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Food: the future is customised


The annual meeting of food technologists kicked off in Chicago at the weekend, and with it the opportunity for debate. 'Customised nutrition' came under the spotlight at a symposium on Sunday.

Researchers discussed the opportunities and challenges of developing customised food choices based on individuals' needs and preferences.

The panel highlighted factors that contribute to the ability to customise nutritional needs including not just age and gender, but disease risk, genetic profile, metabolic conditions and taste preferences.

Obesity and related illnesses represent a driving force in the need for a better understanding of how food contributes to overall health and wellness. According to the symposium notes, Dr. Michael Zemel from Tennessee university presented scientific data that revealed a correlation between the absorption of calcium through dairy foods with better weight management.

According to the meeting, epidemiological and clinical trial data support the findings that calcium intake is linked to weight loss. However, the health benefits of certain foods need to be weighed against individuals' taste preferences.

Dr. Chahan Yeretzian, from the Nestle Research Centre, focused on the need for foods to be appealing to the individual. He stressed the widely known fact that foods that are pleasing to the palette are more likely to be consumed over foods that are healthy but not tasteful.

The movement to customise nutrition recommendations and food choices is more prevalent. A recent commentary, 'The Challenge to Customise', in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association discussed how individualising dietary recommendations and consuming specific foods to match an individual's specific health needs is within the realm of future nutrition practices. The piece also touched on the food industry's role in creating and marketing products to meet the needs of various population segments.

Symposium speaker Dr. Paul Davis, at the University of California, cautioned the food industry against marketing foods as the cure-all for health conditions.

He highlighted the many challenges that face the food industry as the desire to customise nutrition guidelines for individuals continues to build momentum.

"The movement towards highly customised nutrition recommendations and food products runs parallel to the customisation that consumers expect in other areas - clothes, cars, computers," said Lori Hoolihan, co-author of 'The Challenge to Customise' and symposium moderator.

"Advances in genetics and nutritional science research will accelerate the future in terms of how recommendations are set and how individuals select their diets," concluded Dr.Hoolihan.

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