Eating for Healthy Genes
by Amanda Box, N.D.
Eating right isn’t just about being able to fit into your skinny jeans. What you eat has an effect on a different kind of jeans; the kind of genes you were born with.
These genes make you the unique person you are, from the color of your hair to whether you can curl your tongue or not. When your mother and father’s DNA combined, it formed an exclusive genetic blueprint. This inherited design created a unique you.
In many aspects of who you are, you have every right to shout out, “Take it or leave it! I was born this way!” Embrace your uniqueness because it is what makes you truly beautiful.
However, when it comes to your health, just because you were born with “bad” genes, doesn’t mean you have to “wear” them. Your parents’ and grandparents’ health issues don’t have to determine your fate. You may have been born with a predisposition to a disease, but science has revealed you are not enslaved to what you inherited.
You have a choice not just to make the best of what you were born with, but to alter your body’s genetic design. What you choose to put in your body can change the genetic blueprint passed down to you, as it pertains to health and disease.
Scientists studying the effects of nutrition on our genome have branded this field nutriepigenetics. This study of nutrition’s role on gene expression has proven that we have some control over our genes.
Certain foods and nutrients can turn bad genes off and good genes on, or vice versa. Our genes are not fixed. A gene might express itself depending on factors like diet, stress and exercise.
This is an exciting discovery because many of us live in fear of the impending diseases that took our family members. What is fascinating is that when you better your genetic blueprint, the new and improved version is passed down to your future children. You have the power, in many ways, to break the disease curses that have passed down through your family for generations. You have the power to create healthy and strong genetic lines for your future children and grandchildren!
Macronutrients and Gene Expression
Knowing what to eat and what not to eat is a powerful tool in controlling your gene expression. Activating bad genes boils down to making poor decisions.
Though everyone is different and unique, there are certain foods and lifestyle choices that can have a negative effect on gene expression. Our macronutrient ratios negatively or positively impact our genes the most. These are the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fats we eat on a daily basis that vitally alter our health.
A high carbohydrate diet benefits no one, regardless of their genotype (complete heritable genetic identity). A diet high in carbohydrates is attributed to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and much more.
A recent study in Norway monitored a group of 32 obese men and women. The group was divided and given a powdered diet formulated with calories to maintain their body weight. However, each group was given a different macronutrient ratio. Specifically, the amount of carbohydrates and protein varied. The first group’s powder was formulated according to USDA recommendations:
- 65% carbohydrates
- 15% Protein
- 20% fat
The second group’s formula included:
- 33% carbohydrates
- 33% protein
- 34% fat
Both groups took turns on each diet. Their blood work and genetic expressions were observed and noted. The studies found, that no matter what a person’s unique genetic makeup was, a high carbohydrate diet exacerbates disease.
Professor Johansen, who spearheaded the study stated, “Genes that are involved in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and some forms of cancer respond to diet, and are up-regulated, or activated, by a carbohydrate-rich diet.” (1)
This study is a huge step towards our understanding of diet and gene expression. We live in a society overloaded with carbohydrates and, consequently, saturated with disease, as well.
If you have been consuming a high carbohydrate diet, it is never too late to change! According to the findings in this study, it only took around 6 days to change the gene expression of the participants! This means if you lower your carbohydrate intake, you can begin to reap the benefits within a week!
Protein doesn’t seem to have the same detrimental effects on gene expression as do carbohydrates and fats.
Most people don’t eat excess protein, but rather excess fats and carbohydrates. However, it is important to note that more is not better when it comes to protein consumption. A diet balanced in the macronutrients carbohydrates, protein, and fat is best.
Our bodies are constructed of protein. Our organs, muscles, skin, hair, glands, and bodily fluids all contain protein. Our cells need protein to survive and to make repairs in the body. It is also important to consume adequate levels of protein to maintain healthy levels of essential amino acids. Amino acids from protein are crucial on a genetic level in the body. We need amino acids for coping DNA, RNA, and for gene expression.
Proteins are the building block of life. However, consuming too much protein can create an acidic environment in the body that triggers harmful gene expression leading to disease. Remember, balance is key when it comes to macronutrient consumption, even with the amazing benefits of protein.
Fat consumption can be a little tricky because not all fat is created equal. Although some forms of fat can cause disease, other fats actually prevent them!
Vegetable oils can actually induce health problems. But because they are unsaturated, many believe they are healthy. The most popular vegetable oils (soy, corn, canola) are genetically modified. When you introduce GMO foods into your body, you run the risk of modifying your own genes.
GMO foods are created by the splicing, dicing, and transferring of genes from one organism to another. Although GMO foods have their own built-in pesticides and resistance to herbicides, these modifications come at a price, not improvement.
Genetically modified foods convert bacteria in the gut turning our digestive system into a pesticide-producing factory!
Frying with these oils only makes things worse. They create oxygen radicals that negatively impact our genetic expression. Furthermore, these oils produce carcinogens that are linked to cancer and heart disease.
Although canola, soy, and corn oil should be avoided, there are a few healthy unsaturated oils to include. These oils, as with any type of fat should be consumed in moderation and always avoid using them over high heat.
