One of the main trends in the food industry today is personalised nutrition recommendations to prevent or cope against metabolic disorders
Precision nutrition and personalised nutrition
There are two main terms used in this field, both referring to the personalisation of a specific person’s diet according to his or her markers:
- Precision nutrition refers to the possibility of identifying groups of people to whom nutritional recommendations can be addressed because they share some similar metabolic inefficiencies.
- Personalised diet, on the other hand, refers to identifying all the metabolic inefficiencies that exist in an individual and using this information to provide truly personalised dietary recommendations.
Increasing demand and easier service delivery
Nutrition industry is changing as consumers, who are increasingly health conscious and hyper-connected, and looking for personalised products.
As demand for personalised nutrition and nutrition services increases, a number of offerings are growing, ranging from supplements to specific foods to complete diet recommendations. It is a business with a significant market that, according to some estimates, will reach €9.5 trillion by 2025.
The recent growth of personalised diet services has been driven by the following key factors:
- Increased demand for knowledge of personal nutritional needs
- Increased demand for customised experiences
- A growing interest to healthier products
- Health data collection capability through wearable devices such as smartwatches
- Progress in personalised medicine
It has to be taken into account that personalised diets based on molecular profiling are not a new concept, but scientific and technological progress allows for the emerging of more and more companies offering this kind of services. Combining knowledge of new technologies such as omics sciences, together with consumer studies, is generating a breakthrough in this trend.
Omics and Data-based technologies: pillars for personalised nutrition
The path taken to consider omics technologies as a priority for the functional food sector dates back to 2004, with the publication of the complete sequence of human DNA, with genomics as a central technology. Since then, the scientific and technological progress of these techniques has opened new frontiers of knowledge in a wide range of scientific fields and new applications, products and services in terms of their industrial dimension.
As a scientific discipline, the omics sciences involve well-known technologies and some more recent ones, such as epigenetics or metagenomics – for the study of the microbiota – together with progress in computational tools applied to bioinformatics, provide us with an overview to understand the biological processes that underlie an organism as a whole.
However, they still have a long way to go and to explore, not only by considering biochemical, genetic and metabolic factors, but also by combining them with other information sources useful for recommendation development.
In Spain, the Tecnomifood Network aims to overcome this situation by providing the industrial sector with a cooperative system of Technology Centres that brings together, in a single infrastructure, everything necessary to overcome difficulties, take advantage of opportunities and anticipate trends in the ingredients and functional foods industrial sector.
Including all the existing information about our lifestyle and habits is the key to get really specific recommendations, and this is why the data collected through our smartphone apps, wristbands or wearable devices are so important. Combining omics technologies and Artificial Intelligence techniques will also be increasingly important to be able to determine people’s needs for healthy eating based on anthropometric data and clinical or physiological parameters.
Challenges and opportunities
Application of Omic technologies can meet different challenges in the food value chain:
- Evaluation of effectiveness of bioactive compounds and the study of the mechanisms underlying these effects
- Identification of new health markers to study the effect of bioactive compounds, ingredients, foods or diets on health in pre-clinical and clinical models
- New consumer segmentation based on molecular profiling to meet consumer demand for personalisation of nutritional recommendations
However, the incorporation of omics technologies into R&D by different agents in the different sectors involved in healthy eating is still residual at present, and therefore the main challenges remain:
- Bringing omics technologies closer to the agri-food chain and facilitating their introduction as a basis for precision nutrition.
- Identify the most relevant omics technologies in terms of the information they provide, but at the same time that they are affordable so that they can be integrated into different nutritional and health programmes.
- Development of methodologies, solutions and rapid monitoring systems for data collection based on self-monitoring, including not only omic data but also data from mobile devices, medical information sensors, etc.
- Development of omics-based solutions, supported by other knowledge, for personalised nutrition and facilitating the development of new food products that meet the individual and group needs of certain groups, as well as diets.