The theme for this year’s National Nutrition Month is “Personalize Your Plate,” and Texas A&M AgriLife takes this opportunity to highlight the importance of individualized and precision nutrition in meeting specific health needs and goals.
Precision nutrition takes into account a number of genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors.
“Diet is an underlying risk factor for many chronic diseases, so it can also serve as part of the solution,” said Rebecca Seguin-Fowler, associate director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research and associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at Texas A & M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bryan College Station.
“There are many factors, such as genetics, that can affect a person’s response to diet,” she said.
Seguin-Fowler said while population-based dietary recommendations provide important nutritional guidelines, an individualized nutritional approach can promote healthier food intake and related health outcomes.
Connect genetics with nutrition
“Dietary advice, whether from the government or elsewhere, is based on the assumption that there is a general type of diet that is basically effective for everyone,” said David Threadgill, Ph.D., a professor of genetics in the Texas A Division & M. in Biochemistry and Biophysics and Interim Director of the Department of Nutrition, Bryan College Station. “But there really isn’t a diet that is best for everyone, in large part due to genetic differences in individuals.”
Individual genes can have an impact on how you react to different nutrients.
This is the conclusion reached by Threadgill and other researchers at the Texas A&M University Systems – along with staff from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill – in a study that shows how genetic differences are different Reactions can result from the same type of diet.
The researchers used four groups of animal models with similar genetic differences as humans to see how they would respond to four different types of human diet. The diets were Mediterranean, Japanese, ketogenic, or Atkins-style, and in the western style, high fat and high carbohydrates.
The team found that not all genetic groups responded equally to the same diet.
“We thought we could see if diet was a ‘clear winner’ among all genetic groups,” Threadgill said. “But instead we found that there are genetically defined responses to individual diets that can essentially rule out the possibility of a generally healthy diet for everyone. The study seems to confirm that a personalized or more precise dietary approach to dietary recommendations can lead to better health outcomes than a unified approach. “
Threadgill said that as genetic testing and nutritional research move on, it might one day be possible to develop a method to balance a precision diet with an individual’s unique genetic profile and health needs.
“As self-monitoring health technologies improve and nutrition researchers delve deeper into the mechanisms of nutrition at the cellular level, people can expect to receive more personalized dietary recommendations based on certain individual characteristics,” he said.
AgriLife Research will also focus on developing personalized diets that take into account factors such as age, genetics, microbiome, behavior, health status, lifestyle and other applicable individual traits.
Hunger hormone and microbiome
Yuxiang Sun, Ph.D., Associate Professor at AgriLife Research in the Department of Nutrition and a lead researcher on the “hunger hormone” known as ghrelin, has looked at how ghrelin signals affect obesity, inflammation, insulin resistance, aging and neurodegenerative diseases from a different perspective like Alzheimer’s.
Yuxiang Sun, Ph.D., in her laboratory. (Photo by Texas A&M AgriLife)
“Inflammation is central to the aging process, a phenomenon known as inflammatory aging,” said Sun. “Obesity is basically low-level chronic inflammation in adipose tissue. There is a clear correlation between fatty inflammation and cases of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Inflammation is also considered a hallmark of aging, as inflammation is linked to a variety of chronic diseases in the elderly. ”
She said that a personalized diet consisting of foods that help suppress ghrelin signaling and reduce inflammation can positively affect overall body metabolism, and offer therapeutic benefits for the treatment of obesity, diabetes, and some neurodegenerative diseases.
“Nutritional research has shown the important relationship between diet and disease, as well as other highly relevant findings such as weight maintenance, disease resistance and healthy aging,” said Sun.
In another area, Robert Chapkin, Ph.D., AgriLife Research Regents Fellow, Department of Nutrition Distinguished Professor, and Allen Endowed Chair of Nutrition and Chronic Disease Prevention, has explored how targeted dietary interventions can modulate the gut microbiome to affect human health and health to help prevent a wide range of chronic diseases.
“We already have scientific evidence that gastrointestinal microbes, or microbiomes, may ultimately be the missing link in modulating stem cells in the gut and developing chronic disease in humans,” said Chapkin. “This means that diets that can benefit the gut microbiota can also be beneficial in preventing or treating some cancers, such as colon cancer, as well as diabetes, fatty liver disease, obesity, asthma and coronary heart disease.”
Nutrients that strengthen the immune system
The COVID-19 pandemic has also raised people’s awareness of the importance of having a healthy immune system, said Dr. Jenna Anding, Professor and Nutrition Specialist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
It takes a wide variety of foods to get the nutrients needed to support a healthy immune system.
Anding said proteins like those in lean meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, peas and nuts can support the immune system.
“This is also the case with vitamin A, which is contained in carrots, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, red peppers, apricots and foods fortified with them such as milk,” said Anding. “Another nutrient that supports immunity is vitamin C, which is found in citrus fruits, red peppers, strawberries, peppers, and tomatoes.”
She also noted that vitamin E, found in foods like sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter, and avocados, works as an antioxidant and can also support immune function.
“Zinc, found in poultry, seafood, lean meat, milk, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts, also supports the immune system and plays a role in wound healing,” she said. “Other nutrients that benefit the immune system are vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid. Then there are minerals like copper, selenium and iron. The bottom line is that it takes a wide variety of foods to obtain the nutrients needed to promote a healthy immune system. “
Get personal with your diet
Seguin-Fowler said a good starting point for personalizing your diet is to consult a registered dietitian.
A registered dietitian can help tailor a diet to meet individual needs and goals.
“A registered dietitian can help tailor a diet that best suits an individual’s needs based on medical considerations, social and cultural context, eating behavior and preferences, and personal lifestyle,” said Seguin-Fowler. “When you have as much information as possible, you can effectively personalize a diet to meet a person’s health needs and desired goals.”
She also notes that tracking health-related measures such as weight, blood pressure, glucose or hemoglobin A1c, cholesterol levels, and other indicators can help individuals see how well they are achieving their personal health goals.
“Some online tools, electronic devices, and apps can help gather and track health and nutritional information,” she said. “You can also keep and update a daily food and drink journal, keep a log of physical activity to keep track of the amount and type of daily exercise, and note the quality of your sleep, energy levels, and general feeling.”
For more information on Texas A&M AgriLife Research and National Nutrition Month.