Last fall on our FoodCrush podcast, co-host Matt Mueller and I interviewed Sherry Zhang, the founder and CEO of GenoPalate, an innovative company which uses the power of genetic analysis to assist consumers in identifying the foods that are most beneficial to their body and health.
The conversation was fascinating, and it made me genuinely curious about what I’d find if I submitted my DNA for analysis. Would it give me information that could help me prevent disease later in life? Could it help me lose a few pounds? Would it support or debunk my personal philosophies about diet and nutrition?
Admittedly, as a food writer, it also struck a bit of (potentially irrational) terror into my soul. I love food. And I love almost every type of food. What if I found out there were foods I needed to eliminate? Or that my ideal diet shouldn’t include cheese? Wine? Oysters? Or worse?
The fear factor was real. I didn’t make a move for almost two months. After all, there are some situations where ignorance might really be bliss.
But, as my brain cogitated, I kept coming back to the nagging question: Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out what my body really wants? Yes, yes it would.
In the end, curiosity won. I ordered a GenoPalate kit; and then I held my breath.
First off, submitting my DNA was easy. I’ve never had my DNA tested by Ancestry.com or any of the other DNA testing sites. So, first I ordered a testing kit.
When it arrived in the mail, I read the directions carefully before taking the swab from the kit and rubbing it against the inside of my cheek as indicated. I then wiggled it up and down in the tube of solution they provided before placing it in the accompanying envelope and mailing it to the lab.
In the weeks that followed, I checked my email more diligently than usual. I had a dream that I found out I was gluten-intolerant (I woke up horrified). I speculated about my results with my husband. I paid an undue amount of attention to my body’s reaction to certain foods. And I continued to hold my proverbial breath.
A few weeks passed and (finally) the email arrived with a link to my DNA report. I opened it with both excitement and trepidation.
On the nuts and bolts side, the online report was colorful and easy to read. It was available as a PDF file, so I also had the option to print it out if I chose. It offers a "crash course" in genetics, breaking down basic information about DNA and genes into easy-to-understand text and graphics.
It explained how nutritional science informed my report and why certain recommendations were made. It also provided an easy-to-read list of recommended consumption guidelines for a variety of nutrients and list of over 85 recommended foods to integrate into my diet (plus more in-depth explanations for each recommended item).
Meanwhile, the app version of the report provides succinct ways to reference your data on a daily basis (while shopping or if you want to look something up quickly).
For instance, based on my report, it appears I should be indulging regularly in foods like artichokes, turnip greens and blackberries. My protein intake should regularly include options like lean ground beef and trout.
Meanwhile, foods like passion fruit, escarole, red bell peppers, winter squash, chia seeds, almonds, ricotta cheese, brie, black beans, nutritional yeast, bagels, barley, whole grain pasta, tempeh, chicken wings, eel and perch appeared as part of a much longer list of DNA-friendly foods.
I eat widely and appreciate almost all foods, so my response to that was: Bring it on!
High carbs, less fat
Of course, not every part of the report made me as gleeful as the notion that I should consume a wide range of interesting fruits, vegetables and proteins. In fact, I was somewhat surprised by some of my findings.
For instance, while I’d like to think I’m immune to the lure of fad diets, over the past few years I’ve found myself succumbing to the messaging surrounding the low-carb, high protein trend. I’ve not really eliminated any foods as a result. But I’ve definitely cut back on my intake of items like bread and pasta.
Turns out, I really didn’t need to. My DNA really likes carbs.
You might be surprised to find that your DNA is likely to follow suit. Genopalate research shows that 45% of people’s genes favor a high carbohydrate diet, 47% require moderate intake and only 8% benefit from a low-carb lifestyle.
My report indicates that I should be eating a diet that’s high in carbs, moderately high in protein and moderately low in fat. And while my sugar intake should be kept to a minimum, the benefit my body gleans from a high-fiber diet is greater than 82 percent of the general populace.
Digging deeper still, my results indicate that I should probably go easy on both sodium and saturated fats, but I could benefit from increasing my consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids from nuts, seeds, meats, fats and oils.
Considering I’m well aware that fat equals flavor … and I’d prefer to avoid all the textural additives in processed low-fat dairy products, I’m going to have to mull this information over for a while. Fortunately, I already balance my consumption of higher fat meats (like the burgers I eat on the Burger Trail and the fish frys I consume for my Thank Cod It’s Fryday reviews) with a fair number of meatless meals at home. But I’ve always been a proponent of full fat (in lesser quantity) over low fat as a general rule.
Vitamins & validation
I’ve delved into my results on multiple occasions over the past month or two, slowly digesting the components. Among the most interesting things I discovered was in the data about vitamins and minerals.
Overall, it appears that my body doesn’t need an unusual amount of most items, but it apparently could benefit from a higher intake of folate, zinc and vitamins D and E. In the case of vitamin E, the report shows that I possess a genetic variant that is linked to lower vitamin E blood levels than average, recommending that I consider increasing my intake (but warning against consuming too much).
Interestingly, over the past year or so, I’ve gotten recommendations from two different medical professionals who suggested I consider supplementation with both zinc and vitamin D to alleviate issues with my skin and mood. Apparently I also have a genetic variant that’s linked to lower fasting glucose levels when consuming a higher zinc intake. That’s information I can use.
It’s also good to know that I’m highly unlikely to be lactose-intolerant. Apparently I’m the lucky recipient of a gene mutation (evident in only 8 percent of the population) that allows my body to produce lactase, an enzyme which breaks down lactose.
Like 84 percent of the population, I also don't possess the genotype variant that is linked to a higher chance of gluten sensitivity. Both of these results are consistent with my experience; I've not knowingly had reactions to either dairy or gluten; but, it’s nice to have validation on that front. And I take a great deal of joy from the knowledge that I can continue to eat things like cheese, bread and pasta!
On the less fun side, it appears that my body is slow to metabolize both caffeine and alcohol. My report offers interesting facts about both, including the fact that I’m among only 7 percent of the population which shares the genotype that is linked to slow alcohol metabolism. Neither of these insights was a huge surprise (my body responds to too much of either alcohol or caffeine with a headache). But it offered a keen reminder that I should probably pay a bit more attention to my consumption of both.
Included with my results, I’m also currently receiving 11 weeks of "Activate" emails which offer tips, insights and challenges to make the best use of my DNA information. And, while most focus on common sense nutrition, I’ve picked up on some creative tips for integrating (particularly less common) recommended foods into my diet.
Overall, I’m not a maker of resolutions. But I’m a big believer in taking time out on a periodic basis to evaluate my life and habits and creating goals that challenge my personal status quo and push me to work smarter, live more healthfully and work to increase my day to day happiness.
My experience with GenoPalate is right in line with that thinking. While it hasn’t given me all the answers in terms of improving my diet and lifestyle, it’s satisfied some of my long term curiosities about which foods and nutrients my body benefits from the most, and which others are likely a waste of my time. It has validated some of my suspicions, and prompted me to look more deeply at my approach to food overall. In short, it’s given me quite a bit of food for thought. In fact, my response to the test results were enough to convince my husband to invest in a test for himself.
You can learn more about GenoPalate, what’s included on your personalized DNA report and costs for testing at genopalate.com.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.