Why diet advice should be based on your DNA

Giving people personalized advice about nutrition based on their DNA may be the most effective way to get them to eat better, a new study finds. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Diet advice is more persuasive—and more effective—when it’s based on genetic makeup rather than generalized run-of-the-mill dietary recommendations.

“We conducted the first randomized, controlled trial to determine the impact of disclosing DNA-based dietary advice on eating habits,” says Ahmed El-Sohemy, associate professor in nutritional sciences and Canada Research Chair in Nutrigenomics at the University of Toronto.


“We found that people who receive DNA-based advice improve their diet to a greater extent than those who receive the standard dietary advice. They’re also the ones who need to change it the most.”

Nutrigenomics is a field of research that aims to understand why some people respond differently than others to the same foods. Personalized nutrition, a branch of personalized medicine, is an application of nutrigenomics that helps tailor dietary recommendations to a person’s DNA.

For the study, published online in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers collected data on the intake of caffeine, sodium, vitamin C, and sugar from 138 healthy young adults.

The subjects were then randomized into two different study groups—people in one group were given DNA-based dietary advice for each of the four dietary components of interest, and people in the other group were given current standard dietary advice for the same dietary components with no genetic information.

Changes in their dietary habits were assessed after three and 12 months. Subjects who received DNA-based dietary advice started to show improvements to their diets after three months and the changes became even more apparent after 12 months.

Targeted advice

Specifically, those who were informed that they carried a version of a gene linked to salt intake and high blood pressure significantly reduced their sodium intake, in accordance with the recommendation, compared to the group that was not given genetic information and received the standard advice for sodium intake.

No effects were observed for the other components of the diet. However, most subjects were already meeting the dietary recommendations for the three other components at the start of the study, and researchers believe this might explain why no significant changes were seen in these intakes.

“This study addresses some notable limitations in previous studies that attempted to measure the impact of disclosing genetic information on lifestyle changes,” says El-Sohemy. “Previous studies focused on disease risk prediction rather than metabolic genes that affect specific components of the diet. This is the first time that the impact of dietary advice based on diet-related genes with specific actionable advice has been tested.”

The subjects in the study received dietary advice reports that were developed in collaboration with Nutrigenomix Inc., a University of Toronto start-up company that develops genetic test kits for personalized nutrition only through qualified healthcare professionals.

Source: University of Toronto