Before our ancestors travelled, mingling and mating with other races, and sharing recipes and ingredients, they were largely restricted to a singular geographic location. They evolved to digest and utilise the edible things that surrounded them. This effectively created a mutation in their genetic makeup, which still echoes through us all today.
In the modern age, globalisation and the blending of cultures and societies mean that, with each generation, we are less aware of our genetic origins. However, in the last decade, the study of genetics has given us the ability to look into our own genetic make up, allowing us to identify our geographical origins, our lineage and even to discover what medical conditions we might be predisposed to.
I am no genetic scientist. In fact, I cook food for a living, but even so, this rapidly developing science interests me greatly, especially how this new genetic knowledge can be applied to the food we eat.
The field of nutrigenetics or nutrigenomics, examines how genetic variations affect our response to nutrients. We know, for instance, that people of Nordic heritage can consume dairy efficiently, while others of Asiatic origin cannot. Equally, if you are of Asiatic heritage, you can easily digest nutrients from wild grains that those of other ethnicities find indigestible.
Nutrigenetics gets much more specific, however. Scientists have identified specific genes and mutations on these genes that can make a person intolerant to certain foods, or predisposed to certain diseases.
A variation on your CYP1A2 gene, for example, makes you intolerant to caffeine, so you would do well to cut out coffee, whilst an NOS gene mutation slows the removal of ammonia from the system, among other effects. As ammonia is present in animal products, people with this mutation will benefit from reducing their meat consumption and increasing their intake of plant-based foods.
If you have a mutation on the MTHFR gene, your ability to utilise folate decreases, slowing your whole system down and increasing the risk of cancer, fertility and cardiovascular issues. Upping your intake of folate in food form can help redress the balance. Likewise, consuming more vitamin C can help combat anxiety and mood swings in people with a COMT gene variation.
It’s relatively easy to find out about your genetic make up nowadays. For a small fee you can send a saliva swab to a lab for testing. After a few weeks you are magically shown each and every genetic detail that makes you unique. This knowledge can then be used to modify your diet in order to enhance your health and treat or prevent disease.
Who is Jack Barwick?
A native Caymanian, Jack Barwick made international waves in the culinary world after winning the UK’s coveted ‘Young Chef of the Year’ award in 2017.
Since then, he has travelled back and forth between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom, lending his talents to various foodie events and featured evenings at several restaurants.
With a special interest in Caribbean cuisine and flavours, Jack hopes to do justice to the Cayman Islands’ reputation as the culinary capital of the Caribbean.