Interview about healthy diet with Roman Kalista, MD

One of our founders Roman Kalista, MD was interview by AXA to the occasion of Nutrient being featured on AXA’s Health Keeper platform. Enjoy!

Can you tell us what Nutrient is all about?

Nutrient mediates healthy diet with one click. For most people, healthy diet is rather complicated and requires research, self-education and planning. The other thing is to put the theory into practice. This means grocery shopping regularly, using food efficiently, while not spending excessively. It is too complex a matter and most people give up very soon. Unfortunately, this is also reflected in the health of our population, where 60% of diseases are caused primarily by poor nutrition. Therefore, we have created a tool that simplifies this.

So what can I expect from an app as a new user?

Download the application for free. You will then complete a short questionnaire that will take you around 5 minutes. Based on your data, we will tailor your meal plan with recipes according to your nutritional profile. But that's not all. The menu is also compiled with regard to the current availability and price of products in the store. So you can utilize all the food you buy in your recipes without food waste. This calculation by our algorithm is very complex, so you usually need to wait about 10-30 minutes for your meal plan. Then just one click to confirm the purchase of groceries and we will have them delivered by FreshDirect to your door. We then display all the personalized recipes, cooking steps and nutrition values in the app, so you can easily follow your plan. Once you finish cooking your plan you can create a new one. Each time you will reach optimal nutritional values and use all the groceries without waste. Everything is very simple, no subscription and you only cover the cost of groceries.

On average, how much does a person spend if they cook with you?

It's very individual. The more family members in your plan and the more meals you order at a time, the more we are able to optimize your purchases and thus reduce the price to a minimum. For example, with a typical five-member family, we are reaching cost around $1.50 per person per meal. For a single individual with a specific diet, the price may climb up to around $5 per meal. It depends on many aspects, such as portion size, ingredient preferences, organic product preferences etc. A small lady will certainly have a much lower consumption and lower price than a 7ft tall bodybuilder.

So are your menus suitable for families? Everyone has the same meal?

Yes, the program is also suitable for families with children above the age of three. Menus correspond to the way families normally eat. Usually we prepare breakfast or dinner for the entire family together, which makes it possible to minimize costs and time spent in the kitchen. Our app will plan the right amount of food and recommend portion size for each family member.

Speaking of cooking time, how long does it take to prepare your meals? Do you think even busy individuals can cook your meals?

Our entire team uses Nutrient on daily basis, so we feel the need to prepare our meals quite fast. When you come home from work in the evening, you don't have time to bake something for an hour and a half and get your entire kitchen dirty. We adapt to today's agile lifestyle. You can prepare most of our meals within 20 minutes. We do have more complicated recipes in stock, but we rarely use them, like weekend diner recipes, when one is happy to cook something extra.

Can your application solve specific problems, such as being overweight?

Our tool is suitable for everyone and adapts to everyone's needs. We offer ways for people who want to lose weight or gain lean weight. But it's not just about solving any current problem. It is also for people who are happy with their body, but just want to live healthy, prevent diseases, be sure they’re getting optimal nutrition for themselves and their families without the hustle of shopping and planning.

More and more people are becoming vegetarian or even vegan. Do you support this trend?

Yes, big fan of vegan diet myself actually. Right in the initial assessment, users can select a vegan or a vegetarian option, and the meal plan will adapt. At the same time, we also offer the possibility to delete ingredients that you are allergic to or do not like. If you don't like mushrooms, you won't have them in your plan. We also process feedback. Every recipe that a person cooks can then be rated. Feedback is stored and reflected in the next menu. After a couple of weeks, users should generally not receive recipes they don’t enjoy.

Can the work done by your algorithm be comparable to the nutritionist’s advice? After all, sitting down with a nutritionist takes longer than 5 minutes.

First of all, I would like to point out that a nutritionist is sometimes a fairly misleading term. To anyone seeking nutritional counseling I would recommend to visit a registered dietician or at least certified nutrition specialist. A lot of people call themselves “nutritionist” without any or very limited formal training. Unfortunately, this is a common practice especially in the fitness and weight loss industry. But we certainly do not try to compare our tool with a full range of nutritional counseling, which is required to solve specific problems, such as highly specialized and dynamic diets – Crohn's disease, etc., which already require continuous monitoring and patient education. On the contrary we work with dieticians and help them spend their time with the patient or client and leave the meal planning and calculations to us. In the future we do plan to broaden our scope of possible settings, but in our current version we have only a general healthy diet advice. In this case, our online consultation is no different. It is enough to "extract" the nutritional requirements from the user, which we aim to supply within the menu.

