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Tesco and Philips research devices to improve our diet

By Rick Pendrous , 06-Dec-2010

Research is underway between electronics firm Philips and Tesco in the form of an 'experimental kitchen'.

The aim is to develop devices that will link personalised nutrition and home fridges with supermarket shelves to help people improve their dietary intake, said professor Mike Gibney, director of the Institute of Food and Health at University College Dublin.

"These [devices] will increase the ability to measure your wellbeing and are essential for personalised nutrition," said Gibney. "They know what is coming out of your fridge and give you options for recipes."

Speaking at the European Federation of Food Science and Technology's annual meeting in Dublin last month, Gibney said the future of personalised nutrition was more likely to lie with "clusters of individuals" with similar genetic make-up.

According to Gibney, while Nestlé is known to be investing heavily in personalised nutrition, most manufacturers now doubted they could economically produce foods formulated for one person alone. In future, dietary advice would more likely be tailored to groups of people who shared common characteristics. "We are moving away from an individual to clusters of individuals who share a metabolic profile," he said.

However, while individual DNA sequence variations, known as single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), might allow researchers to understand diet and gene interactions on metabolism, given the very large numbers of SNPs, definitive dietary advice based on single SNPs was not possible. But, in some circumstances, advice on improved food choice could be offered to people, he added. Gibney said that it might be possible for such data to be related to the IT services offered by supermarkets.

A second rapidly emerging area, he added, was the provision of personalised data on observable human traits or physical make-ups known as phenotypes. This could be in the form of biochemical data, which would also advise individuals on their personal nutrient balance and ultimately their food choice.

Gibney said it was possible for people to wear portable electronic biofeedback devices. These would measure things such as blood pressure and allow them to adapt their lifestyles exercise and dietary intakes where necessary to maintain their health.

Gibney, an expert in public health nutrition, is leading a new euro 9M EU Framework 7 research project called Food4Me on personalised nutrition, due to start in January, which will help to inform scientists about future developments and examine consumer attitudes in this field.