"Health professionals have been using family history of disease to determine their patients' risks for genetic diseases for years. Now, the science is getting to be such that health professionals will be able to recommend specific foods and nutrients for optimal health based on detailed patient profiles," states Hoolihan, research specialist for the Dairy Council of California.
Tailoring food and nutrients to needs seems to make sense, especially in today's world where everything else is customized based on individuals' preferences. The difference is that while one might choose a car, laptop or cell phone according to personal likes, there is more to consuming foods than personal taste. The equation includes multiple factors such as age, gender, lifestyle, metabolic and genetic make-up, activity level and predisposition to disease.
"While the customization trend may sound ideal for those seeking the "perfect" diet, there are key issues that need to be resolved before the trend is embraced by all,' cautions Hoolihan. "Imagine the time it would take for doctors to prescribe very specific diets for each patient." Instead, the trend is more likely to bring about change in smaller steps. Segmenting the population into smaller groups beyond gender and age will provide one level of customization. For example, a 35-year old man who has a family history of hypertension may lower his risk of developing the condition by following a diet rich in low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables. Another 35-year old man who has a slow metabolism and low activity level may be advised to reduce calorie intake to prevent unwanted weight gain.
Still another layer of customization may be reached by segmenting population groups by ethnicity and socioeconomic factors. Some in the health community are concerned that the technique will be unfairly available to the "haves" and not the "have-nots". Others see an opportunity to provide priority population groups with much-needed, tailored nutrition recommendations, which over time will lead to a change in how nutrition assessments and advice are provided to the entire population.
"The possibilities are endless; yet the health professional community, food industry and public health community have more planning and research to complete before detailed recommendations can be made with confidence and accuracy. In the meantime, those in the health and nutrition arena need to be open to the change and start making adjustments one step at a time," concludes Hoolihan.
Editor's Note: A copy of Individualization of Nutrition Recommendations and Food Choices is available by calling Dairy Council of California at (916) 263-3560.
1 - Hoolihan, L E, PhD, RD. Individualization of nutrition recommendations and food choices. Nutrition Today 2004; 38:6: 225-231