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Has Personalized Nutrition Really Gone Mainstream?

There is no one-size-fits-all diet. Individuals don’t all have the same dietary needs, and their bodies don’t always respond the same way to the same foods. Personalized nutrition is a systems biology approach to designing a customized diet based on an individual’s specific needs. It evaluates factors such as genetics, gut microbiome, metabolism, body metrics, and lifestyle.

How It Works

Several personalized nutrition companies exist now—some selling kits directly to the user and others only to medical professionals to help them develop diet plans for their patients. Some even include apps and real-time access to nutrition coaches. Many also include more conventional tests such as insulin levels, fasting blood glucose, cholesterol levels, vitamin deficiencies, and food allergies and sensitivities.

In 2020, Nutrition Business Journal estimated the Personalized Nutrition Supplement Market at just under $600 million with the potential to grow to $4 billion by 2023. Of that market, the vast majority was related to survey-based nutrition. This space is led by companies like care/of, that allow their customers to answer lifestyle questions and offer suggestions to fit their current lifestyle or goals. However, more technologically sophisticated options are expected to grow including microbiome testing, genetic testing, and biomarker testing.1

One such brand shaking up personalize health is Canadian-based startup, Gini. It’s full range analysis provides “genetic health risks, lifestyle tendencies, physical traits, and informs you about your gene adjusted nutrition needs.” Gini’s mobile app then provides personalized assistance and allows you to track food, vitamins, exercise, and sleep, among other biological tracking tools for ongoing support. 

Trends Driving Personalized Nutrition

A number of trends have contributed to the development of personalized nutrition, including:

  • Consumer interest in health and wellness
  • Increase in chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes
  • An aging population
  • A rise in self-reported food sensitivities and allergies
  • More informed and digitally-connected consumers
  • Increased interest in self-care, prevention, and use of food as medicine

Why Are Consumers Interested in Personalized Nutrition?

Consumers are exposed to a flood of often conflicting and changing nutrition information. They want nutrition information they can trust and that’s right for them. Science-based, personalized nutrition answers that need. Consumers seek personalized nutrition for a variety of reasons.

For targeted health management of body systems (for optimal function or disease risk reduction):

  • Heart 
  • Brain
  • Bones
  • Eyes
  • Joints
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Immune system

For personal health goals:

  • Weight loss
  • Cholesterol reduction
  • Blood pressure reduction
  • Improved sleep quality

For physical or mental enhancement:

  • Energy
  • Strength
  • Focus and attention
  • Memory

The health benefits of personalized nutrition are enormous due to the links between nutritional status and disease states. Even small dietary changes may correct a vitamin or mineral deficiency, lower cholesterol levels, or eliminate food allergy-induced inflammation.

Shortcomings

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of personalized nutrition is the lack of scientific data, especially regarding the effects of food components on gene expression—a field of study known as nutrigenomics. There is also much more to be learned about the interactions between nutrients and gut bacteria. Moreover, not all personalized nutrition programs include follow-up testing to ensure the program is working effectively.

What’s Mainstream Today: Condition-Specific Products

A condition-specific product is a functional food, beverage or nutritional supplement designed to address one particular health concern such as heart health, eye health, immunity, bone health, joint health, or energy level. Although a condition-specific food product is not fully customized to the individual, it represents a good starting point for a mainstream personalized nutrition product and where a majority of the market is today.

Condition-Specific Ingredient Blends:

Brain Health Thiamin, choline, EPA, DHA
Eye Health Beta-carotene, vitamin C, zinc
Bone Health Calcium, vitamin D, boron
Heart Health Potassium, beta-carotene, lycopene

 

protein shake and bars

What’s Next: Functional Foods & Beverages for Personalized Nutrition

Outside of personalized supplement brands, a growing portion of the market is personalized nutrition programs. A personalized nutrition program can be a diet plan that requires the individual to prepare and combine specific foods in specific amounts. Whether the information around the program is derived from family health knowledge, genetic testing, or biomarker information, optimized nutrition plans with customized prepared foods can reduce the time, effort, and thought required to stick to the diet. This presents a tremendous opportunity for functional foods and beverages. 

