Periodically, over the years, a group of former political colleagues and I have gathered for lunch to share the events in our lives and the latest political gossip. The restaurant where we used to meet was known for serving healthy, organic foods but we didn’t go there for the menu. We liked the convenience. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed, so my task was to find a new watering hole. The internet helped me locate several likely restaurants but the one most convenient was known for its calorie laden foods. No one balked at the idea of using it for a meeting place, however, and so I set the date for our next luncheon.
On the appointed day, a hostess seated us at a long table and not long after we’d placed our orders, dishes emerged from the kitchen, each larded with fat, enough to make a dietician gasp. No one complained and everyone smiled as they passed the ketchup bottle around.
We were all aware of the connection between fried foods and sick hearts, so we dug into our crispy chicken at our peril and seemed to enjoy it. What we did not know, however, was that a greater peril lay beneath our arteries. Sharon Moarelm makes a connection between food and our genes in her new book, Inheritance. Until now, we thought a gene’s mutation was caused by “clerical” error, a replication gone wrong. Moarelm explains otherwise. While food doesn’t affect the internal structure of genes, it can turn genes off and on with dire consequences to our bodies. (Inheritance by Sharon Moalem, Grand Central Publishing, 2014, reviewed in Scientific American, May/June, pg 72.)
We don’t have far to look an example of the link between food and genetic coding. The difference between a worker bee and a queen rests in the amount of royal jelly each is fed. Allow a worker bee to gorge on enriched food and the hive would soon have a second queen. The silencing and unsilencing of genes is called epigenetic modification, a term we’d better get used to for our own good.
That we can affect our genes by the foods we eat may be unnerving but consider the upside. Researchers may learn how to tweak this coding for the better. As Moalem observes, who we are is “not only what our genes give us… but also what we give our genes.” (Ibid. pg. 72) Moral of the story? Eat more broccoli.