Can biomarker breakthrough ‘put the science behind food labels’?October 18, 2022
Scientists at Aberystwyth University led by Professor John Draper have developed breakthrough urine biomarker technology that can monitor eating behaviour, with the aim of tracking human interactions with food chemistry and linking diet to long-term health. “We are looking at what chemicals are in food and how do humans interact with them,” Professor Draper told FoodNavigator during a recent visit to the University’s Department of Life Sciences.
The project pursued two strands of research, assessing the chemical makeup of food and understanding how these metabolites ‘track through your body’ using urine or blood spot samples. The result of six-year’s research, Professor Draper explained, is a map of the ‘biomarkers of diet’. Chemicals derived from different foods cause ‘distinctive changes’ in urine metabolome that can be detected through mass spectrometry. “Chemicals in urine can distinguish between our exposure to individual foods,” Professor Draper said.
This means the researchers can identify the ‘chemical fingerprint’ of food after consumption through urine tests. Specific chemicals in urine can point to exposure to individual foods and food groups. For example, the biomarkers of meat or fish consumption can be measured by Tripe Quadrupole LC-MS/MS; for poultry, you would find L-Anserine and 3-Methylhistidine; for fish, you would see TMAO; and for red meat, you would detect carnosine.
From functional foods to nutritional guidelines
Potential applications include the development of functional foods and more nuanced dietary guidelines.
As part of the Future Foods project co-funded by the Welsh government, it is hoped the biomarker breakthrough can boost industry innovation in functional foods. “We don’t all interact with chemicals in the same way. Proving a link between a food or supplement and health is a massive ask,” the food scientist explained. “We are trying to set up in the UK a pipeline to engage properly with health claims… This pipeline is very important because the UK doesn’t come under the EFSA process anymore. It is about providing a technological interface for small, medium, or large companies. We want to have a system in place that makes it accessible for any company to get objective feedback on whether they can make health claims.”
“Through Future Foods, we’re developed a lot of collaboration with the food industry. We’re aiding the research and development behind anecdotal claims,” added Aberystwyth’s Dr Amanda Lloyd.
The second objective is the ambition to help develop nutritional labelling and guidance that is more effective at supporting public health objectives. “Our main mission is to put science behind food labels to address issues of nutrition quality and functionality,” Professor Draper revealed.
The UK’s National Dietary Survey, on which national dietary guidance is based, is reliant on self-reporting and this…