Making smarter food choices in 2018

Historically, the major causes of death and illness were infectious diseases, which led to an outpouring of public and private funds towards the development of vaccinations and medications. But today, the leading causes of death and illness are from preventable, chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. It turns out that stopping or preventing these diseases is, to a large extent, in the power of your own hands.

So what’s the problem today and how can we fix it?

Many of the epidemics we are facing today stem directly from our lifestyles, and specifically from the food we are eating.

It’s no wonder this is the case. More than half the calories American and British people ingest are from ultra-processed frankenstein edible items containing dyes, sweeteners, emulsifiers, citric acids, GMOs, added sugar and flavorings that are used to mimic real food. To make matters worse, this is a trend that’s starting at the very beginning of life, when we are babies.

Your nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life has a direct impact on our likelihood of facing chronic illness and diseases. And yet the baby food sold in grocery stores, both organic and not, is highly processed with heat, eliminating most, if not all, the nutrients. This food often also contains added sugars, citric acids, GMOs, and chemicals. And unfortunately, the quality of the food we eat doesn’t get much better as we get older. The impact of this on our health is exponential: 30 per cent of the world population is overweight or obese. Rates of type 2 diabetes are increasing by over 1,000 per cent in the last decade alone. And one in every four adults die from heart disease, which is linked to diabetes.

Read: Could 'fika' help you to fulfil your potential in 2018?

Our medical and health institutions have not fully adapted to this shift in health problems we now face because they are designed to be reactive instead of preventative. However, the tide is changing: We are starting to see a paradigm shift in the way consumers are approaching their health as they become less reliant on Western medicine. As a result, we are seeing new products and services emerging that are helping us take more control of our health through food and nutrition.  

Here are three key food innovations that will help you take back control of your health:

1. New technologies that keep food fresh

Take a look at the expiration date the next time you buy food. You’ll notice that most foods last for months, if not years. But this comes at a price. In order to make food last this long, it’s often heat processed at extremely high temperatures, a process that destroys many of the vitamins and nutrients of food.

But new technologies like HPP (high pressure processing) are helping food makers produce new options that maintain all the nutritional benefits of freshly made food, while still extending the shelf-life. HPP uses very high levels of pressure to kill bacteria without affecting the key nutrients. Companies like Suja Juice, Pressed Juicery, and many of your favorite hummus brands use HPP in place of heat and preservatives to bring us better, fresher food.

2. Shift to plant-based proteins

Traditional protein sources such as dairy and meat are often not always best for our health. Many digestive issues stem from diary for the 75 per cent of the population with an intolerance to it. And the most widely available meats are raised in confined animal feeding operations and grain-fed, containing hormones, antibiotics and pesticides.

Read: Clean meat is the future of meat

Innovation in extracting plant-based proteins and creating healthy, hormone and chemical free options for us is now helping us access the benefits without the downsides of the popular protein sources. Companies like Ripple, Daiya Foods, and Good Karma foods commercialise plant-proteins like pea protein and flax  to create dairy alternatives. REBBL has gone a step further, packing a both protein and adaptogens in it’s drinks and elixirs using herbs, whole roots, extracts, berries, barks, and leaves and no fake ingredients. Others (such as Memphis Meats) have created plant-based meats. These options provide us with protein free of carrageenans, GMOs, lactose and gluten that much of our dairy, grain-fed meats, and processed-protein options often have.

Personalised nutrition

We’ve all heard conflicting information about different "optimal" diets for our health. The Atkins diet tells us that carb are bad. Others tell us that our enemy is fat, not carbs. So, what’s the right approach?

Well, it turns out that our diet and health do not fit into cookie-cutter solutions. The same diet for two different people has dramatically different effects on their wellbeing. Unfortunately, seeing a nutritionist is a luxury, as is getting time-consuming, expensive lab tests to understand how our unique makeup affects what diet is optimal for our health.

This is starting to change as new services emerge that provide the personalised care we need to optimise our nutrition and health. Care/Of and Little Spoon are two companies that are using an intake assessment or "quiz" to understand the individual, and then pair that with the latest science to provide personaliaed nutrition recommendations. For Care/Of, you are then able to select from your recommended vitamins and get customized packs delivered to your door. For my company, Little Spoon, we provide a tailored nutrition plan for your baby and deliver fresh and organic food to your home.

Other companies are taking it a step further, leveraging the microbiome, genetics, metabolic tests and other at-home diagnostics to provide personalised nutrition recommendations. Viome focuses on the microbiome as the key to better health through food. They commercialised an at-home testing system that provides microbiome sequencing tests based on saliva, stool and metabolic tests to determine how healthy your microbiome is. It identifies the microorganisms in an individual’s gut, analyses their activity and, using machine learning, provides nutritional recommendations to avoid chronic disease. Habit uses biomarkers and genetic variants to provide a report about how your body responds to different food, then delivers custom meals to your door.

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