Well-Being//

Exactly How What You Eat Affects Your Health

An expert explains culinary genomics, the next big trend in nutrition.

Courtesy of j.chizhe/ Shutterstock
Courtesy of j.chizhe/ Shutterstock

Genomic medicine offers a new approach to personalizing health care, one which uses your unique gene blueprint as powerful insight into how your genes respond to nutrients, exercise, life stressors, environmental pollutants and medications. It does not get any more personal than YOU.

Nutrigenomics, which looks at nutrition through the lens of genes and how they are affected by what and how you eat, is an exciting, relatively young offshoot of the broader study of genetics. Both are highly complex fields that are rapidly evolving as researchers attempt to untangle the relationship between nutrition and the unique blueprint of our bodies, our genes. The field explores how various classes of substances found in our diet can affect how genes express themselves at the molecular level to have a positive or negative effect on our health, our behavior, and even our emotions. 

The field of nutrigenomics, genomics seen through the lens of nutrition science, helps us understand how specific nutrients and other non-nutritional compounds found in food influence gene activity. Nutrigenomics informs us how food interacts with specific genes and in which way (cooked or raw, for example). 

Culinary genomics is a term I devised to describe the union of genomic science, nutrition science, food science (how food responds to growing, storage, and cooking techniques) and the culinary arts to transform the home kitchen into a resource for modern day health. The discipline involves the selection and preparation of ingredients that are designed to influence key, health-giving aspects of gene behavior. In the vernacular of The Genomic Kitchen, a system I devised to empower every one of us with this game-changing nutritional insight, culinary genomics involves paying particular attention to antioxidants, inflammation, metabolism, and your microbiome.

Fermented foods are a foundational component of culinary genomics since the gut—and its microbiome—is the gateway to health. A finely tuned gut allows us to absorb the nutrients that serve as information to the body and its complex biochemical pathways. Fermented foods deliver a unique set of information, providing the body with useful data for its 24/7 functioning.

We now know that some compounds, such as sulforaphane, a compound created when we chop cabbage or bite into Brussels sprouts, can activate influential genes that have a dynamic effect on our health. This same sulforaphane compound can be produced by beneficial bacteria in the gut. This being the case, bacteria in the gut contributes to food-gene relationships and subsequently, to our health. 

Genomics uncovers why some people struggle more with weight than others and why some people may be more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression or struggle to control their blood sugar. By understanding the nature of how food, the environment and our lifestyle choices influence our genes, we can begin to understand health phenomena such as longevity. In this way, genomic medicine cuts through the nutrition noise.

We are at the dawn of a new era in food and a new era in medicine. Never before has the kitchen played a more pivotal role in health. Whether you are a classically trained chef, an avid home cook, or just an individual trying to eat for your wellbeing, these are watershed times. We have finally reached a moment when we can empirically trace the connections between food, how you prepare it, and how that affects your innate biochemistry. Medicine and the culinary arts are now walking hand-in-hand, forging perhaps the most dynamic and revelatory food conversation and health opportunity in history.

Excerpted from The Genomic Kitchen: Your Guide To Understanding And Using The Food-Gene Connection For A Lifetime Of Health with permission from the author and publisher.

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