Personalized Nutrition and Tech-Enabled Diets

June 17, 2023
David Sunnyside

Personalized Nutrition is increasingly becoming a top consumer concern. However, a number of barriers must be overcome before this trend is able to gain traction.

Historically, dietary treatments based on genetic information have included diets low in gluten for celiac disease, phenylalanine restriction to treat phenylketonuria and avoidance of some amino acids to treat Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD). New advances in “omics” technologies are opening up enormous opportunities to study gene-diet interactions.

Personalized Dietary Advice

Technology has made it easier to get personalized dietary advice from apps to track allergies, search for recipes or follow specialized diets. Food-service companies are also working on incorporating food into their delivery services and educating consumers on their nutrition choices.

A key challenge in delivering personalized nutrition programs is measuring their effects. A holistic definition of health that considers body weight, metabolic markers and physical function is needed to determine if the programs are beneficial.

This study used a randomized controlled trial in a workforce setting to determine the effect of an integrated personalized systems nutrition (PSN) program on diet, anthropometric measurements and health-related outcomes. The PSN program included a baseline challenge test, personalized dietary recommendations, behavior guidance and motivational interviewing. Compared to participants in the control group, those in the PSN program experienced significant improvements in the health space score and a reduction in body weight, waist circumference and blood pressure, especially in the subgroup with compromised phenotypic flexibility.

Personalized Food Delivery

The field of personalized nutrition combines nutrition science and technology to optimize health, diet, and lifestyle. Taking multiple factors into consideration including DNA, phenotype, microbiome, metabolome and diet/nutrition, personalized nutrition offers the opportunity to reduce health risks by tailoring dietary advice or diets.

Startups are already offering a variety of home testing technologies that can measure the effects of different foods and nutrients on people’s bodies. For example, Danish company GUTXY analyzes the gut microbiome to optimize individuals’ dietary and lifestyle choices. Similarly, Baze offers personalized vitamin services by measuring baseline levels of key nutrients in the blood, and then sending consumers only the supplements they need – with regular retesting to monitor their progress.

While these personalization tools can help people meet their individual nutritional needs, it remains to be seen whether they will motivate and engage individuals in behavior change. Moreover, the impact of incorporating genotype and phenotype data on dietary intake still needs to be investigated.

Personalized Monitoring

With personalized monitoring, the technology is able to track an individual’s health metrics and dietary habits, providing feedback on how they are progressing towards their goals. This helps drive adherence by offering positive reinforcement, such as “Congratulations! You’ve hit your goal of eating more vegetables.”

In addition to tracking an individual’s dietary choices, some technologies offer the ability to monitor their digestion. Irish startup FoodMarble develops a personal digestive tracker called AIRE that connects to the user’s mobile phone to measure the levels of carbon dioxide and hydrogen in their breath after each meal, helping them understand which foods cause discomfort and optimize their diet accordingly.

Other technologies help consumers make healthier choices by scanning barcodes or analyzing food photos to identify ingredients and provide nutrition information. However, many of these solutions struggle with a gap between their technical efficacy and consumer compliance. This requires re-imagining how these solutions can be made versatile, adaptable and seamless enough to only warrant passive engagement – nudging the consumer towards healthier decisions.

Personalized Coaching

The personalisation of food products and meals offers opportunities for developers of consumer applications and integrated digital solutions, including meal planning, grocery shopping, nutrition tracking and health/wellness coaching. These platforms can be used by dieticians to support clients or for patients to self-track diet and exercise adherence. Many apps and wearables include a food scanner to capture images for dietary assessment, although these are still prone to error from recall bias and lack the granularity of data collection that is needed to inform real-time recommendations.

Larger studies are underway to incorporate more layers of data — including genes, gut microbiome and blood sugar responses to food — into these algorithms. This can be a powerful way to predict how people will respond to particular foods and to develop eating recommendations that improve health outcomes. This will be a key opportunity for new players to differentiate themselves from the many existing personalised nutrition offerings that are aimed at consumers.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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