Personal Nutrition: Your Diet should be as Unique as You
DNA surveys tell us we’re all 99.9% alike, but what if the gut microbiome (the bacteria that resides within us) makes us radically different when it comes to health and longevity?
In my practice, I’ve been putting a precedent on the personalized dietary model for years. As early as 2006, I have recommended blood sugar testing devices to clients so that they can understand firsthand how their meal choices affect pre and postmeal consumption blood glucose levels. This allows them to take control and make dietary choices that actually impact their health for the better, rather than taking a shot in the dark with the latest fad.
And the data continues to grow by supporting the notion of “microbiome individuality.”
The Personalized Nutrition Project (run by Dr. Eran Segal and Dr. Eran Elinov of the Departments of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics and the Department of Immunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel) has recently published an article in Cell titled Blood Sugar Response to Foods are Highly Individual.
Their study examined the effects of diet and blood sugar levels of 800 individuals, as blood sugar has been linked to major epidemics in the global community: diabetes, obesity, and other serious metabolic syndromes. What’s fascinating is that these conditions are also potentially impacted by the types of bacterial strains we carry in our guts (collectively called our microbiomes); as a result, the researchers determined that some of the bacterial strains in each participant’s microbiome were linked to how meals impact our digestive abilities as well as our glucose levels.
The results matched what has been happening in my practice for years: each person had a unique response to the food that he or she consumed. Furthermore, their post-meal blood sugar levels (known scientifically as post-prandial glucose levels) were most likely impacted by their microbiome’s composition. This makes sense, I always say we are what we eat; our dietary choices can feed either the “good bugs” or the “bad” with farreaching health consequences or benefits as a result.
The Israeli researchers took their data one step further: they derived an algorithm based on the effects of over 46,000 meals in the study. These meal plans not only allowed the participants to better manage their glucose levels but had also altered the configuration of their microbiomes. Such findings suggest that our microbiomes are influenced by our personalized diets, and in turn have an impact on our blood sugar responses.
Ultimately, The Personalized Nutrition Project drew conclusions similar to the ones I’ve had over my career: the distinctive response of individuals to the same meals highlight the need for customized dietary advice over our ‘universal wisdom’ of a one size fits all approach.
Diet Diversity Is One of your Greatest Allies
If the bacteria in our gut do play a role in how we regulate our blood sugar levels (and our waistlines for that matter) then it’s only natural to want to feed the “best” bugs possible and quash those that seek to do us harm.
Fortunately, it is becoming clearer each day to the scientific community that our diets could be the principal way to regulate our gut’s bacterial flora, and that a diversified diet may be key for optimal digestion.
Unfortunately, we’ve lost quite a bit of that ‘dietary diversity‘ in the past 50 years. Per capita, Americans eat 45 pounds more processed wheat than they did in the 1970s; and 60% of the global population’s calories come from either maize, wheat, or rice (you’ll recognize processed wheat as one of my “foul four” foods that inhibit digestive health).
This decrease in meal variety could be a contributing factor to the rise in the oft-overlooked prediabetes, Diabetes Type 2, obesity, and other gastrointestinal problems.
Wild Mediterranean: The Original Diversity Based Diet
No bones about it, eating the Wild Mediterranean way is the strongest prescription for my clients trying to combat or prevent metabolic and digestive ailments.
The focus of this lifestyle template has never been about creating a “fad enemy food,” but rather diversifying your nutrient sources and feeding the good strains of bacteria we all carry within us. The only foods my healthy Villagers avoid the processed products found in the Standard American Diet. By focusing on this prescription–rather than cutting out certain nutrients–you expose your gut to a wide variety of nutritional sources that feed your “good bugs.”
Essentially, the dietary choices you make should be based on you: your activity level, microbiome composition…all of these unique attributes come together and influence how your body responds to the foods you eat.
The only real advice that continues to stand the test of time and will provide tangible health benefits: diversify your diet. In doing so you’ll feed your best gut bacteria; one of our greatest allies on the quest for good health. If we are what we eat, then we should eat well!