You may have heard about an innovative approach to dietary intervention known as precision nutrition (PN). This approach includes individualized meal planning based on your DNA. It is more than what you eat, as it includes physical activity, sleep habits, family medical history, and your microbiome. Your microbiome is the collection of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites) living in certain areas of your body, primarily the intestines. The purpose of the microbiome is to help control digestion, stimulate the immune system and protect us from disease.
The premise of precision nutrition is to manage a chronic illness better, such as diabetes or heart disease. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, it can more specifically tell you how your body will respond to certain foods. For instance, it may reveal that you tend to gain weight from consuming saturated fat (animal fat). Or It may show that your body is deficient in vitamin B12, and you need to eat an egg every day.
In the future, PN may help prevent certain diseases or at least delay their onset. For example, suppose that type 2 diabetes runs in your family. Of course, you are concerned about developing the disease, and at age 20, you visit a Registered Dietitian for instruction in precision nutrition. Your special diet and health plan may stave off diabetes for 15 years, but remember there are no guarantees in life and health. Would you follow this diet?
Precision nutrition is an exciting concept, but not without challenges. The first and most obvious challenge is cost. DNA analysis costs $1,000, which is cost-prohibitive to most Americans, and insurance does not cover it. This is only the beginning of the process and does not include nutrition education costs. Another challenge with PN is human behavior. We live in a society that almost worships food, and many of us equate eating with happiness. Obesity rates in the US continue to rise with no relief in sight. A paradigm shift is needed to employ our diets as an avenue to good health and consistent well-being.
Precision nutrition is in its infancy, and more studies are needed to determine if it has applications across all populations. Dr. Frank Hu, Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard states, “To address major public health problems like diabetes, we need to combine public health strategies with precision nutrition technologies.”
Until next time, be healthy!
1. de Toro-Martin, J., Arsenault, B., et al. Precision Nutrition: A Review of Personalized Nutritional Approaches for the Prevention and Management of Metabolic Syndrome. Nutrients. 2017 Aug: 9(8):913. doi:10.3390/nu9080913.
2. Feldshcer, K. Precision Nutrition: Hype or Hope? Feb 15, 2017. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/precision-nutrition-hype-or-hope/
3. Precision Nutrition and Type 2 Diabetes Management: Is it Ready for Prime Time? https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2018/02/09/precision-nutrition-type-2-diabetes-management-is-it-ready-for-prime-time/
Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at email@example.com.