Functional foods and beverages can be used to address consumer demand for personalized nutrition. Even without having extensive genetic, microbiome, and blood tests done, individuals often know of their disease risk from family history and routine physical exams. They certainly know how they feel and if they’re suffering from problems with their digestion, joints, weight, energy, or sleep.  

Where to Start: Customized Macronutrients

A major component of designing a mainstream personalized nutrition product is the right composition of macronutrients.

Carbohydrates, which include starch, sugar, and fiber, can be adjusted to address a variety of issues. Examples include situation-specific use of starch and sugar for athletes or as part of a weight gain program. The judicious use of sugar can help mask the undesirable flavors of certain healthy ingredients such as B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and certain botanicals. Sugar can be reduced or eliminated to reduce calories for weight loss and to regulate blood glucose. High fiber levels can be used for optimal digestion and, in the case of beta-glucan fiber, can support heart health. 

Proteins and amino acids can be used to build muscle mass and strength or for weight gain. Protein concentrates, such as whey or milk protein concentrates, can provide a significant, high quality protein boost to a food product. Another consideration is the difference in digestibility of different proteins.

Fats, which include saturated fats, cholesterol, and essential fatty acids, can be used to promote different effects in the body. For weight loss, a food can be designed with little or no fat to reduce caloric intake, or fat can be used strategically to improve satiety. Diets low in cholesterol and saturated fat can support healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. A food can include ingredients high in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, such as fish and seaweeds, for brain and joint health. As well, a food with high fat content is useful for weight gain.

Ingredients for Customization

There is a wide variety of ingredients with known physiological effects that can be used to customize a food product. They can even be blended into a custom premix for easy addition to a product.

Ingredients Optimal for Personalized Nutrition Products

Fat-Soluble Vitamins Vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K
Water-Soluble Vitamins Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, biotin, vitamin C
Minerals Calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorous, iodine
Omega-3 Fatty Acids DHA, EPA, ALA
Carotenoids Beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin
Amino Acids Leucine, isoleucine, valine
Herbs and Spices Turmeric, ginger, peppermint, chamomile
Prebiotics Inulin, beta-glucans, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), resistant starch
Probiotics Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium lactis
Flavonoids Proanthocyanidins (PACs), quercetin, genistein, EGCG
Stimulants Green tea extract or EGCG, guarana, yerba mate

Clean Label

A clean label strategy allows further personalization of a food product. While clean label can mean different things to different people, it is undeniably linked with health in the minds of consumers. 

Allergy-Free: A food can be formulated to exclude certain allergens for consumers with food allergies or sensitivities. An allergy-free food is one formulated without any of the major allergens—dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and wheat. 

Non-GMO: Non-GMO foods appeal to consumers that continue to have concerns about the potential effects of genetically-engineered foods on their health.

Organic: Organic regulations have prohibitions on genetic engineering, synthetic pesticides and herbicides, antibiotics and hormones in livestock, and solvent extraction (which can leave solvent residue in foods).

Free-From: Some consumers are concerned about the effects of artificial ingredients on their health and choose foods that are free from artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives. FD&C yellow #5 (tartrazine) is an example of an approved synthetic food color that has been linked to allergies in some people. 

Mainstream Personalized Nutrition

Consumer are searching for products that fit their needs and opportunity for customization is infinite. Products that make customization easier for consumers tuned into personalization at any level will certainly get their attention. A clean label, condition-specific product with a custom macronutrient composition has great potential to bring personalized nutrition into your brand—especially with clear messaging that speaks to the target group through health and nutrient content claims, images, and marketing copy. 

If you’re interested in collaboration with us on a personalized product for your brand, we have the insights and application expertise to get you started. From concept to shelf, our full range of dairy and plant-based proteins, bioactive ingredients, micronutrients and flavorscan supply the backbone of your next supplement, nutrition bar or functional beverage. Contact us to learn more! 

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References

1. Nutrition Business Journal. (2020). 2020 NBJ Personalized Nutrition Special Report. 

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