Personalized nutrition. Why is a more personalized approach to nutrition important? Because nutrition isn’t one-size-fits-all.
As dietitians, we constantly hear sayings like “everything in moderation”, “a calorie is a calorie”, and “calories in, calories out” that seem to simplify nutrition into a blanket science. As students, we were trained to teach everyone how to follow standard dietary guidelines and simplified tips.
This would explain why you have probably heard them before, too.
But is that really the best way to approach nutrition anymore (or was it ever)? And what about when kids are involved? A growing body of research over the past two decades says no. Nutrition is much more individualized than that.
Here’s why we’ve ditched blanket guidelines and overused phrases in favor of exploring personalized nutrition for every family.
Current Nutrition Guidelines
The dietary guidelines have only been around since 1980 and are updated every five years.
The overarching guidance includes things like eating all the food groups, minimizing saturated fat and added sugar, and paying attention to nutrients deemed public health concerns, like fiber and vitamin D.
It encourages healthy whole foods, fruits, and veggies, and minimizes heavily processed items and sugary beverages.
But questions have been raised about whether this generic advice is enough for everyone.
Research suggests that while perhaps these guidelines offer a good starting point, there’s really no one-size-fits-all guideline when it comes to what people should be eating.
Instead, much of the conversation has begun to shift toward personalized nutrition.
What is Personalized Nutrition?
Personalized nutrition accounts for individual health needs.
This includes consideration of family history, current health-related conditions, and even personal goals. This means dietary advice can, and should, be tailored to the unique person. What works for one of us may not work as well for another – even within the same family.
In fact, there’s evidence that what you eat can trigger different responses based on your gut microbiome and genetic makeup. This is why you’ve probably seen testing kits that assess your gut microbiome and/or blood and provide health and dietary advice based on what they find.
To be clear, we don’t think everyone needs to rush out to get one of these tests. But it will be interesting to see how they help personalized nutrition evolve as more research is done.
Regardless, there are other ways to design an eating pattern that works well for your family with no fancy technology required.
This starts with understanding how nutrition needs are influenced, plus the trial and error that comes with introducing foods to kids.
Factors That Influence Nutrition Needs
There are numerous factors that play a role in your family’s nutrition needs.
Some of these include:
- Activity level
- Current health or medical conditions
- Individual health goals, including growth and development
- Personal preferences
Think about how these factors might pertain to the members of your family, particularly the littlest ones.
It’s amazing how different kids can be when it comes to their appetites, how they respond to certain types of foods, and the frequency they need to eat to support their mood/activity levels. Not to mention, how phases of picky eating can play out between siblings.
It can be a lot to keep track of as parents and caregivers! Another reason why nutrition isn’t really as simple as we’ve been led to believe.
How to Approach Nutrition for Your Family
While more data on personalized nutrition evolve, here’s what we recommend when it comes to fueling your family well.
Feed the gut microbiome.
So much of our overall health, including immune function, depends on the health of our gut bacteria.
Two of the best ways to help the good bacteria thrive are to eat plenty of fiber and incorporate fermented foods, which are natural sources of prebiotics and probiotics. These include things like tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso.
Offer a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods.
Introduce a whole gamut of foods as early as possible, in age-appropriate consistencies.
Not only does this help encourage food acceptance, but it also helps ensure that your child is getting the range of key nutrients. Rotate different types of grains, produce, legumes, and fats to help your child become accustomed to them and learn their personal likes and dislikes.
For example, there’s more than one food that provides protein. If your child refuses tofu time after time, don’t completely remove it from your rotation, but do offer other sources of protein they’re more likened to, like beans, lentils, seitan, or nuts.
Involve your kids in meal planning and prep.
Involving your kids in the process of feeding the family teaches them skills for life. It also helps them identify more things they personally enjoy about what they eat – which is a big piece of personalized nutrition!
Even younger kids can have jobs in the kitchen, like offering ideas for meals they want that week, picking out a fruit or veggie at the store, mixing and measuring, or setting the table at meals.
Prioritize whole plant foods.
We stand behind the science of plant-based nutrition and encourage a predominantly plant-based diet for all ages.
Emphasizing a diet that encourages whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, and vegetables can hit all the marks of good nutrition.
For the overwhelming majority, there’s no need to count calories and macronutrients or track the “optimal” windows of time for eating (and if you do, please don’t involve your kids in these practices).
Instead, we encourage families to try our PB3 Plate when planning meals and snacks for their kiddos. This approach divides the plate into thirds and incorporates all of the key nutrients for plant-based littles. It also provides plenty of room for personalization and preferences.
Nutrition isn’t one-size-fits-all. Instead, a personalized approach to your family’s nutrition can help you determine the types of foods and presentations that work best in your household.
Chime In: In what ways have you been able to use a personalized approach to nutrition in your family? What are some areas that have been challenging?
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