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Video: Add a DNA kit to your shopping list

By "Today" Food Editor
updated 12/20/2005 10:47:10 AM ET 2005-12-20T15:47:10

Looking for a new way to manage your whole health? Well, you may be in luck. New DNA, diet and lifestyle assessment kits — marketed under the brand name Cellf by Sciona Inc., a Colorado-based company — are being sold in supermarkets as its primary method of distribution to consumers. Minnesota-based Lund Food Holdings, which operates both Lunds and Byerly’s stores, is leading the trend and using these testing kits as a way to build relationships with shoppers. Company president/CEO Russell T. “Tres” Lund III told us that his plan is to create a link between the evaluations performed by Sciona and his stores’ food experts, which have long provided consumers with diet and nutritional advice and information.

The idea, which is a good one, is to help shoppers understand what they can do in their daily food choices to either maintain their good health or help correct certain genetic defects that the test may have identified.

The genetic information will be used by Lunds’ dietitians to create customized meals and menus for consumers — a process many in the new age world call “nutrigenetics” — the interaction between genes, diet and lifestyle. For many consumers, it can help them focus on proper nutrition and exercise programs. But the key will be for them to take the time to read the complete report and to visit with a dietician or other counselor.

Here’s how the Cellf product works:

Consumers collect a sample of their DNA at home using a simple cheek swab, and send the sample along with a diet and lifestyle questionnaire to the lab in Colorado. They will receive back (in about three weeks) a personalized and confidential nutrition and health assessment based on their genetic profile. The objective is to be able to actually tailor one’s diet not just to specific health conditions but even to genetic predispositions for certain maladies.

Sure, maybe we're watching a little too much CSI these days. But it's very likely that we have actually discovered the "fountain of youth," and it’s heading to supermarkets around the country. This tool may very well empower consumers to help reverse the major health crisis now facing us.

Sciona’s do-it-yourself genetic assessment kits are available (for now) to test five individual conditions: Antioxidant/Detoxification Assessment; Bone Health Assessment; Heart Health Assessment; Inflammation Assessment; and Insulin Resistance Assessment. Each condition kit retails for about $99 and consumers receive a personalized report that is about 30 pages long.

The science of DNA is moving rapidly, and we can only applaud its discoveries. However, it will be important for those individuals who take advantage of these types of tools (and we expect that there will be many more companies who bring to market similar type of kits and an expansion of the types of diseases they test for) to be able to cope with the findings. For example, how will a young vibrant athlete deal with the discovery that he or she is prone to heart disease? For some it’s a lifestyle-changing event — making sure that the exercise regimen and diet are strictly adhered to — while for others it may signal the inevitable and a devil-may-care attitude.

The science may well be bulletproof, but how will our reactions and emotions to the findings affect our day-to-day lives?

Tres Lund is on to something big. By offering these kits and the follow-up nutritional counseling (at no cost) his stores will be forging lifelong, and maybe lifesaving, relationships with shoppers.  Lund’s philosophy over the years has always been focused on building long-term relationships with shoppers; we can only hope that more supermarket retailers follow his instincts.

After all, as the 76 million baby boomers start turning 65 in less than five years, there is no doubt that they will start to embrace those products, and retailers focused on health and wellness solutions.

Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to phil.lempert@nbc.com or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at http://www.supermarketguru.com/.

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