Food as medicine startup with $3 million in funding

Kyle Dardashchi tried numerous options — including pharmaceutical drugs — to treat Crohn’s disease, which causes inflammation in the digestive tract. But none of those options worked — until his doctor recommended it Specific carbohydrate diet, a diet that can treat Crohn’s disease. The experience later led him to help found a Los Angeles-based Heala food-as-medicine startup focused on fighting chronic disease launched Thursday with $3 million in seed funding.

“[My doctor] said, “There is a dietary test that is as effective as the pharmaceutical drugs you are taking, and if you like, you can try it this time.” … After about three or four months I felt healthier than I had ever felt. I got my life back,” Dardashti said. “During that process, I became really fascinated with this concept of medical nutritional therapy, this idea that there are different therapeutic dietary protocols that can treat and manage different conditions.”

Heali’s AI-driven app offers personalized nutrition plans for more than 200 chronic conditions, including diabetes, allergies, autoimmune issues and gastrointestinal issues. These plans take into account the user’s goals, preferences, weight, activity level and dietary restrictions. AI models are trained to associate health conditions with certain dietary protocols beneficial for those conditions, and can evaluate whether certain foods are good, fair, or bad for that condition. Users can also access nutrition studies that explain the benefits of certain foods, as well as recipes that fit their diet.

The app also allows users to plan their meals and track their progress. The app also has a scanner that can be used on items while grocery shopping. The scanner will tell if the product meets the user’s diet and offer replacement options if it doesn’t.

Heali sells its app primarily to providers (including Boston Heart Diagnostics), who can recommend the app to their patients in need of dietary support. It also works with Blue Shield of California and aims to work with employers in the future, according to Dardashti. Although Heali’s focus is B2B, consumers can also access the app directly. For the direct-to-consumer option, the app is currently free, but will cost $15 per month or $75 per year.

The $3 million in seed funding was led by Astanor Ventures, which chose to invest in Heali because it “advances personal care by offering an affordable and accessible way for anyone, anywhere, to use food as medicine and achieve sustainable nutritional practices,” they said George Poulick, a partner at the firm, in a statement.

With the funding, Heali is focusing on commercialization and growing its customer base, Dardashti said. The company also has plans to offer health education options and delivery of meal kits in the future.

Heali has also already achieved results. The platform received CDC recognition, which is given to companies that meet certain quality standards, such as using a CDC-approved curriculum. A clinical trial on patients with irritable bowel syndrome found that Heali users’ symptoms improved twice as much as those who did not use Heali. Symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea and bloating.

The food-as-medicine movement has become increasingly popular recently, prompting many companies to enter the space. It’s another company Seasonal healthwhich offers clinical nutrition care, nutrition referrals, training and food delivery. NourishedRx is also a food-as-medicine company and offers medical meals, grocery support and dietary education.

At Heali’s launch, Dardashti said she ultimately aspires to live in a world where “food is not an afterthought” and is a key part of patient treatment.

Photo: fcafotodigital, Getty Images

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