It’s time to have a brand new conversation about what 21st Century Nutrition even is. First off, it is not about counting calories, so let’s take that 20th century idea of nutrition right off your plate! Whew, now that we’re done with the dated calorie-counting nutrition paradigm, I want you to take a deep breath, hold it for 3 seconds, and slowly exhale through your mouth. Are you fully present? Being mindful is an essential component to embodying 21st Century Nutrition.
A Brief History Lesson on 21st Century Nutrition
Before we take a deep dive, let me brief you on a bit of history so you can better understand the origin of 21st Century Nutrition. In 2003, after the Human Genome Project was completed, groundbreaking research on medicine, nutrition, and psychosocial behavior and how they relate to health flipped a major switch. The science of how medicine, nutrition and social behavior affect our gene expression, and ultimately our health, was born. The birth of this new science, often referred to as the “omics” scientific revolution, has many categories that often link to one another, especially since 99.9% of our genes are identical. Differences in the other 0.1% “may” hold some valuable clues about the causes of diseases.
Since omics began, over one million scientific articles related to genomics and health became our new 21st century reality. In addition, this omics revolutionary research greatly advanced our understanding of our molecular pathways for health and aging.
The burgeoning science of how food molecules influence gene expression is called Nutri-genomics. Yes, you read that right. What you eat directly impacts your genes! And make no mistake; new “omic” research is exploding each day, meaning there’s never a dull moment with 21st Century Nutrition. In the coming months, I will be unpacking this information in each blog to help you construct shopping lists and prepare meals in a more informed way for the greatest health impact.
Yes, Your Genes Talk to Each Other
In the simplest terms, food is information to our cells. Going a notch deeper into 21st Century Nutrition, food molecules can “talk” to our genes and our genes “talk” to other genes. It’s this “cross-talk” that can influence our genes to make other molecules that regulate (and make you feel “more alive” or greatly lower your risk of chronic disease) or dysregulate (and make you feel “more dead”) our biochemical pathways.
By now you can’t seem to pick up a health magazine without seeing these biochemical pathway terms mentioned: inflammation, oxidation, and metabolism of sugar, fats, proteins and cholesterol. Science has collectively known that the drivers of chronic disease, whether it’s heart disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases or Alzheimer’s disease, etc., are the dysregulated metabolic pathways of inflammation, free-radical oxidation, and the imbalances of sugar, protein and fat metabolism.
Going a notch deeper down the 21st Century Nutrition rabbit hole, NFKb, TNFα, NRF2 and SIRT1 are considered some of our master genes that control these pathways. Science confirms we all have these genes. In fact, in the scientific literature these genes continue to pop up over, and over again.
To fully understand how 21st Century Nutrition works, you must wrap your head around two very important concepts.
- Think of your master genes like dials that you can turn up or down.
- When you stack your diet with certain plant molecules (known as bioactives) and other nutrients, they will “talk” to your master genes.
This “talk” triggers our master genes to manufacture protein-like molecules that regulate your biochemical pathways: inflammation, oxidation, detoxification, blood sugar, packaging up of lipids and cholesterol, etc.
For example, if you eat radishes and their leaves (or drink them in a smoothie), you can turn the NRF2 “dial,” which will “talk” to and turn the NFKb and TNFα “dials” of inflammation down. This reaction, combined with the help of some trace minerals, creates a powerhouse antioxidant that can literally hose down free radical oxidation from damaging cells.
When NFR2 is under functioning, you lose oxidative protection which then turns up the “fire” of inflammation inside your cells, which underwrites many chronic maladies as described above in 1st paragraph of this page.
What a discovery! This could be useful for not only keeping your brain sharp and focused, but for those who suffer from neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
In functional medicine we often say, “your genes are the gun, but your environment is the trigger!” So whenever a new client tells me they have high risk of a disease because it runs in their family, I always ask: “What are you eating to change that from becoming your reality?”
In the simplest terms, this means that exposing yourself to certain food molecules and decreasing other food (and non-food) molecules can activate the dials to turn the right way, stacking the cards in your favor.
This is the beginning of our 21st Century Nutrition conversation, and hopefully, soon it will be a mainstay in your life and on your plate. Stay tuned for next week’s post on F.A.M.E. (Food As Medicine Experience).
Per Study activating NRF2 can “delay onset, slow progression, and ameliorate symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders”.