“Let food be thy medicine” is a proverb often attributed to Hippocrates from 400 BC – and in 2023, this concept is experiencing a rebirth in the food, healthcare, non-profit, and government sectors. The fields of Food is Medicine and precision nutrition are weaving together how the foods we eat interact with our individualized biological state to promote health and healing.
Today’s technology and research infrastructure are rapidly accelerating innovation in Food is Medicine and precision nutrition, making this one of the most important areas for food sector players to be plugged into. Here are three trends in this area we are watching.
Eat This, Not That: Dietary Patterns to Promote Health
Food is Medicine and precision nutrition are approaches that tailor nutrition interventions to each individual in the prevention and treatment of disease. Interventions under the Food is Medicine framework may include produce prescription programs, medically tailored meals and groceries, and culturally relevant nutrition education and culinary classes. Within the area of medically tailored meals, the Food is Medicine Coalition has issued nutrition standards addressing specific diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Precision nutrition uses information on a person’s unique characteristics like DNA, racial/ethnic background, sex, health history and lifestyle to help predict a person’s response to specific foods or nutrients. As Food is Medicine and precision nutrition interventions continue to gain traction, the body of research supporting these interventions is rapidly evolving.
Strange Bedfellows: Unexpected Cross-Sector Collaborations
Where do researchers, government officials, farmers, health insurance company leaders, clinicians, non-profit organizations, and retailers meet? These groups can be found together at Food is Medicine and precision nutrition gatherings. FoodMinds was on the ground at the USDA’s first National Nutrition Security and Healthcare Summit where we gathered insights from speakers across food and healthcare sectors on what is working in the Food is Medicine space and the biggest challenges facing cross-sector stakeholders including:
- identifying key target populations,
- ideal food provision program length, and
- addressing technology and data-sharing challenges.
We are monitoring and mapping a diverse list of stakeholders, commitments and initiatives in Food is Medicine and precision nutrition to inform engagement opportunities across sectors.
Where Food Meets Tech: M3gan is Your New Dietitian
Have you tried out ChatGPT? Or seen the recent thriller movie M3gan about an Artificial Intelligence (AI) doll? Recent developments in AI and machine learning are being hailed as the “4th industrial revolution” and are rapidly advancing in the food and nutrition arena as well. AI is changing everything from the future economic landscape to education and will soon upend the way we eat.
The National Institutes of Health All of Us Research Program is expanding opportunities to improve health while building a diverse database of the US population with over 1 million participants. With advances in biomedical science, including AI, the data could be used to provide insights into precision nutrition creating tailored interventions for individuals.
Microbiome testing, wearable technologies, and biomarker screening are currently available in the commercial marketplace and can provide insights on specific foods or dietary patterns that might benefit (or harm) an individual. Microbiome testing measures the microorganisms in an individual’s gastrointestinal tract to predict how a person might respond to certain foods. Wearable technologies may be an up-and-coming precision nutrition tool used to measure nutrient intake or status. Additional testing of biomarkers may help identify the body’s functional need for various nutrients and fatty acids. For example, testing for oxalate markers can identify people at risk for kidney stones and for whom an overabundance of green smoothies might actually be harmful.
These approaches are pushing the field to rethink the utility of one-size-fits-all dietary recommendations which is a seismic shift in the nutrition world. Interested in learning more? FoodMinds has dedicated experts tracking all things Food is Medicine and precision nutrition.
Maya Maroto, EdD, MPH, RD is a Vice President at FoodMinds and leads the Food Is Medicine & Precision Nutrition Team.