As a Dietitian, my role is not simply to provide nutritional therapy and dietary education to my patients, but to provide personalised nutrition solutions for their health, body shape and performance goals.
Over the years I’ve been practicing nutrition, patients not only come in all shapes, sizes and with varying degrees of ill health but always with very different needs in terms of their nutrition requirements.
In fact, one of my fondest memories was treating two twin siblings with type II diabetes who were trying to shift a few extra pounds to prevent their condition getting worse. Before they came to see me, both had been given the standard diabetes control dietary advice from their doctor and followed it to the letter.
It was easy, so they thought - they lived together! They would eat the same food, and could encourage each other with their exercise, they even had the same job at the local supermarket. Yet, one lost weight pretty quickly and improved their blood glucose control, the other gained weight and was not in good place at all, in fact her medication had to go up.
Needless to say, they were completely shocked. How could they not both lose weight? They followed the exact same plan, what could have gone wrong?
This is a classic example of individual needs at work. Nutrition and food science, is not, as some would expect an ‘exact’ science. The UK national dietary guidance is designed to meet the needs of everyone but it is based upon average food intakes from national census data and a mixture of scientific studies. Of course, it may work for some, but given that we still have an obesity epidemic, but not the many.
We now know that at a basic level your individual genetic make-up determines how we individually react to and metabolically process some foods and nutrients. This is why some people fare well on one diet but not another and there cannot be one diet for everyone.
Take caffeine for example, due to just a small change in a gene that codes for an enzyme in the liver that breaks down caffeine; this determines whether you process caffeine poorly and get the ‘jitters’ after a single cup of coffee or you can drink an espresso before bed and be out like a light.
However, you are not a slave to your genes. After many years of research we are at an exciting stage where we are starting to understand how the environment we are raised in, the stressors we encounter, the foods we eat and the supplements and medications we take day to day can all influence the ‘expression’ of certain genes; turning them on or off. This can have significant effects on all those reactions to foods and as a consequence, our health.
A good example this is if you consume a high amount of omega-3-fatty acids from oily fish and other foods or as a supplement these dietary fats directly influence the expression of key genes involved in inflammatory pathways, helping to protect against inflammatory-mediated diseases such as: cancer.
All this points to a personalised nutrition approach. You need is to understand your own unique needs for exercise and nutrition for long term results. That can be through personal monitoring, such as wearing a pedometer and following a fitness app to help you determine what nutrients and activity you need specifically for you and getting support from a nutrition professional.
So you’re wondering what happened to our twins? Well, they both needed a personalised plan and with a few tweaks, the first twin continued to keep their blood glucose under control and the other started to lose weight with a low carbohydrate approach.
So next time someone tells you the answer to eating well is to ‘just eat a ‘balanced diet’, just smile and tell them to read this article, perhaps they’ll start to get lasting results.