Do you wonder about what foods are right for you? Many of my clients come to me wondering the same thing. My client Sandra found me online while searching for help with personalized meal planning. She has seen many different doctors and nutritionists over the years and has tried various diets and supplements, but she still feels tired and lethargic. The latest zero sugar diet recommended to Sandra was not working, and she was confused about what to eat and when to eat.
Sandra’s nutritional history and story are consistent with many of the clients I meet. Orthorexia, a new term defined in 1998, describes clients like Sandra. Orthorexia is a form of disordered eating and defined as an obsession with “proper” healthy eating. Sandra came to me so fixated on “healthy eating” and finding what foods are best for her that her well-being and health suffered.
Can you identify with Sandra? Why are we obsessed with finding the right foods for us to be healthy? Why is it important? Is there a way to know what foods are right for us? Is there one definition of a “healthy diet?”
First, let’s begin by exploring personalized nutrition.
What is Personalized Nutrition?
As a Registered Dietitian, I take your nutritional and medical history, relationship with food, and how you feel when you eat certain foods to create a personalized nutritional plan. It is a plan that is tailor-made for you!
Personalized nutrition plans can get even more specific by combining scientific research with the information about your diet, medical health, genetic code, genetic code expression (epigenetics), blood biochemistry, reactions to the foods you eat, and an analysis of the bacteria and virus in your stomach (gut microbiome).
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’re eating, 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.”
We are looking for eternal youth. We want to live longer. We have expectations of how we want to look. Usually, that means weighing less than we currently do, especially in our older age. Some people focus on weight as the most important determinant of health because of the link to poor diet, obesity and health risks.
Personalized Nutrition, Medical Technology and Artificial Intelligence
According to the GWS, personal nutrition combines medical science, technology, information and artificial intelligence to develop a personalized prescription plan for our unique body.
We experience similar personalization all around us. Netflix knows what shows we watch, how long we watch, and when we watch. 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. We have bought into the concept that one size does not fit all. We know this from the clothes we buy to the shows that we watch. Personalized nutrition asks, “what foods are right for me?”
In addition to personalization, medical and genetic tests that were once only accessible by doctors and scientists are now available directly to consumers for an affordable cost. But what tests are scientifically proven and which are just gimmicks to sell people like Sandra more products and contribute to her treadmill of diets, fear, confusion and orthorexia? Each medical test claims to be scientifically proven, but then some will contradict each other. Remember when eggs were bad for us? Now they are okay! Confusion over science and what medical tests are scientifically based leads to even more confusion.
Should you get a hair analysis, live blood analysis, food sensitivity tests, genetic test, saliva test, gut biome tests? All of these tests are accessible to us without seeing a medical doctor. But, who do we believe and who is right?
The first step is to understand the different tests and to determine what is important to you. What do you want to know? How do you feel when you eat?
Three Popular Personalized Nutrition Tests
Nutrigenomics is the study of how one’s genetic profile interacts with nutrition, health and athletic performance. It is the study of how genes interact with food based on research studies.
You submit your genetic code (DNA) usually in the form of saliva or a cheek swab to a genetics lab, such as Nutrigenomix or 23andme for analysis. The companies analyze your DNA in comparison to research studies in their database. The companies also continue to research DNA and their interactions with foods. The analysis then provides you with a risk assessment of your genetic code as compared to the current public health guidelines.
Once your genetic profile is analysed and compared to the current research studies, you receive a personalized, detailed report that provides you with information such as your predisposition to weight gain, your caffeine metabolism, lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity. It is important to note that this information is based on current available data and probability risk as being typical, low or elevated for a certain guideline.
Linking this to meal planning, by having this information, it is now possible to tailor your nutrition intake more specifically to your nutritional needs. For example, the report will suggest what your macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, fat) breakdown should be in your diet. It also suggests whether you need to increase your fat intake or lower your carbohydrate level. The result will give you an indication of your genetic codes risk for lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity. 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.
Epigenetics is another emerging area of science. It’s the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off and looks at genetic code expression and genetic information.
Epigenetics is the study of changes in cells that are caused by modification of gene expression rather than changing our genetic code itself. Your genetic code does not change, but there are alterations in the sequence and the expression of those genes in your body. Epigenetics is the study of why some genes are expressed (turned on) and some do not.
For more information, watch this excellent Ted Education video that explains what epigenetics is all about.
Bacteria and Virus Analysis
Another exciting area of emerging research is analyzing the unique bacteria and viruses (gut microbiome) living in your intestinal tract (stomach) that 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 “microbiome” to reduce your risks of diseases. All information is based on your sample as compared to databases of information that are growing exponentially.
What does this all mean?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is where the science and technology intersect to make personalized nutrition recommendations for you . AI is a computer science term that means that the combination of human data (your DNA or gut microbiome sample) and a machine (computer) database are used to make human predictions. Before these large database computers were developed, your doctor or health professional, for example, provided personalized recommendations based on his/her 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. Any of the health and wellness apps on your smartphone use AI to recommend diets, meal plans, workout routines, and other wellness advice.
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 Personal 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 the personalized nutrition reports from companies like Nutrigenomix, I provide individualized nutrition meal plans and recommendations specific to my client 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 professional health coach, like a Registered Dietitian, provides you with the right, individualized guidance.
If you do opt for tech-based health assistance, use the scientific and technology-based information responsibly. This means not abdicating your nutrition to supplements and food marketing, and remembering that taking the emotion out of eating can lead to isolation and confusion – and there is no emotion in technology-based health and wellness.
This information in this blog post is simplified, and I encourage you to seek out additional information. My specialty is meal and menu planning from your point of view and unique needs. I find the explosion of tests, information and science technology fascinating, which is why I share this information, and my goal is to help my clients translate the information into the foods they eat and the enjoyment of food in their healthy lives. I help you answer the question, “What foods are right for me?”
Where do I go from here?
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 and get your health back on track.