Precision Nutrition: Easy First Steps in 2024

Jules Walters headshot

Jules Walters • Feb 12, 2024

Struggling to find a diet that feels right for you? Precision nutrition, designed to match your unique biology and health goals, could be the answer. In this guide, we reveal some easy first steps to help you customize your food choices and nutritional strategy in 2024.

Ready for a dietary plan that truly fits you? Let’s get started!

Key takeaways

  • Precision nutrition tailors dietary guidance to your genetic and metabolic makeup, and takes into account your lifestyle. It moves away from one-size-fits-all.
  • Incorporating nutrigenomics and microbiome testing can provide actionable insights today.
  • Understanding your genetic traits, such as being a fast or slow caffeine metabolizer, helps to know what to consume when; and what to avoid altogether.

The power of precision nutrition

A diverse selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Options for a personalized nutrition plan

Ever feel like conventional dietary advice just doesn’t cut it? That’s because it often fails to account for our individual differences. Just because your best friend Sue went gluten free doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you. Enter precision nutrition, a game-changer for healthy eating based on a diet that’s designed for your body’s unique features. Nutrition science has come a long way over the past two decades and it’s just waiting for you to incorporate its early learnings.

For example in the US, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a 10,000 person study to find out how the foods we eat affect our health. The study is still enrolling in six states so one step would be to consider joining the study.

In the meantime, the good news is that you don’t need to wait for the NIH results to start understanding you.

Precision nutrition vs. one-size-fits-all

Compared to one-size-fits-all diets, precision nutrition has enormous potential. It’s part of a promise of better health that has been a long time in the making. Back in 2015, President Barack Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative to bring an end to treatments designed for the average patient.

None of us want to be thought of as average, but that is how treatments are still prescribed today. No matter that my DNA means that I metabolize drugs quickly or slowly. That metabolic rate also extends to coffee, by the way. With precision nutrition, you’re not just following general dietary advice. You’ll be following advice that’s specifically designed for you.

Take a nutrigenomics test

DNA double helix representing genetic factors combined with healthy diet options - precision nutrition options

A good first step towards achieving true precision nutrition might be taking a nutritional genomics test. These tests study the relationship between your genes and their influence on the way you process food. I recently took a nutrigenomics test and found out that my body would really prefer it if I went gluten free. That was a surprise to me. Since then, I’ve stayed off the gluten and am definitely feeling lighter and less bloated since.

A few companies that help with nutritional genomics test, also known as a nutrigenomics test, are 3×4 Genetics, FunctionHealth and Nutrigenomix.

3×4 Genetics look at 36 metabolic pathways, including nutrients, energy and activity. Your report comes with helpful diagrams and you can talk over the results with a health coach, if helpful.

For example, you could find out if you’re a fast or slow caffeine metabolizer. This information could guide your caffeine consumption. Fast caffeine metabolizers might feel like they have a mental edge for a couple of hours, while slow metabolizers might have trouble falling asleep, thanks to that afternoon cappuccino.

Track nutrient intake and dietary patterns

Nutrient tracking app on a smartphone to support a precision nutrition diet

An older method, but still a good one, is to understand WHAT you are eating on most days. It’s easy to think that we’re being very good, but are we really in terms of dietary intake?

How many afternoons did we reach for the snack packed with refined sugar, washed down with a can of soda similarly stacked with sugar. There are loads of apps that will help you track your food intake and most have common, preloaded meals to make it easier to enter information. Check out MyFitnessPal, Fooducate and See How You Eat, which allows you to take a picture of what you’re eating, rather than choose from another drop-down list.

Precision nutrition starts with awareness so you can:

  • Understand what are nutrient-rich foods and what are not
  • Become disciplined in your food choices
  • Recognize the foods that are good or bad for your health
  • Observe your body’s reaction to food

I’m also a big fan of spending time reading food labels before you put whatever it is inside that lovely packet into your basket. Start with the serving size. How many servings are in a packet? It’s not the whole bag of Dorritos that’s the serving size. It’s entirely possible that one serving is just 15 tortilla chips. How much saturated fat is that? Nutritional knowledge starts with the food label.

