: lots of soy, plenty of green vegetables, perhaps some sardines. The field is still hampered by its practitioners’ inability to cheaply and easily determine relevant genetic variants. That will change as genetic tools improve, but even so, the ability of genomic insights to change individual eating habits may be limited. Kummer, for one, concludes that he is not about to give up sweets.

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