By Lisa Drayer, CNN

(CNN) — Many of us have heard that we need to consume more fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grain.

Why would it be that National Institutes of Health spend $150 million in order to answer questions like “What and when do we consume?” and “How do we improve the effectiveness of food as a medicine?”

The answer could be precision nutrition, which seeks to study the health consequences of the interplay of genetics, microbiome (the bacteria that live in our digestive tract) as well as our diet, the amount of physical activity we do, as well as other behavioral and social traits.

This means that every person could have their own particular food needs.

What is the possibility? I questioned three experts in precision research in nutrition Researchers include Dr. Frank Hu, professor of epidemiology and nutrition, and the chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Martha Field and Angela Poole who are both assistant professors in the division of nutrition science at Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.


This is an edited transcript of our discussion.


CNN What does precision nutrition differ from the current nutritional advice?

Dr. Frank Hu: The idea of precision nutrition is having the appropriate food, in the right amount to the right person. Instead of providing general diet suggestions for everyone, this specific method is based on specific characteristics of each person, such as biochemistry, genetics, socio as well as environmental variables, and so on. This could lead to better results in health.


CNN What is the reason there no one-size-fits all rule of thumb in regards to the food we should be eating?

Hu The response of different people to the same food the same manner. For instance, when you apply the same diet for weight loss certain people may shed a significant amount of weight, while others may gain weight. A recent study published in JAMA has randomized around a hundred overweight people to a low-fat, low-carb diet. Within one year there was the same percentage of lost weight between both groups, however, there was a wide variation in the individuals of each group . Some shed 20lbs. Other people gained 10 pounds.

Martha Field: Every person has a unique response to food, and the “fine adjustment” to precision diet is the ability to understand the responses. This requires understanding the interplay between genetics, differences between individuals in metabolism and response to exercise.


CNN How can we make our meals based on exact nutritional principles?

HuThere can be a variety of diets that are customized for treatment of diseases, such as a gluten-free diet to aid in the treatment of celiac disease or a lactose-free dietary plan if you’re lactose-intolerant. If you suffer from a condition called PKU (phenylketonuria) (phenylketonuria), they should eat (a) Phenylalanine-free diet. This is a rare disorder, but is a great example of how genetics can affect the diets you can eat.

Angela Poole: If I had an ancestral background of diabetes, high cholesterol and colon cancers, I’d boost the amount of fiber I consume from my diet and eat a variety of different sources, such as various vegetables.

Feld: If you have high blood pressure, you need to be aware of your sodium intake. Any person with malabsorption issues may require greater levels of micronutrients like B vitamins and certain minerals.


CNN Research is which shows that different people process coffee in different ways. What are the implications of this?

Hu: Some people carry fast caffeine-metabolizing genes; others carry slow genes. If you have the fast (metabolizing) genotypes which are metabolizing, you’ll be able to consume a lot of coffee caffeinated because caffeine is rapidly broken down. If you’re an inefficient metabolizer you may feel jittery and might not be able to sleep if you consume caffeine in the late afternoon. If that’s the case you can sip decaf coffee and reap the advantages of coffee’s polyphenols which are linked to a lower risk of developing diabetes and heart disease but without the caffeine-related effects.


CNN: What an impact do our individual genes play in determining our risk of getting sick? Can our actions help to reduce the risk of getting sick?

HuOur wellbeing is affected by our genes and diets that constantly interact with each other due to the fact that certain factors in our diet could activate or turn off certain disease-related genes. Our research has shown that cutting down on sweet drinks can counteract the negative consequences of obesity genes. This is really great news. Our genes don’t determine our destiny.

Another field where precision nutrition can be applied is to determine the metabolites in urine or blood which are small molecules that are produced when food is broken down and consumed of food. For instance that having a higher amount of amino acids branched chain (BCAAs) is a strong indicator of one’s risk of developing cardiovascular and diabetes. The levels in the blood of BCAAs are influenced by the individual their diet, genes, and the microbiome of their gut. We found that eating a healthy (Mediterranean-style) diet can mitigate harmful effects of BCAAs on cardiovascular disease. Thus, measuring BCAAs in your blood could help you assess the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes and suggest dietary changes which can reduce the chances of developing chronic illnesses later on.

FieldThe impacts of the environment can occasionally be in the same scale as genetic influences on the risk of contracting a disease.


CNN: Our unique microbiomes could be able to determine what kind of food we should eat. What can you tell us about this research? What do you think of the microbiome test?

Poole The research has revealed that some individuals their blood sugar levels rise more when eating bananas than when they eat cookies. This is linked to the composition of their microbiome. Researchers have used microbiome information to create algorithms that determine an individual’s response to glucose and it’s an important step forward. However, that’s not a reason for me to gobble down cakes instead of bananas. Also, if the algorithm recommends eating white bread in lieu of whole wheat bread because of blood glucose levels and other factors, I would not take a bite of white bread every all the time.

Right now I’m not prepared to invest a lot of money in order to determine what’s happening to my gut microbiome … And how my microbiome can change with time.

Hu The tests for the microbiome not inexpensive, and they claim that they can assist in developing a customized menu plan to boost blood sugar levels as well as blood cholesterol … as of moment, the data aren’t conclusive.


CNN What will the nutrition advice change in 10 years’ time?

Poole It is my belief that you’ll be provided with a customized grocery list in an app — food items you’d like to purchase as well as foods you’d prefer to stay clear of, based on your blood sugar reactions to certain foods, your degree of physical activity, and other factors.

HuWe can expect to see more, better biomarkers as well as more affordable and precise microbiome and nutrigenomics tests and more advanced computer algorithms that can predict your reaction to food intake.

However, these tools cannot replace general nutritional principles like the need to limit sodium and added sugar , and eating more plant-based foods that are healthy. In a few years you might be able to receive a more helpful response from Alexa should you inquire what foods to eatas with other advice from Alexa it is best to take her advice with an eye on the ground.

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