There's new hope for the 60 percent of Americans who are overweight or obese: Revolutionary new diets may be just around the corner. The computer generated food plans work specifically for your body type, in particular the bacteria unique to your gut. Rather than eating the same foods as everyone else, your meal plan will be full of what works best for your particular body.
Researchers believe the personalized diets will stem the rising tide of diabetes, heart disease and obesity that is plaguing America.
The Personalized Nutrition Project, run by leading researchers in Israel, will have its first results unveiled on Friday at the Human Microbiome conference in Heidelberg, Germany. The project puts forth the notion that rather than general recommendations about healthy foods, diets should be optimized and based on people’s unique biological composition.
“We are all different,” said Eran Segal, a computational biologist who, along with Eran Elinav at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, authored the study. “We see tremendous variability in people’s responses to foods, so if you want to prescribe diets, they have to be personally tailored.”
An early trial found that tailored diets designed by a computer algorithm benefited 20 people with pre-diabetes. The positive effects were achieved by preventing high spikes in blood sugar levels after meals. Some of the patients even found their blood glucose had returned to healthy levels during the trial.
“In the end, I think this will be relevant for everyone, whether they want to lose weight, or to maintain their weight,” Segal told reporters.
Over the past two years the scientists have enrolled nearly 1000 people in the study, which particularly focuses on blood sugar levels after meals.
The subjects each wore blood sugar monitors in the first phase of the project and kept a diary of their eating habits and lifestyle for a week. By logging their blood sugar levels every five minutes, researchers could see how their bodies responded to different foods.
When a person eats a meal, the food is broken down into sugars by bacteria in the gut. No two people have the identical composition of gut bacteria meaning that sugar levels after a meal differ from person to person. A healthy body maintains a steady amount of sugar in the blood and spikes or drops are very unhealthy.
Rather than just eating the recommended five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day, Segal believes that personalized diets could be more effective at helping people to control their blood sugar, thus preventing them from developing diseases. “Blood glucose is key to weight management and diabetes, and is linked to many, many other diseases, including cancer,” he said.
After analyzing 50,000 meals, the researchers found that blood sugar levels varied enormously. “In some people, when they have bread, they show no change in glucose levels, but others spike dramatically,” Segal said.
To better understand this difference, the researchers looked at the make-up of the collection of bugs that lived in their patients' guts. What they found is that the types of microbes present in a patient's gut had a significant impact on how their bodies responded to meals.
The researchers then trained a computer algorithm on their data such that it could accurately predict how different people would respond to different meals.
The researchers than created bespoke diets for 20 pre-diabetic people. The researchers then created two diets for two different weeks: One to minimize blood sugar using the computer algorithm and another that only looked to have the same number of calories as the first week's diet.
“In all these cases, there was a big difference between the good diet and the bad diet, even though they contained the same calories,” said Segal. “By personalising these diets, on the good week, in some people, blood glucose fell to healthy levels, whereas in the bad diet week, they had glucose spikes that would be considered as glucose intolerant.”
“Calories are definitely an important player, but we’ve been led to think that it’s the only player, and that is absolutely not true,” said Segal.
The researchers haven't published their findings in a peer-reviewed journal, but in the next few months are launching a much larger trial to properly test just how effective the personalized diets are.
Yuval Dor, a professor of biology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the work had enormous potential. “This may open up new ways to design nutrition to control the outcome much better,” he said. “It could be of huge value for pre-diabetics as well as for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Eran may come up with an entirely new, simple and feasible way of achieving this,” he said.
That's good news for Americans, as a recent study, which we covered earlier, concluded that to get America healthy radical new medical intervention would be necessary.