The digital food butler
How personalized nutrition and health help people make healthier food choices
Written by Maaike de Reuver on Friday 25 May 2018
When you enter the supermarket after a hard day’s work...
...you are notified that tonight’s meal should be a high-carb pasta dish, because you have a scheduled workout coming up. Furthermore, data has shown that pasta has a proven positive effect on the performance of people with your blood type. An app on your phone sends you a quick ping to tell you you’ve run out of full-fat yogurt for tomorrow’s breakfast. You still have the low fat yogurt, but that’s only for the weekends, because the full-fat fits better with your DNA. You come home to find the pasta-cooker warming up, and a large glass of water waiting, courtesy of your automated drinks dispenser. This because your personal intake tracker determined you were nearly home and needed more water before your workout.
How futuristic is this situation? Not very, according to Nard Clabbers, senior business developer personalized nutrition and health at TNO, an independent research group based in the Netherlands. Clabbers believes innovative measuring systems and wearable technology have left humans better able to measure their personal health than ever before. Nutritional and wellness advice can now actually be based on real world data from digital calendars, sleeping patterns, medical records, BMI, blood types, DNA structures and online purchasing patterns. By connecting these genotypes, the sum total of a particular organism’s observable characteristics, we are able to give unique and detailed nutritional advice for anyone at any time.
Nard Clabbers: ‘A personalized nutritional intake pattern like this is kind of like a butler. A butler is always at your beck and call, much like personalized nutritional advice will be. Just like a butler the system is attuned to your specific needs, and able to help you make the healthy choice the easiest choice.’
Not just for the happy few
Right now in 2018, a personalized and digitized system providing nutritional guidelines is reserved for the chosen, happy few. Initiatives like Habit or Crispr are expensive and require a significant commitment of both time and energy to produce any actionable results. Still, Clabbers and others expect widespread accessibility relatively quickly. The data is already there, after all. Over time, access to it and the tools required to turn it into personalized nutritional advice will inevitably become cheaper and widely available.
Shifting the health paradigm
The lower the barrier to entry to a personal nutrition system, the more widespread its use. This will lead to future food choices no longer being based on just things like price, convenience, or flavor; health will be one of the leading factors to consider for many consumers. Foodservice companies will need to take this into account in their future business models. Where before these companies could influence the narrative on what constitutes healthy food through advertising, future consumers will have ready access to hard scientific fact. It’s in the best interest of food producers everywhere to listen to consumers’ individual needs and desires, and to adjust accordingly.
Loyalty is timeless
Liesbeth Luijendijk, business development manager at Wageningen University and Research centre in the Netherlands, is a partisan of making personal dietary advices by making use of technological possibilities. Nevertheless she does not deny the social aspect of food. No matter how easy or how cheap access to a personalized dietary advice will become, and no matter how much companies adjust to it, food choices remain just that: personal choices. A digital food butler might be an inevitability, and it might help people to make it easier to know what would be the most healthy option, but in the end: we are no machines.
Liesbeth Luijendijk: ‘Next to dietary supplements food is about gathering together, about taste and emotions. A digital butler can give the best advices, it can never replace those social values around food.’
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