The test that reveals the quality of your diet and whether it’s fit for you

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Scientists have completed large-scale tests on a new type of five-minute urine test that measures how healthy a person’s diet is and produces the unique “footprint” of individual urine.

Researchers at Imperial College London, in collaboration with colleagues at Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, and Murdoch University, analysed the level of 46 so-called urine metabolites, for a group of 1,848 people in the U.S. The paper and research results were published in the journal Nature Food. Metabolites are an objective indicator of the quality of a diet and are produced when various foods are digested by the body.

Dr Joram Posma, author of this research in the Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction at Imperial College London, said: “Diet is a key factor in human health and disease. For example, we know from 2019 that unhealthy diets have become the number one factor for early death. Diet is difficult to measure with great accuracy because it is based on the individual’s ability to remember what and how much they ate. For example, asking people to follow their diets through apps or journals can often lead to inaccurate reports about what they eat. The current research reveals that this technology can help provide in-depth information about the quality of a person’s diet, and whether it is the right type of diet for their individual biological profile.”

The results of the research revealed an association between 46 metabolites in urine and types of foods or nutrients in the diet. For example, some metabolites were correlated with alcohol intake, while others were linked to citrus intake, fructose (fruit sugar), glucose and vitamin C. The team also found metabolites in urine, associated with the dietary intake of red meat, other types of meat such as chicken and nutrients such as calcium. Certain metabolites have also been linked to health – for example, compounds found in urine, such as sodium (an indicator of salt intake) are associated with obesity and high blood pressure.

Professor Paul Elliott, co-author of the study and president of Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “By carefully measuring people’s diets and collecting their urine over two 24-hour periods, we were able to make connections between dietary and urinary intakes and the production of metabolites, which could help improve our understanding of how our diets affect health. Healthy diets have a different pattern of metabolites in the urine than those associated with health outcomes.”

In a second study published in Nature Food by the same Imperial team, in collaboration with Newcastle University, Aberystwyth University and Murdoch University and funded by the National Institute for Health Research, the UK Medical Research and Health Data Research Council, the team used this technology to develop a five-minute test to reveal that the mixture of metabolites in the urine varies from person to person.

The team says the technology, which produces the individual urine footprint, could allow people to receive healthy eating advice tailored to their individual biological profile. This is known as “precision nutrition” and could provide health professionals with more specific

information about the quality of a person’s diet and how food is processed in the body, thus helping health professionals, such as dietitians.

The research team now intends to use the technology in the analysis of diets for people at risk for cardiovascular disease. This urine footprint can be used to develop the individual’s personal score – called the Dietary Metabyte Score, or SMD.

Research has shown that the higher a person’s SMD score, the healthier a person’s diet is. A higher SMD score was also associated with lower blood sugar levels and a higher amount of energy excreted from the body in the urine.

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