Precision versus personalization: AHARA explores a “new frontier” in nutrition

By Deniz Ataman

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/AYDINOZON
Source: Getty/AYDINOZON

Related tags Nutrition personalized nutrition food as medicine

With the rising popularity of personalized nutrition plans, AHARA’s app takes personalization one step further through precision nutrition, a combination of machine-learning, evidence-based nutrition science and an international advisory board to verify research, Dr. Melina Jampolis, co-founder and chief medical officer, explained to FoodNavigator-USA.

As “the new frontier” in nutrition plans, AHARA’s precision feature is rooted in robust, evidence-based methods that support several genetic variants associated with a “vulnerability for nutrition deficit,” Jampolis explained.

“For example, something like vitamin D – the science is very clear that with these two specific risk variants, your need for vitamin D is automatically double what the recommended dietary allowance is. We know that’s been validated in different populations in humans,” she said.

Jampolis continued, “The more you can personalize it, the more likely it’s going to be effective and optimizing health for that individual. But also, the more likely they’re going to stick with the plan because you’re personalizing it.”

Once users select a nutrition plan, which ranges from a $24.95/year foundational plan to a $2,400/year premium plan, they fill out a science-based questionnaire that delivers personalized recommendations about their nutrition requirements.

“We didn’t want good nutrition to be a privilege. We wanted to make it accessible,” Jampolis said, noting that even the app’s basic plan will improve users’ health.

AHARA’s nutrition recommendations rely on an international scientific advisory board of researchers in nutrigenetics and epigenetics, among others, who are “at the cutting edge of the science,” across the app’s features, including targeted recipes which connects to Instacart and a menu scanner that identifies key nutrients suitable for their health plan. The 10 experts, with two based in the UK who have access to published research before reaching the US, provides AHARA with its foundational research support.

“The algorithm that I created for AHARA, which is patent pending, is focused on that initial intake, and there’s logic tying every single response to the first 30 questions that we asked to 10 nutrients that we’ve chosen to focus on,” Jampolis said.

In her 22 years of helping patients build viable nutrition plans as an internist and board-certified physician nutrition specialist, AHARA was designed for users who are prioritizing their health and “not my health priorities for them,” she clarified.

“So, if I’m talking to them about heart health and they’re concerned about breast cancer, they’re not really going to buy into my recommendation,” she added.

Users can choose three of six health priorities and rank them in order of importance, from brain and immune health to gut and aging. After ranking their personal health concerns, AHARA prompts them to rank their symptoms on a scale of one to 10, “because while health priorities are important, it’s not necessarily related to what they’re feeling every day, whether it’s fatigue or depression or constipation,” Jampolis explained.

Based on users’ health preferences, the app presents them with recipes aligned with their nutritional needs and an Instacart connection for quick grocery shopping​, as well as an AI-driven menu scanner that reviews restaurant menus to identify the appropriate nutrients “specifically for your unique biology.”

“That is what truly Food is Medicine is all about – it’s being able to address symptoms first, through food and also attack health priorities,” she said.

Plans to develop more optimized health recommendations

With grocery prices top of mind for consumers, Jampolis explained that AHARA’s consultation feature provides users with cost-effective options, although offering budget-friendly options in the app is an opportunity for future iterations.

“Everybody who buys our precision test kit gets a consultation and we talk about specific things. So, it’s frozen berries instead of fresh, because they’re much cheaper [or] it’s doing canned salmon because it’s often wild and a tenth of the price of fresh salmon,” she said.

Indulgences are still considered, Jampolis said, explaining that the nutritional content of a dish are more valuable than caloric count alone, improving food and nutrition accessibility for users.

“People don’t eat saturated fat in isolation, they eat food, and so that why we’re food first. Because the nutrients point you towards the right foods,” she added.

Jampolis expects the app to continue evolving to provide more optimal recommendations for users via machine learning and the advisory boards’ insights at the helm. Next year, AHARA will gamify its features to help strengthen users’ habits for long-term health, she added.

“We’re not looking for just a one and done, we’re looking to be their partners through their life journey. So that’s a big priority is continuing to talk to the consumer, understand how they’re using the app. The more they use the recipes, the more the software will get better at knowing what they liked, what they don’t like,” Jampolis said.

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