Ultimately, every single person is different when it comes to health and well being through nutrition. We all have a specific DNA, blended with different eating habits, daily activity levels, and degrees of allergies or reactions to certain foods. That is why it would be almost impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. We can, of course, make general assumptions based on very sophisticated, robust and valid statistics. However, there are far too many factors to consider on an individual level, which is where personalised nutrition comes in.
Both stratified and personalised nutrition are big topics of interest at the moment. They have, of course, been around for some time but are becoming even more relevant as we consider on a deeper level the future of food from an organisational and consumer perspective.
First, let’s understand the difference between the two approaches:
- Stratified nutrition is a tailored nutritional approach which groups together individuals with shared characteristics in order to create advice and solutions suited to each group. For example, age, gender or health status.
- Personalised nutrition, on the other hand, takes this one step further and looks to provide tailored nutritional solutions specific to each individual. For example, dietitians may provide specific nutrition advice when working with individuals one-on-one. This could be based on factors such as DNA, microbiome or blood testing. This individual approach can also be used for the development of more effective interventions for improving public health based on dietary patterns and habits.
Why are stratified and personalised nutrition strategies becoming more mainstream?
I believe that as each generation is becoming healthier and begins to live longer, we will need solutions that become more tailored to our needs to be able to adapt to and manage that change. The goal of tailored nutrition approaches should be to provide guidance around healthy eating with the aim of reducing or preventing non-communicable diseases such as nutritional-related deficiencies and illnesses. This becomes even more prevalent as we move towards plant-based or vegan diets. Consumers need to adopt an increased understanding of what we need to eat in order to prevent protein, mineral or vitamin deficiencies.
With the growth and ‘mainstreamness’ of this industry, the sheer quantity of digital information means that we are being bombarded with information, often conflicting, on which products or services to purchase or diets to follow. We have a tendency to do as we are told when it comes to nutrition. It is often learned behaviour from when we are young. For example, I am sure that you are familiar with the food pyramid and were often told as a child that you need to eat 5 fruits and vegetables daily. Now, I am not saying that all advice is bad advice. Most of us could definitely benefit from increasing our fruit and vegetable intake. What I want to express is that before taking any advice on board, we need to consciously consider whether it is beneficial for us on an individual level and from there make responsible food choices based on our emotional and physical symptoms.
Personalised nutrition methods such as at-home 3D printing or individual dietitian sessions can often be expensive for the majority of the population. In order to increase the level of education among consumers, governments and nutritional bodies will likely need to initially focus on providing stratified solutions and slowly work on incorporating personalised nutrition strategies in the long-term.
What are the benefits of using personalised nutrition strategies?
There are many advantages to receiving or creating our own tailored nutrition advice over a one-size-fits-all approach. It makes sense that we should eat for the wellbeing of our specific nutritional needs and not for the assumed nutritional needs of the majority. Always with a sustainable and responsible approach in mind, of course.
One of the main benefits is the potential decline in society-wide diseases, illnesses or deficiencies caused by poor nutritional decisions or malnutrition. Some research has even discovered that personalised nutrition methods can lead to better blood glucose control in patients with metabolic disorders.
Let’s look at a few of the main trending personalised nutrition strategies that are hoping to solve our pain points as we move away from one-size-fits-all methods:
- 3D Printing
- Consumer Technology and Testing
- Adaptogens and Nootropics
1 | 3D Printing
3D printing machines have been around for some years now but have only just started to become used on a larger scale in the food industry. They are specifically becoming a huge point of interest in the tailored nutrition world, with companies like Nourish3d aiming to solve the two most common consumer and company pain points when it comes to offering personalised nutrition solutions – cost and timing. They aim to bring this technology to a consumer-level by helping users reduce their own nutrient deficiencies. Melissa Snover, Nourish3d’s Founder, imagines a world where people will have a biosensor in their arm that sends information to their printer and creates a food with whatever percentage of macronutrients their body requires at that time.
3D printing is an obvious choice of technology for use in high-end restaurants where chefs can use the
machine to create intricate designs or streamline food aesthetics. It is also a great option for consumers at home to adapt ‘ugly-looking’ food into something children want to eat. Here is what a household 3D printer would look like (left) and what it printed (right) – hummus (the chip, paprika and olive were added manually). A colleague spotted this at a recent event in Madrid on the future of food.
The main challenge for this personalised nutrition strategy is the cost. It is not currently affordable for most of the population but will likely decrease as the technology improves and available competitive offerings in the market increases. I am very interested in seeing how the food industry adapts and evolves with this technology.
2 | Consumer Technology and Testing
In recent years, companies have discovered the demand for consumers wanting to take charge of their own nutrition. Consumers are starting to realise that what works well for their best friend or their mother, may not be what their own body requires. This has resulted in the launch of countless apps, websites, and at-home tests so that consumers can learn more about their individual nutrition needs.
