During the "Tailoring Food Choices to Improve Health" symposium held at IFT, a panel of researchers highlighted factors that contribute to the ability to customize nutritional needs including not just age and gender, but disease risk, genetic profile, metabolic conditions and taste preferences.

Obesity and its related illnesses are one driving force in the need for a better understanding of how food contributes to overall health and wellness. Michael Zemel, professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, presented scientific data that shows a correlation between the absorption of calcium through dairy foods with better weight management. Epidemiological and clinical trial data support the findings that calcium intake is linked to weight loss.

However, the health benefits of certain foods need to be weighed against individuals' taste preferences. Chahan Yeretzian, research scientist at the Nestl¿esearch Center, Switzerland, focused on the needs for foods to be appealing to the individual. Foods that are pleasing to the palette are more likely to be consumed over foods that are healthy but not tasteful.

The movement to customize nutrition recommendations and food choices is becoming more prevalent. A recent commentary, "The Challenge to Customize," (Journal of the American Dietetic Assn., April 2003) discusses how individualizing dietary recommendations and consuming specific foods to match an individual's specific health needs is within the realm of future nutrition practices. The piece also touches on the food industry's role in creating and marketing products to meet the needs of various population segments.

"Advances in genetics and nutritional science research will accelerate the future in terms of how recommendations are set and how individuals select their diets," says Lori Hoolihan, a nutrition research specialist at the Dairy Council of California, co-author of "The Challenge to Customize" and the symposium moderator.