Personalized nutrition could be an effective way to tackle health problems associated with an aging population, Ingredients Network reports.
Research has found people are more likely to follow dietary guidelines if they are tailored to their own specific needs, so personalized nutrition might be more effective than general nutritional advice for the treatment of chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Technology companies already link data on fitness and food consumption, but including information on blood sugar, cholesterol or mental well being could provide more clarity on how food affects individual health.
Food companies could play an important role in targeting products to the specific needs of the elderly, especially as researchers are beginning to find links between nutrient status and chronic health problems. For example, research from DSM Nutritional Products suggests omega-3 fatty acids could reduce heart attack risk, while antioxidants may help prevent age-related macular degeneration.
Consumers are increasingly interested in healthy eating, but it is not always easy to make the right nutritional choices. While most people are aware they should eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, such advice remains general and abstract, and few Americans reach target amounts. However, if consumers understand the effect that certain foods have on their own body, researchers have found they are more likely to make better choices.
Those working in the personalized nutrition field have emphasized its potential for different consumer groups, such as the elderly and athletes, but the food industry’s role is taking longer to define. There is still some way to go before the sector reaches the mainstream, but some food companies are already betting on its success. Campbell announced in 2016 that it had become the sole investor in Habit, a personalized nutrition meal delivery service that takes information from an at-home test kit and then makes tailored meals sent to the customer’s home.
Others have suggested that 3D printing could be a way to produce individualized food products — including to deliver nutrient-rich foods for the elderly — but the technology still faces hurdles when it comes to speed and cost. Nestlé and Hormel have also invested in medical foods to promote healthy lifestyles and help older consumers manage a variety of conditions — although not on a personalized basis.
Despite barriers to mainstream acceptance of personalized nutrition, greater understanding of how foods and nutrients affect individual health will pave the way to further innovation in the sector. Personalized foods could help manufacturers stand out from the crowd — if they can work out how to produce them on a commercial scale. Targeting seniors with such products could be a smart move, considering the rapid growth of this demographic and their higher-than-average spending power.