Personalized Nutrition: Are We There Yet?

In the not-too-distant future, adjusting dietary advice to an individual’s unique biology will help maximize health.


While an overall healthy dietary pattern is good for everyone, each of us is a unique individual. The goal of personalized nutrition is to deliver nutritional guidance tailored just for you, based on your specific background, health needs, environment, and biology, with the goal of maximizing your overall health and well-being.

For more information, we spoke to José M. Ordovás, PhD, professor of Nutrition and Genetics at the Friedman School and senior scientist on the Nutrition and Genomics Team at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA).

What factors influence our own personal responses to dietary intake?

Dr. Ordovás: We do not yet know all the factors that contribute to our personal responses to food and nutrients. In the 1980s, research around personalized nutrition focused on the main thing inside each of us that makes us unique: our genome. Although we now know genes do not account for all our differences, most of the business around personalized nutrition is still oriented towards what I consider to be an obsolete genome-centric approach.

Researchers have identified several other factors involved in our responses to food. For example, an individual’s epigenome must be considered if one is trying to provide truly personalized nutrition advice. The epigenome refers to changes on the surface of our genes that influence how they are expressed. Unlike the genome, the epigenome can be modified by diet (among other things).

Each person’s unique gut microbiome also plays a role. Dietary intake can change the makeup of bacteria and other microorganisms in our intestines, which can in turn change our health (for better or worse), so we must learn more about how we influence this community of organisms and how it influences us if we want to impact our health by adjusting our food intake.

Environmental, social, and behavioral factors also play a role. Where we live, the air we breathe, the times we eat and sleep, and even whether we eat alone or with people could impact an individual’s response to dietary intake.

We can already buy tests that promise personalized dietary advice. How useful are they?

Dr. Ordovás: Most tests available today are based on genetics or the microbiome. From my perspective, that’s a problem. It’s not either/or. To really be able to inform the individual and have tests that will provide precise recommendations, you have to combine both genetics and microbiome sequencing and add many other factors.

More importantly, the science is not there. I question the usefulness of tests based on today’s limited knowledge.

What does the future hold?

Dr. Ordovás: There is exciting work being done in this area. In addition to biochemical methods, we have an explosion of data from tools like rings, phones, and watches that measure things like activity, stress levels, heart rate, and sleep. These data add granularity on how we respond to everything around us.

If you are interested in personalized or precision nutrition,on how we respond to everything around us. pay attention to these tips:

➧ Don’t Buy In. We do not yet know enough about all the factors that contribute to our unique responses to food and nutrients to offer personalized nutrition advice. Don’t expect effective answers from currently available tests.

➧ Stay Tuned. More information is expected to be available before the end of the decade.

➧ Participate. The Nutrition for Precision Health initiative is powered by the All of Us research program. Become one of the one million or more diverse individuals across the U.S. privately sharing information about their health, habits, and environment to help researchers learn more about the factors that affect our health. To learn more, go to

Here at the HNRCA, we are currently involved in a major research initiative designed to give us a more nuanced understanding of the many factors that impact our personal biochemical reactions to dietary intake. By 2027, we expect to be able to at least put people into “buckets” and make dietary and behavioral recommendations for these groups. (See Nutrition for Precision Health Initiative for more information.)


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