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The Healing Potential of Food: Exploring the Promises and Limitations

Food as medicine is gaining momentum as a preventive and treatment approach for chronic health conditions. Proponents believe tailored nutrition programs can optimize health outcomes and reduce costs. The report categorizes food as medicine into three models: medical and functional foods, medically tailored meals/groceries, and produce prescriptions/subsidies.

Supporting research shows promising health and cost benefits, but large randomized controlled trials are still needed. Pilot initiatives in states like California demonstrate early feasibility. The commercial payer market offers huge potential, but currently government programs lead adoption.

Challenges include resistance to diet restrictions, food quality concerns, issues with attribution, and compliance difficulties. But the report remains bullish overall due to strong government/non-profit backing, a wave of well-funded start-ups, and partnerships between payers and food delivery platforms.

Integrated models combining aspects like personalized meal plans, coaching, and functional foods have the most potential. The report spotlights companies leading various food as medicine categories like digital therapeutics and personalized nutrition algorithms. While parts of the movement need more rigorous validation, food as medicine signals a shift to more holistic, nutrition-focused care.

1. Medical & Functional Foods

Condition-specific foods (perishable and non-perishable)

Require further meal preparation

Example: Functional bars, powders, or snacks targeted for a health condition

2. Medically Tailored Meals & Groceries

Ready-to-eat meals and foods

Provide 50%+ of caloric needs

Example: Meal delivery service with menus tailored to a medical condition

3. Produce Prescriptions & Subsidies

Programs providing produce vouchers or grocery access

Supplements nutrition with fruits, vegetables, healthy staples

Example: Produce prescription from a doctor that can be redeemed for free or discounted groceries

Looking Ahead

  • The food-as-medicine landscape includes a range of models from food scores to meal planning to grocery subsidies targeting different populations.

  • Point solutions offering just one service may get lost in the increasingly crowded market and fail to gain meaningful scale.

  • Integrated models combining delivery, coaching, and nutrition are best positioned for success.

  • Notable startups with consolidated platforms include:

  • Filtricine & Faeth - offer functional foods and medically tailored meals for oncology

  • Tangelo - combines food subsidies, produce boxes, and meal kits

  • Companies covering multiple food-as-medicine categories are more likely to gain traction than singular point solutions.

  • Consolidated platforms allow for things like transitioning users from costly meal delivery to more affordable coaching long-term.

  • Overall, integration and consolidation will be key competitive advantages in the maturing food-as-medicine market.

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