Since its first publication in 1980, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have provided population-level nutrition recommendations that support a healthful diet and help people in making daily food choices1,2. However, given the shift in healthcare from a one-size-fits-all to precision medicine approach, “population-level” guidance falls short when it comes to supporting ideal, individual nutrition habits2,3. As individuals, we have unique genetics, physiology, preferences, living environments, and behavior, and all of these factors influence what we eat and how our bodies respond2,3. Do you have one friend who thrives on a ketogenic diet, but another who swears that going vegan fixed all of their health woes? Both can be true - in fact, both individuals may have progressed meaningfully toward discovering which types of food help them feel their best.
Personalized approaches to nutrition have been shown to lead to improvements in both eating habits4 and health outcomes5. But what does “personalized” really mean? Research on interindividual variability in response to standardized meals has led to a better understanding of the characteristics that comprise personalized nutrition. Fine-tuning a diet to align with these characteristics, including genetics5, disease/nutrient status, physiological state6, lifestyle, food preferences, and personal goals, can be thought of as the “scientific” aspect of personalized nutrition, but finding an approach that you enjoy and can sustain long-term has value in and of itself. Maintaining a positive relationship with food is as important as identifying the specific foods that work best for you.
“...finding an approach that you enjoy and can sustain long-term has value in and of itself.”
It is clear that personalized nutrition works7, yet we haven’t seen major improvements in general health or rates of chronic disease. We are starting to understand why individuals respond to food differently, but the how is lacking. How do we implement this information to drive meaningful behavior change? Our current food environment makes it difficult to put into practice. This is where Parkday comes in - we built a model centered on personalized nutrition to make everyday eating healthier and easier. We source high quality ingredients and create data-driven eater profiles to suggest meals that introduce new foods/flavors that we think you will like and benefit from. Ultimately, our goal is to help you move beyond the behavior incentivized by food delivery marketplaces and one-size-fits all catering by creating a scalable, local ecosystem for truly nourishing food. Our mobile food experience is just the beginning - we strive for zero food waste to offer the highest quality food at an accessible price and envision advanced integrations with wearables and medical professionals. Our three nutrition pillars guide us in our movement to reimagine how we source our everyday food and support our mission of making smart food decisions, easy.
Diversity of Foods
Our first nutrition pillar is centered around diversity of foods, flavors, and meals. The concept of dietary diversity was first introduced in the early 20th century based on the premise that eating a variety of foods would ensure adequate intake of nutrients, thereby improving diet quality and health outcomes8. However, in recent years the impact of dietary diversity on health has become an area of debate. Our current built environment is obesogenic, meaning it helps or contributes to obesity9. Essentially, our environment promotes a sedentary lifestyle and energy-dense, highly processed foods are easily accessible at almost all times. In the setting of an obesogenic environment, recent studies suggest that increased dietary diversity may lead to suboptimal diet quality, increased energy intake from processed foods, refined grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages, and subsequent weight gain8. Outside of the “health” aspect, a diverse dietary pattern makes eating more enjoyable, engages individuals to try new foods and thus supports a positive relationship with food.
Legacy food suppliers (Aramark, Sodexo) that serve universities, hospitals, etc. and newer food marketplaces (Doordash, Uber Eats) that serve consumers directly are both plagued by the practice of spotlighting restaurants that can spend the most money on ads and/or corporate kickbacks10,11. Generally speaking, these entities are international chains that prioritize shareholder value over their customers' health. Despite sourcing from a diverse food marketplace, users of these services inevitably end up cycling through the same five or so options that they see first, thereby negating the marketplace’s potential for individualized health discovery10. Current food access options don’t help consumers capitalize on their personalized nutrition needs. Enter Parkday. Part of what is unique about our approach is that we emphasize whole, minimally processed foods and consider the health, culture, seasonality, and locality of the meals we offer you. The result is a mobile food experience that respects and builds off of the unique physiological needs, health status, and preferences of each user.
