I know from past surveys that many of you, like me, are super interested in personalized nutrition. I just found another company that looks very promising: ZOE. The company has an impressive group of scientists at its helm. To name just a few: Tim Spector is a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London; Sarah Berry is also a professor at the same institution, specializing ins Nutritional Sciences; and Andrew Chan is a Harvard professor who is Chief of Clinical and Translational Epidemiology at Mass General, one of Harvard’s teaching hospitals. Involved are also PhDs and professors from other illustrious institutions like Stanford, Tufts, Oxford and many more equally impressive scientists.
I love this quote from Dr. Spector – truer words were never spoken: “People are realizing the old mantras of ‘reduce your calories and exercise more’ simply aren’t working. Billions of dollars are being spent on diet plans that may work for five to six weeks but then fail.”[i] As though having 60% or more of Americans now overweight (and the rest of the industrialized world is in similar straights), we then were hit with COVID. According to the American Psychological Association, a recent study found that 42% of Americans report having gained significant amounts of weight during the lockdowns – an average of, believe it or not, 29 pounds![ii] We are in deep, deep trouble as a society. And as Dr. Spector points out, eating less just does not work: “Everyone following the same advice about eating identical foods and 2000 calories a day is nonsense. A calorie is not a calorie when it has a different effect on different people.”
The scientists involved in the creation of ZOE, in fact, are conducting the largest study of the relationship between food and COVID. Thus far, their results show that those people with the highest quality diet are 10% less likely to get the disease and a whopping 40% less likely to develop severe symptoms. This makes all the sense in the world, of course: COVID kills by inducing a massive inflammatory response. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, keeping the immune system strong and modulated, logically would help prevent that. Without realizing it at that time that this study was associated with ZOE, I actually reported on it for you back in May.
25 years ago, Dr. Spector’s research led him to discover that identical twins, eating the exact same food, had an 8 to 10 fold difference in blood glucose levels, insulin release, fat and inflammatory responses. A study of 13, 000 twins showed the same. Everyone’s body is completely different, and we all have different metabolic responses to food. What works like a dream for one person may be the absolute worst diet on earth for another.
Like so many others in this field, Dr. Spector, who as a geneticist thought that genes would be the deciding factor, rapidly came to realize that the difference boiled down to the microbiome: after all, Identical twins, with the same genes, do not respond in the same way. Genes seem to ever so slightly affect how you respond to sugar and insulin (not enough to make a real difference), but not at all how you respond to eating fats. This is, ultimately, good news: you are not restricted by your genes. Over time, eating the right foods, you can modify the inhabitants of your microbiome, improving your health and ability to better metabolize food. Dr. Spector’s research shows that one of the most important factors is eating a wide variety of plants. There is research out there that shows that eating 30 different kinds of plants per week leads to the optimal gut bacterial diversity.
What have those who use ZOE found? Apparently, they do lose weight and also, find they have more energy and are not hungry all the time. ZOE’s business plan is clever: it’s a give and take. While users get personalized nutrition advice, there also contributing to what has become the world’s largest data set of microbiome/nutrition information. The focus of the company is not only on what you should eat – it’s also looking at how to eat for your body. Remember that gut bacteria have circadian rhythms. (I have talked about this several times on The Biome Buzz. Check here for just one example.) The timing of your meals may well be a crucial factor in achieving good health. In the next few years, ZOE will be conducting research into sleep and the timing of meals.
Having been one of the unfortunate people to put on a few pounds during COVID, I am currently trying a ketogenic diet for myself. I know so many people who have done amazingly well on it. I monitor my blood glucose and ketones almost daily, I log every bite of food I eat, I am following exactly what I need to do down to the last calorie – and yet, I have lost no weight. According to my blood tests, I am in state of fairly deep ketosis so how is this possible? (And for those of you who are keto fans, yes, I am checking my keto/glucose ratio as well.) I have read extensively about the diet, and as a nutritionist, yes, I know what I am doing. But as I have said over and over on this blog: there is no one right answer for all of us. How my body metabolizes fat may be radically different than how yours does. In fact, the scientists at ZOE predict that in the near future, we’ll also have fat monitors, to go with our glucose and ketone monitors. What my ideal diet is, I don’t know – I continue to grope in the dark.
Unfortunately, ZOE is not available in New York, New Jersey or Rhode Island due to the excessive regulatory environment of these states. I have signed up to be notified when I will be able to use it but if any of you make the decision to give it a try, I’d love to hear about it, as would your fellow readers I’m sure!