Over the last few years, the field of nutrition has seen significant advancement. In particular, more and more people now talk about precision nutrition as the most efficient way of determining an individualized plan to ensure people consume a healthy and nutritious diet based on their personal characteristics and physical profile.
What is Precision Nutrition?
For years, people have been told to eat healthy. Different food guidelines and recommendations suggest people should eat less red meat, more vegetables and fruits, less saturated fat, etc. But this type of empirical prescription of nutritional advice has not yielded the expected benefits. This is because a generalized recommendation that tells all adult males and females to consume a daily diet of less than 2,000 and 1,800 calories/day, respectively, has been observed to be ineffective, unsustainable, and non-compliant. This is because calorie intake depends on many other factors besides gender. Today, a newer approach to nutritional counseling has evolved, which is more customized and individualized. This is called precision nutrition.
Precision nutrition is not a new concept and has been practiced by pediatricians to treat several genetic conditions to improve health. For example, children born with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria have a build-up of phenylalanine responsible for the toxic effects. Hence, these children are treated with foods that contain low levels of phenylalanine. Another example is patients with celiac sprue who are told to avoid gluten-containing foods.
However, over the years, the use of precision nutrition has increased, and the focus on offering personalized or individualized nutritional guidance to people with chronic disorders is slowly becoming more prevalent. The concept behind precision nutrition is the belief that each individual has a different physiological response to nutrients. Hence, the best nutritional plan for one person may not be as beneficial to another person.
Factors to Consider When Developing a Diet Plan
Factors that precision nutritionists generally take into consideration before prescribing precision nutrition include the following:
● Race or ethnicity
● DNA features
● Past and present medical history
● Lifestyle habits like use of tobacco, alcohol, participation in physical activity, etc.
● Prior response to diets or certain foods
● Use of herbs, over-the-counter drugs, and prescription medications
Precision nutrition also considers the intestinal tract. The type and number of bacteria residing in the intestine are unique to each individual, and they play multiple roles other than the detoxification of harmful substances. The overall aim of precision medicine is to ensure that the treatment of a chronic disorder is safer and more accurate with defined goals.
There is ample evidence to show that individuals who consume a plant-based diet coupled with whole grains and lean proteins are healthier than those who consume more processed foods. However, studies also show that even among this group, there are significant variations in blood glucose, cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure reduction. This is because other factors like physical activity, time of meals, sleep patterns, stress, etc., also play a role in these physiological differences. Thus, an individual offered precision, or individualized nutrition may see more health benefits because it considers their lifestyle, DNA, and bacteria in the gut.
Precision nutrition can be used to manage or prevent a range of medical disorders. For example, individuals with celiac disease benefit from a gluten-free diet. People with type 2 diabetes gain additional benefit by eating a high fiber diet because it helps reduce body weight, improves intestinal motility, lowers blood cholesterol, and further enriches the microbiome. Also, the role of the DNA is now being used to determine the response to certain foods. For example, some individuals who consume even small amounts of salt see a rise in blood pressure, while others who consume significant salt can still maintain normal blood pressure. By knowing these responses, one can change the dietary recommendations accordingly.
Certifications for Precision Nutrition
There are several types of nutritional certifications for precision nutrition. These include:
- A degree in nutrition that takes approximately 3-4 years to complete. The entrance to a nutritional degree program requires prerequisites in the basic sciences. It is a competitive field, and there is a significant amount of study required. After the degree, you can opt for a certificate in precision nutrition from the same program, which requires additional studying and passing an exam.
- If you are already a nutritionist, you can take online courses in precision nutrition. However, compared to a degree program, you may not receive a formal certificate.
- There are several reputable nutritional programs and certificates that provide the necessary knowledge in precision nutrition to allow candidates to work with patients. These include:
- Precision nutrition level 1 certification
- NASM Certified Nutrition Coach certification
- ISSA Nutritionist certification.
- ACE fitness nutrition specialist
All the above programs are accredited and offer certification in precision nutrition after completing coursework that takes anywhere from 8-16 weeks. The fee for the courses ranges from $500-$900. There is an exam at the end of the course before a certificate is awarded. These courses provide you with solid practical knowledge in precision nutrition to help manage a wide range of medical disorders.