An experimental gene-based diet helped a group of slimming volunteers increase their weight loss by a third, research has shown.
Tailoring nutrition to individual genetic profiles could revolutionise dieting and improve people’s health, say the scientists who carried out the study.
Personalised diets were prepared for 87 obese individuals based on an analysis of 19 genes known to affect metabolism and taste.
The diets were tweaked to take account of individual genetic make-ups. For example, people whose profile showed a less efficient ability to process fats were given less fat, while the number of calories remained unchanged.
After two years the volunteers had lost 33% more weight than a matched group of 104 participants whose diets were not adjusted to suit their genes.
Lead researcher Dr Nicola Pirastu, from the University of Trieste in Italy, said: “Although there were no significant differences in age, sex and BMI (Body Mass Index) between the two groups at the beginning of the trial, we found that people in the group who had followed the gene-based diet lost 33% more weight than the controls over two years, and the percentage of lean body mass also increased more in this group.
“By uncovering the genetic bases of taste and food preferences, we will be able to increase not only the effectiveness of nutritional interventions, but also compliance with them.”
Another study conducted by Dr Pirastu involved an analysis of DNA samples from 4,000 European and Asian volunteers which uncovered 17 genes associated with liking certain foods.
The range of foods was wide, including bacon, coffee, chicory, dark chocolate, blue cheese, ice cream, liver, butter, orange juice, yoghurt, white wine and mushrooms.
Surprisingly, none of the genes played an active role in taste or smell perception.
“We found a strong correlation between the HLA-DOA gene and white wine liking, but we have no idea which of the characteristics of white wine this gene influences,” said Dr Pirastu, who presented his findings at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Genetics (ESHG) in Milan, Italy.
“Our studies will be important for understanding the interaction between the environment, lifestyles, and the genome in determining health outcomes.
“Although there has been a lot of work on food-related diseases such as obesity, this has rarely taken food preferences into account. This is a major limitation which our work attempts to remedy, and as yet we have only really scratched the surface of this issue.”
Other research from Dr Pirastu’s team identified a specific gene linked to people’s responses to salt.