Personalized Nutrition And Why It Is The Future

Personalised nutrition will rely heavily on healthy eating of vegetables.
Photo by JillWellington, c/o Pixabay.

When you look at growing trends in the food and nutrition industry, you find that personalized nutrition is one subject gaining traction. There is a lot of venture capital being put into the discipline, of the order of $ 220 million back in 2015 according to CB Insights and growing. That is still dwarfed though by funds pouring into E-commerce and food delivery ventures, but it is developing as a market.

(By the way, we tend to use both personalized and personalised in the same article, just because there are two types of audience !)

What Is Personalized Nutrition?

The driving force behind personalised nutrition is that one diet does not fit all. Wouldn’t it be great then to have a diet that was tailored to your dietary needs and goals. It might and in fact  it should be feasible to develop a diet that fits your age and level of fitness, your stress levels and emotional status, your general or specific health needs, gender, level of exercise and sport and even your gut microbiome. There are so many elements to consider it might seem confusing in designing such a unique diet. What is helping is our increasing knowledge of our genetic make-up and the ever developing improvements in big data and data handling.

At the scientific level there is no firm or agreed definition of personalised nutrition. For the nutritionist, it is the approach that takes information on an individual characteristics, from which nutritional advice is targeted at that individual. Gibney et al (2016) described it as an approach that “assists individuals in achieving a lasting dietary behaviour change that is beneficial for health.” 

At the moment, a blood test is usually all that is used. This determines nutrient deficiencies and any genetic issues when metabolizing nutrients. Simple but not without its issues. A genetic examination of your DNA will reveal what are called SNPs which are single nucleotide polymorphisms. If you have an SNP then it is hard or near impossible for some people to metabolize traditional nutrients.

A typical SNP is folic acid metabolism which occurs due to a polymorphism of the MTHFR gene. This SNP means that people cannot metabolize folic acid and so need to supplement with a reduced form of folate.

The issue with blood tests are that they are a snapshot in time. So many other factors have to be brought in including current diet, lifestyle, sleep, stress and the environment. Medication is also important because some deplete nutrients in the body. 

Personalized Nutrition Is Not Nutrigenomics

One discipline which causes confusion is the study of nutrigenomics because this concerns the effect of food and its components on gene expression. Personalised nutrition partially overlaps with these types of terms such as precision nutrition, nutrigenomics, nutrigenetics, nutritional genomics, etc.

The Food4Me Intervention Study

The Food4Me intervention study is a flagship examination of a ‘proof of principle’ study into personalised nutrition across Europe. The study looked at personalised nutrition on improving consumption of a Mediterranean diet (MedDiet). The study covered 6 months and was a 4-arm, Internet-based randomised control trial (RCT)

The questions that were asked:-

Is personalised nutrition advice more effective than general healthy eating guidelines ?

Is phenotypic or genotypic information more effective than diet-based advice alone?

is the internet a successful delivery method ? (There is a situation here where bricks and mortar is not as effective or efficient under these circumstances).

Does more feedback mean more compliance?

This was a big study across seven recruitment sites and was led by John Mathers at Newcastle University in the UK. It involved University College in Dublin (Ireland), Maastricht University (The Netherlands), University of Reading in the UK, Harokopio University in Athens (Greece), Technische Universitaet Muenchen (Germany), University of Navarra (Spain) and the National Food and Nutrition Institute in Warsaw (Poland).

The outcome in the main was that people which received personalized nutrition advice produced higher MedDiet scores that those who advice to them was impersonal as it were. It was also noticeable that there were improvements in the MedDiet score when they received advice on the basis of diet, phenotype and genotype when compared with advice provided on just diet and phenotype only (Food4Me Study, 2016).

What Do Consumers Think Of Personalised Nutrition ?

A GlobalData Consumer Survey uncovered some very recent evidence of what consumers think of the subject. It appears that well over half of consumers (57%) are often or always influenced to buy a product by how well it is tailored to their needs or personality. An almost similar number of consumers (58%) felt a product was tailored to them when it was suitable for their dietary requirements. Even 32% of consumers felt it was tailored to them if the pack size met their needs. 

Just under half of consumers (43%) have a more favourable perception of products that have claims personalised to them. About 47% have a more favourable perception of products they helped to create. Finally, 54% somewhat or completely agree that food or drinks can provide the same or better health benefits as vitamin and mineral supplements.

Who Is Offering What ?

One aspect which personalized nutrition addresses is the complex interactions that exist between our diet and our genes. Mixfit is a privately held personalized nutrition solution start-up based in Boston, Massachussetts. It has linked up with Royal DSM, which is an ingredients vusiness active in health and nutrition ans well as sustainable living. The marriage of expertise means that DSM’s expertise in micronutrients is linked with the technological edge that Mixfit brings. This business analyzes health data in real-time and then addresses any nutritional gaps. It means that for an ingredients business like DSM, they can tap into any consumer’s need to improve their personal health status and then deliver personalized solutions directly at home.

Mixfit offer a system called Intelligent Nutrition Assistant (Mina) which analyses a person’s make-up, their diet, lifestyle and health goals. The result is a series of delicious beverages that contain a customized mix of DSM’s Quali Blends that has various vitamins and minerals meeting the recipient’s nutritional needs.

Some clients are seeking clarification though on what personalised nutrition will do for them. A lot of people now use fitness trackers – was 12% in 2015 but now 19% in 2019.

Hurdles To Overcome In Personalized Nutrition

So some consumers are interested in the idea of diets that are personal but there are still roadblocks to overcome if the full value in the trends are to be realized by manufacturers. 

For a start, consumers fear the loss of privacy because their health information might be used for insurance purposes. if the value in sharing the data is high enough then consumers will probably overcome that fear but it certainly cannot be moral for such data to be then shared with a wider public.

The other issue is the price of DNA testing. DNA tests are expensive for everyone but if it becomes a competitive market, then the price will surely come down. It also helps if the market becomes more accessible. 

As the subject develops, more information will eb added to improve the context and content of the article.

References

Food4Me Study (2016) Effect of an Internet-based, personalized nutrition randomized trial on dietary changes associated with the Mediterranean diet: the Food4Me Study, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 104, Issue 2, August, pages 288–297 (Article)

Gibney, M., Walsh, M., Goosens, J. (2016) Personalized nutrition: paving the way to better population health. In: Eggersdorfer M, Kraemer M, Vordaro JB, et al, eds. Good nutrition: perspectives for the 21st century. Karger Publishers, pp. 235-48

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