We embrace diversity through multiple levels of our food access model: a wide variety of cuisines and restaurants are highlighted each week, we cater to diverse diet tags including gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian/pescetarian, dairy-free, and keto, and the individual meals have diverse components, with about 8 ingredients per meal on average, across 3000 meals. Our software automates the food personalization process by identifying “flavor adjacencies.” Users' onboarding and meal engagement data can be used to intelligently surface foods/meals that are similar to a flavor characteristic that we know someone enjoys. This means we can introduce more nutrient diversity, while providing a meal with a high probability you will like - a low risk approach to leveraging personal food preferences to support dietary diversity.
Traditionally, adverse metabolic health outcomes including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease have been associated with suboptimal intake of a macronutrient, usually consuming too much and/or the wrong type of either carbohydrate or fat. Recent evidence demonstrating the association of ultra-processed food consumption with increased type 2 diabetes risk12, increased energy intake, and weight gain13, supports a shift in focus from macronutrient distribution to food processing level. This paradigm shift aligns with the personalized nutrition movement. In reality, different macronutrient distributions will work best for different people depending on their inherent genetic and physiological susceptibilities. Regardless of what your diet is composed of, however, you should always strive to choose minimally processed, whole foods.
At Parkday, our daily menus emphasize minimally processed foods by highlighting restaurant partners who source their food locally and include whole-food ingredients. All of our restaurant partners go through a standardized vetting process:
- We start by going directly to GrowNYC and other local food purveyors to ask who their local customers are, allowing us to focus on restaurant partners that source ingredients locally.
- We rely on trusted restaurant recommendation websites and guides (Eater NY, The Infatuation, Michelin Guide) to source new restaurant partners.
- We know the right questions to ask to be confident that the majority of processing happens at the restaurant level (e.g., Are your sauces made in house?)
By taking the time to rigorously vet our restaurant partners we are able to make minimally processed food fun. Healthy food doesn't have to be boring! For example, even our pizza options can be minimally processed by partnering with restaurants that use artisanal milled flour, make their tomato sauce fresh in house, and include plenty of vegetable topping options. Every meal can fall on a spectrum of being made with less vs. more healthful ingredients and we ensure our offerings are on the healthier side of this scale.
It is common knowledge that plant-based foods, including not only fruits and vegetables but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans, offer a myriad of health benefits. These foods are nutrient-dense, packed with essential vitamins and minerals, high in fiber, and are good sources of unsaturated fats and protein. As a result, dietary patterns high in plant-based foods have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiometabolic disease14. Despite this overwhelming evidence, in 2015 only 1 in 10 U.S. adults were getting enough fruits and vegetables in their diet15, and only 0.4-3.4% reported to eat largely plant-based diets16. A major public health concern is identifying effective behavior change strategies that support increased intake of plant-based foods.
At Parkday, we believe in filling your plate with plants by “eating the rainbow,” but we also appreciate that plant-based eating is a spectrum. Following a vegan or vegetarian dietary pattern would be at one extreme of this spectrum, but anyone can follow a plant-based diet, even someone who eats high fat from mainly animal protein sources. The key here is to emphasize fruit/vegetable sides and lead with plant-based foods, again focusing on the diversity and processing level of options offered. For example, with many of our restaurant partners who offer “market sides” we draw attention to side salads and roasted vegetables, instead of the typical french fries, bread, or macaroni and cheese. We still believe in (and serve) animal protein that is raised in a sustainable and humane way, but we are all about adding in more plant-based foods wherever and whenever possible.
Sustainability is tied into our company vision, with removing food waste from the food access model as our number one environmental goal. Plant-based and animal-based foods have different impacts on the planet, so empowering our customers to incorporate plant-based foods as much as possible directly supports our sustainability goals. While regenerative animal agriculture may meaningfully displace factory farming approaches down the line, current livestock production is more resource-intensive than that of unprocessed plant-based foods, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions per ton of protein consumed17. We believe in the shift towards a planetary health diet that nurtures both people and the planet.
Traditional dietary guidelines offer broad nutrition advice, but as the understanding of personalized nutrition grows, there's a pressing need for more individualized recommendations. Parkday's model balances personalized health and flavor preferences while championing consistency across our core health pillars to improve the overall food system.
