Personalized nutrition has emerged as an area of research that provides specifically tailored dietary recommendations according to a person’s genetic makeup and lifestyle.
You may hear it called by various terms, including “individualized nutrition,” “precision nutrition” or “nutritional genomics.”
We all have differences in our metabolism, genetics, biochemistry and microbiota.
Even twins, who share the same DNA profile, show different responses to foods.
The goal of personalized nutrition is to provide nutritional guidance based on our health status, biology, background and environment.
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There are a number of companies who currently offer home testing kits utilizing stool samples.
However, this science is still in its infancy, and much of this business is oriented toward obsolete approaches. We just don’t know enough yet about all the factors that affect our responses to food and nutrients to be able to provide reliable and accurate nutrition advice based on these tests.
Scientists predict we will have much more information by the end of the decade. But for now, the science isn’t there yet.
AI and nutrition? It’s here
Another emerging trend is the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create customized diets for those with diabetes. Through the use of a questionnaire and a submitted stool sample, AI will create a profile and a food plan.
This can provide some very useful information and assist people in making intelligent food choices, but is often inaccurate and incomplete, and even harmful.
For example, one client received a very thorough plan to help him reduce his blood sugar. But the plan included foods that were harmful to his kidneys (he had preexisting kidney disease).
As of now, genetic testing through companies such as 23 and Me provides accurate information about our tendencies and risk of developing various health conditions and diseases.
This information is very useful when working with a professional, such as a Registered Dietitian, who can customize a nutrition plan for you based on this information.
Genetic testing can predict your chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes, various types of cancer, such as breast cancer and colorectal cancer, Celiac disease, kidney disease, high cholesterol, and certain types of anemias.
Based on this information, a dietitian can create a custom meal plan for you, based on either the elimination of, or inclusion of certain foods in your diet that can help minimize your risk.
Furthering the science
Personalized nutrition is used in the clinical setting with patients who have diet allergies, intolerances and sensitivities to food triggers (peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, wheat, and dairy allergies, for example).
These allergen-free diets are tailored according to an individual’s response.
We all have a unique microbiome (the collection of microorganisms living in the gut). The microbiome plays a role in immunity, vitamin production, and digestion, among other things. These gut bacteria also affect an individual’s risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
It is possible to alter our microbiome by selecting optimal foods.
Personalized nutrition allows individuals to move beyond generic dietary guidelines and empowers individuals to take control of their health and make informed dietary choices, leading to improved well-being and better health.
Just beware of companies that offer home testing kids and AI analysis. It’s like the Wild West now, and there’s a lot of hype to sort through.
Be especially suspicious of companies that want to sell you supplements.
Your best bet is to consult with a registered dietitian who can customize an eating plan for you based on your current health status and risk.
Susie Bond is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist in private practice. Contact her at [email protected]