Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Optimeal
1What is Optimeal?
Optimeal is a software tool that uses optimization to solve dietary questions that involve sustainability as well as nutritional parameters. The tool identifies new opportunities and helps to elevate the level of discussion on eating better for a healthy and sustainable future. Optimeal is developed by Blonk Consultants and available since 2013. The tool is currently used by a range of food companies, government bodies and NGOs.
2What are the license options for Optimeal?
Licenses In order to use Optimeal a license is needed. Prices for an Optimeal license are available on request. The following licenses are available:
- Academic license: an academic license is meant for educational and scientific research purposes. It includes default EU dataset and access for 1 user.
- Class room license: a class room license is meant for educational purposes. It includes the EU dataset, only the carbon footprint functionality can be used. Access for 20 users is included.
- Business license: a business license is the basic license for businesses. It includes the default EU dataset and access for 2 users.
3How does Optimeal work?
Defining healthy and sustainable food patterns is complex and should be based on systematic investigation and sound data. Optimeal is a software tool for optimization of diets on health and sustainability. It grasps the full picture of healthy and sustainable nutrition. The tool comes with a default dataset for the EU. This dataset consists of: Reference diet (starting point for optimization), Nutritional constraints, Nutritional properties for the food in the reference diet, Environmental properties for the products in the reference diet. It is also possible to add extra properties to the dataset, for instance on price. Read more about the data in Optimeal
4 What is optimization?
Optimization The optimal diet is a diet that complies to the constraints that have been set for nutrition and environment, which is as similar as possible to the reference diet. Reasoning behind this is that people find changing their dietary habits quite difficult and adoption of dietary changes is likelier to happen when the suggested diet is close to the reference diet. Linear programming vs quadratic programming Optimeal uses either Linear Programming (LP) or Quadratic Programming (QP) for the optimization. A penalty is attributed for every change and the goal of the optimization is to minimize the amount of penalties. Using LP a specific amount of changes comes with a set amount of penalty, but with QP the penalty increases with the amount of changes per product. This results in more changed products than when applying LP. It is also possible to approach a goal, either directly or using stepwise optimization.
5Which data is available in Optimeal?
An Optimeal license comes with a default EU dataset, which is mainly built on European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) data. You can also use your own data in Optimeal.
Default EU dataset in OptimealThis default dataset consists of:
- Reference diet: The reference diet (EU) is the starting point of the optimization. It is based on Food Consumption Surveys in Europe and is a representation of the average EU diet. The diet is constructed for doing environmental oriented optimizations with a synoptic and limited set of products (173 products).
- Nutritional constraints The nutritional constraints define if a diet can be considered healthy or “nutritionally sound”. The upper and lower limits of the nutritional properties are the boundaries used in the optimization. If the nutrition provided by the diet falls outside one of the boundaries, it will be corrected during the optimization to fit the nutritional constraints.
- Nutritional properties for the products in the reference diet (kcal, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, et cetera) The nutritional properties of the products in the EU database are based on the EFSA Food Composition Data. This database contains over 2500 products with multiple preparation methods (e.g. cooking in water, baking, cooking in oil, steaming) reported by 10 European countries. For each nutrient, an average was calculated based on the reporting countries. Examples of nutritional properties are kcal, vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
- Environmental properties (Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) impacts) for the products in the reference diet. The environmental properties of products are important for determining the environmental sustainability of a diet. The environmental impact is calculated with help of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology (in line with ISO 14040/44 standards). This methodology captures the impact of a product (or service) through-out its life cycle. The following environmental impact categories are assessed for the default EU dataset:
- Global warming (excl. Land Use Change);
- Fine particulate matter formation;
- Terrestrial acidification;
- Freshwater eutrophication;
- Marine eutrophication;
- Land use;
- Fossil resource scarcity.
- Water consumption
Custom-made datasetsIn addition to the EU dataset, it is also possible to provide custom-made datasets. For example, for specific regions, diets, age categories or activity levels, or with gender-specific nutritional boundaries. The first available regional dataset is for the Netherlands. Please get in touch with us to discuss the possibilities.
6Can I use my own data(sets) in Optimeal?
Yes, it is possible to use your own data and datasets in Optimeal.
- Adding new products and properties You might want to add your company’s products to the dataset to be able to introduce your product into the reference or optimized diet. You might also want to add properties to be able to integrate your companies KPIs into the dataset and investigate the performance. Within Optimeal it is possible to add new food products and add new properties.
- Product creator: product innovations The product creator is a feature in Optimeal which will give insights into the nutritional and environmental profile of your new product (innovations). You can alter ingredient combinations to identify the optimal composition for the intended market. When you are satisfied with the product composition, you can introduce the new product into a diet for a thorough analysis of how it can make the best contribution to a balanced diet.
- Create your own full dataset It is also possible to use your own dataset in Optimeal. You need to develop your dataset using Excel and upload it into the tool. Currently, this feature is under construction and will be added in the near future. In the meantime, we can assist in uploading your own dataset so you can work with your own data in Optimeal.
7How is data quality monitored?
Data quality has not been monitored for the EU Optimeal dataset. However, we are working on implementing data quality rating in the database development and wish to include this rating in a future update of Optimeal.
8Is there documentation available about Optimeal?
9What are applications of Optimeal?
Optimeal is used by a range of food companies, government bodies and NGOs, to solve complex problems related to healthy and sustainable diets. Some examples are:
- Scenario studies: Definition a food policy that is future proof.
- Product development: Position a food product or product group into the market.
- Product innovation: Create food products with a better (future proof) profile in the context of regional diets.
10Do you have some examples of projects related to Optimeal?
Yes, click on the links below to learn more about some projects:
- Eating for 2 degrees (WWF UK)
- Menu for Tomorrow (Natuur & Milieu (Dutch NGO))
- Environmental impact of dairy substitution (Dutch Dairy Association)
- Comparing the performance of bread and breakfast cereals, dairy, and meat in nutritionally balanced and dustainable diets (Nestlé Research Center)
11Are there scientific publication related to Optimeal?
Yes, on the Optimeal website you can find several peer-reviewed scientific papers. Go to www.optimeal.nl/publications
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