Insight: developing foods that help to promote health

Mar 14, 2013
Werner Bauer

By Werner Bauer

The impact of diet on human health is of global importance. Whether it’s a lack of basic nutrition, or an excess of calories, the food we eat has a tremendous impact on our health and wellbeing.

Healthy and sustainable diets that help to prevent or manage chronic disease are an unmet need in our society, where dietary imbalances are major contributors to widespread, life-shortening conditions including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

This is where science can help. It is increasingly providing us with the understanding and the tools to address nutritional needs through personalised diets.

Personalised diets

Food has always been personal. As individuals we all have distinct preferences for how our food tastes, smells, and looks. But personalised nutrition is new, and still emerging.

It has the potential to enable individual consumers to choose foods that will be of benefit to their health, based on their genetic predisposition and lifestyle.

Unlike drugs, foods don’t provide a single molecular compound that will act in a pharmaceutical-like manner to offer a health benefit.

The compounds in food don’t just provide energy; they affect all the systems in our bodies in complex ways we are still learning about.

Science-driven

Personalised nutrition is a far cry from mainstream food and beverages. It’s science-driven, not product-driven. It’s not simply ‘functional foods’ by another name.

scientist working in a lab
RESEARCH JOURNEY : Working to understand the relationship between genes, diet and lifestyle.

Functional foods may be marketed at people who are worried about certain health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, or high cholesterol, but they cannot be described as personalised nutrition.

Every individual’s biological responses to certain foods are different, so there’s no guarantee that everyone who consumes these products will benefit.

The scientific agenda for nutrition must be based on understanding individual variability, as well as the development of the commercial and scientific tools necessary for people to know which diet best suits them best.

Molecular machinery

The guidelines available to us today for a healthy, balanced diet reflect the enormous achievements of nutrition science during the 20th century, but imbalances still prevail.

The cutting edge of nutrition science is no longer simply about nutritional deficiencies and diet-related disease in different populations. Many factors other than diet alone affect health.

Scientists are now digging deeper into our molecular machinery to understand the relationships between nutrition, lifestyle and genetic predisposition, and how this affects health and quality of life.

New technologies, such as functional genomics and metabolomics, are building the scientific foundation for understanding human variability in nutrient requirements and biological responses to foods.

New solutions

At Nestlé, we’re staying ahead in this field by investing in basic in-house research, as well as collaborating with external research partners worldwide.

At the forefront of our efforts is our team of scientists at the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS) in Switzerland. Here, we are using an ‘integrated systems biology’ approach to define health and provide an understanding of the relationship of genes, diet and lifestyle.

This will ultimately help us to propose new solutions that combine science-based nutrition with diagnostics, especially in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, and gastrointestinal disease.

Research journey

These scientific advances require a new business model at the intersection between food and pharmaceuticals that offers efficient and cost effective ways to help prevent acute and chronic diseases.

That’s why we created Nestlé Health Science. It is a new company that will transform the relationship between food and health by pioneering a new industry that combines diagnostics, pharmaceutical drugs and medical nutrition.

We created Nestlé Health Science at the same time as the NIHS and they share the same objective: to tackle chronic conditions through nutrition.

New science cannot be created overnight, or offer miracle cures. The new business paradigm that will deliver personalised nutrition, as well as the regulatory framework that applies to it, will take years, rather than months, to mature.

It will be a long journey of research and discovery, and it’s one we are committed to.


Werner Bauer is Nestlé's Chief Technology Officer.

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