Personalised nutrition: Catering to your body's very specific needs

  • Nutrition
  • Tuesday, 27 Aug 2019

We are all probably familiar with the principles of a healthy, balanced diet, but personalised nutrition aims to nail down the details of what we should be eating. — Nestle

Most of us are in control of what we eat, but are we consuming all the right nutrients at the right amounts for our body?

For example, while we all generally understand that a clean diet and frequent exercise will lead to weight loss, there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone as can be seen by the numerous diets out there.

Perhaps some people need more calcium, while others may need to up their protein intake. Each body is different and this is where personalised nutrition can play a role.

Just as how personalised medicine involves analysing your genes to determine which medicine is the most effective for your medical condition, personalised nutrition involves similar analysis to determine what foods can best achieve your health goals.

India’s Expert Nutraceutical Advocacy Council chief founder and director Sandeep Gupta notes that consumers are constantly finding ways to monitor their health status.

“We are entering an age of personalised nutrition where science and technology can dictate which food is right for us. “It’s not only for weight management, but more importantly to also manage our overall health and well-being,” he says.

He points out: “Not long ago, we believed our genetic makeup was pre-determined and a biological reality. The emergence of epigenetics, which is the study of mechanisms that switch genes on and off, has shed light on the fact that our genes are fluid and can be shaped by various internal and external factors.”

Personalised nutrition companies collect and analyse your biodata, after which, they customise nutrition plans that help you meet your health goals, be it weight management or disease prevention.

Biodata is collected in various ways. For instance, wearable devices can collect rudimentary data such as your rate of physical activity or height and weight. Home testing kits can collect specialised data such as DNA, blood nutrient levels, blood types, and even the composition of your gut microbiome.

Europe and the United States are at the forefront of the personalised nutrition industry. It is also a growing trend in Asia, with countries like Japan, South Korea and Singapore seeing the most activity.

For example, Singapore has Imagene Labs, which formulates supplements and fitness solutions according to DNA, while Nestle Japan is partnering with DNA labs Genesis Healthcare and Halmek Ventures to provide personalised nutrition advice for senior citizens.

Other Asian countries have yet to catch on due to the high costs of personalised nutrition programmes, where fees can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, says Lux Research analyst Thomas Hayes.

Disease prevention is a key aim of personalised nutrition. Diabetes, which can be prevented through improving one’s diet, is one disease that Hayes hopes personalised nutrition will help eliminate. Type 2 diabetes afflicts nearly half a billion people around the globe.

According to Hayes, the global cost of diabetes is estimated to be almost US$1 trillion (RM4.18tril) per year, with the bulk spent on managing the complications that arise from diabetes, rather than treating diabetes itself.

“The combination of increasing disease prevalence and increasing per capita cost signals that new solutions are needed to supplement or replace traditional diabetes prevention and management tools,” he says.

Personalised nutrition, he notes, can help on the prevention front, by uncovering the genetic qualities of those who predisposed to develop diabetes. “As such, we see genetics as being a necessary data input in forming personalised nutrition recommendations and products for diabetes prevention.”

But key challenges in its mainstream adoption remain, especially the need for more scientifically-backed evidence on what works and what does not. That will also justify the higher costs involved in customising nutrition plans, says Hayes.

Gupta agrees: “It can be challenging to design effective and efficient personalised nutrition services for different individuals and getting the technology in sync with parameters like individual dietary preferences, age group, health conditions and so on.

“Doing this is costly and companies may face growth constraints as a result.” Furthermore, the data needs to be extra secure to ensure that it does not end up in the wrong hands, he says.

To resolve these issues, Hayes recommends that personalised nutrition start-ups partner with large corporations to offset the high costs of research and customisation.

“A personalised nutrition start-up can approach a large corporation pitching it as a preventative tool for employees. Corporations can offset costs and offer it as part of healthcare benefits. Insurers can also work with employers to cover the cost of personalised nutrition programmes.” he says.

Gupta and Hayes will both be speaking at the Vitafoods Asia 2019 conference held in Singapore in Sept 25-26, 2019.

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