02 March 2018

Can genes make you fat? Doctors have a surprising answer

A study testing the effect of a low fat versus a low carb diet, based on dieters' genetic profile, yielded unexpected results.


Often you will hear people say that they are overweight because of genetics. "There's nothing that I can do to change it," they complain.

A study found that the amount and quality of food we eat, and not our genetics, will lead to weight loss.

Previous research suggested that people's genetic makeup could affect how different types of diet influence their weight loss.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Healthy eating key

Stanford University researchers examined this idea with 600 overweight adults who underwent genetic and insulin testing before being randomly assigned to reduce their fat or carbohydrate intake.

Weight loss averaged about 6kg over a year regardless of genes, insulin and diet type.

The bottom line according to the study was that the amount and quality of food, and not a person’s genetics, will lead to weight loss.

Healthy eating made all the difference. Participants who ate the fewest processed foods, sugary drinks and unhealthy fats lost the most weight.

Professor Lennert Veerman from the School of Medicine at Griffith University in Queensland said the study showed there was probably no such thing as a diet right for a particular genetic profile.

“We eat to fill our stomach and, if that’s with vegetables, we tend to lose weight, whereas if it’s with chocolate or French fries, flushed down with a soda, we gain weight,” Prof Veerman said.

DietDoc weighs in

In a previous article, regarding carbs vs. fat/protein, Health24's former DietDoc, Dr Ingrid van Heerden, came to a similar conclusion.

As omnivores, humans are able to eat and digest everything, ranging from seeds, roots and fruits, to meat, eggs and milk. This versatility gave our ancestors a better chance of survival compared to exclusive herbivores (plant eaters) and carnivores (meat eaters). 

Dr van Heerden is in favour of eating a varied diet that contains all the main food groups and strongly opposes cutting out whole food groups for purposes such as slimming.

Image credit: iStock


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