Make your nutrition personal

As we learn more about the individual variations in the human body, the possibility of a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and health is rapidly losing credibility. Your age, your genetic makeup, your gut microbiome, your level of physical activity and stress – all these personal factors affect your health – as does what you eat. And every person is different.

The University of Minnesota recently released a study demonstrating that similar foods have different effects on the gut health of different people. Where beans were shown to increase bacteria in one person, for example, they failed to do so in another. This means that cut-and-dry dietary recommendations that were once considered universal have become unstable – how best to look after your health, in other words, is becoming an increasingly personalised science.

You’re unique – and so is everybody else

“People are so diverse that an individualised approach to nutrition really is the optimal way to deal with health,” says Amanda Weber, a registered dietician based in Cape Town. For instance, she says that we should be wary of blanket recommendations regarding salt and wine intake.

“While one person’s blood pressure won’t be raised by increasing the salt they eat, someone else’s blood pressure will,” she advises. “And drinking a glass of red wine, often touted as beneficial for heart health, can be seriously detrimental for people with a certain genetic variant.”

These individual responses are also borne out in your tolerance to medication, the way your body absorbs vitamins and how your metabolism functions.

A shift in diet mentality

What all of this means is that diets aren’t universally applicable and we would all do well to consider what works for us personally, rather than following the habits of our friends or well-publicised trends. This means listening to your gut – quite literally – when a certain type of food doesn’t make you feel well,and replacing it with something that does.

Of course, there are still some foods that we should all avoid. There isn’t a diet on the planet that recommends increasing your consumption of sugary and processed foods,and eliminating these foods entirely will almost certainly improve your overall health. By the same token, fibre-filled, plant-based foods that are nutrient-rich and unprocessed are generally an excellent choice, but even these have varying effects.

“Only by consulting a dietician can you ensure that your specific nutritional needs are being adequately met,” says Amanda. This is an excellent course of action if you’re not sure where to begin, or if you haven’t quite learnt to listen to your body’s signals yet. But if you already have a firm sense of what works for you and what doesn’t, keep following these impulses. Your body knows what it needs.

Sources:

Cell Host and Microbe: https://www.cell.com/cell-host-microbe/fulltext/S1931-3128(19)30250-1

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