Ultra-personalized food: cooked to order on our plate

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After the COVID-19 pandemic, health has returned to the fore. And food logically turned out to be one of the main activation levers for improving health. Target? Eat better to boost your immune defenses, prevent chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.) and thus live longer in good health. Against this background, the market for personalized nutrition has grown dramatically.

A 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal defines personalized nutrition as “an approach that uses information about individual characteristics to develop targeted nutritional recommendations, products or services.” Other experts define it as a strategy to help people achieve sustainable and healthy dietary changes. In other words, it is about collecting relevant information about a person in order to offer him a diet that guarantees him good health.

Note that this approach can be applied to both healthy people and people with an increased genetic predisposition to certain diseases. It is also relevant in certain periods of life, when the needs of the body change temporarily or permanently (pregnancy, old age). At any age, food is the foundation of health; however, our lifestyle and our resources do not always allow us to guarantee nutritional balance throughout life.

There is no perfect and universal diet

Dietary factors have been shown to be a major contributor to chronic diseases (also known as non-communicable diseases) such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. They account for 71% of deaths worldwide. Personalized nutrition is now seen as the first line of defense against these diseases.

Several diets are commonly cited as an example of maintaining health: the Mediterranean (or Cretan) diet, in which pride of place is given to fruits and vegetables; The Okinawan diet, named after a Japanese island with a large population of centenarians, is to eat until you are only 80% full; a ketogenic diet consisting mainly of lipids and very few carbohydrates; vegetarian diet, etc.

These diets may indeed have some merit, but they are not necessarily balanced in the sense that they often eliminate one or more types of food. However, for optimal functioning, our body needs a balanced intake of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, fiber and micronutrients. But above all, these standard diets are intended for the general population, without considering the specific needs of each individual. However, a teenager, an athlete, a diabetic, a pregnant woman, or a 50-year-old person will have very different nutritional needs.

Not only do these people have different needs, but the body’s response to different food components—how it absorbs different nutrients—can differ dramatically from one average person to another. Not to mention people with celiac disease (gluten intolerance), Crohn’s disease or food allergies, whose symptoms are more or less aggravated depending on what they eat.

This is why there is a growing interest in personalized nutrition, and therefore omics. Nutritional genomics, metabolomics, proteomics, microbiomics… Scientists identify and analyze all relevant molecules (proteins, metabolites, genes, etc.) as well as the functioning of the body system to better understand the specific needs of an individual.

Saliva, blood, urine, DNA, microbiota, everything is carefully studied. These biological data, to which the results of personalized questionnaires are added, are then analyzed by algorithms that determine the most appropriate diet for the person in question. In particular, it is about identifying specific predispositions, such as poor absorption of certain vitamins or inflammation caused by certain foods.

Tips and products adapted to every person and every goal

And it works! A 2016 study testing the effectiveness of personalized nutrition found that after six months, personalized nutritional counseling resulted in “more significant and more appropriate changes in eating behavior than the traditional approach.”

Several companies now offer test kits to determine which products are the most appropriate for a given goal (weight loss, fitness, stress reduction, etc.). After that, various products and services are offered, such as supplements (vitamins, probiotics, etc.), online food education and/or food delivery.

For example, the American company DNAfit, a key player in the sector, proposes to create a personalized nutrigenetic profile based on a saliva sample, and then describe in detail how to create the perfect meal in accordance with the desired goal. It even sets up recipes and related shopping lists! Depending on the formula chosen, these recommendations may be accompanied by information on stress management, sleep, etc. Other companies rely on microbiota analysis (obtained from a stool sample).

According to a recent analysis by Allied Market Research, the global personalized nutrition market was valued at $14.6 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $37.3 billion by 2030. nutrition,” analysts say. The personalized nutrition market is predominantly American, both in terms of funds raised and the number of start-ups.

However, France is not without resources, as evidenced by Rennes-based startup Nahibu, which offers a complete gut microbiota assessment, personalized dietary workouts, and probiotics designed for your microbiota. Startups Cuure, Epycure and BeBips offer personalized nutritional supplements based on an online questionnaire that identifies specific problems.

However, personalized nutrition still has to overcome certain hurdles to become fully-fledged mainstream. First, many consumers remain reluctant to share their biological and genetic data in exchange for nutritional advice—let’s just remember in passing that genomic testing is currently banned in France. In addition, in all areas, personalization has its price. Food is no exception and this concept is currently not available to all budgets.

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