Do you ever wonder about what foods are right for you? Many of my clients come to me wondering this very thing.
My client Sandra found me online while searching for help with personalized meal planning. She had seen many different doctors and nutritionists and tried various diets and supplements over the years. However, she still felt tired and lethargic. The latest zero-sugar diet recommended to her was not working, and she was confused about what and when to eat.
Sandra’s nutritional history and story are similar to many of the clients I meet. Her fixation on “healthy eating” can be described as orthorexia. Orthorexia is a form of disordered eating and is defined as an obsession with “proper” eating.
Sandra came to me so fixated on “healthy eating” and finding what foods were best for her that her health and well-being suffered.
For many people, a fixation on “healthy eating” can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. But is finding out the specific foods that are best for us really as important as we think it is?
Today, we’ll explore the concept of personalized nutrition and review whether it’s necessary for our best health.
What is Personalized Nutrition?
As a Registered Dietitian, I combine your nutritional and medical history, relationship with food, and how you feel when you eat certain foods to create a personalized nutrition plan. It is a plan that is tailor-made for you!
Personalized nutrition plans can get even more specific by combining scientific research with information about your diet, medical health, genetic code, genetic code expression (epigenetics), blood biochemistry, reactions to the foods you eat, and analysis of your gut microbiota.
David Bosshart, keynote speaker at the 2018 Global Wellness Summit (GWS), states, “we are confused about what we eat, where we eat, and when to eat it. We define ourselves by what we eat, but even more so by what we don’t eat. Food may have moved to the center of our lives, but we are overwhelmed by our choices.”
According to the GWS, personalized nutrition combines medical science, technology, information, and artificial intelligence to develop a personalized nutrition prescription plan for our unique body.
This personalization isn’t so far off from what we already experience in our day-to-day lives. Netflix knows what shows we watch, how long and when we watch them. Based on our watching patterns, Netflix suggests shows to us.
Similarly, Amazon tracks our purchase history and suggests similar items. Personalization saves us time and energy in searching for what we want.
Personalized nutrition asks, “what foods are right for me?”
But which tests are scientifically proven, and which are just gimmicks to sell people like Sandra more products that contribute to her treadmill of diets, fear, confusion, and orthorexia?
Should you get a hair analysis, live blood analysis, food sensitivity tests, genetic test, saliva test, or a gut microbiome tests? Each of these tests are accessible to us without seeing a medical doctor, but does that mean we should use them?
Three Popular Personalized Nutrition Tests
Nutrigenomics is the scientific study of how a person’s genes interact with the nutrients consumed. Variations in your genes predict how your body may respond to certain nutrients. Nutrigenomics is especially focused on the prevention or treatment of different diseases.
How does it work?
First, you submit your genetic code (DNA), usually in the form of saliva or a cheek swab, to a genetics lab, such as Nutrigenomix or Biogeniq, for analysis. These companies then analyze your DNA compared to research studies in the field of nutrigenomics.
Once your genetic profile is analyzed and compared to the current research studies, you receive a personalized, detailed report that provides information about your health. Some examples of the information it provides you include how likely you are to gain weight, your likelihood of developing high blood pressure or high cholesterol, your caffeine tolerance, lactose intolerance, and gluten sensitivity.
What does this mean for you?
Well, this information allows you to tailor your diet to match your specific nutritional needs.
For example, the report may suggest that you have a gene that could lead to developing high cholesterol levels. A dietitian can help you choose a diet that can help regulate your cholesterol levels so that you can avoid having them become too high.
The analysis will also give you an indication of your genetic risk for lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity. However, it is important to note that these tests are not diagnostic tests and cannot tell you if you have a specific disease such as Celiac disease.
Finally, it’s important to remember that our genetic tendencies toward certain diseases are not guaranteed. While nutrigenomics allows us to target certain aspects of our diet, it doesn’t eliminate the need for trial-and-error regarding diet and exercise.
Epigenetics and Nutrition
Epigenetics is another emerging area of science. It looks at gene expression and genetic information. Gene expression is the process by which the instructions in our DNA are used to create a functional product (such as a protein).
Epigenetics is the study of changes in cells that are caused by modification of gene expression. In other words, your genetic code does not change, but there are changes in the sequence and the expression of those genes in your body. Epigenetics examines why some genes are expressed (turned on) and some are not.
New research shows that diet can influence which genes are turned on and off. While this is an emerging area of study, it’s exciting to think that what we eat could potentially affect which genes are expressed.
For more information, watch this excellent Ted Education video that explains what epigenetics is all about.
Gut Microbiota Analysis
Another exciting area of emerging research is the analysis of the unique bacteria and viruses living in your intestines. These gut microbes are essential for digesting food and processing energy and nutrients.
Like with nutrigenomics, you supply a sample to a company like Viome or DayTwo. These companies have extensive databases of research studies and information. They analyze your unique microbes and run them against their database to provide you with information on how to improve your gut microbiota to reduce your risks of different diseases.
What Does This All Mean?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is where science and technology intersect to make personalized nutrition recommendations.
AI is a computer science term that means that the combination of human data (your DNA or gut microbiota sample) and a machine (computer) database are used to make human predictions.
Before these large computer databases were developed, your doctor or healthcare provider provided personalized recommendations based on their training and research they had reviewed.
Now, with the creation of databases that can pull information together from unlimited sources, it is believed that AI can make better predictions than humans.
Do I Need This Information?
Technology is fast-moving, and access to information is literally at our fingertips. So, how do you navigate this fast-changing science, technology, and abundance of information?
Ask yourself these five important questions before you send your sample away:
- Why do I need this information?
- Will it improve my daily life and my health?
- What will I do with this information?
- Will this information empower me or confuse me?
- Am I committed to taking action on the results?
Does Personalized Nutrition Work?
My experience is that personalized meal and menu plans work, whether they are based on what you share with me or a scientific test.
When I work one-on-one with clients, they experience an overall improvement in their nutritional health because we focus on their unique needs and history with food.
When clients decide to go further with scientific tests, I can help them understand the personalized nutrition reports. Using personalized nutrition reports from companies like Nutrigenomix, I provide individualized nutrition meal plans and recommendations specific to my client’s needs.
Do I Need a Registered Dietitian to Help Me Understand Personalized Nutrition Reports?
Yes and No. Science and technology are moving fast, information is increasing, algorithms are improving, and the science around AI is booming. But technology cannot give you the personalized relationship that you get from working with a Registered Dietitian.
You have a story, history, and narrative. Your life is not black and white! Working with a Registered Dietitian provides you with unique, individualized guidance.
If you do opt for tech-based health assistance, use the scientific and technology-based information responsibly. This means not leaving your nutrition up to supplements and food marketing and remembering that taking the emotion out of eating can lead to isolation and confusion.
Where Do I Go from Here?
Interested in a personalized nutrition plan? Schedule a free consultation with me to discuss your specific nutritional needs and determine if personalized nutrition is what you need to make the right choices for your health.