There’s an evolution happening in nutrition.
We’re learning more each day about the landscape of nutrition, like how genetics can give us insights in how an individual’s body functions and reacts to the world around them, the increased awareness around sustainable food sources, and the knowledge of how molecules in foods can impact the body better than prescription drugs. And the more we learn, the more a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition no longer makes sense.
Nutrition is shifting to become more personalized. Practitioners are able to understand how to target, help, and heal at the cellular level, and individuals are looking for more personalized approaches to their wellness, food, and lifestyles. Nutrition is no longer about just how many vitamins are in this piece of kale, or if you’ve filled your daily recommended intake of protein. Nutrition is about how my food choices, my environment, and my genes impact the world around me.
The State of Nutrition Today
The days of one-size-fits-all nutrition are coming to an end.
For a long time, nutrition was about a daily recommended guidance that was one recommendation for all, like the Food Pyramid. While it has undergone some changes over the years, the Pyramid has been a set-in-stone recommendation for everyone, regardless of their weight, height, metabolism, region, or genetics.
But one size doesn’t fit millions of unique sizes — we’ve always known that. And now, we’re seeing the much-needed shift away from population-based nutrition to personalized nutrition, including guidance and recommendations that are tailored to the unique way each individual’s body functions, based on their genetic makeup.
The days of nutrition defined by single nutrients or siloed food groups are also coming to an end, as there’s an increasing move towards understanding nutrition holistically. It’s not just about what’s in a food group or a supplement bottle, or getting more or less of a single nutrient. Nutrition is now being understood more in the context of biology, environment, and society, both in how they impact nutrition and how nutrition impacts them. It’s not just about picking up a bottle of fish oil at the market, but understanding everything from how an individual’s body processes it, to creating more sustainable fishing methods across our world’s oceans — and if there are plant-based alternatives that provide the same impact.
Considering sustainability, we’re also seeing consumers taking greater responsibility for the decision they make about what foods they’re consuming, and how they’re shopping and evaluating the foods they want to buy. This is impacting the entire nutrition supply chain, all the way back to the source.
If nutrition is growing more personalized and contextual, what’s causing this shift?
Ways The Nutrition Landscape Has Evolved
The landscape of nutrition is changing as we learn more about the human body, and understand more about our environment and how we live within it. Here are three of the biggest changes that are impacting the way we eat and the way we live.
Genetics and Genomics
We’ve known about genetics for over a century, but we’ve recently just started understanding how genetics creates a blueprint for how each person’s body uniquely works. With the rise of genomics, the study of how a person’s genes interact with one another and with the environment around that person, we’re gaining more insights than ever into how individuals respond to the foods they eat, the exercise they do, the environment around them, and more.
A paper from 2020 found the same, stating that “properly performed genetic tests can clearly inform certain individuals on important dietary issues. There is also a potential positive behavioral aspect to the implementation of precision nutrition via genetic testing in that having personal genetic knowledge may help motivate constructive actions that lead to an improvement in the health of that individual.” This means that practitioners can provide more tailored, personal care, can better discover sources of disease and metabolic dysfunction, and can create more targeted nutrition plans to switch genes on and off in order to optimize a patient’s health.
Food Systems and Environment
Today, there’s a growing interest not just in the nutrient value of food, but where that food came from. Was it sustainably sourced? How was it processed? Was it locally grown? Who grew it?
“The nutrition of individuals and communities can only be maintained within an environmentally sustainable context, which is currently under serious threat,” states a paper entitled “Environmental Nutrition: A New Frontier for Public Health.” It goes on to say that “Environmental nutrition seeks to address the sustainability of food systems by integrating the environmental sciences with the nutritional sciences, addressing a range of issues from production practices to societal demands on a biospheric scale.”
From organic, to farm-to-table, to plant-based, individuals want to become more aware and more educated about what they’re putting into their bodies. Not all foods are equal, and not everyone has access to healthy food all the time, so knowing these preferences and alternatives will impact practitioner recommendations.
Advances in science are giving us more insights into food molecules or bioactivities that impact the body in specific ways — in other words, we know why “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” We’re learning more every day about how compounds in foods like broccoli, wine, pomegranates, green tea, and apples work on their own and together to impact bodily functions.
In noting the impact of plant-based foods, a 2020 paper notes that “many such functional foods have been link[ed] with lowered incidences of various health disorders, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, and gout, and so there is growing interest in the research and development of plant-based functional foods.” We’re better understanding Hippocrates’s adage “Let food be thy medicine,” as we’re learning how foods can target, improve, and heal in place of, and often better than, pharmaceuticals.
The Evolution of Nutrition
As scientific research uncovers more about how genetic insight informs nutritional recommendations, and how different foods can better optimize health, the nutrition evolution will grow past old methods and approaches towards personalization for optimum wellness and longevity.