Food4Me - personalised nutrition initiative

by listic1 min read15th May 20129 comments


Personal Blog

I stumbled on this project during my research:


The complete mapping of the human genome sequence in 2000 introduced the possibility of individualised medicine, including personalised nutrition.  During this time the field of “nutrigenomics” emerged, which examines the relationship between food and gene expression.  Many were hopeful about the ability to plan diet recommendations based on an individual’s genetic profile.

However, the promise of personalised nutrition has failed to develop as a commercial service, and matching dietary advice to genetic profiles has proven difficult.  Some companies offer genetic mapping and health reports, but these services are often based on inaccurate information.

There is a need to comprehensively analyse the opportunities and challenges in the field of personalised nutrition.  In addition, the fundamental question remains, “how can we best use our current understanding of food, genes, and physical traits to design healthier diets tailored for each individual?”

To address these concerns, Food4Me has gathered an international group of experts to survey the current knowledge of personalised nutrition, and to explore the application of individualised nutrition advice.  The Food4Me project will also investigate consumer attitudes and produce new scientific tools for implementation.

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That's a very impressive-looking shop window, but I had difficulty finding substance, even in what they say they are going to do. Here is the only place I could find any science, and it's no more than a few very well-known and clear-cut examples of gene/diet interaction, and a promise of more. Here are the Aims and Objectives and here the Expected Outcomes, and, well, I realise that's the sort of Eurospeak one must write for an EU Framework project (I speak from experience), but according to that page it's been going a year already, and I don't see even a schedule of deliverables.

I looked at their list of members and thought "cat-herding" (speaking from experience again), then looked on their contact page and at last found a real scientist doing real science. The head of the project is Mike Gibney at University College Dublin. As I know nothing about nutrition, it would be presumptuous for me to say much more than that if you're interested in nutrition, his blog looks well worth reading.

Mike's blog is definitely worth reading - the recent post on salt is particularly pertinent. Often when talking about nutrition and genetics the question is "why do we need it"? We know how to eat well, just have a balanced diet, physical activity etc. Well there are at least two answers to that

1) King Cnut - the tide is coming in and nothing will stop it. Yes we have zillions of healthy eating gospels. We have more "weight loss" aids and foods than ever before, we have apps, web sites, gadgets and pills, all designed for healthy eating and weight loss, and yet...

2) As Mike's blog shows, the apparently "solid" evidence for nutritional dogma is quite shaky. I also discuss this in various posts on my blog (

There are quite a few well studied gene-environment interactions that can be exploited, there is evidence that genetic information improves motivation to change behaviour as well.

These are some of the aspects of the food4me project which we will be looking at in a proof of principle study (in 8 countries with about 1300 subjects). Agreed there is not a lot of detail yet on the site - it's a large project, many partners (and in all such EU projects there are some stray cats to herd) - but work is proceeding and we should be seeing some early publications soon, they are in the works

Have they produced anything yet?

What evidence is there that the variations in individual nutritional needs are significant enough that it is worth evaluating them? It seems far more common for health problems to arise from people failing to abide by (relatively basic) generalised nutrition guidelines.

Before something like this would be possible, we would need a general concept of "a nutritious diet for the average human" that wasn't blatantly flawed to then modify based on individual traits.

As is, the field of nutrition is a pseudo-scientific mess that keeps "building" on theories that were never supported by data, but will never be rejected with the current methodology. To start, we should perform a bayesian re-analysis of every major hypothesis in the field of nutrition using the data we already have and then take the actual results seriously. Even if it suggests "outrageous" things that everybody "knows" is wrong like saturated fat is perfectly safe, or whole grains and vegetable oil are unhealthy (and it will).

We also have to realize that good nutrition choices with our current data are simply "prudent risk adverse decisions" based on inference from very weak data. We don't have to know if X is good or bad for you and why to make a decision to eat it or not with the data we do have.

The most pressing need in human health right now is a Bayesian revolution in the field of nutrition.

I believe I have a few results of this nature in my 23andme profile but, like most results there, they indicate e.g. that I might gain an extra .5 pounds compared to average on a high fat diet.

I got a kick when I logged in there and it said something to the effect of 'see how your genes affect your weight' and after entering height, age, and weight it told me that my genes were responsible for 2lb (whatever that meant).

It does also note lactose tolerance, alcohol and caffeine enzymes, coeliac disease risk, etc.

Yeah, I have the GG genotype of rs1801282 (also known as the Pro12Ala variant in the PPARG gene) too, so 23andme tells me that "a diet high in monounsaturated fat is not likely to have beneficial effects on BMI or waist circumference." On the other hand, shortly after adopting a high-fat diet my weight dropped dramatically.

I have GG there too, which threw me for a loop because I'd been going in a paleo direction. I haven't had any dramatic effects, but I haven't been all that consistent except for blending MCT into my morning coffee. Good to hear rs1801282 isn't the last word on high-fat diets.

I have GG there too, which threw me for a loop because I'd been going in a paleo direction. I haven't had any dramatic effects, but I haven't been all that consistent except for blending MCT into my morning coffee. Good to hear rs1801282 isn't the last word on high-fat diets.

Coffee is pretty much ambrosia as far as I am concerned. I have a cup of coffee with grass-fed organic butter, low-carb protein powder, coconut oil, chia seeds, and creatine almost everyday.