ZOE takes a personalized approach to nutrition with a diet plan based on the unique blood sugar, ... [+] blood fat and gut microbiome characteristics of each person.
A lot has changed in habits in the last year and a half, says Tim Spector, epidemiologist at Kings College London and author of The Diet Myth: The Science Behind What We Eat. The co-founder of personalized nutrition company ZOE is referring to our habits when it comes to foodall the time at home has put the spotlight on what and how we eat, creating what Spector describes as fertile ground for rethinking our relationship to food.
With the pandemic increasing time spent in the kitchen, people are paying more attention to what and ... [+] how they eat.
With two thirds of ZOE users reporting their bodies changed during the pandemiceither having gained or lost weighthow we eat is certainly top of mind. But finding the right diet isnt so easy when medical professionals are often poorly trained in nutrition and diet companies sell quick fixes that rarely last. People are realizing the old mantras of reduce your calories and exercise more simply arent working, says Spector. Billions of dollars are being spent on diet plans that may work for five to six weeks but then fail.
Epidemiologist and author of The Diet Myth, Tim Spector, co-founded ZOE with Jonathan Wolf and ... [+] George Hadjigeorgiou in 2018.
While frustration towards the medical system and diet industry is not new, what has changed is self-monitoring technology, and a growing interest in personalizationfor the first time, people are taking health into their own hands. From glucose monitors to gut microbiome testsits never been easier for people to become their own doctor and nutritionist at home. The quality of the genetic sequencing on your microbiome just wasnt good enough, even three years ago, at an affordable price, Spector tells Forbes. The breakthrough in artificial intelligence and machine learning has enabled personalized nutrition to take off.
Advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning are empowering people to take nutrition ... [+] into their own hands.
People want to know, am I someone who can have a high-fat diet, high-carb diet, whats the best way of eating for me? says Spector. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, ZOE offers personalized recommendations on what and when to eat based on how each persons blood fat, blood sugar and gut microbiome responds to different foods. Everyone following the same advice about eating identical foods and 2000 calories a day is non-sense, says Spector. A calorie is not a calorie when it has a different effect on different people.
ZOE has done the research to prove it. The inspiration for the companys personalized approach came 25 years ago, when Spector discovered that identical twins eating the same foods produced an eight- to ten-fold difference in blood glucose, insulin and fat and inflammation responses. The study of 13,000 twins proved to Spector the only right diet is one tailored to each unique body.
ZOE was inspired by the finding that the same blueberry muffin had an eight- to ten-fold difference ... [+] in body responses among identical twins.
I thought I was an expert on what to eat, but even Ive changed my diet a lot based on my Zoe results, the scientist says, describing how hes replaced his morning porridge, orange juice and milky tea to black coffee and high fat yogurt with nuts and berries. Doing that has made a big difference, I feel so much better, says Spector, but because my scores told me to do it, not because I read it in my book.
Its this openness to having his beliefs uprooted that enabled Spector to discover the importance of the gut microbiome in determining the bodys response to various foods. Having trained in genetics and studied twins for 27 years, the professor says he was desperate to show that genes were important for nutrition. But in an earlyPREDICT study, one of a series representing the worlds largest nutrition experiment, Spector found that identical twins with the same genes were affected differently by the same food. What we saw was that your response to foods is hardly genetic at all, a little bit for sugar and insulin, but not at all for how you process fats, the scientist tells Forbes.
The ZOE app provides personalized recommendations on what to eat based on how each individual's gut ... [+] microbiome, blood sugar and blood fat reacts to different foods.
Instead, Spector found that the microbes in the gut have a greater influence on metabolic health, a discovery that the researcher says is much more empowering than the depressing genetic angle. Instead of having your optimal food choices limited by the genes youve inherited, tailoring the diet to the gut allows room for flexibility.
The great thing is that most gut microbes are modifiable by diet, so you can change your response to food over time if you feed them right, says Spector. The ZOE co-founder also says a diet focused on the gut microbiome allows for the occasional binge or odd takeaway, if youve got a healthy gut microbiome, it can cope with it.
But what does eating for the gut microbiome look like? Its about getting a diversity of plants, says Spector, citing studies that find eating thirty different plants a week provides the optimum diversity of gut microbes.
