Food Tech: AI-Driven Personalized Diets Are the New Rage
Sep 18, 2023
Personalized nutrition (aka precision nutrition) refers to a tailored approach to eating that is anchored on an analysis of one's genetics, lifestyle and health condition.
Personalized nutrition isn't a new concept, but its potential has arguably never been greater due to recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI).
A new industry report projects that this sector could grow to become a $70 billion market by 2040.
Along with air, water and shelter, food is one of the basic necessities of life. But the role of food in modern society now extends far beyond basic sustenance.
Today, food is an outlet for innovation and creativity, as well as the basis for cultural identity. And eating in groups remains an important ritual in modern society—most gatherings with family, friends and acquaintances involve food or a meal.
In some ways, food has actually gotten disconnected from its role as sustenance, as evidenced by the existence of ultra lavish restaurants and culinary-focused tourism. In these arenas, food is arguably a status symbol, or at minimum an indicator of socioeconomic standing.
On the other end of the spectrum, food is also closely linked with personal health and wellness. Millions of people around the world closely monitor what they eat and drink. And following a disciplined diet may stem from food allergies, a health-related condition, or simply wanting to maintain a healthy physique/lifestyle.
And from a health and wellness standpoint, food's role in modern society could soon experience a significant transformation. In the near future, food could revert to its roots as a form of sustenance, or more specifically, a form of optimized sustenance.
For example, imagine you just finished a workout at a gym or fitness studio. You return home, and a nutritional app on your smartphone sends instructions to your 3D printer to produce an edible gummy that's designed to supplement your current nutritional deficiencies.
On top of that, the nutritional software further recommends what you should eat for dinner, based on your body's current condition and nutritional needs.
That in a nutshell describes an emerging field that represents a merger between health technology and food technology—"personalized nutrition." And recent advancements in this niche (such as the 3D-printed nutritional gummy bear) were recently on display at one of the world’s premier food tech conferences—SKS in Japan.
Personalized nutrition (aka precision nutrition) refers to a tailored approach to eating that is anchored on an analysis of one's genetics, lifestyle and health condition. And it has the potential to not only help improve the lives of "healthy" people, but also those battling chronic ailments and diseases.
Obviously, most adults are already in charge of their own personal nutrition, and many of them strive to maintain a healthy diet.
However, one could argue that the majority of food-related decisions are made based on preference, as opposed to nutritional need. And in many instances, those decisions may be a direct consequence of time, energy and economics, as highlighted in the graphic below.
Economics aside, (that's an entirely different conversation), personalized nutrition could very well revolutionize how people think about their daily diets.
Instead of revolving around flavors and pallet appeal, food-related decisions could soon revolve around things like genetic predispositions, age, lifestyles and health conditions.
In the not-so-distant future, a technology platform will likely assess an individual's physical condition and use that information—in tandem with additional personal data (genetics, age, lifestyle, etc...)—to formulate recommendations for what a person should eat and drink.
In effect, this technology will essentially represent a personalized, digital nutritionist (aka digital dietician).
And looking a little further into the future, one can easily envision a machine or robot preparing the recommended sustenance, which in turn would help alleviate a couple of the other headwinds for optimized nutrition—time and energy.
Unfortunately, technological advancements in nutrition probably won't remove some of the other barriers—for example, the limited availability of some ingredients, and the prohibitive cost of high-quality food.
Personalized nutrition certainly isn't a new concept, but its potential has arguably never been greater than the present time due to recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI).
Genetic data is extensive and complex, making it difficult to analyze. However, AI is well-suited for sifting through large sets of data, and providing key feedback on those findings.
For example, imagine an individual with a genetic predisposition for diabetes. In this case, the personalized nutrition platform would likely recommend foods that are low in sugar, processed carbohydrates, and sodium—all of which can place an individual at higher risk of developing diabetes.
Moreover, the personalized nutrition platform could also steer an individual with a predisposition for diabetes towards the types of nutrition that might help fend off the disease, such as lean proteins and non-starchy vegetables.
