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Personalising nutrition by data-mining an apple

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Can data-mining health-benefiting molecules help deliver advice about food choice, eating patterns and lifestyle on a personal level?

It won’t be long before we can take the most beneficial nutrients out of an apple and serve these to those people who need them to stay healthy. It might sound like magic, but it’s not. This is the future of disease prevention on a global scale.

We already have the technology to identify ‘disease-beating molecules in food that are natural, scientifically proven, and with no big damaging side effects’, as Nora Khaldi the Founder of Nuritas explains in her TEDx Talk [1]. The next step would be to develop this data into effective personalised recommendations about nutrition.

According to personalised nutrition specialist Jo Goossens, this could be more complex than it seems [2]. The main challenge we face is not changing nutrition but changing dietary behaviour. And our diets are not only influenced by metabolic factors, but also by lifestyle, society and psychological issues.

Goossens identifies technology as driving innovation in personalised nutrition [2]. And nutrigenomics plays a major role in this. By studying the link between nutrients and other dietary bioactives within the genome it promises to unlock the way bioactive components affect our metabolism. Then we could translate this data into more reliable and appropriate nutritional advice that improves our health.

This of course depends on being able to identify the bioactive components so crucial to our health. And that is precisely the technology Nuritas is pioneering. Using AI and DNA analysis, Nuritas identifies those bioactive components within our foods that have the potential to help prevent many of the non-communicable diseases of our times. [1]

Tracking personal health

Nuritas founder Khaldi gives the example of a simple red apple. Identifying the health-benefiting molecules within the apple and releasing these peptides promises to help prevent some of the world’s epidemics such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems and cancer. Simply eating an apple would not work, according to Khaldi, as the peptides have to be released from the food structure in order for us to benefit. She makes the case that very soon we would be able to buy a loaf of bread, a cereal bar, or a drink that contains exactly those nutrients we need to help us prevent or manage our diseases.[1]

But is it really that simple? Can data-mining the health-benefiting molecules of an apple help deliver advice about food choice, eating patterns and lifestyle on a personal level?

Identifying the disease-beating molecules is not enough. People differ and dietary intake advice simply based on the health-benefiting components within foods is too general. Jo Goosens recommends we identify people with similar metabolic types and tailor advice to each group.

But this would merely be a first step. We also need to develop diagnostic and monitoring tools. The proliferation of biohacking tools like WellnessFX and 23andme are good examples of the need to measure and track our actual personal health status.

Ultimately the real challenge according to Goossens does not lie in improving the dietary advice given. It’s making it applicable in real life. Whether personalised nutrition services can play a role here depends on more than technology. A key factor is driving proper education about food and knowledge about ingredients in a coherent way and in line with health professionals.

Cognitive cooking with Chef Watson

In the meantime, cognitive cooking initiatives like IBM’s Chef Watson seem to be promising a better future soon. Chef Watson is IBM's super computer turned Master Chef with the additional advantage of an immense amount of food science data. Currently focused on delivering personalized nutritional information to diabetics and people with other chronic diseases [3], there is no reason why this kind of technology could not be personalised even further, as the IBM Food Truck invites us to imagine.

We could then take personalisation to the next level and match our food choices to our age, health status and genetic propensity to develop a specific disease. Or as IBM describes it:

‘Cognitive enabled health and wellness services can offer everyone personalized nutritional recommendations based on health history, personal goals and genetics.’ [3]

Neil Foster, Commercial Manager of Nuritas, explains how Nuritas uses a receptor-based approach to identify peptides that have a positive influence on that receptor at Hi Europe 2016.

Sources:

1. Nora Khaldi - "Unlocking the miraculous data in food - The Future of Health | TEDxBinnenhof 2016

2. Dr. Jo Goossens, Partner shiftN. ‘Personalising nutrition:how far can this trend go?’ presented at the Hi Europe 2016 conference on the Future of Nutrition.

3. Cognitive cooking for diabetics with Chef Watson

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