Habit’s Unique Approach to Personalized Nutrition
November 29, 2016
The right food is different for each of us. However, one need only search online for “healthy diet” to witness the ever-growing and often conflicting narratives about what and how we should be eating. These guides are written once and sold to many… regardless of who the reader is and what his or her body needs.
This is where the science of Habit begins.We eschew the belief that a single type of diet is the best way to eat. We believe that each person’s unique biology informs what foods they need to thrive. As such, our goal is for each individual to understand what foods are best for them. It begins with an at-home nutrition test kit. Using those results, we then provide support, guidance, and customized food, to help each person eat well for their biology.
Our approach is backed by years of research, explained in detail below. It is centered around the idea that nutritional health depends not only on the foods we eat but also on how our bodies uniquely respond to these foods, with personalized dietary recommendations replacing standard one-size-fits-all recommendations.
Let’s take a closer look at how Habit is leveraging science and technology to usher in a new era of personalized nutrition.
One Size Does Not Fit AllNutritional science has a long history of providing personalized recommendations based on well-established science and well-defined characteristics that translate into distinct energy and nutrient needs for different groups of people. According to Dr. Alan Greene, M.D., Chief Health Officer at Habit:
A number of studies also demonstrate the value of a personalized approach to nutrition. Recent research, for example, highlights that a more personalized approach based on factors like gender, lifestyle, personal goals, blood biomarkers and genetics, is more effective than non-personalized recommendations and that an individual is more likely to make positive dietary changes when given personalized nutrition advice. Research in the field of nutrigenomics is also helping us understand how specific variations in our genes shape how we respond to specific nutrients.
The value of personalized nutrition is already a foundational truth based on well-established science. The official dietary recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the USDA Food and Nutrition Board, which are based on an extensive review of available science, recognize that optimal intakes vary by age, gender and life stage.
Habit’s Unique ApproachWhile the idea of “personalized nutrition” is not new, Habit’s approach to providing personalized recommendations is. Looking at an individual’s blood, biometrics, or genetics as distinct data points without recognizing their interconnectivity tells only some of the story. And by limiting our view of our body, we also limit our understanding and potential for better health. For example, while DNA can help inform recommendations, other factors like your lifestyle, dietary patterns, physical activity, and stress level can also affect whether or not those genes impact how your body is functioning. As Dr. Ben Van Ommen, Ph.D., Director of Systems Biology at TNO, and Scientific Advisor to Habit, put it:
Our health is not based on a large number of independent processes, each of them needing independent dietary solutions. Rather, almost all processes are connected and therefore need a holistic dietary solution, one that recognizes this interconnection and has nutrition recommendations to match.This interconnectedness, or Systems Biology approach, is what makes Habit unique in the personalized nutrition space. While other systems focus on understanding independent biological processes through variations in our DNA, blood, and other biomarkers, Habit enables people to understand their biology through Systems Biology: the study of the complex interactions among systems within a person’s body. According, to Dr. Nathan Price, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), and Scientific Advisor to Habit:
What’s different about a System Biology approach is that it doesn’t give undue weight to any one factor, but rather combines information from multiple sources to provide a more comprehensive picture of an individual’s health.Habit’s team of scientists and scientific advisors have decades of experience in the complex biology of food metabolism and, most importantly, how to translate this information into simple nutrition guidelines designed to make a lasting difference.
The Testing ProcessThe Habit journey starts with an at-home nutrition test kit. The testing also includes the Habit Challenge™ Shake and detailed instructions on how to collect biodata (blood and DNA) and submit it to a CLIA and CAP-accredited lab, Aegis® Science Corporation, for analysis and measurement.
The proprietary, nutrient-rich, and clinically validated Habit Challenge™ Shake is the caloric and nutritional equivalent to a full breakfast, and is a key part of Habit’s science. The shake is designed to temporarily disturb the normal balance of carbs, fats and protein in an individual’s blood, similar to what happens after eating a meal. This shows us how the body processes nutrients in real time, all designed to uncover what types of nutrients, and in what proportions, are right for an individual.
The goal of the Habit Challenge™ Shake is to see how efficiently the body reacts to an external dietary stress to maintain homeostasis, or the ability of the body to restore the appropriate balance of macronutrients in the blood. This complex adaptive process, called “phenotypic flexibility”, is key to understanding the nuances of a person’s unique metabolism.
