Dieting is one of the hottest industries in the world, filled with tens of thousands of products promising to help users live longer, longer lives and lose significant amounts of weight. The common goal, when it comes to most people’s diets, is pretty simple: they’re looking to become “healthier.” How they go about reaching their goals, however, varies wildly in both style and complexity. For most, dieting is significant challenge, made even more challenging by the one thing we’re stuck with: our genetics.
To address this often-overlooked layer of complexity, there is a developing field of science known as, nutrigenomics. Eating Well has a good in-depth discussion on the topic, but the science boils down to an appreciation and application of the fact that genetics have a significant impact on metabolism, appetite, and other characteristics critical to the necessary inputs and eventual outputs of dieting.
A new startup is placing this science at the heart of its service: Habit. Their plan is to provide personalized diets to people using their DNA to drive the menus. Their offering also tries to boil down the science to bits and bites, allowing users to discover their unique scientific characteristics in a language they speak—like ideal ratios of carbs, fats, and proteins, and general nutritional statuses via biomarkers such as Vitamin A, carotenoids, and omega-3 fatty acids.
To use the service, users first collect their own DNA sample (don’t worry, there are instructions and timers and stuff). The sample is sent over to a partner company that processes the specimen in a CLIA and CAP certified lab. Applying proprietary algorithms, Habit’s Nutrition Intelligence Engine identifies the user diet type and recommends foods and nutrients based on the profile. From there a team of chefs creates fresh meals and delivers them to each doorstep.
If they so choose, users can download and use Habit’s companion mobile app to share details of their meals, experience and progress. Fact: People on health kicks love to share (their thoughts, not their food).
Habit’s program is based on a few key elements:
- DNA: Genotype determines whether genes are turned on or off. When they’re expressed, the genetic information is used to make proteins, including enzymes and polypeptide hormones which impact metabolism.
- Phenotype: The observable expression of user genes, it describes how internal (physical) and external influences (food) affect the body’s biology. Weight, activity levels, age, and core measurement are just a few essential metrics.
- Phenotype Flexibility: This is an analysis used to understand how the body responds to food. Habit replaces a user meal with the shake, and then measures several nutrition biomarkers after consumption. This provides more granular insight into how the body reacts to fats, carbs, and protein.
- Habits and Goals: Habit not only works with your DNA but with your personal goals, employing registered dietitians and offering “coaching” services to achieve a generally healthy lifestyle.
- Nutrition Intelligence Engine: Proprietary algorithms and decision trees are applied based on nutrition biomarkers, body basics, genetic variations in the user DNA, activity level, health goals, and food preferences. This is the brain that creates the personalized diets for each end user.
There’s a lot going on there, but at the end of the day, the company promises a pretty straight forward final product: a delicious meal.
Habit was founded by Neil Grimmer (who also founded Plum Organics back in 2005) and has an advisory board that includes a few members of the Institute of Systems Biology and the Vice President of Global Nutrition and Health at Campbell Soup Company. Habit will be launching their Beta program in select locations in January 2017. You can sign up for the waitlist on their website.
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