Strong genes, once-in-a-lifetime testing, and fad-free foods – woo reviews DNA Dieting
Team woo visited a DNA Dietician: here we share just about everything we've learned
image PASIEKA/ Getty
words Rhys Thomas
All of our bodies are more or less made up of six things: oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, calcium, and phosphorus. The remaining 1% of us is basically sulphur, potassium, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. Yet, we are all individually, completely, unique. How?
DNA, and the genes within it, has a lot to do with this. Deoxyribonucleic Acid, to give it the full name, is a molecule inside our cells that contains the genetic information responsible for the function and development of our bodies. Everything from how we absorb nutrients to our eye colour, can be influenced by DNA.
So have you ever considered that, just as you and your best mate may have different hair colour and hip sizes, and favourite vape flavours, you might also respond completely differently when eating the same foods?
Dieticians have, and increasingly, dieticians are tapping into our individual DNA in order to provide us with a more specific sense of how our bodies work, on an individual level. The idea being that we can listen to our bodies more precisely, and have the knowledge of how to eat in ways that make us feel better.
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How do you find out your DNA Diet?
It involves a DNA test, of course. And it’ll take someone who knows what they’re doing. To get a DNA diet you need two things to be done. Firstly, someone has to select the genes that they think are important to target when looking into how our bodies react to foods. Secondly, those people also have to be able to analyse the results of the DNA test – and then provide dietary guidance. In the UK, there’s not many services offering this. DRMR, and specifically Rachel Clarkson, their ‘Nutrigenomic Dietician’, does.
What happens when you see a DNA Dietician?
Well at DRMR, you start with an initial consultation. This is for Rachel to get a general sense of your diet, knowledge levels around nutrition, intolerances, and crucially, what you’re hoping to achieve by following a DNA-based diet. In this session I mentioned that while I could do with losing a little bit of body fat, mainly I just wanted to feel healthier. Less tired, less full of aches and pains, and less inflamed. Any other benefits would be a bonus.
From there, we speak through lifestyle and diet. Rachel then gives general pointers that can help most people to tweak their diets in order to achieve the effects they’re desiring. In my case, I was recommended a Vitamin B-complex, creatine, and a protein to stir into my morning porridge. I’m also told to add more healthy fats into my diet (more peanut butter? Hello!) Then I’m instructed on how to take the DNA test, and told what exactly Rachel will be looking for with the results.
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The DNA test looks to see which variants of each gene we have. For example, there’s a gene for caffeine sensitivity, and another for caffeine tolerance. There’s a gene for people who can eat all the carbohydrates in the world and feel fine, and there’s another for people who bloat and feel ill when they eat carbs (me, I suspect, before the test). The DNA will be analysed to see which variants I have, and from there, a set of guidelines for how my body reacts to foods genetically is put into a PDF. From there, I can just eat based on what it says.
We can test for thousands of types of DNA, and the services around tend to market to us with numbers. Almost saying more numbers, better tests. It isn’t necessarily the case, according to Rachel. For instance, giving someone details on thousands of genes would take ages and be super difficult and restrictive for people to implement into their diets. But also, in the name of making sure the diet is as accessible but effective as possible, she selects the gene variations she feels are most important to listen to in order to have the results they’re looking for.
DNA Diet: what’s it really like?
You spit in a tube and then send the results to a lab in Canada (the packaging and pre-paid stamps are all there for you, it’s nice and easy). Then you wait a couple weeks for the results to come back. They come back, you have a consultation and are sent a PDF of everything you need to know.
My PDF is 28 pages long, and the contents page separates the genes tested into everything from nutrient metabolism, food intolerances, cardiometabolic health (which is mainly things to do with blood sugars, which fats we should eat, and caffeine sensitivities), weight management tools (which exercises work best for us, and how we break down body fat best), eating habits (it turns out I have a big appetite and a sweet tooth), and finally a look into how our body responds to physical activity.
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It turns out that some of my suspicions were correct. For instance, I do suit eating less carbohydrates than the average person, and I do have a big appetite. Other things I was less conscious of, but they made plenty of sense. For instance, my body is great when I feed it monounsaturated fats (like nut butters), I think I knew this because when I went through a phase of eating peanut butter and greek yoghurt as dessert every evening for a few months I seemed to somehow look leaner. Other things I simply had no idea about, like the fact that I don’t absorb vitamin A very well (I wear glasses, but still!)
From these findings Rachel will make a meal plan, or provide a list of foods to focus on including into your diet, if you want it less prescriptive, which I do. The list is comprehensive but also very varied. There aren’t many foods that I want that I should avoid (except for pasta).
At DRMR a visit to the DNA Dietician costs about £600, but unlike other things we might receive treatment for, it is a one-off test for the rest of our lives (DNA does change during our lifetimes, but more in efficiency than behaviour, so the diet can be followed for life). Also, the advice isn’t super-specific unless you want it to be. As someone who likes to play around with cooking and ingredients, this is very liberating.
If you’re someone who wants to know specifics, they can also accommodate. It’s highly personal so it’s (IMO) a great antidote to the trending diets and supplement regimes of the world. Because it’s made for you, you’re more likely to give it a real go.