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Let us all stop facing science to find the perfect diet.



  Collage of a plate with food for specific diets: Paleo, keto, sugar-free, vegan.

Photo Illustration of Slate. Photo by Milkos / iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Dietary advice is often widespread, even contradictory: red wine is good, alcohol is bad, have breakfast, skip breakfast, eat a million small meals, go vegetarian, eat a lot of meat. An explanation why this is so confusing? Maybe there is no proper diet for everyone. Perhaps the best diet is somewhat different for everyone depending on a combination of our DNA, our lifestyle and the microbes that hang in our guts. The science of how we individually respond to and process food is in full swing. And it becomes a consumer product almost as fast as it is produced.

That we all would be healthier if we followed nutritional plans made for us as individuals is a prerequisite for Zoe, a company run by Tim Spector, a professor at King's College London, and two Entrepreneurs who have teamed up with the scientist to help The company sells the results. Zoe receives attention thanks to cutting-edge research that funds it: Last week, Spector presented preliminary results from "the world's largest and most comprehensive experiment to investigate individual responses to food," according to Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley (who himself participated in the study) participated) in the New York Times. Other researchers say it's an important piece of work: geneticist Eric Topol told the Times that it was an "important milestone" for personalized nutrition, and Amy Miskimon Goss, a researcher at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, told me, "is Holy Grail".

While many beneficial medical discoveries and new research pathways are emerging, as is often the case when collecting data mountains, the ultimate goal of Spector's work funded by Zoe is a consumer app that sheds light on how ] They specifically exactly what your body wants to consume. "Eat how your body loves," says Zoe's website. There is a model of the app that shows how to evaluate the benefit of your breakfast by adding health values ​​to your options: Non-fat yoghurt may get an orange 3.5, avocado toast green 7.1. Spector can not say much more about how Zoe could work – "we can not talk about the product exactly because it's determined by science," and this science is not finished yet – though he thinks recommendations are good – cereals as the time of day and even if you're better off relaxing with a can of beer or a glass of wine, depending on how your body reacts to hops versus grapes. A company press representative told me that the goal is to bring the consumer product to market in 2020, although it depends on the progress of research.

We will probably spend many of our days on Earth learning that the perfect diet is on the other side of a credit card.

I'm intrigued by what experts see as truly exciting research, but skeptical of Zoe's impact on the average user's life. We'll probably spend many of our days on Earth learning that the perfect diet is on the other side of a credit card, but you should not spend too much of your time thinking that personalized dieting will change anything – unlikely.

The premise of the Predict study is that over a thousand participants ate a series of carefully-recorded meals as they routinely searched for body waste, sleep and stress information, and blood samples. Many of the participants were twins, which will allow researchers to explain the role of genetics in the response to food. Specifically, Spector is interested in how intestinal microbes – which can also differ between twins – that affect what we eat affect our health. The findings are preliminary, but striking on the surface: The researchers found that nutritional labeling can account for less than half of the increase in post-meal blood sugar, fat, and insulin levels, factors that Zoe finds related to things like Weight gain and heart disease. A cool takeaway message is that counting calories may not be very helpful in maintaining good health.

However, as Twilley and Graber point out, there is still no clear evidence that the findings could be translated as advice that could make the average person significantly healthier. For example, what if some people find it difficult to eat in a way that does not increase their blood sugar, no matter what they eat? Maybe Zoe gives some good advice, but proof that it's better than following a nutritionist's advice or tracking how you feel in a food diary – tools that are currently available – is not there yet. It is much more likely that progress is "marginal", argues Traci Mann, who runs a food lab at the University of Minnesota. If it turns out that this study helps most people lose weight and lose weight (which, as you should remember, is not synonymous with health), that would be amazing. "People's bodies have a weight that they tend to defend," says Mann. Even with the latest advice, there is a possibility that "your body will return to this area".

The fact that losing weight can be nearly impossible to lose is perhaps why personalized nutrition sounds so tempting. This is also one reason why Zoe could stand out if science turns out to be too useful for the masses or not. Zoe's offer complements other services that already provide personalized referrals based on your microbiome, such as DayTwo (based on a smaller, closer nutritional study than that of Zoe) and Viome (which is unique in its ability to DNA -Sequencing of microbes is distinguished). One man who tried the latter wrote on Medium that much of the advice he received from Viome was either common sense (avoid beer and white flour), contrary to his preferences (eat apples he does not like; You pears that he likes). or just a pain to follow (boil "baked aubergine-parmigiana with walnuts and garlic," which he once did, before he realized, "I do not have time to cook, so I never did it again.") Perhaps the last example of this is the quest for "personalized nutrition" in the right light. Zoe may be based on more sophisticated science, but it's hard to see how more and more accurate advice can circumvent the basic reality that good food is a challenge, especially when time or money are tight.

Like countless diet plans before, Zoe is unlikely to provide a guaranteed way for us to become our best, thinnest self. That everything is possible, is a central myth of our culture, which is ideal for the sale of things like … diet apps. There is no magic ball for nutrition or health, just a set of recommendations that we refine continuously, gradually, slowly and easily. It's not something that science should rely on, even though that dream is part of what drives this science. We would probably be happy to throw the idea of ​​a holy grail and to proceed as best we can with the guidance we already have. Ultimately, Spector's research could be a part of it. But only a part.


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