High potassium foods make up the foods eaten by the healthiest groups of people in the world, and are the healthiest foods for most Americans. Much of how they help hypertension and osteoporosis is known. But these foods have beneficial effects beyond the effects of potassium, and what aspects of the high potassium foods produce these effects are not well understood. By looking at how our genes are affected by the foods we eat, we may be better able to understand which foods will provide the best health for each individual.

Since each of us has a different genetic makeup, we have differences in how food affects us. Some of us will have no bad effects from eating foods that would be unhealthy for most of us. Others will do poorly even on the healthiest diet.

Most of us would benefit from eating the same types of foods as eaten by the healthiest populations. But there are individuals who may not benefit from these foods, and would do better on a different set of foods. They would benefit from knowing what foods would help them or hurt them uniquely as individuals. A prediabetic may be able to alter his diet to put off the development of diabetes. Someone with a predisposition to cholesterol plaques may be able to avoid the plaques. That is the goal of nutrigenomics – to help an individual choose the healthiest food for that individual.

Nutrigenomics is the study of the interaction of nutrition and our genes. There is a growing interest in the field since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003 and almost all the human genes were mapped. This has allowed scientists to develop new tests and ways of looking at genes and combinations of genes. These new methods are producing a lot of information about the relationship between genes and nutrients.

A Gene's Effect On LDL

Two areas that seem most susceptible to being influenced by diet are cardiovascular disease and cancer. Some of the most studied genes in cardiovascular disease are those involved in fat metabolism. The APOE gene is one of those genes and has been highly studied for its affects on the level of LDL cholesterol.

This gene is an example of the potential of nutrigenomics. One large study (1) of over 86,000 individuals with the intermediate gene variations showed that certain variations of the gene are associated with increased susceptibility to heart disease. However, the people with this variation varied from little effect to a high effect.

This is not unusual when studying genes. One gene variant can manifest itself in a variety of ways. It can be associated with no problems all the way to severe health effects, depending on other genes present and other nongenetic factors (diet, exercise, smoking, age, gender, education, etc). Nutrigenomic studies can clarify the role of diet in such large studies.

Not Ready For Prime Time

Until dietary and other factors are determined, there is little reason to know if you have this gene variation since you may be one of those with little adverse effect or may be one with a large effect. As further studies are done a coherent pattern of genes and external factors will eventually emerge so you can know the effect it will have on your health. By using the bioinformatics tools the impact of multiple gene variants will be able to be integrated into a dietary strategy for each individual. But without knowing how these other factors interact it would be premature to find out if you have this particular variation.

Future Of Nutrigenomics

However, some day you will be able to get your genetic profile that can tell you if you specifically as an individual will have a beneficial effect from a glass of wine a day or not. Your profile will tell you whether you will get an advantage from eating more vegetables, or fruit or nuts, whether you are at great risk from eating hamburgers or whether you can eat all the saturated fat you want with little or no effect. But that day is not here yet.

So today we have to rely on the epidemiologic studies that are being done on populations and try to integrate those into the experimental studies. Gradually the studies on the genetics of nutrition will find their place. Until then the best strategy is to eat high potassium foods, based on plants mostly, avoiding saturated fat, and getting other essential fats – the same diet eaten by the healthiest populations in the world.

For tables of macronutrient and potassium values for various foods look under List of Posts for the food group you are interested in.
1. Bennet AM, Di Angelantonio E, Ye Z, Wensley F, Dahlin A, Ahlbom A, Keavney B, Collins R, Wiman B, de Faire U, Danesh J. Association of apolipoprotein E genotypes with lipid levels and coronary risk. JAMA 2007;298:1300–1311. [PubMed: 17878422]

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