Science, in its ceaseless effort to ruin just about all the good things in the world, is currently doing its level best to ensure that you won't be able to eat any of the world's most delicious treats without feeling like you're destroying the future. Two independent studies involving epigenetics have found that diet, whether healthy or unhealthy, might tweek the nature of your DNA, which change we might then be able to pass onto all those kids and grandkids that people tend to have eventually.
Epigenetics, for anyone who's just too embarrassed to admit they don't know, refers to changes in gene expression from outside forces. An epigenetic change is not a mutation because the change doesn't lie in the DNA itself — it occurs in the DNA's surroundings, all those enzymes and chemicals that determine how DNA unwinds in different sections in order to make proteins or new cells. A study from Torsten Plosch at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands (which built off of an earlier Duke University study) found that there were many ways in which nutrition alters the epigenome in many animals, including humans. There are historical examples of the effects of one generation's dietary habits on a subsequent generation — children born to mothers during the Dutch famine towards the end of WWII, for example, were susceptible to glucose intolerance and cardiovascular disease.
What's missing, say scientists like Joseph C. Jimenez-Chillarón of the Paediatric Hospital Sant Joan de Deu, in Spain, is the mechanism for how such dietary information is remembered from generation to generation. Another study led by Ram B. Singh of the TsimTsoum Institute in Krakow, Poland suggests that diet can affect the broth of chromatin that DNA floats around in, and that nutrients introduced into the chromatin can even cause mutations. The results have so far been inconclusive, though scientists are pretty sure that cells in a state of early development are more susceptible to epigenetic changes than adult cells, which is why the most notable changes are seen in fetuses and infants.
Not only are you what you eat, but pretty much everyone who is ever going to sprout from your loins might become what you're eating, too.
Your diet affects your grandchildren's DNA, studies say [LiveScience via CBS News]