FFor decades, dietary advice has been notoriously gimmicky, shifting from the low-fat, high-carb advice of the 1980s and 1990s to the low-carb or intermittent fasting diets recommended in recent years.
But one program claims to be different: It promises to test how your body reacts to different foods, then teach you how to eat the right ones for your biology.
And it all starts with eating a pack of muffins, a new twist even as the world of dieting grows ever more esoteric. But this program, created by the team behind the Covid symptom tracker app used during the pandemicsays her goal is better long-term health rather than weight loss.
The Guardian has been asked to be the first UK newspaper to try the program by Professor Tim Spector, the scientific co-founder of Zoe, the company behind coronavirus tracking apps and now nutrition. And the big lesson I’ve learned so far is “less sourdough, more nuts, cheese and avocados” – at least for me; someone else may receive totally different advice.
The idea arose from research suggesting that even identical twins react differently to eating the exact same meal. By identifying which foods cause large and prolonged spikes in blood sugar or fat – both of which can trigger inflammation, contributing to the development of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease or dementia – the idea is that you can learn to avoid them. foods, or combine them with others to help minimize these spikes.
In the mail, I received a finger prick blood test, several packets of standardized muffins, a continuous glucometer that I strapped to my arm, and a stool sample kit to analyze my gut microbes. I was also told to download the Zoe app and was connected with a personal nutrition coach.
Every day for the next two weeks, I logged everything I ate in the app, sometimes eating several muffins and taking a blood test to measure the amount of fat in my blood. This, combined with data from my food diary, my glucose sensor and my poop sample, would be analyzed by an algorithm to calculate my individual responses to the foods I had eaten – and predict my responses to many more.
Spector is perhaps best known for his work leading the Zoe Covid study, but the company’s nutrition program was underway long before the pandemic hit. Now that continued lockdowns have endowed so many of us with an extra “Covid Stone”Spector is on a mission to changing the nation’s attitude towards food.
The goal is not weight loss per se, but better long-term health. Interim data from the clinical study shows that after three months on a personalized Zoe plan, 82% of participants had more energy, 83% were no longer hungry, and members experienced an average weight loss of 4, 3kg.
Dr. Sammie Gill, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said, “I am confident that in the future, personalized nutrition that offers targeted interventions and tailored recommendations based on an individual’s physiological and microbiological responses will be part of routine clinical practice. It is a real paradigm shift and is based on the premise that dietary recommendations that offer standardized advice to everyone are too simplistic.
Even before receiving the results, my glucose sensor had provided some interesting information. For example, my favorite breakfast, a slice of sourdough slathered in butter and honey, caused my blood sugar to skyrocket and then crash, but if I ate the same breakfast right before exercise, the effect was much less pronounced.
“These sugar spikes also tend to be followed by a sugar crash in about one in four people, which then causes increased hunger and reduced energy levels, so you tend to eat more,” Spector said.
So when my results finally came in, I wasn’t too surprised to learn that blood sugar control isn’t my metabolic strong point — even though mine is average. This does not mean that simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, are now banned.
Under the Zoe system, each food is given a rating out of 100, specific to you as an individual. So while white rice earns me a score of 17 to 42, depending on the type, if I combine rice with split peas it goes up to 75 – meaning I can eat it regularly.
Fortunately, I can report that my control of blood fats – how quickly I eliminate them from my circulation – is excellent, although that does not mean that I can consume cakes and whipped cream with abandon, because the application also takes into account their effect on the growth of good and bad gut bacteria (and these foods promote bad ones). However, this means that avocados, cheese, Greek yogurt and nuts are now a regular part of my menu.
Although I’m happy to eat more, I worry about the effect on my waistline. However, my coach tells me that not all calories are created equal and should be considered an average indicator of energy intake.
I also received a score for my microbial health, which is below average diversity, possibly due to an extended course of antibiotics. But it is fortunately rich in bacteria that promote blood sugar control. I was given a list of foods to try to further increase their levels – mostly vegetables and nuts, but also green tea and black coffee.
The total cost of the test kit is £259.99, and most people commit to a four month program at £34.99 per month.
Zoe is not the only company to develop this concept of personalized nutrition, but it is one of the first to hit the UK market. Professor John Mathers, Director of the Human University of Newcastle Nutrition Research Center, broadly backs the idea, calling it “based on high-quality research” with the power to “help motivate individuals to eat healthier.”
He worries about the rush to commercialization and that it may be too simplistic to predict long-term health. He also doesn’t like the suggestion that you don’t have to limit energy intake to lose weight. “These are seductive ideas, but in my view the available evidence is too limited to be sure they are correct.”
However, I like that the app provides real-time feedback on what you plan to put in your mouth. Already, I drink less wine and have noticed that I now crave cookies and chocolate less after meals.
I also eat a lot more vegetables, especially at lunchtime when my typical sandwich has been replaced by a whole grain or bean salad with lots of leaves and seeds. Even if I don’t lose weight, my gut microbes will surely thank me. Don’t stand too close to me in an enclosed space.
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