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Can biomarker breakthroughs “put science behind food labels”?

Scientists at Aberystwyth University, led by Professor John Draper, have developed a breakthrough that can monitor eating behavior with the aim of tracking human interactions with food chemistry and linking diet with long-term health. Developed urinary biomarker technology. “We’re looking at chemicals in food and how humans interact with them.”Professor Draper told FoodNavigator during a recent visit to the university’s life sciences department.

This project pursued two studies: evaluating the chemical composition of foods and using urine and blood spot samples to understand how these metabolites “track in the body.” Professor Draper explained that the result of six years of research is a map of “dietary biomarkers.” Various food-derived chemicals induce ‘characteristic changes’ in the urinary metabolome that can be detected by mass spectrometry. “Chemicals in urine can distinguish individual food exposures.”Professor Draper said.

This means that researchers can identify the “chemical fingerprint” of food after consumption through urine testing. Certain chemicals in urine can indicate exposure to individual foods or food groups. For example, meat and fish consumption biomarkers can be measured by Tripe quadrupole LC-MS/MS. For poultry, we have L-anserine and 3-methylhistidine. For fish, TMAO is shown. Carnosine is found in red meat.

Dietary Biomarkers - US

Dietary biomarkers / Photo: Aberystwyth University

From functional foods to nutritional guidelines

Potential applications include functional food development and more nuanced dietary guidelines.

As part of the Future Foods project, co-funded by the Welsh Government, it is hoped that biomarker breakthroughs can drive industry innovation in functional foods. “We don’t all interact with chemicals in the same way. Proving links between food and supplements and health is a big challenge.”food scientist explained. “We are setting up a pipeline in the UK to properly engage with health claims … This pipeline is very important as the UK is no longer part of the EFSA process. , or to provide a technical interface to large companies, who want to have a system in place that allows them to get objective feedback on whether they can make health claims.”na

“Through Future Foods, we have built many collaborative relationships with the food industry. We help research and develop behind anecdotal claims.”Added Dr Amanda Lloyd of Aberystwyth.

A second objective is the ambition to help develop more effective nutrition labeling and guidance in supporting public health objectives. “Our primary mission is to put science behind food labels to address issues of nutritional quality and functionality. ”Professor Draper said.

The UK’s National Diet Survey, which forms the basis of the UK’s dietary guidance, relies on self-reporting, which is “intrinsically inaccurate,” FoodNavigator said.

And the UK is not alone in relying on self-reporting. Most countries’ nutrition guidelines or nutrition labeling schemes are based on what people are allowed to eat. “Many of the studies conducted to assess factors that influence food choices and eating behavior were primarily based on direct protocols that asked participants direct questions. , particularly due to the influence of social desirability, which can lead to bias in responses.”na

To address this, Aberystwyth researchers decided to develop a new method of tracking meals that is more objective and non-self-reported. The result is an at-home urine test along with a biomarker panel that can pinpoint what you ate. Professor Draper says the test kits are relatively cost-competitive compared to traditional health surveillance methods that require researchers to collect and collate data. Public Health England is now evaluating the test, and Professor Draper hopes it can be used to develop an Eatwell guide.

GettyImages-piotr_malczyk- gut health fiber diet health

Photo: GettyImages-piotr_malczyk

Beyond one-size-fits-all nutritional advice?

The ambition to go beyond general claims and advice was recently raised in the now highly politicized debate over Europe’s plan to introduce nutrition labeling on the front of packs. Widely seen as a frontrunner for bloc-wide mandatory requirements to be introduced by the European Commission this year, it faces growing criticism over the calculations it uses to determine the health status of food.

“Science is moving in the direction of personalized diets.” founder Pietro Paganini argued during a recent debate on the issue held at the European Parliament. “Smartwatches are linked to refrigerators, metabolism and supermarkets. This is a major revolution in nutrition where DNA and genetics research will lead us to personalized diets. Nutri-Score is a thing of the past.” It is a one-size-fits-all scheme, the old Hegelian model where an elite group of scientists endorse algorithms that they claim are complete and applicable to everyone. , the algorithm may be changed and selective product grading may be done.You can go from red ‘E’ to yellow ‘C’. ”na

Professor Draper doesn’t think we’re still here. Personalized nutrition, he observed, is a combination of two factors: an individual’s unique nutritional metabolic phenotype and nutritional status. I think there is.

“I do not recommend personalization of labeling, but instead the verification of nutritional content of foods. , you can make well-informed decisions.

However, he sees areas where existing nutrition labeling and recommendations can be strengthened. “Using finished foods, there is a real need to develop new standardized assays for nutritional quality in relation to important and complex food attributes (protein content and quality, vitamin bioavailability, etc.). There is, it is not enough to simply list the ingredients and calculate what is in the product and whether it is available in a form suitable for human benefit.”na

GettyImages-Goran13 label

Photo: GettyImages-Goran13

“Labels aren’t the cause, but they enable healthier choices.”

For any of these to have a positive impact on people’s health, they also need to gain consumer empathy and change our eating habits. We support the introduction of FOP labeling to help people make informed decisions.

Accurate food labeling is necessary to understand the contents of the packaged foods we purchase. “The ultimate goal of front-of-pack nutrition labeling is to enable, empower and assist consumers in making more informed and healthier food choices.”EUFIC Executive Director Dr Laura Fernández Celemín said:

EUFIC is not convinced that personalized nutrition labeling is the way to go.

The organization recently undertook a consumer research project called ‘Bridging the Healthy and Sustainable Diet Gap’, aimed at examining how best to inform consumers about healthy and sustainable food. . “We found that in some EU countries, consumers prefer standardized nutrition labels determined by EU/national bodies to individual nutrition labels.”Dr. Betty Chang, head of research area at EUFIC, told FoodNavigator:

Dr. Seremin stressed that labels alone cannot improve the health of the population. “FOPNL is not the cause, but it may enable healthier choices.”na

The major bottlenecks limiting the impact of nutrition labeling are lack of motivation, lack of attention and the form of ‘somewhat’ labelling. Importantly, the availability of healthy options needs to be addressed, consumer advocates noted.

“For product availability, we recognize that labeling can act as an incentive for product reorganization and innovation, and can certainly improve product health. It should not be forgotten that it competes with other factors that influence consumer decision-making, such as habitual purchases, convenience, etc. The literature suggests low nutrition knowledge and low numerical literacy. , we see these and other barriers that are interrelated, and are related to the lack of resources for education: education as a means to improve motivation, knowledge and confidence. It underscores the importance of putting more emphasis on it, allowing labeling to act as a supportive tool for improving consumer choice.”she told FoodNavigator.

“The impact of nutrition labeling may be modest, but it should not be underestimated. It should not be viewed as such, but in the context of other public health programs and policies. ”na