Medically Approved

Can your DNA help decide your diet?

healthy diet

Optum Perks Author

By Optum Perks Author

Life seems to be getting more automated on a lot of levels, yet eating and exercising still maintains their roots in very fundamental behavior. But what if advancements in healthcare technology made it possible to perform a simple test and tell you exactly what you should eat and how you should exercise in order to achieve optimal health and fitness?

This idea might have sounded crazy a decade ago, but earlier this year companies were given the go-ahead after passing regulatory standards to sell their DNA testing kits that assess our bodies and create plans for us based on our genetic makeup. How do they work, and do they actually work? It seems the reviews are mixed.

The Concept Behind The Test

There are a handful of companies on the market promoting do-it-yourself testing kits that, once sent in and analyzed by their lab, will give you a better idea about how to tackle diet and exercise. While none of the brands make any specific guarantees, many of them market the idea of pinpointing specific exercises for your genetic makeup and say they can even point to lifestyle patterns that better fit with your DNA.

On the surface, the tests seem simple. For relatively reasonable prices, consumers can order any one of a handful of products to be delivered right to their door. These companies use saliva to determine DNA makeup, so after literally spitting in a tube, it gets shipped back and tested.

The idea is that by looking at various chromosomes and gene sequences, scientists can determine how specific foods will impact your overall health. Often times the results can be quite specific, indicating a sensitivity to lactose or wheat, or can point to other potential health concerns like having an increased risk of heart disease or diabetes.

Is This A Quick Fix?

In short, no, as many independent trials have shown that individuals who utilize DNA testing to get a better idea of their diet and exercise needs rarely do much to initiate major lifestyle changes despite what their results dictate. While some brands take their testing to extremely specific levels, stating that they can tell if you’re a night owl as an example, many are skeptical that these tests are fully accurate.

While it’s true that studies have found variations in specific genes that would point toward particular sleep patterns, it’s hard to make a blanket statement that these tests can help you make changes toward a healthier lifestyle. So if spitting into a vial isn’t the solution to cracking the health code, what is?

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Diet And Exercise 101

Unfortunately, many Americans fall short when it comes to consuming a healthy diet and staying active enough to fend off major health conditions. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services indicates that over 80% of adults do meet the recommended amount of exercise to maintain their health, and only six states in the entire nation require that children participate in physical activity during their entire school career.

What’s more concerning is that fat and sodium intake levels are skyrocketing, and the number of fast-food restaurants has doubled since 1970. All of this information points to a pattern of complacency when it comes to one’s health, and the introduction of testing that’s advertised as giving us all of the answers might be even more harmful.

Instead, simple adjustments to our lifestyle and diet can go a long way toward maintaining our health. The American Heart Association explains their health recommendations in very straightforward ways, like using up as many calories as you take in and listing out various food groups and how they work together toward a balanced diet.

Exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous or time-consuming, as it’s recommended to participate in 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Incorporating strength training can also help to keep our bodies strong and balanced too. Those who want to lose weight might find they need more than this amount of weekly exercise, but it’s important to remember that every person’s requirements are different.

At the end of the day, taking a DNA test to find out more about your body might be a fun experiment just for the sake of learning, but diet and exercise guidelines that have been around for a long time just might be a better way to unlock the real elements of keeping your body healthy.