In previous posts, this blog series introduced the basic concept of epigenetics and how diet can impact the expression of genes. The post that follows discusses what type of diet is ideal as well as how diet and nutrient recommendations have changed over the years and why.
Discovering our optimal diet
In order to figure out the optimal diet, we must first identify the species under consideration within the animal kingdom. Every member of each species require the exact same nutrients. For example, all dogs in the dog species, since they have the exact same genetics, will require the same nutrients. If they didn’t have the same genes, then they wouldn’t be the same species. And the same goes for giraffes, bears, bumblebees, and every other species of animal on the earth. Why would it be any different for humans? When other animals in the wild are sick or dying, we do not often undertake blood or genetic testing of these animals. We do not wonder which vitamin or mineral they are missing. Rather, we look to the environment in which they are living. What kind of environmental stressors could be leading to the sickness and death of these animals? Why would we approach human health differently?
Humans are an animal species that follow the same biological and physiological laws as any other animal on earth. Thus, determining which diet is best for humans should have nothing to do with allergy testing, blood testing, metabolic type, blood type, hair color, gender, height, race, or religion. These things may affect beliefs and behaviors but they do NOT determine our genome, thus they do NOT determine which nutrients we require as a species.
The next step is to determine which nutrients are required based on genetic requirement. Our species requires nutrients from vegetables, free range meat, fruits, nuts, seeds and water. Therefore, no refined sugar, soy, grains (including corn) or dairy are necessary (The Secret, n.d., n.p.). This is not to say that these foods may be tolerated and enjoyed by many, but they are not necessary. There is a difference.
Many of us are not genetically equipped to process unnecessary nutrients like gluten or most dairy products, especially if pasteurized. In the beginning, none of us were equipped to process any of these nutrients. However, according to Daniel Liebermann, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, that through the evolution of the human genome the past 8,000 years, the lactose tolerance gene has gone from near zero percent of the Northern European population to almost 100%, due to exposure. So if you come from Northern European descent, you may have very few issues digesting whole, unpasteurized dairy (Forbes, 2013, n.p.). But just because one may tolerate does not make it necessary for humans. In fact, nearly 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy (Lactose, n.d., n.p.). Liebermann’s work shows us that as our species evolves, some nutrients may become much more tolerated by our species due to exposure, but again, tolerance does not equal necessity. And anything out of genetic necessity has the potential to lead to a host of inflammatory issues such as chronic pain and disease.
The problem with the pyramid
If it is true that sugar and dairy along with soy and grains are not necessary, then why are there so many different kinds of diets? Why are the food guidelines we learned in school not consistent with this? Why have we been told by nutritionists, doctors, school nurses, teachers and even the government that grains and dairy are imperative parts of our daily diet?
Here’s a slightly embarrassing story I will tell about myself, because it just relates too well to this topic. I remember in grade school learning about the food pyramid and going home to make 6 grilled cheese sandwiches and thinking I was being really healthy! I was getting all 12 servings of grains and my 5-6 servings of dairy all in one sitting! My teacher would be so proud! Problem is I was wrong. My teacher was wrong. Because the pyramid was wrong. Most recently, the USDA has given new guidelines with the Food Plate Pie, which according to human needs, is still misleading. As you can see in the image below, it still has grains and dairy as necessary foods. So why? It comes down to three things: lack of science, lack of asking the right question and an abundance of financial interests aka lobbyists (Yang, n.d., n.p.).
Dr. James Chestnut (n.d.), a doctor of chiropractic and lecturer who has been studying human wellness and prevention through genetic requirement for over 25 years tells us that:
“…paradigm also has a great deal to do with it. Most nutritional recommendations are either based on what keeps someone alive or what can improve the health of someone who is very sick rather than what is required to express health potential. Many different diets can make very sick people a little less sick by making them a little less toxic and a little more sufficient but only the correct diet for the species can allow the expression of health potential and maximize the prevention of nutritional-related illness” (n.p).
What to do about it
It’s important with your diet to be informed, to ask the right questions, and to look carefully at your source of information and their own motivations for a specific point of view. Next week we will be talking more in depth about the types of inflammatory foods to try to avoid, breaking down how these inflammatory foods can affects the body. I’ll be spending a few posts discussing just how you can adjust your diet to fit your genetic needs.
Anand P, Kunnumakkara AB, Sundaram C, et al. Cancer is a preventable disease that requires major lifestyle changes. Pharm Res. 2008;25(9):2097-116.
Chestnut, J. L., Dr. (n.d.). The Wellness Practice. Retrieved from https://www.thewellnesspractice.com/
Forbes, P. (2013, October 17). The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease by Daniel Lieberman – review. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/17/story-human-body-daniel-lieberman-review
Lactose intolerance – Genetics Home Reference – NIH. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/lactose-intolerance
Living a Genetically Congruent Lifestyle: Understanding the Basics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://bonfirehealth.com/living-genetically-congruent-lifestyle-basics/
The Secret to Living Your Healthiest Life: Understanding Our Hunter-Gather Ancestry. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://bonfirehealth.com/healthiest-life-hunter-gather-ancestry/
Yang, S. (n.d.). All Out Effort Blog. Retrieved from https://www.allouteffort.com/2014/06/the-alarming-diabetes-food-pyramid.html