Nutrition is a complicated space. Our food choices affect our health so of course, we want to choose food that is healthy for us. But it gets more complicated than that; we are also biochemically unique meaning there is no one-size-fits-all diet. Each individual is different and these personal differences in anatomy, metabolism, body composition, lifestyle etc all influence your overall health as well as your nutrition needs. We’ve seen many trends and schools of thought appear in this space, from general to extreme. As we move through 2020 and look forward, the future of nutrition is personalised. This blog post aims to drive in this direction and dive into a couple of these personalisation factors/trends in more detail.
The future of nutrition is personalised.
Bio-individuality in nutrition is about honouring the unique individuals that we are and looking to personalise our approach to meet our specific needs. Even at an individual level, we have 10 systems in our body that work in sync 24/7. A whole suite of factors can influence a multitude of things in our body so when it comes to nutrition, it makes sense that nutrition should not only be personalised but can also vary at different stages of life.
In this age of data and information, it’s incredibly easy to find information on just about anything. The internet and related digital platform(s) have created the opportunity to anyone and everyone to communicate their own messages and stories around diet, nutrition and health. But this has also contributed to a lot of confusion and misinformation because literally everyone now has an opinion. We’ve gone well past just old wives’ tales, revisited some traditions but also created new ideas in areas of holistic therapies, homemade remedies and diets. It’s no wonder no one has a clue about what to eat, when to eat it and how much to eat. We’re too confused!
In reality, today there’s a lot of factors, a lot of people and corporations with their fingers in the pie. This means a lot of opinions and a lot of conflicting information that is then feeding into the global messages that we see. While there’s consensus around some ideas like avoiding sugar, we’re still being bombarded from all angles by confusing and often times contradictory information.
Four personalisation trends
Certain trends make waves every year, from vegan to organic and now the personalised approach to diet and health. Modern nutritional science is still surprisingly young. The first vitamin was isolated and chemically defined only in 1926, and since then, scientific research has jumped into different areas of nutrition from vitamins and minerals, nutrient deficiencies, fat versus sugar and diet-related disease (source). Today, we’re moving more towards personalised nutrition which can share insightful answers on why everyone tolerates nutrients in different ways.
Building on previous research, new priorities for research are emerging in nutrition science. These include areas like optimal dietary composition to reduce weight gain and obesity; interactions between prebiotics and probiotics, fermented foods, and gut microbiota; effects of specific fatty acids, flavonoids, and other bioactives; personalised nutrition, especially for non-genetic lifestyle, sociocultural, and microbiome factors; and the powerful influences of place and social status on nutritional and disease disparities.
Let’s get personal and go back to our roots. Your genetic blueprint makes you unique. This code is individual to you. While widely accepted in areas like prenatal and cancer prevention, nutrition has only benefited from genetic testing recently. There is wide agreement that our genes can give us insight into our health given their influence overweight, vitamin absorption, metabolism and other nutrition-related mechanisms. Today this field is called nutrigenomics whereby the aim is to try to understand how genetic factors affect an individual’s response to certain foods.
Genetics in action
Nutrigenomics is growing arms and legs all the time with companies like 23andme provide testing and insights into your genetic makeup. Here are just two examples:
- MTHFR – The MTHFR gene codes an enzyme called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. It plays a key role in the methylation cycle (part of our liver detox phase II). Some extremely important hormones (such as cortisol and melatonin) and some extremely important neurotransmitters (such as epinephrine and serotonin) are controlled through methylation. What’s the big deal? There are a few important MTHFR mutations that exist and can reduce our ability to convert folate into the form we need at the cellular level. When this happens, we can experience a higher risk of numerous problems occurring downstream from MTHFR enzyme insufficiency (source & link to further studies)
- APoE – ApoE codes the protein apolipoprotein E. It plays a major role in how we metabolize and transport fat, cholesterol, and fat-soluble vitamins. To date, research has shown that our specific apoE phenotype can have a major impact on factors like our disease risk, our response to saturated fat, to alcohol, to omega-3s, our ability to detox heavy metals, our ability to heal from traumatic brain injury and more (source & link to further studies).
The future of nutrigenomics?
No one’s ancestry is a straight line and there’s a lot of admixture from other groups. Therefore, we look to nutrigenomics as a guideline and recognise it’s not a clear science and one that is still in its infancy. For now, it’s a tool to help us identify potential supplement and dietary adjustments. For example, it might help in regulating insulin, supplementing with folate, B12 and so on.
