Don't get 'averaged': Why nutrition needs to get personal
By Niamh Michail
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Andrew Steele spent 12 years as a professional athlete for the British team at European, Commonwealth and Olympic games.
After failing to qualify for the London Olympics in 2012, he sent off for a swab test and discovered that he lacks the gene type that all professional sprinters; to compensate for this Steele needed to activate a different protein.
“This illustrated the risk of ‘getting averaged’ quite well,” he said.
One remedy to the bitter disappointment of not making it to the Olympics was the decision to work with personalised nutrition firm DNAFit as head of product development. DNAFit is a UK firm which sends out swab kits to individuals and analyses their DNA samples to provide tailored dietary, fitness and wellbeing advice.
Personalised nutrition is not about not getting rid of the environmental factors but understanding the genes so that the two match up better. Our phenotype and outcome is unique combination of our static genes which we can’t change and the variable part, our environment.” “It’s about nurturing your nature and knowing not to try and make your weaknesses your strengths.”
While it may be fitness and nutrition companies that are currently leading the way, the processed food industry is watching closely – and already investing.
Last year Campbell Soup invested $32 million in personalised nutrition start-up Habit.
“We’re at a stage in the development of the food, fitness and nutrition industry where a paradigm shift in understanding personalisation is taking place.”
As with any new technology, however, venturing into unchartered territory must be done responsibly. Although there are currently around fifty firms operating in the area of personalised nutrition, there are no real regulations in place, Steele said.
DNAFit abides by its own protocol – every gene must have been tested in multiple, peer-reviewed studies; it uses human subjects only; and there must be a modifiable lifestyle change the individual can make.
“There’s no bad news,” he said. “It’s a conservative approach. We are not diagnostic and not changing someone’s goal but tweaking how to get there and using genetics as part of the picture.”
Steele finished his presentation by answering the million dollar question, put to him by one of the Food Vision delegates; did he believe he would have won a medal in London had he tailored his diet and training regime according to his genes?
“I don’t think I necessarily would have won but genuinely believe I would have made it to London Olympics.”