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Getting personal: the future of nutrition for optimal health

by Jane Park
Feb 15, 2009

If “Purina Human Chow” is the future of functional foods, something is clearly amiss, according to Bruce German, a professor of food science and technology at the University of California, Davis.

He said understanding the differences, not similarities, between individuals can vastly improve nutrition that will prevent disease and improve overall human health.

That knowledge can only come from a scientific assessment of each individual’s genetics, diet and metabolism.

“What we want is a scientific understanding of the diversity of the human condition so powerful that we can deliver to people the health that they want,” not a one-size-fits-all approach to health, he said.

German isn’t promoting the latest fad in America’s obsession with health – but he might be onto something that will change the way people think of diet and food.

He briefly summarized his studies Saturday at the “Foods of the Future” symposium at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chicago.

Highly personalized diets will be the road to optimal health, he said, but “it will not be easy” to make that transition.

Consumers are seeking “the diet, the nutrients, the program, the lifestyle changes that lead to optimal health,” said M.R.C. Greenwood, a nutrition professor at UC Davis, who opened Saturday’s symposium.

German said clinicians must recognize that an individual’s genetic makeup and lifestyle will affect the way he or she metabolizes certain nutrients. After meticulously mapping out a person’s health, doctors and nutrition experts will be able to customize an effective diet plan.

“You’re gonna have to measure metabolites very accurately and then…predict the trajectories of health of individual humans,” to personalize nutrition, German said.

Although the process sounds tedious, today’s technologies such as imaging devices and better health education enforced in schools can make this possible, he said.

The future of nutrition won’t be about the next greatest super food, or the next mighty supplement, but a comprehensive knowledge about what works and what doesn’t for each person to maintain good health.

Nutrition will be about more than beverages that promote energy, food bars that improve gastrointestinal health or yogurt that increases intestinal microflora.

And when it comes down to it, food should be “simultaneously healthy and simultaneously delicious,” said German.

It’s a relief we won’t be munching on bland dog biscuits in years to come.