A new study highlights the importance of precision nutrition

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Individuals with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes respond differently to the same meal. This has been observed by food scientists at Chalmers University of Technology by measuring blood sugar levels after standardized meals. The test was performed on individuals with high risk for the disease and resulted in two response groups. One group showed a distinctly poorer blood sugar response - and may therefore need tailored dietary advice.

“This is a good starting point to further characterize the group with elevated risk. In a later stage, the information can be used to tailor dietary advice that could potentially have a better effect than the general dietary advice for the risk group,” says Viktor Skantze, employed at Fraunhofer-Chalmers Research Centre for Industrial Mathematics, doctoral student at the Division of Food and Nutrition Science and one of two first authors of the study.

Type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest-growing global health problems. By 2045, the prevalence of the disease is estimated to be 12 percent of the global population. Type 2 diabetes can be associated to an increased risk of developing severe cardiovascular disease. Elevated glucose levels (blood sugar levels) can be kept at a normal level through medication – but also through lifestyle changes, such as tailored diets. This is one of the prioritized research topics at the Division of Food and Nutrition Science at Chalmers.

Precision nutrition – individual dietary advice

The division's research in the field of precision nutrition, individually tailored diets, aims to develop methods to analyze how an individual, such as people at risk for type 2 diabetes, responds to different types of food. This could lead to providing individual dietary advice to specific individuals in the future.

“The results from the study indicate that it may not help all individuals in a risk group to eat a low glycemic index diet, they might still get a high blood sugar response. The results indicate that subgroups within the risk groups react differently to the same food, and dietary advice should be tailored to their individual conditions,” says Viktor Skantze.

One group had poorer glocose response

The 155 participants in the study were from three countries: the USA, Italy, and Sweden. They were divided into two groups that were given a standardized diet, one with a high glycemic index (GI) and one with a low GI. Glycemic index is a measure of how foods, mostly carbohydrates, affect glucose levels in the blood. Low GI diets are often recommended for people at elevated risk of type 2 diabetes.

The research group measured glucose levels in the participants' blood after breakfast. By analyzing peaks and rates, i.e., the peaks of the blood glucose level and how quickly it dropped after the meal, the researchers could divide the participants into two different response clusters.

“The study started from two original intervention groups, but the results did not correspond to which meal the participant received. We saw two different clusters within both groups, one of which had a poorer glucose response, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes,” says Thérése Hjorth, doctoral student in the Division of Food and Nutrition Science and co-first author.

The model used for blood sample analysis has previously only been used for oral glucose tolerance tests, where participants drank a beverage containing 75 grams of glucose. By analyzing the response to a complex meal, the Chalmers researchers say that the test results are more related to the participant’s normal habits in life.

Further development of the method 

The study is just the beginning of distinguishing and characterizing the different risk groups, but the researchers are optimistic on using and developing the model further.

“Now that we have demonstrated differences with this model through blood tests, we envision that in the future, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices, similar to those used by type 1 diabetics, could be used at home, eliminating the need for blood tests,” says Viktor Skantze.

The researchers believe that with further development in this direction, it may be possible to prevent individuals in specific risk groups from developing type 2 diabetes. In other words, the results can contribute to preventive measures and as part of the treatment for developed type 2 diabetes.


About the study

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Thérése Hjorth
  • Doctoral Student, Food and Nutrition Science, Life Sciences
Viktor Skantze
  • Visiting Researcher, Food and Nutrition Science, Life Sciences


Susanne Nilsson Lindh