- Olive Oil
Saturated fats are often painted as the bad guy, especially for heart disease. However, coconut oil can be safely incorporated into your diet without causing negative gene expression. Coconut oil contains compounds that improve health by encouraging weight loss and fighting viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
Healthy Foods for Your Genome
Good nutrition is key to reprogramming our genes from a state of disease to a state of health and wellness. However, following the USDA’s Food Pyramid is not going to lead you to wellness. The food pyramid pushes grains and isn’t truly balanced. Instead your diet should be:
- Low to moderate in carbohydrates
- Low to no sugar
- Moderate to high in protein
- Moderate in healthy fats like coconut oil and omega-3
- High in colorful vegetable and fruits
I’ve included Barton Publishing’s Healthy Food Plate for a good visual reference.
The foods that seem to have the greatest positive effects on gene expression contain substances called polyphenols. Polyphenols are a compound found in antioxidants that fight inflammation and protect our cells from free radical damage. Protecting cells protects our genes, making these compounds extremely beneficial. They can also lower blood pressure and increase insulin sensitivity preventing heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Many fruits and vegetables contain polyphenols. Some of the highest levels are found in:
- Green Tea
- Red Wine and Grapes
- Dark Chocolate (at least 60% cacao)
Replacing a large part of grain-based carbohydrates with vegetables is a fantastic way to enhance your polyphenol and nutrient content. Skip the bread and add another vegetable to your plate instead. Eating to maximize your good genes doesn’t have to be boring or without flavor. It won’t take long before you begin to crave these healthy foods that boost your health and wellness.
I’m a huge fan of ethnic food, whether it is Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean; you name it. I love the vast array of spices and flavors. Something I feel we lack in the West are dishes that are flavorful, but also are packed full of healthy vegetables. In America, vegetables are often kept separate, as a side dish. However, in other countries they are incorporated into the main dishes adding both flavor and color.
One of my favorite dishes to prepare for my family is a Korean Dish called Bibimbap. You can pick your vegetables making this a great “clean out the fridge” dish. Using quinoa instead of rice bumps up the protein content making it even healthier. This beautiful dish comes packed full of nutrition, polyphenols, healthy fats, and protein.
Korean Quinoa Bibimbap
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- ½ red cabbage, finely sliced
- ½ lb ground beef, sliced beef, or chicken browned
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp cumin
- 2 tsp Bragg’s Liquid aminos or tamari sauce
- A handful of raw organic spinach
- 1 ½ cooked quinoa
- 1 carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
- 1 zucchini, cut into thin matchsticks
- 2 eggs
- Cilantro, lime, and chili sauce to garnish (optional)
- Heat coconut oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
- Add onion and cook for 5 minutes until softened.
- Add garlic and cabbage. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add beef or chicken. Cook and break up ingredients with a wooden spoon until browned.
- Add spices and Bragg’s Aminos or tamari. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add baby spinach stirring until wilted. Remove from heat.
- Divide quinoa between 2 serving bowls. Add meat and vegetable matchsticks.
- Cook eggs to your liking and top each bowl with an egg.
- Top with cilantro, lime, and chili sauce. (2)
Even though sugar is truly bad for your genes, it doesn’t mean that those of you with a sweet tooth need to be deprived! Luckily, there are healthy alternatives to sugar that taste delicious and give you the ability to still have dessert!
Since dark chocolate in high in polyphenols, this dessert is not only delicious, but good for you! The surprising part of this recipe is the avocado, which makes the mousse not only creamy, but packed with healthy fats. This recipe is a snap to make. It is also raw, vegan, sugar-free and gluten-free!!
Avocado Chocolate Mousse
- 4 ripe avocados
- 2 tsp liquid stevia
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- Fresh fruit and nuts for garnish
- In the bowl of a blender or food processor, blend avocado until smooth.
- Add all other ingredients, blending until mixture is uniform.
- Chill for about 2 hours in the fridge or half an hour in the freezer.
- Garnish with fresh fruit or chopped nuts.
It is NEVER too late to incorporate healthy food choices into your life. As I stated earlier, studies have shown it only takes 6 days for your genes to change expression.
For those of you headed down a path of disease and destruction, this is incredible news! You can begin creating a life of health and wellness today! Don’t drag around the ball and chain of your family’s diseases any longer! You have the power to cut that chain and run towards a long future of health and wellness.
If you liked this article, then you’ll love these:
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Amanda Box is a Traditional Naturopath and a graduate of Clayton College of Natural Health. She’s been in the health and wellness industry for over 12 years and currently practices naturopathic consulting in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Her passion is helping others achieve wellness of the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. If you don’t have a good local naturopathic practitioner to turn to for your personal needs, Amanda does phone consultations! She can help you with weight loss, detox/cleansing, acute and chronic illnesses, skin and body care, grocery shopping, pantry overhauls, and more! Visit her blog “My Life in a Healthnut Shell” at http://amandabox.blogspot.
com/ for contact info.
(2) Adapted from www.iquitsugar.com