Here is some new information for those struggling with their New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Not all of us metabolize the same foods in the same way. How we metabolize is unique for each of us and depends on different factors such as genetic makeup, gut bacteria, body type and chemical exposures. Further complicating the picture is the variability of response by the same individual, depending on stress and one’s environment at any given day or week.
Now we know that we are all different in what we can eat. I remember when I was in seventh grade and a good friend asked me to join her every day after school at the nearby Schrafft’s, the ladies genteel luncheon restaurant, for an ice cream sundae. Slender and yet to have need of a bra during our puberty years, she thought she could hurry such development along with some more poundage — her straightforward goal was to gain weight. The year was 1952 and if you can believe it females generally did not go into restaurants alone, although Schrafft’s was known to cater to women.
So being a good pal, I went with her each afternoon for a month, and we rapturously enjoyed hot fudge sundaes with vanilla ice cream in chilled metal cups. At the end, she got on the scale and to her disgust she had not gained an ounce. I, on the other hand, although having changed nothing else in my ordinary diet during that time, had gained five pounds, which I subsequently worked hard — alone — to take off. Moral of story: Different bodies digest differently.
Now if we were in the caveman days, as a physician once told me, I would have a better chance of survival in times of starvation rations because I can store reserves better than she. But to this day she is reed slender … and I am not.
How do bodies absorb and metabolize differently? If we could figure that out, people like us would be more successful following diets — a notoriously difficult thing to do. The same dietary advice does not work for everyone.
A recent study published in the prestigious journal, Cell, “found a startling variation in the glucose responses of 800 subjects fed the same foods,” according to an article in Science Times, a section of the Tuesday New York Times. “Some participants had sharp increases in blood sugar when they ate ice cream and chocolate, while others showed only a flat or moderate response.” They could have been talking about my junior high school friend and me.
“Each person’s capacity to extract energy [calories] from foods differs, it appears,” the article continued. The researchers went further with their study. Using today’s high tech tools, they combined glucose responses of each participant with identification of gut bacteria, medications, family histories and lifestyles, and devised a formula that correctly predicted blood sugar responses to foods not yet eaten in the study. Once they could do that, the scientists could then modify diets and boost good gut bacteria according to whatever the goal might be for better health; for example, how to lose weight and/or prevent diabetes. The study is titled, “We Just Do It with Food,” and is co-authored by Dr. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute in Israel.
The study is based mainly on genetic testing, according to The Times, but scientists have only begun to explore the links between DNA and good nutrition. The answers for each person are not simple because there are the many variables previously mentioned: those same genes, microbes, diet, environment and lifestyle on any given day. To date, 38 different genes have been linked to nutrient metabolism, and the technology in the form of sophisticated computers exists to analyze big data issues.
Meanwhile, until these studies produce customized diets for us, keep eating whole grains, lean meats, and lots of fruits and vegetables, especially the green leafy kind.
Interestingly when I was a kid, I remember people who were fat blaming their weight on their “genes.” Most of us didn’t even know what genes were, and all of us scoffed at that idea. Obesity was considered a failure of willpower then, pure and simple. Little did we know how right those people turned out to be.