As consumers become increasingly health conscious and the risk for chronic diseases such as obesity keeps rising, a new wave of nutrition-minded biotech companies have been analyzing DNA/biological compounds to reimagine our relationship with food. These services provide precise, customized nutrition advice that claim to optimize one’s health in accordance with the unique microbes and genes in each person’s body.
In an Australian study with 1,607 volunteer adults (Food4Me Study), researchers found that participants who were given personalized dietary advice significantly reduced their intake of discretionary (junk) food compared to the control group who were only given general food group advice.
Why Does it Work?
This leads to the question of why customized nutrition advice seems to work better for individuals in ways that public, general nutrition advice from government agencies have not. The broad advice of eating at least five cups of vegetables and fruits a day can lead to dozens of different fruits/vegetable combinations which may seem overwhelming.
Companies like Viome, a biotech company that analyzes gut microbes to provide personalized food recommendations, satisfies customer’s need for convenience by using powerful AI to make apps that essentially act as 24/7 personal nutrition assistants. Customers are more inclined to follow tailored solutions because they feel personally cared for and in control with specific options.
Real World Implications
However, the emerging trend of personalized diets may not be practical for families or in larger food settings like cafeterias. A food may be a “super food” for the gut microbes of one child while it could be deemed one to “avoid” for another child.
In addition, these services are not accessible to all but rather tend to benefit “people that [probably] already have a good diet but can afford a high-priced test” (Nutra), so this might not be a viable solution towards lowering risk of chronic disease on a macroscale.
Further, some of these nutrition platforms focus on specific conditions, which might lead to a “partial picture” of health. For example, as a recent WebMD article noted, a customer of DayTwo (a platform that analyzes blood sugar specifically) received bratwurst as a recommended low blood sugar spiking food, but processed meat is high in salt and fat and has been repeatedly shown to increase the risk of heart diseases.