Personalized Nutrition: How to Design Your Plate in 2024

Jules Walters headshot

Jules Walters • Feb 06, 2023

Struggling to find a diet that feels right for you? Personalized nutrition (also referred to as precision nutrition) that’s designed to match your unique biology and health goals, could be the answer. So much food guidance is based on a one-size-fits-all approach, but we now have insightful tools to customize our food choices and nutritional plan.

Here are some easy ways to get started on a personalized nutrition plan that is truly designed for you.

Take a nutrigenomics test

Since the completion of the Human Genome Project back in the 1990s, more research has gone into nutrigenomics, which explains how different foods and our environment interact with our estimated 20,000 to 25,000 genes. 

Direct-to-consumer companies like 3×4 Genetics offer nutrigenomic tests, which look at how you process a range of sugars, fats, nutrients and vitamins.

Coffee bean splash - component of personalized nutrition planning

Check your response to caffeine

Are you a fast or slow metabolizer of caffeine? Knowing this simple piece of information can help to inform your coffee intake.

Fast caffeine metabolizers might indulge in an afternoon coffee as it’s going to be processed fast. Slow metabolizers could end up lying awake at night if they drink coffee past noon.

A nutrigenomic test will show your genetic makeup at the CYP1A2 gene that influences your response to caffeine.

Consider sensitivity to gluten

Do you ever feel bloated after eating pizza or pasta? You might be one of the one in 10  Americans, who it’s estimated are genetically sensitive to gluten so much that it can trigger an autoimmune condition, according to the Celiac Disease Association. Variations at the HLA gene make us more sensitive to the gluten protein that’s found in wheat products. 

Many more of us are just sensitive to gluten. HLA is what’s known as a low-penetrant gene and only one part of the equation in how we respond to gluten. Environment and the rest of your diet will also play a part. Information is power and a saliva test or blood spot will reveal your genetic response to gluten.

Test your microbiome

There are more microbes within us than human cells, according to recent estimates. These trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi find a home in many places on our body and particularly in our gut. It’s the complexity of our microbiome that has scientists speculating that a rich and varied microbiome is the key to good health.

Integrative and functional medicine testing companies like Genova Diagnostics can test the makeup of your microbiome through a stool test kit.  

Leaves of different types of kale and cabbage - for folate in personalized nutrition planning

Routine your greens

A lot has been made of the MTHFR gene in nutrigenomics, which affects vitamin B metabolism, particularly folate, a natural form of vitamin B9 found in many foods. Some of us have variations at this gene, which can be associated with low folate. Foods that are high in folate include dark-green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, as well as beans and eggs. An easy solution is to keep up the daily greens, just in case. 

Lactose intolerance

According to 23andme, almost everyone is born with the ability to digest dairy products. But we can lose that ability as we age, becoming lactose intolerant. Our response to dairy products is influenced by a genetic marker near the LCT gene, which contains instructions for making the enzyme lactase to break down the protein lactose that’s present in dairy products. A genetic traits test will reveal your personal lactase story.

Control your appetite

Whether you feel hungry or not is partly controlled by a gene called LEPR, which stands for leptin receptor. Leptin is a hormone that helps you to feel satisfied food wise. If you’re always feeling hungry, even after a meal, it might be worth checking if you’re leptin resistant. 

Selection of vitamin D-rich foods for personalized nutrition planning

Monitor Vitamin D

About 40 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient, according to repeated surveys. We need vitamin D to support the absorption of calcium and build strong bones, as well as to support cell growth and a healthy immune system. 

It’s worth checking your levels to see how you’re doing with vitamin D. A lack of vitamin D can be fixed, mainly through supplements. Some fatty fish, though, like mackerel and salmon also contain vitamin D.

Know your energy metabolism 

Our genes help to determine how we store energy from food. If we don’t need all the energy we’re consuming through food, more of it can be stored as fat. What we’ve learned recently is that not all fat cells are the same. Research has found a link between the UCP2 gene (shorthand for uncoupling protein 2) and obesity. 

High UCP2 expression in fat tissue can lead to high energy expenditure and protect against weight gain. That doesn’t mean we can blow out on the fries, but it does provide a buffer if we sometimes overdo the calorie intake. 

Nutrigenomics is personal 

The whole field of nutrigenomics is relatively new and only started appearing in scientific journals in the early 2000s. What we do know so far is that small variations in our genetic code can make a big difference in the way we process and store food.

My DNA is different from yours.The 1000 Genomes Project, completed in 2015, found a total of over 88 million genetic variations between us. The average person can have five million small variations in their genes.

We don’t understand yet what all these variations mean, but the science is moving fast. And personalized nutrition plans are starting to take off. Meanwhile, Nutrigenomics testing is a great first step to understanding your personal, genetic makeup.