This example helps illustrate how the quality of the nutritional recommendations relies heavily on the accuracy and depth of the data. In that regard, further research will be needed to better understand how certain nutritional regimens impact individuals with unique conditions.
For example, if an individual suffers from a rare disease that isn't widely understood by scientists and doctors, it’s more difficult to design a program for personalized nutrition.
Not surprisingly, experts in the field are keenly aware that advanced personalized nutrition can't develop without access to large pools of accurate data. Along those lines, Dr. Yosep Ji—the cofounder and CEO of HEM Pharma—recently told NutraIngredients.com, "If we can have a microbiome database together with their health database, then I think that's the key factor for personalization [of nutrition]."
Personal nutritionists and dieticians do already exist, and are out there providing individuals with recommendations on a daily basis. But such services aren't cheap, and are typically utilized by high-paid athletes, or those afflicted by chronic ailments/disease.
When it comes to personalized nutrition, the current goal is to make it available to a much larger percentage of the population—whether that be for healthy individuals that have genetic predispositions for certain diseases, or for people that are simply seeking to live healthier lifestyles.
Importantly, there are some start-ups in this niche that are already operational.
Prevess, for example, caters to athletes, and strives to provide science-backed personalized nutritional guidance. Prevess was founded by Timo Spring, a former professional swimmer from Germany.
On its website, Prevess states that its mission is "maximizing the potential of athletes with science-based nutrition solutions." According to NutraIngredient.com, Prevess attempts to achieve that mission by translating knowledge into "tangible health and performance improvements, relying on factual data, clinical reviews, meta-analyses, and rigorously vetted sources."
In terms of services, Prevess offers 24/7 nutritional coaching, and utilizes AI to help deliver those services.
One of the services offered by Prevess allows users to enter all the ingredients in their refrigerator into the company’s proprietary app. The Prevess AI tool then recommends recipes based on what's in the refrigerator, ostensibly taking into account the individual's health condition and performance goals. This same software can also make recommendations based on the choices from a menu, or buffett line.
Importantly, the fact that Prevess caters only to “healthy” individuals is likely one indicator of the potential complexities of recommending a particular diet to people suffering from chronic ailments/diseases.
Considering the critical nature of such advice, and the potential legal liability associated with bad advice, it’s obviously going to be more difficult and expensive to offer such services to those with unique and complex situations.
Ultimately, a person’s health condition and genetic background will need to be analyzed and monitored in order for the software to design a comprehensive, personalized nutritional approach. This process may therefore involve blood tests and access to people’s private medical histories.
That level of personal information could yield some powerful results. For example, The New York Times reported last year that when the nutritional start-up DayTwo used its proprietary algorithm “to match a diet to an individual’s microbiome and metabolism, it [the AI recommended diet] was better at controlling blood sugar than the Mediterranean diet, considered one of the healthiest in the world.
And if customers are finding the results they seek from personalized/precision nutrition, it will undoubtedly generate increased demand for such services. When that happens, the private sector usually steps up to deliver.
Like any emerging industry, that means further research and development are necessary. But with companies like DayTwo and Prevess already active in the market, this new approach for optimizing personal health and wellness could spread relatively quickly—potentially transforming some aspects of the food and beverage sector.
That’s undoubtedly why the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) made personalized nutrition a central focus in its 2020-2030 Strategic Plan.
According to a recent publication by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the NIH’s 2020-2030 Strategic Plan “guides research to understand how what we eat affects us, investigate what and when we should eat for optimal health, define the role of nutrition across the lifespan, and determine how we can improve the use of food as medicine.”
In addition to DayTwo and Prevess, some other start-ups focusing on personalized/precision nutrition include Ahara, Culina Health, Elo Health, Exalt, LemonBox Lumen, myAir and Zoe.
In the near future, personalized/optimized nutrition could be made available to a lot more people, potentially improving the lives of many people around the world. And according to one recent report, this sector could represent a $70 billion market by 2040.
As such, investors and traders should be on the lookout for new public offerings in this space, which could offer a compelling investment opportunity.
Andrew Prochnow has more than 15 years of experience trading the global financial markets, including 10 years as a professional options trader. Andrew is a frequent contributor Luckbox Magazine.
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