Eat For Your Genes
The DNA RestartDecember 2016
By Jon Van Zile
In his new book, The DNA Restart, Sharon Moalem, MD, PhD, describes an idea that seems obvious, but helps explain why so many millions of people fail to lose weight, reduce markers of disease, and reverse aging. According to Dr. Moalem, most diets and healthy lifestyle plans fail to take into account that every human on earth is not only genetically individual, but that we descended from unique gene pools that adapted to specific and diverse environments. Dr. Moalem created the DNA Restart program so we can each easily identify our unique genetic heritage and create a diet and lifestyle plan that caters to it.
LE: In your book, you write about how our modern lifestyles ignore the hard-won lessons of our own DNA. What’s wrong with the way most people approach nutrition, dieting, and weight loss?
SM: Up until now, most people have essentially been eating blind, without any personalized genetic wisdom to guide us. Our modern lives are simply out of touch with our DNA. As a physician and scientist, I’ve spent the last 20 years researching the ways history, our genes, and the choices we make in our lifetimes intersect.
In researching for my book, I spent two years traveling the globe. The more I explored, the more I learned how ancient methods of food production and preparation, such as fire and fermentation, played a decisive hand in reshaping the genes our ancestors subsequently passed down to us.
Each one of our genetic ancestors faced the same challenge—survival. The results of each of these struggles are encoded in our genes today. A simple example is if you can enjoy dairy products as an adult, then it’s a sign that your ancestors kept animals in order to drink their milk and they gave you the genetics to do so as well. But as we’ve come to see with the explosion of the availability of dairy products worldwide and the dietary problems this has created, we didn’t all inherit the same genetic knowledge.
LE: Let’s talk specifics. Your DNA Restart program is built on five pillars. The first one of these involves “genetic self-tests” that help people figure out exactly what they should be eating. How does this work without expensive genome testing?
SM: As you may know, most people who lose weight by dieting don’t keep it off over the long term. As a physician, I have seen most diets fail because of two important flaws. The first is simply the mind-numbing, restrictive lack of a variety of food and meal choices. However, the second and most important is that, until now, there hasn’t been a single diet that is designed with every single person on this planet in mind. Each one of us is completely unique.
What this means is that very few people are actually eating intentionally and methodically for their own genes. But that’s about to change. My DNA Restart self-tests are designed to hit upon the highest-yielding, scientifically based results, and they can be done easily at home. Since genomic testing doesn’t always tell you what your individual genes are doing within your body, I’ve developed functional genetic tests that let you know how your genes are actually behaving in real time and what that means for you and your diet.
As an example, the first and most important of these genetic self-tests is an incredibly powerful tool that allows you to individualize your carbohydrate intake levels. It all begins with your saliva. Many people have an enzyme within their saliva called amylase, which has the ability to cut apart big and bulky starch molecules into simpler sugars. So some of us have supercharged saliva full of amylase as a result of inheriting multiple copies of the gene AMY1, while some people don’t have any at all. For those people with no AMY1 genes and therefore no amylase, breaking down carbohydrates is metabolically daunting and physiologically stressful.
And guess what? The amount of amylase in your saliva is not random. It’s actually highly dependent upon where your own unique genetic ancestors hail from. Simply put, if you come from ancestors who relied heavily on starches, such as farmers growing cereal grains, you’ll likely have been gifted with the genetics to make more amylase by inheriting multiple copies of the gene AMY1. If your recent genetic ancestors, on the other hand, were more into meat than potatoes, you might not have the genetic knowledge to make as much amylase. The more starch your ancestors ate in their daily diet over generations, the more amylase you are likely to have in your saliva. It’s as simple as that.
I believe that eating out of sync with our genes is the reason some people are more prone to developing obesity and insulin resistance than others, even when eating identical meals, in both portion-size and content, and research is beginning to back this up: people with the lowest amount of amylase are actually much more likely to be obese when eating a starch-heavy diet.
But here’s the good news...you can test for how much amylase you have in your saliva with a simple at-home test using only an unsalted saltine cracker (or a dime-sized piece of potato if you’re gluten free) and a timer. All you do is time how long it takes to detect a change in taste when you’re chewing either the saltine or the potato. The faster the taste changes, the more carbohydrates you can handle.
LE: You write in your book that the DNA Restart program has helped people shed years and look younger. How does it accomplish this?
