Six weeks ago, I received a DNA kit in the mail. I swabbed my cheek, CSI style, placed it in a tube and mailed it to a lab in Germany. There, scientists analyzed my sample and sent back a 100-page health and fitness manual based on my genetic makeup. The service, which costs $449, is offered through Bespoke Diet and Fitness in Hamilton, Ont., the first Canadian branch of a U.K.-based company called DNAFit (tag line: your genes cannot change, but your lifestyle can). It trades in something called nutrigenomics, which sounds like it was invented by Scientologists, but actually emerged from a 2010 Stanford University study that tested participants’ DNA for three variations and tailored a diet for each: low carb, low fat and balanced. Those who followed diets designed for their DNA lost as much as two and a half times more weight than those sticking to random plans.
My report recommends a low-carb regimen—and by “low,” I mean six percent of my daily intake, which is one slice of whole wheat bread. This is because my DNA type metabolizes carbs at the pace of a pre-climate-change glacier, and I’m prone to blood sugar fluctuations (I know this from the sugar coma I experience every time a box of artisanal doughnuts arrives at the office). The report also tells me to limit salt, caffeine and alcohol because, unlike carbs, I burn those quickly, which is bad.
A surprisingly creative recipe booklet makes eating this way less daunting. My favourite is scrambled eggs on a whole wheat pita (my carbs for the day) with diced cucumber and tomato, mint and a dollop of Greek yogurt. If you have time to cook fresh proteins and veggies, and the willpower to resist every snack in the public domain, this is an excellent eating guide. If you are me, you will abandon it after six typical work days. The fitness plan is much easier to follow because it basically matches my existing routine: 42.9 percent power (weights) and 57.1 percent endurance (cardio). Most of the suggestions are so common sense, I have to wonder if they’d work for humans of any genetic makeup—and if they’re worth $449. So I call Timothy Caulfield, the author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?, who is currently researching DNA dieting. He also had his genes mapped for health recommendations and tells me the advice he got: eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise, don’t smoke, drink in moderation. “It’s all stuff we already know,” he says, “and the vast majority of Canadians don’t eat enough vegetables or exercise enough; we’re nowhere near the point where we need to worry about tailoring our diets to our DNA. We need to do the basic things first.” I’m with Caulfield. I need to resist those fancy doughnuts before I can even think about cutting carbs down to six percent.
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