As we move away from the “one-size-fits-all” nutrition approach to more holistic, personalized recommendations aimed at long-term behavior change, consumers are turning to saliva, blood, and stool samples to gather nutrition information from within – literally. As technology advances, we are seeing scanners, sensors, ingestibles, and wearables translate personal health metrics into customized meal plans, shoppable recipes, fitness routines and supplements. Conversational cooking with your family using Alexa, personalized 3D food printing and meal recommendations based on your Instagram memories are changing the way we think about food and nutrition. During our time at the 2018 Personalized Nutrition Innovation Summit this week, the following observations stood out loud and clear.
- Recognition of the need for more research and buy-in from health professionals is universal. CEOs and scientists alike are in alignment that while consumer interest is growing, more research linking genetic expression to nutrition recommendations is needed and buy in from health professionals (RDs, MDs, etc.) is crucial to their credibility. Health professionals play an important role not only in the translation of genomic reports to practical application, but also in consumer understanding of the whole health picture – genetics, lifestyle, disease states, medications, and more.
- Genomic data analysis methods are a key differentiator. When it comes to nutrigenomics, the genomic data being analyzed (DNA vs. RNA and SNPs vs. exomes) and the method by which this information is collected (saliva, stool, blood) varies depending on an organization’s target audience and company objectives.
- How you translate the data into actionable steps makes all the difference. When it comes to the cost of genetic testing, it’s a race to the bottom as testing becomes cheaper and cheaper. Therefore, personalized nutrition companies are focused on differentiating themselves by the way in which they interpret this data to the consumer. Consumers can experience everything from custom meal plans, telephonic coaching via apps, shoppable recipes, personalized pantry lists, and more.
- Real food nutrition and supplements are not fully integrated. Few personalized nutrition companies are tackling real food nutrition and supplement routines together. While some believe that behavior change is more easily addressed by leveraging a habit that consumers already have (e.g., taking vitamins), others welcome the challenge of changing eating behaviors with real food nutrition and meal plans.
- The future of nutrigenomics is built on partnerships. From genetic lab to grocery cart, experts specializing in every step of the way are joining in the personalized nutrition conversation. From organizations that sequence DNA and analyze/share genomic reports with third-party companies to those that focus on product experience and retail extension, companies are joining hands. They are working together to build credible, science-based, consumer-friendly products that showcase the interaction between nutrition and genes and guide consumers toward nutritious choices for the personal needs.
But companies innovating in the personalized nutrition space are not without challenges. Building a supporting research pipeline, obtaining buy-in from health professionals, tackling scalability and answering difficult regulatory questions are only a few of the struggles they must overcome. However, the field of personalized nutrition has yet to reach its full potential and we look forward to the continued growth and evolution of this space.
Amari Thomsen, MS, RD, LDN is a senior director at FoodMinds, a division of Padilla, in San Francisco