Personalised nutrition could be key to healthy ageing

23 May 2018

One size does not fit all when it comes to nutrition – and it is about to become a lot more targeted, as the industry responds to the shifting health needs of an ageing population.

Personalised nutrition could be key to healthy ageing

Personalised nutrition is an alternative to general dietary guidelines, basing recommendations on a person’s own specific needs rather than telling everyone to eat more fruits and vegetables, for example, or to reduce sugar and salt. The European Food4Me project has shown that people find it easier to improve their diet when advice is tailored to reflect their own needs, meaning that such an approach could be a more effective way to tackle chronic health problems.

Companies like Microsoft and Apple are already using technologies to link personal health and fitness data with information on food consumption, and adding in data on disease risk markers like cholesterol, blood sugar and mental wellbeing could raise flags about personal risk levels. This could give a clearer picture of how certain foods affect an individual’s health, and allow people to respond accordingly.

Some major ingredients companies are already active in the sector, including ADM, which partnered with Mayo Clinic in personalised nutrition focused on gut health in September 2017. And DSM collaborated with the University Medical Center Groningen in early 2015 to determine how nutrient status affects health among different populations, such as those with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity. The aim is to provide clues as to why some people develop chronic diseases, while others stay healthy into old age.

As results from this kind of research emerge, food and drink companies will be better placed to respond effectively to individuals’ specific dietary concerns as they get older.

Good nutrition over a lifetime is still the best way to ensure long-term health, but dietary interventions later in life can have a significant effect, to delay the onset of osteoporosis, for example, or to slow the loss of muscle mass.

DSM has also examined how supplementation could tackle a range of conditions associated with ageing, including antioxidants to help prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and omega-3 fatty acids to reduce heart attack risk.

However, nutrition is just one part of the picture when it comes to personalising food for better health. Among the elderly, decreased appetite and food intake is common, often leading to malnutrition, weight loss, and a range of poor health outcomes. Personalised food for the elderly must therefore take into account attributes beyond nutrition, such as flavour and food preferences, if it is to be beneficial.

Although personalised nutrition has yet to enter the mainstream, the European Union has signalled that it recognises the sector’s mainstream potential. Last year, it earmarked €2.8 million for small and medium-sized enterprises working on personalised nutrition projects for the elderly under its EU Horizon 2020 Program. SMEs can apply for up to €60,000 each under its INCluSilver project to boost innovation in the sector and help companies scale up their concepts.

Food companies are poised to play an important role in safeguarding European health as the population ages, and as our understanding deepens about the interplay between food and health.

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