March brings in the hint of summer, initiating a change in diet and lifestyle. Placed between the end of winter and the beginning of sultry April, it is one of the most enjoyed and awaited holiday seasons of the year. It is celebrated as Easter break in many countries, brings the fun filled festival of colours (Holi) in India, and is being celebrated as the “Nutrition Month” this year!
Proper nourishment is a necessity for today’s lifestyle. Healthy eating is the rage today and with many nutritionists and dieticians available and willing to help, it has become quite easy to get advice on one’s dietary habits. Here are a few ways one can go about it –
- The “conservative” approach: One can look up or be recommended a nutrition-expert from their physician and follow through with the traditional appointment.
- The “virtual” coach: New mommies and workaholic individuals meeting midnight deadlines read blogs in bathroom cubicles and try to calculate calories in cafeteria food.
- The “tech savvy” geek: The super planned and organized nerds that have downloaded the most recent nutri-related apps and have an expert telling them what to eat and avoid by the hour.
The ways are many but the goal is one. The single united dream of getting fit, losing those extra pounds, eating better, and becoming healthier! The additional pressure from hectic work schedules and family expectations could make it difficult for people to be consistent with their efforts, to stick to their routines, and to follow strict guidelines of diet regulations.
Looking up at the variety of information available from experts around the world, one can jot down a few tips that are simple, easy to follow, and have shown to be beneficial to many.
- Start your day with lukewarm water, honey, and lemon. Simple ingredients but a wonderful start to detox!
- Plan small intervals between your meals. Pack some munchies to avoid getting too hungry!
- Include an appetizer in your main meal. A soup/broth is not just healthy but reduces your second course to half.
- Have water before the meal and around the day. A feeling of fullness caves the bear within.
- Fruits are meant to be eaten as they are – juices are for babies and colorful images!
- Salads do take a wee bit of time and effort but that is how you get that broccoli tasty!
- Add some kind of carb-curfew to your diet or one doughnut upsets the whole week’s effort.
- Sharing is caring especially when it comes to calories!
- Eat more to exercise. You need fuel to burn fat – else that will be your last Pilates class.
While following any kind of diet/rules, it is important to take small steps towards change. A drastic lunge could derail your efforts in the longer run! You are human, so are your needs and cravings. It is human to err. It is essential to keep at it and let go at times, as you may work extra hard for that cheat day!
“When nourishing your body with foods, listen to what it needs,” says yoga instructor Carrie Seyer, who is leading an upcoming CorePower Yoga wellness retreat at Twin Farms in Barnard, Vermont. “Discard dogma and food rules, and eat for fuel and energy, whatever that may be for that day.” As much as you can, she adds, “choose whole, unprocessed foods, but also allow for an occasional splurge or two to help maintain a healthy mindset. Our bodies are intelligent and always asking for what they need to function optimally, whether it’s vegetables or even a bit of sugar; there’s reason behind the craving.”
While there are multiple inspirational sources to learn from, how would one be able to personalize all the information that is out there for their own benefit? There could be a thousand tips available all over; how does one tailor their diet? Plan it such that it is uniquely for them and comes with the assurance that it will work and provide results?
Experts in the field of Nutrigenetics anticipated this need much earlier and hence started working on a branch of science that slowly personalized nutrition to one’s distinctive DNA.
Nutrigenomics is an emerging science, a study of how foods affect our genes and how individual genetic differences can affect the way we respond to nutrients (and other naturally occurring compounds) in the foods we eat. It seeks to provide a molecular understanding of how common chemicals in the diet affect health by altering the expression of genes and the structure of an individual’s genome. The premise underlying nutrigenomics is that the influence of diet on health depends on an individual’s genetic makeup.
Nutrigenomics will definitely impact all fields in society “from medicine to agricultural and dietary practices to social and public policies” and its applications are likely to exceed that of even the human genome project!
Genes that play a common role in this field
Obesity is represented by body mass indices of (BMI) >30 and is associated with increased risk of many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer! Obesity is therefore a major international public health threat. It was hoped that identifying the genetic factors underlying the heritable risk of obesity will contribute to our basic knowledge of biology and might even highlight molecules and pathways that can be targeted therapy. In 2007, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the fat mass and obesity-associated gene (FTO) became the first to be associated with this condition.
PPARG (weight regain/response to dietary fat)
Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) belong to the family of nuclear hormone receptors and regulate the expression of several genes involved in metabolic processes, which are linked to the development of conditions such as hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and obesity. Lifestyle, drugs, and dietary modifications are known to activate PPAR, and can affect its metabolic responses; however, the specificity of the response depends on the interactions between these factors and the genetic variants.
MTHFR (folate metabolism)
MTHFR, short for Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase, is an important enzyme in the body. It is crucial for methylation to occur, a metabolic process that switches genes on and off, repairs DNA and also aids in the conversion of both folate and folic acid, both, a form of Vitamin B9, into its active form, 5-MTHF (5-methyltetrahydrofolate). A mutation in this gene disrupts one of the key function of 5-MTHF, i.e., the breakdown of homocysteine, a naturally formed amino acid in the body.
Elevated homocysteine in the body is known to damage the lining of your arteries and other cells, and elevated levels in the blood (homocysteinemia) is an independent risk factor for heart disease, stroke and other forms of cardiovascular disease. It has also been linked with a wide range of other health problems including macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, hearing loss, and cancer!
