A healthy diet and lifestyle choices are among our primary tools in the prevention of cardiometabolic diseases, such as cardiovascular disorders and type-2 diabetes, as well as the associated risk factors, including metabolic syndrome and obesity. Decades of research focusing on the development of high quality and healthy foods have contributed to a decrease in diet-related chronic diseases, promoted sustainable economic growth of the food and drink sector, and improved population health. Despite this, stimulating consumers to select foods that fit into a healthy diet remains a challenge, and the agro-food sector requires invigorating to develop healthier foods.
Diets that contain high levels of plant-based foods rich in bioactive phytochemicals are known to improve health. Therefore, the dietary advice to increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and derived products is among the most widely accepted and well-known public health policies across the globe. However, thus far, recommendations for fruits and vegetables are promoted to the general population in a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ which does not necessarily ensure that everyone has adequate exposure to the protective compounds. The efficacy of plant bioactive compounds to prevent cardiometabolic diseases differs between individuals, meaning consumption of specific plant-based foods will benefit some more than others.
It is essential to know which human factors determine individual responsiveness to plant-based foods—which may include age, sex, (epi)genotype and gut microbiota—to establish which groups of consumers are likely to benefit from specific groups of foods and nutrients. In addition, there are significant opportunities for the food and drink industry to develop new functional foods or optimised traditional foods with more pronounced health benefits for targeted consumer groups. For example, adapting processing methods may improve the bioavailability of key bioactive compounds for individuals identified as poor absorbers or metabolisers. Continued research in this area will provide new scientific evidence to develop a new generation of individual nutritional recommendations that will help to prevent cardiometabolic diseases in the population in the long run. This is paramount considering that globally, the intake of fruits and vegetables does not meet the standard recommendation: less than 25 percent of the population consumes at least five portions per day (400g) in most countries. Therefore, more personalised messages for this healthy food group could be of high benefit to both individual and population health.
The EU-funded COST Action-FA1403 POSITIVe works with several European experts to increase our understanding of the human factors that underlie the inter-individual differences in efficacy, as well as to develop innovative strategies that can help the food and drink industry to exploit this individual variability, improving the consumer's health. The goal is to ensure that the cardiometabolic health-promoting effects associated with bioactives present in plant foods are accessible to everyone.
For more information about the COST Action, click here.
Professor Baukje de Roos is a nutrition scientist and Deputy Director of the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen. Her research assesses novel mechanisms through which dietary fatty acids and plant polyphenols affect the development of major chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, and resilience to disease development. She is the CEO of the European Nutrigenomics Organisation (NuGO), a network of over 25 Universities and Research Institutes across Europe, focusing on jointly developing the existing research area of nutrigenomics, molecular nutrition and personalised nutrition.