Why Do You Eat What You Eat? Did you know that we make 212 different nutrition decisions each day? What to eat, when to eat, how to eat, where to eat, whom to consult, etc. With thousands of different nutrition items on the shelves, perhaps the most important question centers on what to buy.
Americans spend up to US$30 billion a year on supplements with a mean yearly expenditure of $368 per household. U.S. households also spend about $7,000 on food annually. With that level of spending power, influencing even a small fraction of those 212 nutrition decisions every day could have huge implications. What are the biggest influencers in these decisions? Unfortunately, research suggests Americans have the wrong ones.
The State of the Union
In the United States, almost one in every two adults has at least one chronic illness, and you might have heard life expectancy actually declined in the United States last year. Researchers branded this a “uniquely American phenomenon." Here is another headline worth reading five times, this one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Up to 40 percent of annual deaths from each of five leading U.S. causes are preventable." Modifiable risk factors like diet, exercise and lifestyle factors are responsible. And yet 4 billion prescriptions are filled every year in the United States, contributing to our position as the most inefficient health care system in the world.
Food is Potent … for the Good and the Bad
Diet tops the list of modifiable risk factors just behind smoking. In fact, in 2013, dietary risks accounted for 11.3 million deaths and 214.4 million disability-adjusted life-years, globally. Yes, I was as shocked as you are. To drive the point home: 11.3 million deaths worldwide could have been prevented by an improvement in diet.
Nutrition is a powerful medicine. “Healthy" dietary patterns have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 60 percent. Not convincing enough? A new study also estimated that 27 to 39 percent of the main cancers can be prevented by improving diet, physical activity and body composition. Surely the power of nutrition is yet to be unleashed, as we are not really getting any healthier.
So, what gives? You can go to any major health association website and find dietary guidelines to prevent chronic disease and increase lifespan. The information is publicly available, but people either don’t see it or don’t want to see it. And it certainly doesn’t play a role in their daily nutrition decisions. Large clinical trials show that only 40 percent of participants respond to the dietary and lifestyle interventions that reduce chronic disease risk. This can be attributed to two main things: lack of effectiveness and lack of commitment.
Precise > General
We are all different. Some of us respond well to eating less fat to reduce cholesterol, and others respond better by increasing fiber, still others don’t show an improvement with either. You wouldn’t want to start a new dietary regimen only to find out that you did all this work for nothing, would you?
Adherence, on the other hand, is arguably an even greater factor in seeing any meaningful improvements in health when it comes to nutrition. The likelihood of following through with long-term diet changes is very low. Less than a quarter of people stick with a diet after a year (if they even make it that far). In our society, we are usually looking for the quick fix or band-aid instead of investing effort and time. You didn’t get diabetes from one French fry, and you won’t cure it from one cucumber. But, nutrition guidelines can be cumbersome to implement and, therefore, are quickly discarded. That is mostly because these decisions are broad and apply to the general population. They have not been connected to your individual body, preferences, habits or needs. This key piece of the puzzle is missing.
The human being is forgotten in the world of “population nutrition." Taking into account what makes us human—we are not perfect, we do not achieve 100 percent compliance, we have subjective and sometimes frivolous desires, our mental state affects most of our behaviors—and building these inputs into a personalized approach is how nutrition should be delivered. In other words, the word “personal" is how it starts.
What is Personalized Nutrition?
Personalized nutrition is a process. A process that has less to do with specific tests (genetics, proteomics, blood biomarkers, etc.) and more to do with understanding an individual’s goals and creating a science-backed path to help them get there. The first step should be a baseline assessment to get personal. You need a detailed and nuanced understanding of the individual from the inside; we call this the “Selfie from the Inside." Next, mix the objective with the subjective and develop a precise understanding of their nutritional needs and opportunities for improvements.
The third step is to provide an individualized plan and then, lastly, follow it up with assessment, retargeting and readjustment. Rinse and repeat. This feedback loop is another personal component that is missing from the current general nutrition landscape. It rewards behavior, encourages sustained changes, and reestablishes focus based on the evolving needs of the individual. Throughout the process (baseline assessment, opportunity definition, action and assessment), we see science and objective measurements as the foundation for managing and measuring personalized nutrition.
The Machines are Coming
Today’s computers operate hundreds of thousands of times faster than the human brain, not to mention they can hold far more information. If a task can be turned into an algorithm, a computer will accomplish it better, faster, cheaper. The same holds true for personalized nutrition. Imagine the amount of data contained within your body and compound it with the amount of science published in relation to your body’s data. Voila, personalized nutrition on a platter.
There are already many companies attempting to bring personalized nutrition to the masses by connecting research with the average consumer. However, we need more personalized nutrition studies to be published. Stay tuned, ours will be coming very soon, and we are very excited about the approach, the data and, most importantly, the results. We see personalized nutrition as not only the opportunity to improve customer satisfaction, wellness, and health, but also the information to propel your 212 daily nutrition decisions.
Learn more about how to approach personalized nutrition from Rony Sellam during the Making Personalized Nutrition a Reality panel discussion on Thursday, Sept. 28, at SupplySide West 2017. The Workshop is underwritten by SuperbaKrill and AkerBioMarine.
Rony Sellam is CEO of InsideTracker (insidetracker.com). He grew up in France and moved to the United States with Deloitte in 1999. He spent 12 years in the health technology sector where he developed a passion for products at the intersection of science and technology with a mission. The mission of InsideTracker is to transform the way every human being eats, sleeps and moves to live a longer, better life. You can find the company at insidetracker.com and follow on social at @InsideTracker.