By Robert Dunn, Dietetic Intern
Is the secret to a perfect diet hidden in your own body?
Personalized nutrition is a modern approach to nutrition that aims to prescribe specific diets based on biomarkers. Biomarkers are substances that provide information on a person’s condition, and can be used to measure disease risk. By assessing their impact on nutrition, medical professionals may be able to precisely determine the best diet for improving a person’s health.
The role of personalized nutrition is evolving quickly. Many researchers are optimistic that it may provide a breakthrough in the treatment of certain diseases. One of the diseases being closely studied is diabetes, a condition that affects over 29 million people in the United States. Additionally, over 80 million people are estimated to have prediabetes, putting them at risk for developing diabetes later in life. Diet and lifestyle have always been important for diabetes management, and personalized nutrition may soon play a key role in this process.
Researchers in Denmark recently published a study on personalized nutrition in diabetes treatment. Their goal was to determine the most effective weight loss diet for people that were diabetic, pre-diabetic, or neither (healthy group). To do so, they divided patients from prior weight loss studies into those groups based on two biomarkers: fasting insulin and fasting blood glucose. Once the patients were assigned groups, the researchers could then compare weight loss data to determine if any diet had a particularly strong effect on any specific group.
After comparing the data, several trends became clear. Patients in the diabetic group lost more weight on a low-carbohydrate diet that was high in plant-based fats like olive oil. Meanwhile, the healthy group was more successful with a low fat, high-carbohydrate diet. Finally, pre-diabetic patients who followed a diet high in fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) lost more weight than those who followed a control diet. Based on these results, the researchers concluded that biomarkers like fasting blood sugar could be helpful in planning diet interventions for patients with either diabetes or pre-diabetes.
The results of this study seem promising, and may offer insight into weight loss strategies for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes. However, personalized nutrition is an emerging area of research and it is important we don’t make conclusions based on limited evidence. The study’s authors stated that next steps include “research to explore additional biomarkers…which may help to more effectively customize the right diet for specific individuals.”
In the meantime, people with diabetes and pre-diabetes should be encouraged to optimize their nutrition and physical activity. Nutrition counseling with qualified professionals has been shown to improve the health of people with these conditions. Anyone interested nutrition for diabetes management should consider meeting with a Registered Dietitian (RD). Registered Dietitians are nutrition experts who help people of all backgrounds use diet to meet their medical needs.
To schedule an appointment with an RD from Massachusetts General Hospital, contact the Department of Nutrition and Food Services by calling 617-726-2779.