Theres lots on Instagram about twenty different ways to have a kale smoothie every day and the latest trendy seed from Peru, the co-founder says. Its not about that, the Zoe plan is geared towards diversity, pushing people to try new things. Rather than encourage restriction or tell people you must lose x pounds this week, Spector says ZOE promotes adding in and introducing new foods.
Rather than encourage restriction or weight loss, ZOE promotes a diverse diet, based on findings ... [+] that eating thirty different plants a week encourages optimal gut microbiome health.
The results? Nearly everyone has lost weight but what theyre excited about is energy levels and not feeling hungry all the time, Spector tells Forbes. Were trying to do something thats more sustainable long-term, because every short-term diet fails. This is educating people on how to eat better for decades, not just a few weeks.
The motivation behind adopting a diet centered on the gut microbiome stretches beyond weight and appearance, as research increasingly shows its one of the most important organs in the body. The microbes in the gut not only influence how we metabolize foods, our sugar spikes, how we break down fats, according to Spector, they produce thousands of vitamins and brain chemicals that affect our mood.
Citing the growing field of nutritional psychiatrythe use of nutrition to treat mental health conditionsthe scientist says, studies have shown switching to a gut-friendly diet has the same or better effects than anti-depressant medication in mild to moderate depression, illuminating the incentive for psychiatrists to consider the a nutritional approach to treatment too.
ZOE co-founder Tim Spector says the gut microbiome plays a vital role in determining how the body ... [+] metabolizes food, immune system responses and mental health outcomes.
But above all else, Spector says the gut is absolutely key to our immune system. Virtually every Western disease is linked to having a poor quality gut microbiome, the professor says. As the pandemic increases interest in preventative strategies for maintaining immune health, ZOE is leading the way in studying the link between nutrition and COVID-19. Their most recent research project monitored the food choices and COVID-19 symptoms of nearly 600,000 people, making it the largest study of its kind to date. People with the highest quality diet were found to be 10 percent less likely to develop COVID-19 and 40 percent less likely to have severe symptoms, compared to those with the lowest quality diet.
Landmark findings from ZOE's most recent study establish the link between nutrition and COVID-19, ... [+] underscoring the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.
The landmark findings are just the beginning for ZOE, a company that has made nutrition research its priority since the start. We have the worlds biggest microbiome diet data set, says Spector. Its basically one big ongoing study. Unlike a traditional research program, users of ZOE see their results and are given the tools to act on them. While the focus on education separates the platform from feeling like a traditional diet company too. Its fairly novel because people are getting personal advice but they also know theyre contributing to science, says Spector.
With education at the core of the program, ZOE feels less like a traditional diet companyusers ... [+] "know theyre contributing to science, says co-founder Tim Spector.
Should you skip your breakfast? Does intermittent fasting work for everyone? These are the types of questions Spector says ZOE hopes to answer within the next couple of years. With upcoming studies on sleep and timing of meals, the company is shifting its focus from what to eat, to how to eat for optimal healthall under the general principle that were all unique, says Spector.
Co-founder Tim Spector anticipates nutrition will only become more personalized as self-monitoring ... [+] technology continues to advance.
From home blood test kits to tele-health appointmentsas the technology continues to advance, Spector anticipates personalized health will become the new normal. Weve seen the glucose monitor, but fat monitors are going to happen in the future too, Spector tells Forbes. The Japanese are already inventing smart toilets so people can get a chemical read-out of your poop in near-real time. Hospital visits will be replaced by at-home solutions, Spector says, this is going to be very empowering for people to take back control over their health and their choices.
Accessibility remains the greatest obstacle preventing the widespread adoption of a personalized nutrition plan like ZOE. But Spector anticipates the price will come down with scale. At this moment, if you went to your physician to get your microbiome sequence, glucose monitored and lipids tested, it would cost you tens of thousands of dollars, says Spector. But currently costing less than a cup of coffee a day, a ZOE membership continues to come down in price.
Believing that everyone has the right to understand their body, ZOE continues to bring down the cost ... [+] of the program. A premium six-month membership is currently priced at $354.
Thats the ultimate goal, to make this accessible to everybody, Spector says. The co-founder dreams of the day when everyone uses the ZOE app for their diet, in the same way people use the Uber app to make their transport choices. At the rate with which ZOE is innovating, that future doesnt seem so distant. Spector excitedly tells Forbes, This is just the tip of the iceberg with what we can come up with, were just getting started.
Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity.
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This Diet Is Changing The Way We Think About Nutrition - Forbes