Ask Carla: What Is Epigenetics?

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Carla Oates The Beauty Chef Founder & CEO

Here at The Beauty Chef, our philosophy is ‘beauty begins in the belly’. This means that the seeds of glowing skin and lit-from-within health are created by what we eat and consumer on a daily basis. While junk food might taste appealing in the moment, it’ll make us feel terrible later. Whereas when you consume a healthy diet full of nutrient-dense wholefoods, plant fibres, healthy fats and probiotic-rich fermented foods, you’ll feel better for it because you’ll have the get-up-and-go to seize the day. 

Most of us are aware of how great we feel after a week of eating nourishing foods. However, when you dig a little deeper, there is science that shows that our long-term diet can have such a profound impact on our body that it can affect your DNA. How? It all comes down to epigenetics.

What Is Epigenetics?

Epigenetics is a term derived from the Greek word “epi” which translates to “over, on top of”. Put together, “epi” and “genetics” refers to the additional layer of instructions on top of the unique DNA code that you inherited from your parents. 

This layer of instructions can be impacted by our environment and lifestyle choices – think: diet, exercise, stress levels and physical environment – which then causes it to act like a switch, turning genes on and off, which can have both positive and negative impacts on our health. When epigenetics comes into play, “you are what you eat” takes on a new meaning. 

This doesn’t mean that your diet can change your DNA – that’s impossible – but instead, it means that what you eat can have an impact on how your body expresses the genetic information encoded within your DNA.

Did You Know You Have Millions Of Microbial Genes Too?

Just to add another layer of complexity, not only do we have human genes, we also have microbial ones that live in our gut. It’s thought that the human genome is comprised of 20,000 genes; while our total microbial genes total between two and 20 million. So, really, we’re genetically outnumbered by the bacteria that reside in our gut microbiome.

Professor Sarkis Mazmanian, who works as a microbiologist, told the BBC: "We don't have just one genome, the genes of our microbiome present essentially a second genome which augments the activity of our own… What makes us human is, in my opinion, the combination of our own DNA, plus the DNA of our gut microbes."

How To Eat For Your Gut And Your Overall Health

Epigenetics, DNA and gut microbes might sound complicated, but the crux of the matter is this: by managing stress, living a healthy lifestyle, eating a well-rounded wholefood diet and tending to our gut microbiome, we can take charge of our health. This isn’t a magic bullet that will prevent all diseases and other health conditions from manifesting, but it’s one way we can make the most of our unique genetic makeup.

At The Beauty Chef, we often refer to our gut microbiome as being like a garden. For a garden to thrive and flourish, it needs to be tended to with care and fed a variety of nutrients, vitamins and minerals—and the same goes for our gut. Everything that passes our lips impacts our gut health, our gut bacteria, microbial balance and diversity—and subsequently can affect our overall health.

Try to steer clear of refined sugars and carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, too much red meat, caffeine, alcohol and additives, as they can all disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut and contribute to inflammation, impairing our digestive health and contributing to gastrointestinal issues.

Instead, consider a diet filled with fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, tempeh, cultured yoghurt and The Beauty Chef inner beauty products, of course), polyphenol-rich plants (think: an array of colourful fruit and vegetables) and fibre (found predominantly in fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, lentils and beans, nuts and seeds).