What Is the DNA Diet?

The DNA diet is part of the branch of nutrition that takes personalized diets to the extreme. This new trend is called nutrigenetics.
What Is the DNA Diet?

Last update: 21 July, 2021

The idea of the existence of a DNA diet has been with us for more than ten years. Its advocates even trace it back to the 1950s, with the first indications of personalized nutrition to the extreme.

Today we refer to a particular and concise field of study which is nutrigenetics. Within nutrition, this is the area that studies how our genes influence the body’s response to different nutrients.

It’s based on the assumption that we don’t all achieve the same bodily effects by eating the same food. The same diet doesn’t cause the same weight loss in some people as in others. The question arises as to what is the factor that creates the different responses.

The DNA diet is a theory that places the origin of the differences in the individual genetic coding. According to it, certain nutrients would follow different metabolism paths according to each genome, even within the same family.

As is always the case, nutrigenetics and the DNA diet have advocates and detractors. Precision medicine, which is becoming increasingly popular, is in favor, but some scientific studies refute its effectiveness. We explain it all in this article.

The relationship between obesity and DNA

The problem of obesity is enormous. The world tends to become more overweight with each passing decade. Lifestyle changes plus a daily diet based on high-calorie intakes have an impact on body weight.

The DNA diet, as a theory, places great value on the individual genome as a determinant of weight gain. The excess weight of many could be due to the lack of precision of the diets that food scientists elaborate for the masses.

The truth is that obesity is a multifactorial issue. It’s true that genetics can be binding, but it would be very risky to attribute to it a greater importance than it’s actually known to have.

Let us recall that in 2007, scientists published the study announcing the discovery of the obesity gene. Scientists called it the FTO gene and suggested that if the gene was faulty within the DNA, this would result in a lower use of kilocalories, which would be stored as fat.

When researchers traced the FTO gene deficiency among European populations, it was found in 44% of those sampled. This is less than half of the population and that frequency wouldn’t explain all of the excess weight.

An obese woman at the doctor
Obesity could have a genetic component and that’s the basis of the DNA diet.

The DNA diet advocacy project

The Food4Me project is possibly the largest scale research being conducted on the DNA diet. It’s a multi-center study of more than 1,200 people, funded by the European Union.

The underlying plan is to assess the differences between different population groups who will follow diets based on different approaches, as follows:

  • One group will develop their own diet by searching for information on the internet, without specialist advice.
  • The second group will have a diet based on traditional knowledge of nutrition, based on measurable data such as weight and height and some blood test parameters.
  • Finally, the last group will have a DNA diet. The genetic map of these individuals will be elaborated and a nutritional scheme will be proposed to them based on their genome.

The initial hypothesis is that the third group will have a more sustained and healthier weight loss than the other two. The definitive results aren’t available yet, but when scientists publish them, we’ll have a more realistic approach to nutrigenetics.

The detractors of the DNA diet

scientists studying DNA
Nutrigenetics proposes personalized and targeted nutrition for each individual, according to their genome.

Stanford University conducted a scientific study with more than 600 subjects. The research was titled DIETFITS and was initiated on the hypothesis that the DNA diet wasn’t efficient. The researchers separated the study population into two groups. One group had a low-carbohydrate diet, while the other group, on the contrary, followed the low-fat plan. The comparative results suggest that the genome had no influence on the weight decreases in either group.

After one year of dieting, both groups showed significant weight losses, in the order of 11 to 13 pounds (5 to 6 kilograms). Despite having different genomes, DNA wasn’t the determining factor in the drop in body mass, but the strict diet, prepared in traditional terms, was.

Personalized nutrition already exists

The DNA diet debate has also been going on for more than a decade, and personalized medicine will advance. Genome-based nutritional clinics already exist. It’ll be up to users to have the correct information to distinguish between hoaxes and professional approaches with real effects.

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  • Stanton, Michael V., et al. “DIETFITS study (diet intervention examining the factors interacting with treatment success)–Study design and methods.” Contemporary clinical trials 53 (2017): 151-161.
  • Hernández Fernández, Rolando A. “Genoma y ambiente en la génesis de la obesidad.” Revista Cubana de Genética Comunitaria 7.1 (2013): 5-11.
  • Marti, Amelia, et al. “Telómeros y calidad de la dieta.” Nutrición Hospitalaria 34.5 (2017): 1226-1245.