Nutritionists shake up the functional foods debate
22 September 2005
Katharine Sanderson/Ludwigshafen, Germany
A leading nutritionist has questioned the wisdom of a chemical company's plans to develop milkshakes tailored to an individual's nutritional requirements.
The shakes, developed by German chemical company BASF and New Zealand dairy company Fonterra, will contain a cocktail of vitamins, minerals, probiotics and prebiotics mixed in response to answers to a set of 22 questions posed at a vending machine. Questions cover topics such as age, sex, weight, pregnancy and conditions like diabetes, but not specifics like blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
Such questions will be of little use, says nutritionist Nilani Sritharan at the Medical Research Council centre for Human Nutrition Research, Cambridge, UK. 'It would be very difficult to assess your dietary status with a few questions,' she said. A full blood test and more detailed questionnaire would be needed for a complete nutritional assessment, she added
'People's nutritional requirements will change over time, if they become more active or sedentary, become pregnant, or as they age,' said Sritharan. 'Whilst the machine will ask questions about some of these points, I wonder who will actually bother to answer these questions every time they use the machine. There are also no guarantees that an individual would actually have one everyday - or indeed, that adding all of these extra nutrients would be of any real benefit to the consumer.'
The product, called POSIFood (point of sale individualised food), is part of BASF's wider move to produce functional foods, foods designed to provide health benefits beyond energy and essential nutrients.
'A person's individual genetic profile determines the extent to which nutrition can affect the balance between health and disease,' said Martin Jager of BASF's strategic marketing human nutrition section. 'Optimal nutrition should be matched to the general need for nutrients as well as to the person's individual nutritional status and genotype.'
But such advances are not imminent, says Sritharan. 'We're miles away from knowing how our nutrients interact with our genes,' she said.
The vending machines should be in place within three years, according to BASF, but Sritharan won't be queuing up for a customised milkshake.
'Milk is a great beverage on its own,' she said. 'We shouldn't be looking to add vitamins and nutrients to it.'