Published on 26 November 2015

Personalised diet plans could soon be produced based on how a person processes a meal, after a recent study on people’s blood sugar levels after eating found people can process the same meals differently.

The study by researchers in Israel, recently published in Cell, aimed to measure the differences in post-meal blood glucose (sugar) levels between people in order to identify personal characteristics that can predict these differences.

The researchers monitored 800 adults to find what is known as postprandial glycaemic response – the amount by which blood sugar levels increase after a person eats a meal. This measure provides a good estimate of the amount of energy that a person "receives" from food.

A personalised diet plan could be made from blood sugar levels taken after meals

The results showed a big difference in the postprandial glycaemic response across individuals who consumed the same meals. Researchers found these differences were related to the characteristics of the individual, and developed a model (known as a "machine learning algorithm") to predict an individual's response to a given meal.

They found that many personal characteristics were associated with their post-meal blood glucose levels, including their body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure, as well as what the meal itself contained.

When 12 individuals were put on two different tailored diets predicted by this model to either give lower blood sugar levels or higher levels for a week each, the prediction was correct in most of the individuals (10 of the 12).

Rapidly increasing blood sugar levels in the population are believed to be a factor in why more people are recognised as having “pre-diabetes” where a person has higher blood sugar than normal, but does not meet all of the criteria required for being diagnosed with diabetes. Researchers said that up to 70% of people with pre-diabetes eventually develop type 2 diabetes.

Having high blood sugar levels after meals is reported to be linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes as well as obesity, heart disease and liver disease. 

The researchers hoped that by understanding the factors responsible for variations in post-meal blood glucose levels they could use this information to produce personalised diets to reduce those levels and, in turn, help people manage their diabetes.

Researchers concluded that “personalised diets [including the one based on their algorithm] may successfully modify elevated postprandial blood glucose and its metabolic consequences.”

However, it should be noted that the results of the study should be interpreted with some caution due to limits of the study, as it was a small study group and the results did not factor any weight changes.

An NHS Behind the Headlines analysis of the study concluded: “It appears the research team is now looking into finding commercial applications for this approach. It would be feasible to combine a continuous glucose monitor with a smartphone application that creates a personalised diet plan. If successful, such an application would likely become very popular.”

The researchers explain their findings in a short animated video – available here

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