Debunking The Myth of Universally Healthy Food: How to Eat for Your Biological Individuality

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Healthy or harmful food? It depends

In the world of precision nutrition, the line 'one man's food is another man's poison' takes on a literal meaning.

Just as every person has distinct fingerprints, every person has a distinct gut microbial community with its own signature composition, influenced by genetics, environment, diet, and lifestyle factors.

When we consume food, trillions of microorganisms in our gut join in on the feast with us. Think of your gut as a bustling metropolis, where what you consume is only the beginning of the story. These microbes are skilled biochemists capable of transforming the food we eat into a myriad of metabolites. And that's where the real story unfolds. 

Are your microbes transforming nutrients into toxins or into beneficial nutrients? Could your healthy meal be fostering inflammation, or is it nourishing you at a cellular level?

To truly harness the power of precision nutrition, we must move beyond generalized dietary recommendations and embrace the complexity of individualized responses to food and how our unique microbial allies metabolize and respond to those foods.

By understanding and leveraging this symbiotic relationship, we pave the way for personalized nutrition strategies that optimize health and vitality on a truly individualized level.

Foods by the Viome numbers

Hundreds of thousands have tested with Viome, and we see many fascinating statistics on the foods we recommend (or recommend you stay away from). Here are a few:

  • 24% of users have avocado on their Superfood list.

  • 37% of users have soybeans on their Minimize list.

  • 21% of users have turmeric on their Avoid list.

  • 19% of users have coffee on their Avoid list.

  • 56% of users have almonds on their Minimize list.

  • 19% of users have broccoli on their Superfood list.

  • 9% of users have cashews on their Minimize list.

  • 12% of users have oats on their Minimize list.

  • 37% of users have beets on their Avoid list.

Most people would consider the foods above to be healthy, whole foods. Let's focus on a few specific ones.

First up, a food that parents are constantly urging children to eat for its nutritional value–broccoli. This vibrant, green plant is frequently championed for its properties that help reduce the risk of cancer, credited to its sulfur-containing compounds. These compounds are beneficial in many contexts, yet they also illustrate the complexity of our dietary needs. In some individuals, gut microbes metabolize these sulfur compounds, producing sulfide gas—a culprit behind digestive discomfort, including bloating, gas, and gut inflammation.

Soybeans are celebrated for their high plant-based protein content, making them a staple in many diets. However, they also contain high levels of polyamines like histamine and spermidine. In the oral cavity, microbes can transform these polyamines into volatile organic compounds, leading to bad breath. This is particularly true for raw soybeans such as edamame and fermented soy products like tempeh and natto, which are richer in polyamines than more processed soy products like tofu. The impact of soybeans on oral health is a perfect example of how the interaction between diet and the microbiome can have unexpected consequences.

The root turmeric has long been revered for its anti-inflammatory properties, attributed to its active ingredient, curcumin. Turmeric stimulates the production of bile acids, essential for digesting dietary fats. However, this can become problematic for those with an unbalanced gut microbiome. In such cases, bile acids are metabolized by gut microbes, which convert the bile salts back into bile acid and send them back toward the liver instead of allowing their elimination. This misdirection can result in unwanted inflammation and even contribute to conditions like fatty liver disease. Thus, turmeric's celebrated status as an anti-inflammatory agent may be nullified or even reversed in individuals whose gut bacteria profile leads to these adverse effects. This highlights the nuanced relationship between food compounds and each unique microbiome.

A fixture of morning rituals worldwide and sometimes an obsession for others, coffee's rich polyphenol content provides multiple health benefits. However, the choice between decaffeinated and regular coffee should not be made lightly. For some, caffeine enhances mitochondrial function and cellular energy production. Yet, it could be harmful to others, potentially disturbing the gut microbiome and digestive motility by elevating stress hormones. This illustrates that coffee's effects—particularly its caffeine component—are not universal.

The key takeaway

So, the ultimate resolution of this story ends with this essential information: It's not the food itself, but what your microbes do with the food that determines whether or not it is healthy for you.