How will personalized nutrition be shaping the food and health industry?

How will personalized nutrition be shaping the food and health industry?

By Paromita Raha

Though the nutraceutical and functional food markets have witnessed significant growth in recent years, the evolution of the concept of personalized nutrition has started to replace a one-size-fits-all approach. Personalized nutrition is a diet recommendation that has been scientifically tailored to meet your personal nutritional requirements based on your genetic profile, microbiome composition, metabolism, environmental exposure, and personal wellness goals. The American Nutrition Association has proposed to define personalized nutrition as “a field that leverages human individuality to drive nutrition strategies that prevent, manage, and treat disease and optimize health.”

Increasing demand for healthy lifestyles, conscious food choices, and preventive health measures coupled with customization in the food and medicine sectors is leading to the overall growth of personalized nutrition, with a global market increasing at 9.5% CAGR and projected to reach USD 2.76 billion by 2025. 

What factors trigger the personalization of nutrition?

“Personalization” is a buzzword that is creating waves across all sectors, transcending boundaries, and spreading globally. Most businesses today run by extracting personal information from customers, and they are supported by the media that works as a catalyst to fuel the technology that drives this customization. A recent study by Monetate has shown that 93% of businesses that prioritized advanced personalization strategies increased their revenue in 2018 in sectors like travel, hospitality, insurance, and retail.

Considering the health perspective, nutrition is definitely not going to lag behind in this era of customization and is catching up quickly in this game of personalization. External factors that drive the personalization of nutrition include the growing demand for a personalized experience in every sphere of life, appreciation for healthy eating by the more informed consumer, the ability to continuously monitor vitals and health data by technological innovation, and the rise of personalized medicine, to name a few.

What are the key scientific drivers of personalized nutrition?

Though the integration of effective technologies based on scientific evidence may take time, there are two compelling factors that drive personalized nutrition. 

DNA profiling

How genes and nutrients interact at the cellular level to dictate the outcome in individuals is known as nutritional genomics, or nutrigenomics. We now know that different individuals metabolize the same nutrients differently based on their genetic makeup. For example, responses to starch, cholesterol, and even caffeine vary among individuals. Nutrients are also known to interact with our genomes and modify the way genes are expressed. For example, when obese individuals made dietary carbohydrate modifications, their metabolism genes were differently expressed, resulting in weight loss. Nutrients are also known to influence epigenetic outcomes, which is altering how the genes are expressed without changing the DNA. Research shows that long-term intake levels of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate can cause epigenetic changes that influence our well being.

Though the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 has fast-tracked precision medicine, the knowledge about the interactions between nutrition and our genome remains in its infancy. However, entrepreneurs have seized the opportunity to provide solutions based on emerging data.

Gut microbiome analysis

Our gut is host to about 100 trillion microbes, including mostly bacteria, but also fungi, viruses, and protozoa that form our gut microbiome. It is not surprising, then, that the microbiome DNA supersedes that of our own and plays a vital role in digestion and metabolism, directly affecting our fitness and health. Though each one of us is known to be born with a unique microbiome, a lot of factors help reshape the microbiome population, such as mode of birth, genetic makeup, diet, age, and antibiotics. The gut microbes also produce vitamins and other compounds that humans cannot synthesize and thus determine what nutrients are available from the food we eat. 

The Human Microbiome Project, completed in 2012, has made capitalizing on the gut microbiome blueprint of an individual a prospective approach towards personalized nutrition. This approach, though promising, warranties a lot more scientific evidence.

Who are the early players in the arena?

Lately, there has been an upsurge in companies crowding the space of direct-to-consumer (DTC) testing services that collect saliva, blood, or fecal matter from consumers to run tests and provide nutrition recommendations as well as tracking applications. 

Offering testing services 

Habit, a pioneer in the field founded in 2016, is a personal nutrition program that uses at-home test kits that can consolidate the findings of over 60 blood biomarkers, genetic data, and self-reported information to produce nutritional and dietary recommendations based on your personal needs and goals. The testing is done by accredited laboratories that are compliant with HIPAA, GCP, and USDA requirements.

OME Health takes your diet and lifestyle goals into account to create personalized meal plans. The company also offers comprehensive genetic testing, gut microbiome analysis, and blood tests to make detailed diet recommendations. InsideTracker suggests nutrition plans based on answers to a basic questionnaire, blood, and DNA, using data mining that feeds into an algorithmic engine, and then readjusts the recommendations every three months depending on how your body changes.

Players like Digital Wellness and DNAfit make diet recommendations for losing weight banking on the customers’ genetic information obtained from in-depth genetic profiling run by prominent companies like Ancestry and 23andMe.  

US-based GenoPalate and UK-based DnaNudge also believe that our DNA dictates what we should eat and are making recommendations based on genetic profiles. While both companies use your saliva sample to decode the DNA and make recommendations on the intake of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, the DnaNudge app can be paired to your wearable device to scan CPG products and predict whether a food is good for you.

Viome and DayTwo are two major companies that offer microbiome analysis to guide your nutritional needs. Viome uses proprietory CLIA-certified RNA sequencing technology to analyze your unique microbiome and provide nutrient recommendations. DayTwo analyzes your gut microbiome and couples it with a patent-pending algorithm to predict nutrition plans that they claim will help reduce your blood sugar levels.

Providing tracking services

Modern-day fitness trackers owe their popularity to the first product launched by Fitbit, now acquired by Google, since 2009. The technology giant Apple closely followed suit with the Apple Watch in 2015. While the earlier versions of these trackers calculated distance walked, calories burned, and duration of the activity, current versions include BMI and heart rate monitors, sleep analysis, oxygen saturation monitors, and even menstrual tracking, with the goal of providing wellness metrics to manipulate nutrition plans. 

Akin to the tracking devices, several mobile apps exist that can track food, count calories, and plan your meals. With MyFitnessPal, an early player, you can log your meals and exercise, and the app will calculate your daily calorie allowance to help you reduce your weight. Nutritionix is a dietitian-certified food tracking company that scans through the available food databases, tracks food intake and daily calorie needs through a voice-enabled device, and provides access to individual nutrition coaches. Lose It!, which also provides a daily calorie limit and a weight loss plan, goes a step further by connecting you to other users for inspiration and guidance.

Snap It: How It Works from Lose It! on Vimeo.

Lastly, existing food companies and food delivery giants have also entered the race, namely Nestlé and Amazon Fresh. While Nestlé Health Science recently entered the space by acquiring Persona, which develops a personalized nutrition plan based on the consumer’s history, lifestyle, and individual needs, Amazon Fresh has partnered with Habit to deliver customized nutrition plans to consumers. 

The takeaway

While researchers from the industry and academia collaborate to run comprehensive studies like PREDICT, the largest nutritional study aimed at understanding individual responses to food and making future predictions, the early adopters of the currently available trackers, kits, and other services should realize that though promising, these products should be used with discretion. The science behind personalized wellness will evolve, and it is only a matter of time before we can embrace personalized nutrition as a routine. 

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