Roughly 30-50% of us carry a mutation in the MTHFR gene, passed down from our parents.
HLA-DQ (gluten intolerance)
Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. The genes that predispose you to celiac disease are known as the HLA-DQ genes, and they are found on the HLA-class II complex of our DNA. The scary part is that Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems like anemia, early onset osteoporosis or osteopenia, infertility and miscarriage, and pancreatic and gallbladder disorders.
Celiac disease is hereditary, meaning that it runs in families. People with a first-degree relative with celiac disease (parent, child, sibling) have a 1 in 10 risk of developing the disease!
How does a genetic test work with the information from such genes?
A genetic test based on nutrition and related conditions would look into similar genes and organizations that offer such screening usually have experts on board that help one understand the technical data and use the information provided to make a personalized nutrition based report.
Mapmygenome offers specific products that analyse these genes and provide genetic counseling for fitness enthusiasts, proactive individuals, and literally anyone taking a step towards a healthier lifestyle!
Genomepatri Lite: A genetic health profile to know yourself better and to move to healthy habits. In the case of Genomepatri Lite, the 100+ conditions covered are grouped into 16 panels. Out of the 16 panels, 5 panels are compulsory; namely – Cardio, Brain, Cancer, Diabetes and Lifestyle and are offered as the Basic version. In total, these five panels cover 65+ conditions. The Genomepatri Lite is unique in the way that it allows for unlocking of more panels (the remaining 9 panels – at a very nominal cost per panel) later without the need for a genetic test.
Slimgene: A genetic test that can help you in weight management. Our counselors provide Genetic Counselling and Diet & Fitness Counselling along with actionable steps to achieve your fitness goals.
Genomepatri Fit: A genetics-based nutrition and fitness planner. As part of this test, we collect blood/saliva samples and analyze DNA for Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms or SNPs at targeted loci in specific genes. These SNPs are associated with specific traits. Key traits such as obesity and fat storage and metabolism are issues of focus. We also look at Vitamins, Resilience, Sporting Abilities, and more.
Experts on Board for Genetic and Nutrition Counseling
A word from the Genetic Counselors
Pooja Ramchandran (Director of Genetic Counseling, Mapmygenome) is a pioneer in the field of genetic counseling in India. She has been practicing clinical genetic counseling in India since graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 2008. She is a much sought after expert in a niche profession and, being the first genetic counselor in the country with a formal degree in genetic counseling, she is committed to establishing the genetic counseling profession in India. According to her,
Lifestyle diseases are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. India is the world’s diabetes capital, and we are soon going to have the highest number of cases of heart disease in the world. These are multifactorial conditions that have a genetic component as well as an equally critical environmental component whose critical component is diet. For someone who has a high genetic risk for such conditions, the overall risk can be reduced significantly by proper nutrition and monitoring. Similarly, someone with a low genetic risk could abuse their “good” genetic makeup by making poor diet and lifestyle choices. In a world where many things may be out of our control, nutrition is a choice that most people have the freedom to make. Good nutrition plays a crucial role in the prevention and/or management of many chronic conditions. Genetics, nutrition and lifestyle play vital roles in wellbeing, and the tools are available to help people use this understanding to their own advantage. It is good to see more and more people being proactive. No one wants to be a patient. Healthy individuals can stay healthy. Preventive medicine is here and now.
Dr. Risha Nahar Lulla, M.Sc (UK), PhD (Principal Genetic Counselor, Mapmygenome) has over 10 years of experience in the field of clinical genetics, and is reputed to be India’s first Board Certified (Senior level) Genetic Counselor. She has authored several international scientific papers and is currently based at Hyderabad, India (previously with KIMS Hospitals, Hyderabad and Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi). She has counseled thousands of families with various genetic conditions, including young couples who are planning a family, pregnant mothers, infants, children of all ages and adults. As per her experience,
The degree to which diet influences the balance between healthy and disease state (especially common diseases) may depend on an individual’s genetic make-up. With advancing technology and knowledge of curated scientific evidence on important diet-related gene variants, it is now possible to peek into the inherent dietary needs of our body; aka, personalized nutrition that can potentially be used to prevent, mitigate, or cure chronic diseases in some cases. India, with its high prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes capital of the world, high incidence of obesity, lower average levels of HDL cholesterol (‘good cholesterol’) and larger average waist circumference, definitely is a great place to initiate nutrigenetic intervention.
Nutrition Expert (from our expert panel of Doctors)
Dr. G S Kochar MBBS, DMM
- Doctor & Medical Graduate from JIPMER, Pondicherry
- 16 years of direct experience in Slimming, Weight Management and Preventive Healthcare Industry
- Dedicated practitioner of Nutribiomics and a staunch believer in the power of nutrition
- Employs scientific, healthy and customised nutrition to deliver weight loss / weight correction and to undo the diseases & illnesses associated with excess body weight thereby helping people restore their health, wellness and vitality.
He regularly sends out information to his clientele via WhatsApp. Small tips power packed with useful information that helps individuals with their hectic schedules.
About the Author
Dr. Pallavi Jain is part of the Scientific Team at Mapmygenome. She has a Bachelors Degree in Biochemistry with Genetics and a PhD in Molecular Medicine (UK). She recently completed an intensive course in IVF from Origio, Mumbai. She enjoys swimming and reading.