The biomarkers measured before and after drinking the Habit Challenge Shake provide key insights and data into how your body reacts to fats, carbs, and protein in your diets. Blood samples collected after an overnight fast and at 30 minutes and 120 minutes after drinking the shake are used by an outside laboratory to measure the levels of biomarkers in the blood. These data sets are a distinctive component of the collective biodata Habit uses to provide nutritional recommendations based on an individual’s unique biology.
According to Dr. Josh Anthony, Founding CSO and Chair, Habit Scientific Advisory Board:
One important way in understanding how well your body is working is to understand how it performs when challenged. That’s why Habit includes the Habit Challenge Shake. This unique component of the platform enables Habit to better understand how your body’s biological systems work together to adapt to a dietary challenge and restore balance. This maintenance of balance is called “systems flexibility” or “phenotypic flexibility” and it provides a very sensitive means to track biomarkers of health and determine the best nutritional recommendations for you.In addition, Habit collects a number of other inputs, including height, weight, waist circumference and BMI. Cheek cells are collected using swabs and sent to an outside laboratory to analyze a person’s genetic information. All of these data are used to help inform Habit’s nutritional recommendations. It is important to note here, however, that DNA is only one of many inputs we look at to understand a person’s biology. Dr. Van Ommen helps clarify how Habit’s use of genetics differs from nutrigenomics companies:
With Habit’s approach, each genetic variation is fully embedded in biomarkers, goals and dietary patterns, resulting in a method where nutrigenetics was brought into a “systems perspective”, with most genetic variations playing important but secondary roles.If you want to learn more about the importance of phenotypic flexibility to the generally healthy adult (age 18—65) click here
AnalysisAs part of Habit’s patent-pending platform, over 60 nutrition-related blood and genetic biomarkers are measured and analyzed including blood biomarkers, variations in DNA, self-reported information and phenotypic flexibility–how select markers change in response to the Habit Challenge Shake.
Using decision tree logic informed by these biomarkers, health goals and food preferences, Habit’s algorithm, called the Nutrition Intelligence Engine, crafts a personal nutrition plan for each person and then identifies his or her Habit Type. One’s Habit Type provides a specific set of foods and nutrients in appropriate amounts and proportions tailored to the individual.
Importantly, the relationships between each of the biomarkers that Habit looks at and the specific dietary recommendations that Habit makes are substantiated by significant scientific evidence. Biologist Leroy Hood, a firm proponent of Systems Biology and a Scientific Advisor to Habit, has a theory he calls "scientific wellness."
Scientific Wellness is the process of assessing biological data to make appropriate recommendations that include wellness. It's distinct from the traditional wellness category in Silicon Valley because of its emphasis on both scientifically validated metrics and actionable metrics.
The Habit Experience
What good is the “perfect diet” if we don’t make the change and stick with it? In a 2016 study, Livingstone and colleagues demonstrated that we are more likely to change our eating habits when we understand our own biology. After six months, more of the individuals who received personalized advice had improved dietary patterns, compared to those who received non-personalized advice.With science-based, personalized nutrition advice, Habit goes beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to food. But once a person knows what types of foods are good for them, it can be hard to follow the recommendations. Advice on its own does not always change eating behavior.
This is where Habit’s behavioral science work comes into play.
We realize that many life factors contribute to a user’s choice of food, and that by making it as easy and as delicious an experience as possible, we can increase the likelihood that a user will eat to their biology. For those who need this support, we provide customized meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, made by a team of chefs to each person’s biological specification. For additional support, Habit’s team of Registered Dietitians offer nutrition coaching employing counseling techniques, including motivational interviewing, a deep knowledge of Habit’s science, and an appreciation of good food, to counsel and support these users.
A Commitment To Continued DiscoveryHabit’s recommendations are not static. Habit’s platform is also built to evolve with validated science; as new data in nutrition research becomes available, we can quickly update algorithms and communicate the latest information to the Habit community.
We believe good food personalized to an individual’s biology is essential for one to thrive. As the benefits of personalized nutrition continue to emerge, we need effective tools for applying newfound learnings into daily practice. Habit is at the forefront of this cause with a core mission to empower individuals to take control of their nutrition through simple, personalized advice that’s backed by science.