Nutrition and dietary habits are among the most relevant factors affecting human health. This fact makes the capacity to evaluate in great detail a person’s dietary intake paramount to become able to understand the association between diet and health.
The assessment of dietary intake currently relies on traditional methods, such as food frequency questionnaires, dietary recalls or food diaries. These methods are often self-reported and have a number of well-known limitations as a result of their subjective nature. They are almost invariably affected by misreporting and bias. Moreover, these instruments are intrinsically based on food composition tables that can lead to errors in nutrient estimation.
In the most recent years, research has moved big steps towards the identification and validation of biomarkers of food intake, objective measures that should help overcoming the mentioned limitations associated to traditional dietary assessment approaches.
The analysis of food intake biomarkers constitutes an objective measure for the assessment of dietary intake, overcoming the bias of current methods
Food intake biomarkers are compounds derived by the metabolism of constituents of specific foods or food groups that can be found in biological fluids, like plasma or urine, and are reflective of the intake of their precursors present in the food matrix. As these metabolites are thousands, the best modern approach to target the majority of them is through “metabolomics”.
Metabolomics, one of the so-called “–omics” sciences, represents the measure of small molecules present in biospecimens by means of high-throughput techniques, such as mass spectrometry coupled with liquid or gas chromatography (LC-MS or GC-MS), and/or Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (NMR).
Metabolomics sciences help to identify metabolites specific for certain foods and their level in plasma or urine to be able to assess a person’s diet patterns
Metabolomics aims at identifying metabolites that show altered levels under different conditions to then try to link these changes to an original biological question. When it comes to nutrition, the objective is then to identify metabolites that are reflective of different dietary intake – the so-called food intake biomarkers – and to quantitively translate their levels in urine or blood to specific food intake.
Recently, many biomarkers of intake of specific foods or food groups have been identified and validated. Actually, a good biomarker of food intake must be specific for a certain food/food group, and its level in plasma or urine must increase as a consequence of the increased consumption of the food/food group. Moreover, the most recent relevant literature identified more global “panels” of biomarkers, able to reflect a person’s diet more globally, allowing therefore the assessment of dietary patterns. Thanks to these recent improvements, both of approach and at technological level, a simple urine or blood sample could become an amazingly detailed descriptor of dietary intake and of diet quality, making the detection of potential deficiencies or of dangerous overconsumption easy to unravel.
This is what PREVENTOMICS will do, by means of extremely advanced metabolomic instruments and thanks to the expertise of nutritionists from all over Europe. The plan is developing dietary advice tailored to the individual, reaching the goal of personalised nutrition for an improved health status.
Claudia is a PhD student in Food Science at the Laboratory of Phytochemicals in Physiology, led by Prof. Daniele Del Rio within the Human Nutrition Unit of the Department of Food and Drugs and of Veterinary Medicine (University of Parma). Her research activity is presently focused on the study and validation of food intake biomarkers, using a metabolomic approach.
Daniele Del Rio
Daniele is the Head of the School of Advanced Studies on Food and Nutrition at the University of Parma, in Italy. He also acts as Scientific Director of the Need For Nutrition Education/Innovation Programme Global Centre for Nutrition & Health, in Cambridge, UK. He serves as Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Taylor & Francis). He is a proud Commendatore (Knight Commander) of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, and he is proudly growing a team of brilliant scientists.