Personalized nutrition – and the use of genetic markers – has gone mainstream. You’ve probably heard of genetic testing for the purpose of finding your ancestral ethnic and racial origins. But what initially started as a fun genealogical tool, has turned into big business, expanding into the scope of health risk factors. For example, 23andme now offers reports on ancestry, traits, wellness, carrier status, and genetic health risks. It’s quite a bundle of information.
Enter the world of personalized nutrition, or DNA diets. As people have become aware of food sensitivities and the failures of “one size fits all” diets, the demand for personalized nutrition plans through genetic markers is likely to take off. But for the non-athlete “regular person,” is it worth the cost?
I’ve spent a lifetime dealing with weight issues, and while I’ve made tremendous progress over the years – see my Healthy 7 approach – there’s still something missing. I’ve tweaked my diet and excluded whole categories of food, such as dairy, that don’t seem to work well with my body. And I’ve been tested for food allergies – no raw tomatoes for this gal! But what should I really be eating for my specific body? Is there an ideal percentage of fat/proteins/carbs that is optimal for me? That’s what I hoped to learn from the personalized nutrition plan.
Cost is a major prohibitor! And since this is an entirely new market there’s not a lot of competition. I went with Habit, a California-based company that started in early 2017. Habit promises “a personalized nutrition plan to match what you eat to your body’s unique make-up.” While Habit runs periodic specials, the regular cost at the time of this writing was $299 (plus $10 shipping). If you are a member of 23andme, there’s a discount price of $199. They were offering a special discount when I signed up – I paid $259 for my kit. Weeks later I saw the price was reduced to $209. Either way, it’s a big outlay of cash. However, the company notes that they accept HSA/FSA payments – check your plan to see if it will cover the test.
I was geared up to take my test and read the results, so I was a little disappointed by the long wait. I ordered my kit on December 13 and received it on December 28. Granted, the holidays disrupted shipping schedules, but the wait was longer than I anticipated. I completed and returned the test on December 29.
Kudos to Habit for providing exceptionally clear instructions and an app that guided me through the testing. The kit had 5 different compartments that corresponded to each component of the test. Here’s the process I followed.
Fortunately, Habit provided a back-up blood collection card and supplies, which I needed when my blood dripped beyond the collection area. But while the test was relatively easy, let me warn you about the Habit Shake. The top three ingredients of the Shake, used to test glucose responses, are water, dextrose, and palm oil. The 14 ounce bottle contains 950 calories and a whopping 75 grams of sugars! I’m pretty sure the sugar did me in as I gave up the sugar habit a long time ago (check out my 30-Day Sugar Challenge). The Shake knocked me out of action the entire morning!
I anticipated an email letting me know when results were available, but didn’t receive one – there seem to be a”hiccup” in resetting my profile to receive emails. I checked on the Habit app and discovered that my results were ready. The date was January 22.
I have to admit, I was pretty amazed by the details of the information provided and “wowed” by the user interface. I’ll walk you through some of the highlights.
Results are divided into Blood Marker Reports and DNA Reports. Blood markers provide information on glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol. I was most interested in the DNA results, and here I learned quite a lot. Here are the primary genetic markers that are included in the report:
I learned that I have the “obesity gene,” like 32% of the population. Lucky me! Plus, I have the gene associated with slower caffeine metabolism – perhaps it’s not a coincidence that I’m writing a 30-Day Sleep Challenge! Another marker showed that I have a gene associated with lower blood vitamin D concentrations. Again, Habit did a great job of presenting this information, as I could tap on each marker icon to get more information.
The results were fascinating, but now what? While I’m not happy to own the obesity gene, it jives with my ongoing challenge to maintain a healthy weight. What’s the answer? Habit does a fantastic job presenting a complex nutrition plan in simple graphics. At the heart of the plan is the proportion of macro-nutrients that are the best fit for your body.
According to the results, I’ll do best with a higher than typical proportion of protein (35%) in my diet. And after entering my goal weight and intensity, I learned that my ideal daily calorie intake should be around 1,390 calories. I love the way this information is displayed!
Up next was my food philosophy:
No real surprises there, as most diet plans provide the same advice. And it left me with one big question: what does portions of starch strategically eaten throughout the day mean? Explain yourself!
Perhaps the biggest “bang for the buck” was a listing of food groups and food “heroes,” along with my Ideal Plate. There’s a lot of information in this part of the app, and some of it got by me the first time around. In terms of food groups, I received details of how much fat, fruit, lean protein, legumes, starch, vegetables, and very lean protein to eat on a daily basis. Lots of meat and vegetables on my plate! I wasn’t too crazy about my so-called “food heroes” – lentils, avocados, turkey breast,, halibut, wild snapper, wild salmon, red cabbage, broccoli, and raspberries.
Habit includes a 20-minute consultation with an expert. It was very easy to schedule online and I had an appointment a week later – January 29. Based on previous experiences, I wasn’t expecting much from the consultation. Janelle called precisely at the appointed time. I had sent some questions ahead of time and she resolved my question about starches – front load the starches. Makes sense! Overall, I was impressed. Janelle clearly had my results in front of her and gave me a couple of suggestions on how to get a higher proportion of protein into my diet – swap out the almonds for roasted chickpeas for instance. And it turns out I love roasted chickpeas! Great practical advice!
Given the price tag, is a DNA diet right for you? It depends. Are you going to apply the results? If not, then don’t waste your money. But if you are willing to add in those vegetables and give a new way of eating a try, then YES, IT’S WORTH IT! And even though I learned I have the obesity gene, I feel empowered. It’s going to be tougher for me to live at a healthy weight than others, but I now have a specific plan to try. Who knows? It might just work!
Dr. Brenda is a sociologist, educator, blogger, motivator, and financial coach. In addition to blogging at The Five Journeys, she writes 30-day challenges at BetterLifeChallenges.com. Her passion is guiding people on their journey to financial freedom through coaching at DrBrendaMoneyCoach and online courses at EarlyExitAcademy.com.