Updated 14th April 2022

What is personalized nutrition, and does it work?

Personalized nutrition goes further than general nutrition guidelines by delivering dietary advice tailored to you as an individual and to your specific health goals.

At ZOE, we run the largest personalized nutrition science study in the world, with over 15,000 participants. We have uncovered exciting new frontiers in nutrition research — highlighting that a personalized approach is more effective than general nutrition advice.  

In particular, we found that everyone responds differently to foods, even identical twins.

Our research also found that people whose bodies did not respond as well to carbohydrate- or fat-rich foods could be at higher risk of long-term metabolic diseases.

The ZOE at-home test uses the latest technology to analyze your unique blood sugar and blood fat responses to food, as well as the “good” and “bad” bugs that live in your gut — which also play an important role in how your body responds to food.

With the ZOE personalized nutrition program, you can discover the best foods for you and your long-term health goals. 

You can take a free quiz to find out more.

What is personalized nutrition?

Personalized nutrition uses factors about you as an individual to develop targeted nutrition recommendations for you. This is different to tailored nutrition advice that dietitians or nutritionists can provide.

Personalized nutrition programs go further and typically use big data and machine learning approaches to include lots of information —  like your medical history, biological responses to foods, age, and sex — to improve your health. 

ZOE scientists have found that there are significant variations in how different people respond to foods. Understanding your specific responses allows us to create personalized recommendations of the best foods for you.

New advances in technology mean it’s possible to know more than ever about your individual responses to food. 

It’s ZOE’s mission to make these tests accessible to as many people as possible.

ZOE’s easy-to-use at-home tests combine blood fat, blood sugar, and gut health testing to give you a full picture of how your body responds to food.

We use a blood sugar sensor called a continuous glucose monitor, our special-recipe "food challenge" test muffins, a finger prick test, and a gut health test that analyzes your gut microbiome. This is the collection of bacteria — or "bugs" — found in your gut, which can be beneficial for your health. 

After you eat the muffins, which contain specific amounts of carbohydrates, fat, and protein, our powerful computers compare your test results with those of thousands of others who have eaten the same muffins and have taken the same tests.

This lets us predict your blood fat and blood sugar responses to hundreds of other foods.

The gut health test analyzes a sample of your poop using cutting-edge deep shotgun sequencing technology to find out what types of bugs live in your gut microbiome. 

Using this unique combination of tests, we can help you to understand how your body responds to food and give you personalized recommendations of the best things to eat for your overall health.

Does personalized nutrition work?

Researchers have only recently begun to compare the results of personalized nutrition programs with more generalized dietary guidance.

However, there’s emerging evidence that personalized nutrition plans could be better for managing health conditions like type 2 diabetes. And people may be more likely to follow them.

In a systematic review, researchers examined evidence from 11 studies investigating the effect of personalized nutrition compared with general diet advice on healthy adults.

The researchers concluded that when people received personalized nutrition advice, they were more likely to improve their diets than those who received more general guidance. 

One study in particular, involving over 1,200 participants, found that those who received a 6-month personalized nutrition intervention went on to eat less red meat, salt, and saturated fat, and saw greater improvements in their overall diet than those who received general nutrition advice.

Experts also suggest that personalized nutrition is more effective than general advice for preventing or managing diabetes.

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The Mediterranean diet is commonly regarded as one of the healthiest eating patterns for preventing many long-term illnesses.

However, one study involving over 200 people with prediabetes found that while the Mediterranean diet and personalized nutrition plans both helped control blood sugar, the personalized approach resulted in even greater improvements.

While the overall goal of personalized nutrition plans is often to improve various aspects of your health, many people who follow them also see weight loss. 

ZOE’s unpublished research has shown that people who adhered to their ZOE personalized nutrition program for 3 months lost an average of 9.4 pounds, while over 80% said they had more energy and didn’t feel hungry.

You can find out more about how the ZOE program could help you achieve your personal health and nutrition goals. 

Why is personalized nutrition important?

It’s estimated that across the globe, 1 in 5 deaths could be avoided by improvements in diet.

