Uniform public dietary advice is suitable for populations, but is simply not the most sophisticated approach for improving an individual's health. The bottom line is that people are unique, and that each of us has unique nutritional needs. For that reason, an EU-funded project is examining whether our knowledge of genetics and individual health markers could help us to design healthier, personalised diets.
The complete mapping of the human genome sequence has opened up huge possibilities, including individualised nutritional advice. Many scientists are hopeful that 'nutrigenomics' which examines the relationship between food and gene expression will lead to diet recommendations based on an individual's genetic profile.
However, this promise of personalised nutrition has yet to succeed as a commercial service. Furthermore, matching dietary advice to genetic profiles remains difficult.
Pursuing personalised nutrition
This is why the EU-funded Food4Me project was launched. By exploring the opportunities and challenges posed by personalised nutrition, the project aims to achieve a better understanding of how we can best use our knowledge of food, genes and other health markers to design healthier diets tailored for each individual.
The project has gathered together an international group of experts to explore the application of individualised nutrition advice, and to investigate consumer attitudes to nutrition.
"It is hoped that our detailed and reflective analysis of personalised nutrition will enable European citizens to make informed choices regarding personalised nutrition," explains project coordinator Mike Gibney. "In addition, many nutrition plans are currently unregulated and untested. Therefore it is hoped that this work will contribute to future personal nutrition products being better trusted by consumers."
Food for thought
The Food4Me project, which began in April 2011, has achieved several important milestones. It has completed and published an analysis of current personalised nutrition services, and has also carried out two consumer acceptance studies, the results of which have been submitted for publication.
The project also recently held a workshop on phenotyping tools and devices a phenotype is the collection of observable characteristics displayed by an individual. This involved providing an overview of the tools currently available for assessing a person's overall health. A critical evaluation of novel techniques for the analysis of very small blood-spot samples was also carried out.
An online study is currently under way, and over a thousand individuals, representing a cross-section of society, have signed up to take part. The study will offer participants differing levels of dietary advice, tailored to individual physical characteristics, individual genetic make-up, as well as advice with no personalisation. This is taking place across eight EU countries.
"This study will assess the effectiveness of providing basic versus more detailed feedback," explains Prof. Gibney. "Personalised nutrition is generally focused on genetics but we will explore it at all three levels: personalised advice based on diet alone, personalised advice based on diet and phenotype, and personalised advice based on diet, phenotype and genotype."
The project partners are currently exploring business and value creation models for the development, production and distribution of personalised nutrition services. The ultimate goal is to assess as accurately as possible the feasibility of future personalised nutrition products.
"It is difficult to predict what the 'lasting' impact will be, but the impact will primarily be made at the end of the project in 2015, when we release a definitive statement regarding the opportunities and challenges in personalised nutrition," says Prof. Gibney. "The intention is to ensure that the public, industry and research organisations will be better informed regarding what can be achieved by personalised nutrition."