Genetics-based testing kits like 23andMe and DNAFit attract customers with the promise of customized, down-to-your-cells nutrition and diet recommendations. Most of us realize one-size-fits-all diets don’t work, which explains the allure of wellness recommendations based on a person’s DNA. On its blog, 23andMe boasts: “It means that instead of just getting generic advice about eating less and exercising more, the application can, for example, use 23andMe’s Genetic Weight Report to rank the different impacts certain foods may have on an individual’s weight.” But how do these recommendations work in practice?
Maybe not as impressively as you’d think. The Associated Press’ Candice Choi tried two of these services, and reports that their advice was a lot less specific than she’d hoped: Her 23andMe wellness report, which cost $125 on top of the $99 basic ancestry service, listed habits associated with good health based on her DNA, “included limiting red meat, avoiding fast food and exercising at least twice a week.” Choi called it “formulaic.” She also notes that because most of the service’s customers are of European decent, the company’s data for people of other backgrounds aren’t as robust.
Her findings with rival service DNAFit were also less insightful than she’d hoped. The fitness and nutrition reports from this service cost an additional $79 if you upload your 23andMe DNA profile (cost: $99), and offers “sensitivity reports” that indicate your body’s individualized response to carbs or saturated fat or omega-3s. Choi’s carbohydrate report suggested she limit refined carbs to 10 percent of her overall daily calories; she called that advice “fairly generic,” and says it’s unlikely to vary much depending on a person’s genetics.
Her whole article is worth a read, especially if you’ve ever considered having your DNA profile evaluated for dieting or health reasons. I personally haven’t, because the thought of sending all my genetic information to a private company to do who-knows-what-with creeps me out a little. I swear I’m no tin-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, but I worry about lax privacy and data breaches and the like. Choi’s experience makes it sound like I’m not missing out on much. My DNA says I should exercise and limit fast food? Shocking.