New technologies have fuelled the rise of personalised nutrition
What is personalised nutrition?
Personalised nutrition involves tailoring dietary advice to improve health, based on the characteristics of the individual. So dietary advice could be tailored based on anything from the person’s eating habits and weight to their cholesterol levels and genetics.
The concept of tailored dietary advice isn’t new — dietitians have been giving personalised advice for centuries. What is new is the rise in popularity of new technologies, apps and wearable devices, which allow for detailed monitoring of individual health. Health-care professionals can then use this information to provide personalised advice.
We recruited 1,607 adult volunteers from across seven European countries into a six-month dietary study.
At the beginning, adults were allocated into either a control group, or one of three personalised nutrition groups.
Usual dietary advice
In the control group adults received usual dietary advice. For example, “eat at least five serves of fruit and vegetables each day”. (In Australia the recommendation is at least seven serves daily.)
Our results show personalised dietary advice can support people to eat less junk food. This should have important implications for how researchers and health-care professionals design healthy eating strategies moving forward.
Personalised dietary advice
To help us understand the best way to personalise dietary advice, the three personalised nutrition groups received tailored dietary advice based on different sets of characteristics. All advice was based on behaviour change strategies, such as swapping discretionary foods for healthier alternatives.
Group 1 received advice based on what they ate.
For example, for someone eating a lot of salty meat products, we told them to reduce their intake of processed meats and pies, and swap salami and bacon for turkey or beef.
Group 2 received advice based on their diet and body measurements.
For example, if someone had high waist circumference and cholesterol levels, and was snacking on biscuits and chocolate, we told them they were carrying too much weight around their middle and had high cholesterol levels so would benefit from snacking on fruit and healthy fats, such as nuts, instead.
Group 3 received advice based on their diet, body measurements and genetic information.
For example, if someone had a genetic risk of high cholesterol, and was eating lots of salty meat products, we told them they have a genetic variation and would benefit from maintaining a healthy intake of saturated fat and normal cholesterol levels. We suggested they swap processed meats, for example burgers and sausages, for lean meats or skinless chicken breast.
So, does personalised nutrition work?
At the beginning and end of the study we asked our volunteers to complete an online questionnaire, which asked them how often they consumed various foods and drinks.
We found participants who received personalised dietary advice reduced their intake of discretionary foods more than participants who received usual dietary advice.
Interestingly, this improvement in diet was seen across all personalised nutrition groups; regardless of whether advice was personalised based on diet, body measurements or genetics, or a combination of these factors.
That said, we did see some evidence that the addition of genetic information (group 3) helped adults to reduce their discretionary food intake more than those who received advice based on their diet and body measurements alone (group 2).
Our findings are consistent with the broader evidence on personalised nutrition.
In a recent systematic review we looked at results from 11 personalised nutrition studies conducted across Europe and North America. We found overall, personalised nutrition advice improved dietary habits more than usual dietary advice.