SM: When it comes to genetic aging, the latest complex genetic research can be distilled succinctly: the better you take care of both your mitochondrial and genomic DNA, the longer you will live. Over time, we all inevitably accumulate various types of damage to our inherited genetic material. We used to think this was an unavoidable consequence of life, but thankfully, when it comes to genetics, things are not always as they initially appear. We now know that our genetic code is much more robust, resilient, and malleable than we could have ever imagined. We are now discovering that it’s even possible to reverse genetic aging.
To accomplish this, we have to do two things. The first is to prevent as much DNA-aging damage as possible, and the second is to powerfully activate your body’s own innate antiaging system.
LE: How can people do this?
SM: When it comes to genetic aging, the balance is between damage and repair. Promoting repair is just as important as preventing damage in the first place.
The first step is consistently adhering to the DNA Restart approved exercise program, which can help turn back your genetic clock and lower your risk of becoming susceptible to certain cancers. Next comes eating a diet high in phytonutrients, which I outline in prescriptive detail in my book. Particular fruits, vegetables, and spices all contain a rich and varied cornucopia of phytonutrients. When we eat or drink specific phytonutrients, we’re filling our bodies with their unique genetic and chemical wisdom.
Other important steps involve eating the right mix of fats, with an emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids, and consuming lots of high-quality extra virgin olive oil. We’ve only recently begun to understand that many of the benefits of extra virgin olive oil are actually happening on a genetic level. I also recommend eating four 1 ounce servings of nuts every week, along with DNA Restart approved legumes, which are a very unique and rich source of isoflavonoids and phytosterols.
Finally, it’s important that we pay attention to how our food is prepared. Deep-fat frying is absolutely forbidden on The DNA Restart, for a variety of reasons which I expand upon in the book. I also caution against using high-temperature cooking. When food is exposed to temperatures as high as 400˚F, it creates hundreds of new pro-inflammatory compounds which can cause DNA damage. Instead, I recommend stewing your proteins at lower temperatures whenever possible, which reduces the development of pro-inflammatory advanced glycation end-products, and always marinating proteins in red wine or lemon juice prior to cooking. Why marinating? Research has shown that marinating with wine prior to cooking can reduce certain types of heterocyclic amines by up to 88%. Lemon juice will also help, as making protein dishes more acidic has also been shown to reduce the amount of advanced glycation end-products.
LE: One of the really interesting parts of your program was the section on the “fifth” taste, or umami. Umami is the experience of when foods taste delicious or savory. You mention that umami is the “real linchpin” in the DNA Restart program and eating more will help get your diet sharply realigned with your genes. Why is umami so important?
SM: I call umami a “satiety bomb” for a good reason: it’s one of the most potent ways to guide us back to increased feelings of satiety. It uniquely does this by imparting flavors that linger long and strong in our mouths, way after we’re done eating. Natural umami signals our bodies through genetic means that the food we are consuming is abundantly nutritious and full of specific amino acids that are essential for a healthy life.
I believe that our genetic ability to taste umami, and the reason it triggers satiety, is that umami signals to our bodies that the food we are consuming contains important proteins that have been shattered into their basic amino acid building blocks. Umami is mainly triggered by the amino acids glutamate and to a lesser degree aspartate (as well as the 5-ribonucleic acids guanylate and inosinate). Glutamate and aspartate are naturally found in proteins and are released and trigger the taste of umami when the proteins that contain them have undergone some type of food preparation process.
Umami can be found in many foods, although many plants are not rich in umami (tomatoes are a giant exception). Umami-rich foods include mushrooms, miso and tamari, hard cheeses and fermented milk products like yogurt, anchovy paste and sardines, and many others. Overall, to get us to our ideal weight we need to be eating umami with each and every meal.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
Sharon Moalem, MD, PhD, is a New York Times bestselling author and has been awarded more than 25 patents in the fields of biotechnology and human health. He has founded three biotechnology companies and served as associate editor for the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. His scientific work led to the discovery of a novel class of antibiotic compounds directed against multiresistant or “super-bug” microorganisms such as MRSA. Dr. Moalem’s current research focus illuminates how historical nutritional and dietary choices impacted and shaped genetic differences across human populations. Dr. Moalem and his research have been featured on Good Morning America, Today, CNN, and in the New York Times, TIME Magazine and O: The Oprah Magazine.