DNA diet: science or fad?

Posted Jan. 17, 2011, at 4:57 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 18, 2011, at 5:48 p.m.

Using DNA to decide what type of a diet you should follow — it sounds like something you would hear about on “CSI.” Low-carb, no-carb, counting points, counting calories — that is so old-school. The 21st century answer to all of your dieting woes may just be in your genes.

Not so fast.

How does the DNA diet work? The DNA diet is based on nutrigenomics — the study of foods and food consumption and how each interacts with specific genes to increase the risk of certain diseases. For as little as $100, you can take a test in the comfort of your home to get your DNA results. All you have to do is swab the in-side of your cheek and send the swab to a certified lab. In return, you will receive a personalized, easy-to-understand booklet with your results and a report recommending the “most effective diet and exercise plan for your unique genes.”

Genetically we have not changed in the past 200 years and the rate of obesity continues to rise year after year. This is directly attributable to our lifestyle, not to our genes. We are eating more and moving less. We continue to look for that magic bullet to lose weight, but there isn’t one. Counting calories, eating more healthful foods and moving more are the answers, and the cost is quite reasonable.

But if you think that the DNA diet may be for you, something that will motivate you and get you going on that weight loss plan, then give it a try. There are companies out there that will gladly take anywhere from $100 to $2,000 of your money to tell you the kind of diet you should be following to lose weight. However, I ha-ven’t noticed that they offer any money-back guarantees.

I know of one particular woman who participated in a DNA diet test. Her results indicated that she needed to exercise at an intense level due to having a low metabolism and that the calorie distribution of her diet should be 40 percent from carbohydrates, 25 percent from protein and 35 percent from fat. The meal plan she was given was a basic 1,200-calorie diet that contained more vegetables than she had been consuming before. This plan seems pretty standard to me.

One DNA diet that I am familiar with breaks diets down by either a carb reducer or a fat trimmer, with the follow examples given for breakfast. A carb reducer breakfast is 2 eggs, 1 slice of toast, 1 cup of yogurt, and 1½ tablespoons of nuts. A fat trimmer may have 1 egg, 2 slices of toast, 1 cup of yogurt and 1 tablespoon of nuts. I’m amazed that they can fine-tune an individual’s diet this much just by a mouth swab.

I’m not saying that there isn’t any promise in nutrigenomics. But I don’t think we are at a point yet where we can rely on a mouth swab test to tell us what to eat. As stated in a recent article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, “Expectations of nutrigenomics are extremely high, but progress is rather slow.”

I really am not convinced that using a DNA-based diet will lead to greater weight loss success.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian who lives in Athens, Maine. She writes a regular column on diet and nutrition and welcomes questions and comments from readers. E-mail her at Georgia-MaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com or post questions online at the Health tab of www.bangordailynews.com.

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