- United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). History of the Dietary Guidelines. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/about-dietary-guidelines/history-dietary-guidelines
- Adams, S. H., Anthony, J. C., Carvajal, R., Chae, L., Khoo, C. S., Latulippe, M. E., Matusheski, N. V., McClung, H. L., Rozga, M., Schmid, C. H., Wopereis, S., & Yan, W. (2020). Perspective: Guiding principles for the implementation of personalized nutrition approaches that benefit health and function. Advances in Nutrition, 11(1), 25–34. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz086
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Food Forum; Callahan AE, editor. Challenges and Opportunities for Precision and Personalized Nutrition: Proceedings of a Workshop—in Brief. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2021 Dec 8. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK575794/. doi: 10.17226/26407
- Celis-Morales, C., Livingstone, K.M., Marsaux, C.F.M., Macready, A.L., Fallaize, R., O’Donovan, C.B., Woolhead, C., …Mathers, J.C.; on behalf of the Food4Me Study. (2017). Effect of personalized nutrition on health-related behaviour change: evidence from the Food4Me European randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Epidemiology, 46(2), 578–588. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyw186
- Celis-Morales, C., Marsaux, C.F.M., Livingstone, K.M., Navas-Carretero, S., San-Cristobal, R., Fallaize, R., Macready, A.L.,…Mathers, J.C.; on behalf of the Food4Me Study. (2017). Can genetic-based advice help you lose weight? Findings from the Food4Me European randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 105(5), 1204-1213. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.116.145680.
- Zeevi, D., Korem, T., Zmora, N., Israeli, D., Rothschild, D., Weinberger, A., Ben-Yacov, O., …, Segal, E. Personalized Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic Responses. Cell, 163(5), 1079-1094. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2015.11.001.
- Jinnette, R., Narita, A., Manning, B., McNaughton, S. A., Mathers, J. C., & Livingstone, K. M. (2021). Does Personalized Nutrition Advice Improve Dietary Intake in Healthy Adults? A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Advances in Nutrition, 12(3), 657–669. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa144.
- de Oliveira Otto, M.C., Anderson, C.A.M., Dearborn, J.L., Ferranti, E.P., Mozaffarian, D., Rao, G., Wylie-Rosett, J., Lichtenstein, A.H. (2018). Dietary Diversity: Implications for Obesity Prevention in Adult Populations: A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 138(11), e160-e168. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000595.
- Hobbs, M., Radley, D. (2020). Obesogenic environments and obesity: a comment on ‘Are environmental area characteristics at birth associated with overweight and obesity in school-aged children? Findings from the SLOPE (Studying Lifecourse Obesity PrEdictors) population-based cohort in the south of England’. BMC Medicine, 18(59). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-020-01538-5.
- Canning, A. (2020). Be-Trayed: A New Report Exposes Corporate Kickbacks Undermining a Fair Food System. https://fairworldproject.org/be-trayed-a-new-report-exposes-corporate-kickbacks-undermining-a-fair-food-system/
- Delpino, F. M., Figueiredo, L. M., Bielemann, R. M., da Silva, B. G. C., Dos Santos, F. S., Mintem, G. C., Flores, T. R., Arcêncio, R. A., & Nunes, B. P. (2022). Ultra-processed food and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. International journal of epidemiology, 51(4), 1120–1141. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyab247.
- Hall, K.D., Ayuketah, A., Brychta, R., Cai, H., Cassimatis, T., Chen, K.Y., Chung, S.T. (2019). Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell Metabolism, 30(1), 67-77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008.
- Kahleova, H., Levin, S., Barnard, N. (2019). Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets. Nutrients. 9(8), 848. https://doi:10.3390/nu9080848.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables. https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/division-information/media-tools/adults-fruits-vegetables.html
- Medawar, E., Huhn, S., Villringer, A. et al. (2019). The effects of plant-based diets on the body and the brain: a systematic review. Transl Psychiatry 9, 226. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0552-0.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Plate and the Planet.https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sustainability/plate-and-planet/.