Did you know that when it comes to eating as healthfully as possible, one size doesn't necessarily fit all? While fats, proteins, and carbohydrates are the building blocks that keep our bodies running smoothly, the precise formula that works best for one person is not exactly what another needs. The reason? The APO E gene.

The APO E gene, short for apolipoprotein E gene, is responsible for the way in which your body processes cholesterol and other fats. And the gene variant that you have determines how you should eat. There are three possible APO E gene variations you can have-APO E 2, APO E 3, and APO E 4. By far the most common type is APO E 3, which 64 percent of the population has. Next most common is APO E 4, with 25 percent of the population, and APO E 2, which 11 percent of people have.

In her book The APO E Gene Diet, integrative medicine nurse practitioner Pamela McDonald explains that it's important to know which type of APO E gene you have because each gene type is linked with a higher risk of particular diseases. APO E 3, the most common type of APO E gene, is connected to diabetes and insulin resistance. APO E 2 means a higher risk of high cholesterol and Parkinson's disease, and APO E 4 is strongly linked to Alzheimer's disease. "Once you get tested, you can eat an anti-inflammatory diet that is right for your gene type and you can dodge a bullet," says McDonald, who is based in Danville, California.

So what exactly should people with each gene variant consume?

APO E 2. People with this genotype have bodies that process fat unusually well. They should try to get up to a third of their daily calories from healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fatty fish.

APO E 3. People with this genotype, meaning most of us, process fat normally. APO E 3 gene holders should aim for moderate fat in their diets, or slightly less fat than the APO E 2 gene holders. Where someone with the APO E 2 gene can eat salmon with avocado sauce and topped with nuts, someone with the APO 3 gene might just have the salmon with avocado. "You're looking at still a lower-fat diet but there's a little more leeway," McDonald says.

APO E 4. If you have this gene variant, your body doesn't use dietary fat efficiently and it should be limited to no more than 20 percent of total daily calories. McDonald recommends a plant-based diet with plenty of complex carbohydrates. Meat and other animal proteins should be avoided, with the exception of certain fish.

One other thing to note: The APO E gene test is not widely available and not every lab does it. You may need to do a little sleuthing to find a lab that will perform it. It is a non-fasting test.

Source: Pamela McDonald, integrative medicine nurse practitioner; National Institutes of Health, http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov; Dr. Andrew Weil's Self Healing, December 2009.