For example, there is some literature to suggest that different blood types may have specific dietary requirements. Advanced technologies have allowed early adopters to carry out individual or self-reporting microbiome or DNA tests using body metrics. These types of tests allow consumers to make more targeted decisions about their food choices.
On a less advanced, but more user-friendly level, popular apps such as Lifesum are available to enable users to calculate and track the macronutrients their body receives on a daily basis. I downloaded the app as part of my research for this article and, in case anyone is not familiar, I have included some screenshots below.
The rise in social media along with health industry influencers means that access to food and nutrition knowledge is easy and readily available at our fingertips. This makes these kind of apps and at-home tests much more appealing. It also offers us more control over our own lives and nutrition habits.
3 | Adaptogens and Nootropics
If you are not familiar with adaptogenic ingredients, adaptogens are typically types of herbs and spices which help to modulate the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. They basically help your body to relieve stress and increase overall general wellbeing. Depending on the ingredients you choose, there can be additional benefits such as optimised organ function, improvements in cholesterol levels, or increased energy. Ashwagandha is a great example of an adaptogenic herb that provides all of the above.
Nootropics are not unlike adaptogens, however they are supplements which focus more on improving the cognitive functions of our brain and memory. You may be more familiar with supplements like cod liver oil or omega 3 which, due to their cognitive benefits, are often considered nootropics.
As our lifestyles and nutrition patterns continue to change rapidly, it is not always easy to make sure you get all of the necessary nutrients. Even if you do make an effort to maintain your nutrition at optimal levels, external factors such as high-stress home, work, or study environments can have a negative effect on our bodies and minds. In these short-term situations, we can supplement with adaptogens or nootropics to help manage the situation better.
What to keep in mind when adopting personalised nutrition strategies?
As a consumer or user, the key aspect to remember is to find what works for you and your current situation. Consistency is key. The idea behind tailored nutrition is to enhance and improve your overall health and wellbeing so the strategy you choose should also nurture that.
It is also important to keep in mind that while these apps and companies give us more control over our nutrition, it is still in your best interests to seek advice from a medical or healthcare professional before beginning any new test or approach. There is a level of self-diagnosis and self-medication involved, so we need to ensure we also have a good level of self-awareness when using them.
In order to become confident in choosing quality ingredients, consumers first need to be confident in their level of nutritional education. So much conflicting information available can cause consumer confusion regarding the true effectiveness, quality, and necessity of an ingredient. It may also be unclear on how to use it to extract optimal value from a nutritional and functional standpoint. If personalised nutrition strategies are to work, customers need to understand the how and why as well. The whole idea of personalised nutrition is that there is no “right way”. This needs to be communicated so that each individual knows how and where to do their own research to figure out the best way for them. Learning to take ownership for our own health and wellbeing is of huge importance. We should learn to use our “gut-feeling” as a basis for further research-backed by clean-science and data analytics to demonstrate what nutrition habits work well for us.
From a business or entrepreneurial perspective, as the preference for personalised nutrition becomes increasingly popular with consumers and therefore more saturated with new players in the market, we will need to be more mindful of the quality of the ingredients we choose to put in our bodies. While this should be the number one priority of any company working within this industry, it may not always be that way as competition increases. I can certainly identify some high-potential gaps that could create commercial opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs and agile start-ups to engage with early adopters, technology or lifestyle consumers. For example, personalised nutrition strategies that focus on the market for seniors (using functional ingredients to achieve tailored texture and sensory experiences). Lifestyle consumers or sport nutrition is another key area to combine with targeted health benefits (gut and cardiovascular).
One of the main points that I think companies need to be extremely aware of when carrying out personalised nutrition strategies are the laws surrounding the collection of data and privacy. With so many companies beginning to offer personalised DNA, microbiome or blood tests, this could turn into a very serious issue if not taken into consideration from the beginning.
If we can tailor all of our individual vitamin, mineral and other nutritional needs into tablet or liquid forms, why can’t we also tailor-make fermented foods and beverages, bespoke plant-based meat or cheese analogues, clean-label snacks etc. The answer is time. At the moment, it takes most companies so long to create tailor-made products that most consumers are not willing to wait for results, especially if the cost is high. If personalised nutrition is to become the future of food, then we need to work on reducing the time to consumer as much as possible without compromising on quality.
Stratified nutrition and personalised nutrition are two extremely interesting areas for me as a food scientist with a keen interest in clean science combined with integrated medicine through nutrition. The need for tailored strategies when it comes to consumers and nutrition is increasingly necessary in order to improve our overall well being as we take on more during our daily lives. I love being a part of this industry and working closely with companies across the world to help their customers “feel the benefit” by becoming more energised almost immediately and healthier in the long term.
What is interesting here is the paradigm that a well designed and targeted mix of foods and nutrients will ultimately act as an extremely potent cocktail to provide well-targeted requirements from a nutritional, health and cosmetic perspectives. You will be glad to hear that we do not need to address all of those at once however this concept is well worth integrating into your innovation strategy to meet the requirements and expectations of specific segments using “smart” or active ingredients and bioactive nutrients.