The Diet Secret That Will Blow Your Mind

Why does every new diet promise to be the life-altering, amazing diet you absolutely have to try to believe? Everyday Einstein shares a secret about diets that will blow your mind. 

Lee Falin, PhD,
January 17, 2014
Episode #084

Remember the food pyramid? What about the grapefruit diet, the no-carb diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet, the smoothie diet, vegan diets, kosher diets, mediterreanplatelow-cholesterol diets, the no-wheat diet, and the Norwegian fish-mongers diet (okay, I made that last one up). It seems like everywhere you turn these days, new diets are crawling out of the woodwork.

Have you ever wondered just why there are so many diets -- and that, somehow, each one is going to be amazing and life-altering?

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I’m going to let you in on the big secret here. It’s a secret that everyone working in genetics knows about, and which we continue to find more and more evidence for. Decades of multi-billion dollar research has gone into uncovering this one startling fact that is going to blow your mind:

Everyone is different. And so is each individual's metabolism.

Boom. I just blew your mind, didn’t I?

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other…

Chances are, this is the very reason why the Paleo diet might work great for your neighbor, but leaves you feeling cranky and irritable. And it's why your best friend got a supermodel, body-builder physique by eating a vegan diet for a week, while the only thing you got was an upset stomach.

To be a little more scientific about things, your metabolism is influenced by at least 4 different factors:

  1. Your DNA.

  2. External modifications to your DNA that you inherited from your parents.

  3. External modifications to your DNA that occur during your own life.

  4. The current population of microbes in your gut, which can change over the course of your life.

Your DNA

Your DNA, (variously referred to as your genes, your genotype, your genetic makeup, or what you inherited from Uncle George), controls a large part of what your body is capable of. This is what most people think of when we consider what makes them different from others, but is almost always ignored in dietary studies.


The second and third items on our list are collectively called epigenetics. Sometimes item 2 is referred to as genetic imprinting. It turns out that aside from the DNA you got from your parents, some aspect of their behavior can cause chemical changes to the DNA they passed on to you. 

What makes these changes distinct from just being part of your DNA is that they aren’t part of your genetic sequence. Instead, they’re little chemical bits that get attached to your DNA at various locations. These changes can affect how your DNA deals with certain stimuli, including metabolic stimuli.

As an interesting side note, everyone used to believe in genetic imprinting. But then the consensus was that it was all hogwash. But, now, it turns out that some parts of it were true all along. As you might imagine, the story is a bit more complicated than that, but this is a good reason why you should always rely on only the most up-to-date science textbooks from your local library.

Aside from the changes your parents’ behavior made to the DNA they passed on to you, once you’re in possession of that DNA, your own behavior can cause epigenetic modifications as well. What does this mean? It means that while you might have a certain metabolic response to a food when you’re a kid, you might have a very different response when you’re an adult. 

Even more interesting, not only can your body’s response to food be influenced by these epigenetic changes, but your epigenetics can also be influenced by what you eat.

Gut Microbiota

Finally, one of the more active areas of research right now is the extremely complex interaction between the thousands of microbes in the human gut and their impact on human health. 

Everything from metabolic rate to auto-immune diseases and cancer risks are thought to have some link to what types of bacteria are present in your gut. There are so many different strains of bacteria living in your gut, each with its own genetics (and epigenetics), that the possible interactions are nearly infinite.

Further complicating this is the fact that the type and relative amounts of these bacteria that you have in your gut (technically called anenterotype) are changing all of the time. They can be influenced by what you eat, medicines you take, illnesses you get, and even where you live. And every time we think we’re close to understanding how to classify these things, new information surfaces to show that we still have a long way to go.

So What Should I Eat?

So where does that leave poor, hapless parents trying to figure out what to feed their kids and themselves? Honestly, with 5 kids, if my wife and I happen to find a single meal that everyone will eat without complaint, we call that a small miracle.

However, here are some thoughts to consider:

  • As Nutrition Diva has been saying all along, there is no one diet that is going to work for everyone.

  • That diet that made you feel great when you were in your early 20s living in Hawaii may not work so great for you now that you’re in your 40s and living in New York.

  • The best diet for you might just be the one that makes you feel the healthiest, regardless of what other people think about it.

  • Er, standard disclaimer: I’m probably supposed to tell you to talk to your doctor, your mother, your school principal, and anyone else in a competent position of authority before changing your diet.

If you liked today’s episode, you can become a fan of Everyday Einstein on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com.


Mediterranean plate image, eyeliam at Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

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