The other side of it is that it’s now becoming easier to get the required data for analysis. Smartphones are providing user-friendly ways to measure certain vital signs, with apps that can scan food labels and keep track of what you’re putting into your body every day (source).
While age is just a number, it does have important implications for our health. Our nutrient needs and ability to utilise/process certain foods is affected by our age. The amounts of certain nutrients required by the body vary somewhat depending on the stage of life.
From birth to your teenage years, children are moving through different stages of growth and development. Their nutrient needs to support this differ significantly to adults and older populations. Unfortunately for parents, children can also often be incredibly fussy eaters. Stay patient. Any improvement to your child’s nutrition will benefit them. A few important things to note again would be increased energy requirements (i.e. more calories) and focusing on supporting gut health; A healthy digestive tract is efficient at absorbing nutrients from your food, protecting the body from foreign invaders including mounting appropriate immune responses when required and at regulating a wide variety of hormones. Think breastfeeding (where possible), probiotic-rich food, avoid gut-irritating foods, healing foods like bone broth. And finally lots of playtime and getting outdoors!
Biological ageing is malleable and that interventions can be implemented by individuals that will reduce the rate of health decline. In older populations, there are certain factors that diet should be adjusted for like lowered energy levels (i.e. less activity), higher protein needs, bone health, ability to chew/digest and so on (source).
It makes quite a lot of sense if you think about it. Go back 160,000 years and we all share a common ancestor, homo sapiens. Since then, we’ve spread, travelled and settled far and wide. And while our basic survival needs (food, water, air etc) are the same, our exposure to different environments has created genetic adaptations.
Scientific and anthropological research has given us much insight into our ancestors. What is most interesting to note is that our diets vary significantly depending on global location. Near the equator, the Hadza tribe diet was rich in fibre with plenty of tubers, berries, honey and wild meat. To the north, the Inuits rely more on high protein and fat with very little starch. It’s a great example of the ‘there is no one size fits all’.
Within the first few days of life, humans are colonized by commensal intestinal microbiota. The gut microbiome is a vast ecosystem of organisms such as bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses and protozoans. Hard to believe but our gut bacteria outnumber our human cells 10:1. So who is living on whom? (source)
An understanding of the gut’s importance to our wellbeing now fuels a Probiotics Market Size to Reach US$ 78 Billion by 2026. Research suggests the vast ecosystem of organisms that lives in our digestive systems might be as complex and influential as our genes in everything from mental health, athleticism, health, happiness and obesity to name just a few. The biota in our gut vary depending on what we eat so across the world, we all have slight variation in our gut flora ecosystem.
Overall, the challenge lies in pinpointing the cause and effect of specific bacteria and translating the results into treatments.
Where do we go from here?
According to a recent Bord Bia survey, 88 per cent of Irish people recognise the importance of eating well. In addition, nearly two-thirds want help when it comes to having healthier meals and snacks. But in this busy world, how do we eat well and how is that going to evolve in the future? (source). With the data revolution, consumers are more in control than ever. The trend suggests we want to address personal needs rather than being part of the mass market. Consequently, we are seeing consumers seek more specific products to provide them with (or at least reinforce) a sense of personal and social identity (source).
Personalisation presents an interesting opportunity for the industry from the birthday message, packaging and now even ingredients. But it’s not without its challenges. The policy would need to move from simplistic reductionist strategies to multifaceted approaches. Certain laws may need to be adjusted to allow for flexibility with food labelling, for example. There are also concerns over increased food waste (source).
Are you ready to get personal?
There’s a lot to digest in this article and a lot more to discuss when it comes to the topic.
At IINH, we firmly believe the future of nutrition is personalised, that there is no one size fits all approach. All of our courses are rooted in the idea that the future of nutrition is personalised. If you’re just starting to figure out your specific nutrient and dietary requirements, the student clinic might be a great option.
Personalised nutrition is nothing without the practical skill to put it all into practice. Our Director of Cooking Services, Maggie Lynch, runs regular cooking classes designed to do just that.
Nutritional Therapy treats the body as a whole. It seeks the root source of health concerns rather than simply treating the symptoms. It is relevant for individuals with chronic conditions, as well as those looking for support to enhance their health and wellbeing. If you’ve dreamed of studying nutrition, then you’ll want to read about our Nutrition & Health coaching diploma. Choosing the right course is an important decision and we know you’re bound to have a few questions. Don’t hesitate to call or email us.