Wetenschap - 7 maart 2011

Personal food advice can improve health

Never before did we have so much knowledge concerning healthy food, and yet a flood of food-related diseases is upon us. The solution? Research into the genetic effects of food at the individual level.


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For years, we have been overwhelmed with well-meant advice about healthy food. We ought to have known gradually that saturated fats are bad and that fish is good. 'Science thinks it knows what healthy food is', says professor of nutrition and nutrigenomics Michael Müller, one of the speakers at the symposium about food and health at the official ceremony of Dies Natalis 2011. But all our knowledge does not appear to have given us much of a solution, he argues. 'The reality is a tsunami of obesity, coronary heart disease and diabetes.'
Müller feels that still too much food research is disease-based. 'We measure too late and at the wrong end', he says. 'We look for pills and food that can heal instead of focus on food to keep us healthy.' But what exactly is health? It's wrong to perceive being healthy as being 'not sick', says Müller. Health is about how elastic the body is and how good it can take a bashing. Sickness is when health has undergone a process of deterioration, which is sometimes hardly discernible; the system loses elasticity very slowly. During the process, it's still possible to take all kinds of action to keep sickness at bay. But because the effects of bad food are only apparent years later, there is very little motivation to resist that delicious fatty morsel. Therefore, it is important to be able to measure one's health and the effect of food at an early stage. Food intake can then be modified if necessary.
Measuring health
Müller uses relatively new nutrigenomics techniques to objectively establish one's health. 'You look at, for example, the altered behaviour of a large number of genes during different food intake programmes. Food greatly affects gene expression, and genes in turn affect all kinds of body processes which directly influence health.' In this way, saturated fats stimulate harmful chronic infections in the body by activating genes which generate infections. Unsaturated fats do the opposite: they put a stop to infections, and generate a healthy gene activity pattern. Müller says that establishing gene expressions can give a health profile which enables health effects from food to be measured at an individual level and tailor-made advice to be given accordingly. 'People should take responsibility themselves to stay healthy, and they may be more motivated to eat healthier foods when they have concrete health improvement advice', says Müller.
The symposium on healthy food will be held on 9 March from 12:45 to 14:30 pm in the Hof van Wageningen, Lawickse Allee 9. The programme can be found on www.dies.wur.nl).