High potassium foods make up the foods eaten by the healthiest groups of people in the world. And they are the healthiest foods for most Americans. Much of how these foods help hypertension and osteoporosis is known. But these foods have beneficial effects beyond the effects of potassium. However, researchers do not well understand what aspects of the high potassium foods produce these effects. 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.

Genetics Makes Some Difference

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.

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apoE3 (Apolipoprotein e3)

However, 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. They would do better on a different set of foods. These people would benefit from knowing what foods would help them or hurt them uniquely as individuals. With genetic information, a prediabetic can alter his diet to put off the development of diabetes. Or someone with a predisposition to cholesterol plaques can possibly 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 completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. This project mapped almost all the human genes. This allowed scientists to develop new tests, and new 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 dietary influence 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. Researches have highly studied this gene for its effects 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 an association of certain variations of the gene with increased susceptibility to heart disease. However, the people with this variation varied from only a little effect to a large 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 non-genetic 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 researchers determine the dietary and other factors involved, you will have little reason to know if you have this genetic variation. After all, you may be one of those with little adverse effect, or you may be one with a large effect. As investigators perform further studies, the studies will reveal a coherent pattern of genes and external factors. At that point you will know the effect a particular genetic variation will have on your health.

By using bioinformatics tools, the impact of multiple gene variant combinations combine into a dietary strategy for each individual. But without knowing how these other factors interact with each variant, it is premature to find out if you have this particular ApoE variation.

Future Of Nutrigenomics

However, some day you will be able to get your genetic profile. The profile then will 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. And it will tell 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 epidemiological 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 sodium and potassium values for various foods click the tab labelled “Links to Food Potassium Tables” at the top of the page. Then click on a link to a table of 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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