So would you say that you can provide your users with the same quality of service and at cost of groceries?

I think our solution has many other advantages. A nutritional counselor can do a great job by recommending the perfect nutritional spectrum and forming the recipes accordingly. But then it is often a problem when you take your meal plan and go buy ingredients. They are often unavailable in stores, so you need to find them in multiple locations and there is simply way too many of them. At the same time, you use only the necessary part of these perishable ingredients and the rest remains unused at home and goes bad. You end up paying for all of this and the total cost is usually unsustainable. Thanks to our artificial intelligence algorithm, we can also include these factors in the calculation. Yet if we wanted to calculate it using only standard mathematics and run the calculation on the server, it would take us about three years to get one of these meal plans.

Do you also use artificial intelligence to make individual recipes?

Recipes are prepared by our team headed by a registered dietician who is also a chef. We then taste test and photograph the finished meals and add them to the app. However, these recipes have a specific format, so they can be tailored to each individual. They are not fixed as we are used to, but they are broken down into individual ingredients that can increase and decrease relative to each other. And that is also what our artificial intelligence solves.

But don't these artificial intelligence-based systems lead you to forget to think about food for yourself and start to rely only on the robot that dictates what to eat?

I would like to say that our artificial intelligence is not a thinking robot that dictates anyone what to eat. Artificial intelligence methods are only a way for us to solve mathematical problems faster and get to the optimum result as quickly as possible. It is definitely not a thinking system in any way, but only a tool to solve mathematical equation. As a result, it is always the user and our team which makes the recipes that decide what we should eat. I would not be afraid at all that it would make us stop thinking about food. In my opinion, we will not lose the notion of healthy nutrition, on the contrary we will get used to a certain type of diet that is best for us and will be able to maintain it in the future. I think that it is not really a question of thinking, but rather a gradual acquisition of habits and an idea of​what healthy nutrition really is.

What was the beginning of the Nutrient project?

My girlfriend is a registered dietician, and I’m a medical doctor. We are both well aware of how important nutrition is so we've both always cared very strongly about what we eat. Even though we are both professionals in the field, we did not enjoy going through a cycle of planning recipes and getting ingredients every week. It was time consuming for us and difficult to manage without creating excessive food waste. I also have a sick mother who needs to eat healthy. I tried to persuade her to change her diet, but then she asked me the traditional question: "So what am I supposed to eat?" And that is quite difficult think to answer. It takes weeks and weeks of education, about what the body needs, how to read food labels, how to manage portions, plan recipes and so on. So I began to like the idea that I could just say to her, "Here's an app, you press this button, and everything's done for you."

So you did it primarily for yourself?

We created Nutrient for everyone who is struggling with the same problem we had. We wanted to make healthy diet affordable and simple. We believe that our application will come in handy to other physicians who would like to prescribe healthier diet to their patients with prevalent chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, obesity etc. Such patients do not require an extremely specialized diet. They need to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, complex carbs and fiber into their diet. And it can greatly facilitate the work of doctors. Instead of starting to explain the principles of healthy nutrition to the patient, we can recommend one simple app.

You're new to the market. How many people have tested your app?

We have about 1,500 registered users, but until now we have focused only on the development of our technology. We are currently live in New York with our beta and people can already try out our service with initial discounts on groceries at Nutrient.app. We are a part of FOOD-X accelerator, where we’re working on our technology and business. So now we are mainly talking to customers and customizing the service for them to be as easy to use as possible. After that, we intend to focus on growth.

Are you planning to expand to other cities?

We currently use FreshDirect for grocery delivery, so we are available everywhere where they offer their grocery delivery service which is mainly NYC, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. We soon plan to work with other retailers as well to be able to offer our service all around the country.

Roman Kalista, MD
graduated from the 2nd Medical Faculty of Charles University in Prague. Focusing on nutrition and research data management at the University. After graduation, he started working in the field of software development in pharmaceutical industry and has been working with data and machine learning methods for over six years.

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