Test your microbiome for precision nutrition

Impressionistic image of human intestines for microbiome composition analysis.

We’ve heard a lot lately about how our microbiomes can hold the key to our optimal diet. Testing your microbiome can give you a window as to what is going on inside your gut. It can allow you to discover the specific types of bacteria that are thriving there, or completely absent. Armed with those results, many direct-to-consumer companies will then recommend specific foods to boost some strains of bugs and discourage others.

If you want a deeper dive on the subject of the microbiome, I highly recommend the recent podcast on Peter Attia’s The Drive with Colleen Cutcliffe, cofounder of microbiome company Pendulum Therapeutics. It’s over two hours long but by the end of it, you’ll probably know more than 99% of people on the planet on the subject of the human microbiome. And you don’t need to have a PhD to understand it.

There are multiple companies that can help with microbiome testing. A couple I rate are Viome and Zoe with a test setting you back between $200 and $300. Zoe was founded on the results of a study of over 1,100 adults in the US and Britain called Predict, which found big differences in the gut microbiomes of even identical twins. Genes are influential, but they are not the whole picture. Our environment also plays a big role.

Test for food sensitivity

Healthy meal preparation with personalized ingredients - for a precision nutrition diet

Another test that can be helpful for tailoring your diet is a food sensitivity test. At-home tests will enable you to test your body’s response to about 100 foods, based on the levels of a kind of antibody in your blood.

Companies like Everlywell and MyLabBox will check your responses to foods, including fruit, dairy, eggs, grains and legumes.

Many of us will go through our whole lives not understanding the link between those whole grains and that bloated feeling. You might be lucky and have no response to the gluten in wheat. But maybe those two pieces of bread every morning are not the best start to your day.

Summary

Precision nutrition is an exciting field that holds the potential to revolutionize our approach to health and wellbeing. By tailoring dietary recommendations to our individual makeup, we can make more effective and lasting changes to our lifestyle.

It is still early days in terms of precision nutrition, but there are an increasing number of tests that you can take to begin to understand the biology of you. These include nutrigenomics and microbiome tests, as well as tests for any food sensitivities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does precision nutrition work?

Precision nutrition has limitations due to gaps in understanding the relationships between eating patterns, genes, individual behaviors, and environmental factors. It’s a developing field of study and more precision nutrition research is needed.

However, there is consistent evidence, based on a systematic review of recent research, that dietary interventions based on its recommendations can lead to better health outcomes. For example, removing gluten or milk from your diet if you’re genetically built to see these foods as foreign.

What is the barrier to precision nutrition right now?

For many, the promise of precision nutrition is too expensive and too hard to access, despite the fact that obesity and chronic diseases are on the rise. Americans are getting fatter and sicker with the Centers for Disease Control reporting that 42% of Americans are obese, up from 30% three years earlier.

As with other technological advances, it is hoped that the cost of testing will come down over time. Also, that insurers will consider lower-cost plans for those who invest in their health through regular monitoring and testing.

Why is a precision nutrition plan important?

A precision nutrition plan is important because it can take into account a variety of factors such as food choices, lifestyle, genetics, medical history, and metabolism. to help you achieve your goals and address specific health conditions. Health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Precision nutrition can not only help you establish a relationship with food that is designed particularly for you. It can also lead to health benefits and play a part in disease prevention.

What is precision nutrition?

Precision nutrition tailors nutritional guidance, products or services to your specific characteristics, rather than applying general recommendations to everyone. It focuses on catering to your needs and traits.

Precision nutrition is sometimes referred to as personalized nutrition. It can apply to a group, as well as to an individual. For example, a group of people who are sensitive to gluten in wheat, or sensitive to lactose in milk.