In the U.S., 78% of people aged 55 and over live with at least one chronic condition, and nearly one-fifth of this group live with three or more chronic conditions. 

When it comes to our responses to food, we’re all different. Eating the foods that work best for your body can help with your long-term health and weight goals. 

Everyone is different

ZOE runs the largest personalized nutritional sciences study in the world. Data from over 15,000 participants shows that everyone’s responses to food are different. Even identical twins, who share the same DNA, can have significantly different responses. 

When you eat, your body digests and breaks down the carbohydrates and fats in your food.

Sugar and fat molecules make their way into your bloodstream, raising your blood sugar and blood fat levels to provide energy and nutrition to your body’s cells. As your cells take in these molecules, your blood levels go down. 

How significantly and for how long blood fat and blood sugar levels rise and fall after eating different foods is unique for each person, and it's a critical part of understanding an individual's metabolic health

The makeup of your gut microbiome — the trillions of bugs that live in your gut — also plays a part in your metabolic health, and it's closely linked with the foods you eat.

But it doesn’t end there. Other factors — such as the time of day you eat your meals, the sequence that you eat them in, how much exercise you do, and how well you sleep — can influence your personal responses to food and how these impact your long-term health. 

Health and metabolic diseases

While enjoying all foods is an important part of having a healthy and happy life, regularly eating foods that cause bigger rises and falls in your blood sugar and blood fat levels may not be good for your long-term health.

After you eat, sugar “crashes” may make you feel tired, hungry, irritable, or shaky. 

But over time, frequent poor responses can increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome and metabolic diseases like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Your gut microbiome also impacts your long-term health. ZOE scientists have identified 15 “good” and 15 ”bad” bugs associated with better or worse health. 

How many of these are in your gut is unique to you. With the ZOE program, you find out which bugs you currently have in your gut, as well as your personalized “gut booster” foods that will help your “good” bugs grow. 

Summary

Unlike broad, one-size-fits-all guidelines for healthy eating, personalized nutrition looks at factors such as your unique metabolism and specific needs to create nutrition advice that’s tailored to you. 

Everyone responds to foods differently, and these responses are linked to your risk of long-term diseases.

Research has shown that personalized plans can be more effective in managing blood sugar responses in people who are at risk of developing diabetes.

Large-scale studies also suggest that people who receive personalized nutrition plans are more likely to improve their diets than those who receive more generalized advice. 

Using the latest scientific techniques, ZOE’s at-home tests analyze your blood sugar and blood fat levels, as well as the unique makeup of your gut microbiome, to suggest the foods that are best for your body.

You can take a free quiz to learn how to get your own personalized nutrition program.

Sources

Does personalized nutrition advice improve dietary intake in healthy adults? A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Advances in Nutrition. (2021). https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/12/3/657/6031638?guestAccessKey=9455152e-09a4-43b5-bc48-58c350d12084

Effect of personalized nutrition on health-related behavior change: evidence from the Food4Me European randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Epidemiology. (2017). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27524815/

Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet. (2017). https://www.thelancet.com/article/S0140-6736(19)30041-8/fulltext

Human postprandial responses to food and potential for precision nutrition. Nature Medicine. (2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0934-0

Microbiome connections with host metabolism and habitual diet from 1,098 deeply phenotype individuals. Nature Medicine. (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-01183-8

Nutrition therapy for adults with diabetes or prediabetes: a consensus report. Diabetes Care. (2019). https://diabetesjournals.org/care/article/42/5/731/40480/Nutrition-Therapy-for-Adults-With-Diabetes-or

Personalized nutrition and health. The BMJ. (2018). https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2173

Personalized postprandial glucose response-targeting diet versus Mediterranean diet for glycemic control in prediabetes. Diabetes Care. (2021). https://genie.weizmann.ac.il/pubs/ben_yakov_2021.pdf

Recent advances in modulating the microbiome. F1000 Research. (2020). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC6993818/

What is metabolic syndrome? (2022). https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/metabolic-syndrome