Everyone wants to be as healthy as they can be. However, while wearable technology has made it possible for people to track their physical activity, personalised nutrition has yet to be fully addressed.
For example – while it is basic understanding that a clean diet and frequent exercise will lead to weight loss, a one-size fits all approach may not work for everybody.
Perhaps some people need more calcium, while others may need to up their protein intake. Each body is different, and in-depth analysis can provide a clearer picture of what needs to be done.
How does personalised nutrition work?
Sandeep Gupta, Chief Founder & Director of the Expert Nutraceutical Advocacy Council (ENAC) says 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 manage our overall health and well-being,” says Gupta, who is a speaker the Vitafoods Asia 2019 Conference.
“Not long ago, we believed our genetic makeup was pre-determined and a biological reality,” he says. “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,” Gupta notes.
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 collect specialised data such as DNA, nutrient levels in blood, blood types and even gut microbiomes.
Europe and the United States are at the forefront of personalised nutrition. It is also a growing trend in Asia, with developed countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore seeing most activity.
Some examples in Asia include Singapore’s Imagene Labs, which formulates supplements and fitness solutions according to DNA; and Nestle Japan’s partnership with Genesis Healthcare and Halmek Ventures, both of which are DNA labs based in Japan, designed to provide personalised nutrition advice for senior citizens. The partnership has garnered over 100,000 participants since its announcement in May last year.
Less developed countries in Asia have yet to catch on due to the high costs of personalised nutrition programmes, where fees can run into the hundreds or even thousands, says Thomas Hayes, an analyst at Lux Research.
Personalised nutrition’s purpose and challenges
Disease prevention is a key aim of personalised nutrition. Diabetes, which can be prevented through improving one’s diet, is one disease Hayes, who is also a speaker the Vitafoods Asia 2019 Conference, hopes personalised nutrition will help eliminate.
Type 2 diabetes, the more common form of diabetes, afflicts nearly half a billion people around the globe. Hayes adds that the global cost of diabetes is estimated to be almost US$1 trillion per year; the bulk of this cost is 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 explains.
Personalised nutrition, says Hayes, can help on the prevention front, by uncovering genetic qualities of those who predisposed to develop diabetes.
“As such, we see genetics being a necessary data input in forming personalised nutrition recommendations and products for diabetes prevention,” he adds.
But key challenges in its mainstream adoption remain – there needs to be 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 with Hayes.
“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,” he says.
Furthermore, the data needs to be extra secure to ensure it does not end up in the wrong hands, says Gupta.
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.