For decades, nutritionists have observed methods that trigger weight loss in some individuals, but are completely ineffectual in others. Experts have struggled to determine what causes this division, as well as formulating alternative methods for those who don’t respond to popular approaches. A new study published in Cell yesterday offers some insight into this strange phenomenon. The findings could revolutionize how dieticians, nutritionists, and doctors approach dietary recommendations.
Prediabetes and impaired blood glucose response is estimated to effect about 86 million in the United States alone. This condition is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes, with up to 70 percent of pre-diabetics eventually developing the disease. Prediabetes is just one component of metabolic syndrome, which also includes obesity, hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hypertriglyceridemia, and cardiovascular disease. Maintaining normal blood glucose levels is critical not only for the maintenance of a healthy weight, but for preventing the onset of this deadly combination of conditions.
Currently, the most viable way of controlling blood glucose levels is by inhibiting carbohydrate intake. However, recent evidence has shown that even this is a poor indicator for postprandial (post-meal) glycemic responses (PPGR). Others try to limit their intake of foods that are high on the glycemic index, which studies suggest might also be inadequate.
In an effort to quantify individualized PPGRs and characterize their variability across people, researchers from the Weizmann Institute conducted a cohort study of 800 healthy and pre-diabetic individuals aged 18 to 70. They measured participants’ physical measurements, glucose levels, gut microbes, and conducted blood tests. All participants were connected to a continuous glucose monitor, and were instructed to log their activities, including food intake, exercise, and sleep, on an app developed specifically for the study. The goal was to determine how each person’s blood sugar responded to different foods.
In addition to obvious factors, such as body mass index and age, other factors affected people’s blood sugar response. For example, one woman who had struggled to lose weight for years had a particularly strong blood sugar spike after eating tomatoes. It turns out she regularly eats them. Experts were surprised by this association, considering tomatoes are low on the glycemic-index and don’t typically spike blood sugar.
“For this person, an individualized tailored diet would not have included tomatoes but may have included other ingredients that many of us would not consider healthy, but are in fact healthy for her,” the study’s author, Eran Elinav, said. This sheds light on the limited scope that nutritionists and dietitians currently have to customize patients’ diets to their specific needs. “Before this study was conducted, there is no way that anyone could have provided her with such personalized recommendations, which may substantially impact the progression of her pre-diabetes.”
The accompanying slideshow is provided by Daily Meal staff writer HellaWella.