An increasing amount of information is available about the impact of diet and nutrition on our bodies. The first steps are being taken towards developing better, healthier, and personalized nutrition.
Because each and every one of us is unique, we require personalized diets as well. ‘A healthy diet is influenced by two main factors,’ explains principal scientist Ben van Ommen. ‘Leading authorities such as the the Netherlands Nutrition Centre Foundation (Stichting Voedingscentrum Nederland) define what is healthy for everyone. This includes things like not eating too much sugar or eating more vegetables. But added to these general nutritional guidelines, there is also a personal and specific aspect. When it comes to diet, one size does not fit all. While one person might have to consider their cholesterol or blood sugar levels, another person will have to keep their blood pressure in mind when making nutritional choices. It all comes down to figuring out the correct diet for your body,’ concludes Van Ommen.
Personalized nutrition starts with being aware of your health and self-empowerment through the food choices that you make. You need to have access to the correct range of food products and you need to understand what types of food you need to select. This demands a thorough understanding of your body's requirements.
A new approach
‘A new economy is needed for this concept to be successful. Supermarkets must supply the correct types of food. This can be done online and based on your dietary requirements. It also requires an industry to provide the correct information. Shops and producers have to start thinking in a different way, but this is happening slowly but surely,’ observes Van Ommen. ‘In addition, while you might know what you should be eating, you also still need to actually start eating it. This opens up a space for coaching, perhaps through apps,’ considers Van Ommen.
With a better understanding of the relationship between diet and the body's reaction to it, it is possible to develop and provide better, healthier, and personalized nutrition and services. ‘We are working hard to make use of contemporary views about food, genetics, and physical traits in order to develop healthier personalized diets. We are getting closer to achieving this. We can even make dietary recommendations based on someone's combined genetic and metabolic profile,’ states Van Ommen.
TNO is a well-established global authority in this field. TNO has in-house knowledge in the fields of metabolism, genetics, computer science, and biomarker technology. It also provides expertise in the field of implementation. ‘We can help companies determine how they play into these trends. We could advise manufacturers about reducing the amount of salt, fat, or sugar for example,’ explains Van Ommen.
‘In addition we are developing methods that can quickly and accurately measure the health effects of food. This will allow us to give companies insight into the health effects of certain ingredients. We are also looking into determining the best way to help people change their eating patterns,’ explains Van Ommen. One possibility would be to use an app to determine which diet is best suited to someone’s current health status and genetic background, and allowing them to order the correct food with the press of a button.
Together with an international group of experts, TNO took part in the EU-subsidized research project Food4Me from 2011 to 2015. This project addressed all aspects of personalized nutrition. Van Ommen explains, ‘This project has helped to develop interest in personalized nutrition and to clarify the way we think about it. We are also working in closer proximity with Wageningen University and Research centre (WUR), and we will be working together at one location within the next year. We are working together to design a partnership around personalized nutrition.'