This is what it’s like to get personalized diet advice

“I’ve noticed that my clothes are looser on my body,” says Michelle H., one of the “success stories” on Habit.com. “I feel better.  I noticed that I have more energy.”

Is it worth $299 to “take the Habit Nutrition Test,” receive your test results, and get your “nutrition plan”? I decided to find out.

(Not sure what personalized nutrition is? Get the background here.)

The setup

First, I answered on­line questions about my height, weight, waist, blood pressure, and activity level. Then, once the Nutrition Test Kit arrived, I fasted for 12 hours.

I swabbed the inside of my cheeks to collect DNA for the genetic testing. I pricked my finger and dripped blood onto a collection card, so Habit could analyze the blood for my fasting blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

Next came the “unique metabolic challenge” to find out how my body handles fats, carbs, and protein. I gulped down Habit’s sickeningly sweet Challenge Shake, which clocks in at 950 calories, 18 teaspoons of added sugar, and more than a day’s saturated fat. Urp.

After 30 minutes, I stabbed another finger for blood, and 90 minutes later, I went for a third finger. Done!

Many drops of blood later…

The results

A few weeks after I sent off my samples, an email popped into my inbox. Exciting new information about me was just a few clicks away! Except it wasn’t.

Take the genetic results. It turns out I have two high-risk variants of the FTO gene, which are more common in people who are overweight or obese. (I’m neither.) Be “mindful of your genes,” instructed Habit, without telling me how.

I don’t have the gene variants that make people lactose intolerant or sensitive to caffeine, reported Habit. I didn’t need a genetic test to tell me that.

I have four gene variants linked to high blood sugar. However, according to Habit, my response to the Challenge Shake was “impressive.” Two hours after the last gulp, my blood sugar was almost down to my fasting level.

“You handled the fat in the Habit Challenge Shake with ease,” said my results, apparently because the shake didn’t make my triglycerides soar. “However, your bad (LDL) cholesterol level is high.” (At 107, my LDL was slightly above the 100 target.)

My fasting blood sugar, triglycerides, and good (HDL) cholesterol were normal—no surprise, since my doctor had measured them recently.

My “Nutrition Plan”

“You are a Range Seeker,” said Habit. Among the rules that should guide what I eat:

  • “You thrive on a wide variety of whole foods that are naturally nutrient-rich.” (Who doesn’t?)
  • “Due to how your body processes carbs, hidden sugars can have the wrong kind of impact.” (Don’t they always? And weren’t my blood sugar results “impressive”?)
  • “With 30% of your calories from fat, enjoy nuts, plant-based oils or other healthy options like avocados.” (True for everybody, no?)
  • “You have the genotype associated with increased inflammation… Consuming more foods rich in vitamin C…[and] vitamin E…may be beneficial to you.” (“May” is right. It’s not clear if C and E help.)
  • I don’t know what Habit recommends for “Protein Seekers,” “Plant Seekers,” “Fat Seekers,” or its three other seekers. But the advice for Range Seekers is pretty generic.
  • I also got a list of “Hero foods”—swiss chard, asparagus, quinoa, apples, eggs, tofu, almonds, olive oil, and kidney beans. “Why kidney beans instead of, say, chickpeas?” I asked a Habit dietitian. “If you want to have chickpeas instead of kidney beans, that totally works,” she replied. So much for personalization.
My ideal plate, according to Habit. So it’s not ideal for others?

And why did Habit give me targets—the usual Recommended Dietary Allowances—for 12 vitamins and minerals, but no advice for calcium, iron, or sodium? The dietitian couldn’t say. (Habit declined my request to speak with a staff scientist.)

On the plus side, Habit’s diet plan was loaded with fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. The advice may not be “just for you,” but at least it seems to be good advice.

Photo (top): CSPI.

The information in this post first appeared in Nutrition Action Healthletter in May 2018. 


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