Focus-Science and Technology - - FOOD -

To­day, we know that healthy eat­ing is im­por­tant to keep our bod­ies in tip-top con­di­tion. This link be­tween diet and health was first ‘proved’ in the mid-1800s by Scot­tish naval sur­geon Dr Joseph Lind, who is cred­ited with run­ning one of the ear­li­est ever clin­i­cal con­trolled tri­als. His study demon­strated that cit­rus fruits could pro­tect sailors from scurvy. The wa­ter­shed find­ing set the stage for lemons and limes to be is­sued as stan­dard in sailors’ ra­tions, and showed how healthy eat­ing can save un­told num­bers of lives.

These days, sci­ence may have dis­sected al­most ev­ery el­e­ment of our diet, but many of us still feel at sea. Even when stick­ing to of­fi­cial ad­vice, healthy foods that seem to en­er­gise one per­son can cause an­other to feel fa­tigued and bloated. In 2015, a team of sci­en­tists from Is­rael tracked blood sugar lev­els in the blood of 800 peo­ple over sev­eral days, mak­ing the sur­pris­ing dis­cov­ery that in­di­vid­u­als’ bi­o­log­i­cal re­sponse to iden­ti­cal foods var­ied wildly. Some peo­ple had a blood glu­cose ‘spike’ af­ter eat­ing sug­ary ice cream, while oth­ers’ glu­cose lev­els only in­creased with starchy rice – a find­ing at odds with con­ven­tional wis­dom.

Our bod­ies’ idio­syn­cratic han­dling of nu­tri­ents seems to be down to our ge­net­ics, the mi­crobes in our gut, and vari­a­tions in our or­gans’ in­ter­nal phys­i­ol­ogy. Clin­i­cal tri­als like those pi­o­neered by Lind have given us gen­eral di­etary guide­lines, but nu­tri­tion re­search tends to as­sume all hu­mans are the same, and so can miss the nu­ances and spe­cific needs of the in­di­vid­ual.

In the next 10 years, the emerg­ing field of ‘per­son­alised nu­tri­tion’ will use ge­netic tests to fill in those gaps to of­fer healthy eat­ing guid­ance tai­lored to the in­di­vid­ual. Some com­pa­nies, so-called ‘nu­tri­ge­net­ics ser­vices’, al­ready test your DNA and of­fer di­etary ad­vice – but the ad­vice can be hit-and-miss. By 2028, we will un­der­stand much more about our ge­net­ics. Dr Jef­frey Blum­berg, a pro­fes­sor of nu­tri­tion sci­ence and pol­icy at Tufts Uni­ver­sity in Mas­sachusetts, is one of the most out­spo­ken ad­vo­cates of this new sci­ence. He in­sists that DNA test­ing will un­lock per­son­alised nu­tri­tion. “I’ll be able to tell you what kinds of fruits, what kinds of veg­eta­bles and what kinds of whole­grains you should be choos­ing, or ex­actly how of­ten,” he says.

Sadly, per­son­alised nu­tri­tion looks set to make cook­ing meals for the whole fam­ily just that lit­tle bit more tax­ing.

“In the next 10 years, the emerg­ing field of ‘per­son­alised nu­tri­tion’ will of­fer healthy eat­ing guid­ance tai­lored to the in­di­vid­ual”

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