With the clean slate of a new year, many people have a resolution to eat healthier. But with new diet trends emerging all the time, how do you know if what you're eating is actually healthy?
A new test might offer a solution.
The five-minute process, developed by scientists from Imperial College London, Newcastle University and Aberystwyth University, measures biological markers in your urine that come from the breakdown of food like meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. It can also indicate how much sugar and fat, or fiber and protein, you've consumed.
The researchers hope the test will eventually be an effective tool for weight loss programs. One of the biggest challenges of food and nutrition studies is that there is no reliable way to know what people have eaten.
"We rely solely on people keeping logs of their daily diets - but studies suggest around 60 percent of people misreport what they eat to some extent," Professor Gary Frost, senior author of the study from the Department of Medicine at Imperial said in a press release. "This test could be the first independent indicator of the quality of a person's diet - and what they are really eating."
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The study, published in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, asked 19 volunteers to consume diets ranging from very healthy to unhealthy, for three days, based on World Health Organization nutrition guidelines for preventing obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Their urine samples were collected three times a day and then examined for metabolites, which are present when certain foods are digested in the body.
In addition to indicating whether a person had eaten red meat, chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables, and how much sugar, fat, fiber and protein were present in the body, the test also shows if more specific foods like citrus fruit and leafy greens were consumed.
From metabolites found in the urine of the people on the very healthy diets, researchers were able to create a urine profile indicating a healthy nutrition level. Going forward, this will allow anyone to compare their own urine sample to that of a healthy profile, to find out if their diet is ultimately considered healthy.
Afterwards, they conducted trials of the test on 291 people from a previous study, and were able to accurately predict every person's diet. The next step will be to test larger groups of people outside of a research setting.
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"We need to develop the test further so we can monitor the diet based on a single urine sample, as well as increase the sensitivity," Isabel Garcia-Perez, co-author from the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial, said in the press release. "We're not at the stage yet where the test can tell us a person ate 15 chips yesterday and two sausages, but it's on the way."
In addition to using the urine test as part of a weight loss program, the team also envisions it as a useful tool in patient rehabilitation, for example after someone suffers a heart attack and a healthy diet is crucial to their recovery.
"We envision the tool being used by dieticians to help guide their patients' dietary needs, or even by individuals who are interested in finding out more about the relationship between diet and their health," Elaine Holmes, co-author from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial, commented. "We are hoping to make this test available to the public within the next two years."
The next task will be integrating this technology into people's homes and daily lives, which will allow them to keep tabs on their own diets.
"The future challenge is to apply the technology developed in this laboratory study in a community setting and objectively monitor diet in the home," John Draper, co-author from Aberystwyth University added. "[We] have been doing just this and the results are looking very promising."
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