Nutrition and Biomarkers — New Ways to Track food Intake?

Can we detect what we ate from our blood? From our urine?

It turns out yes.

Being easily able to track what we eat will have massive impacts on many fields into the future, from wanting to lose weight into personalised nutrition advice and treatment of 21st-century chronic diseases like diabetes.

In April, the UCD Nutrition department talked at the Quantified Self Dublin meetup group in the Science Gallery on what they are working on, and to talk about a nutrition study they’re currently running.

Problems with measuring dietary intake

Currently, to assess dietary intake we rely on self-reported methods such as food diaries.

There are a number of issues with such methods. People under estimate what they have eaten. Portion size is hard to judge.

In order to give people dietary advice, it is essential to have an accurate estimation of dietary intake. This is where new methods come into play- methods such as tracking what we eat from our blood and urine samples.

How to track food intake from our blood?

When we eat, chemicals, or biomarkers (called metabolites), enter our blood and urine.

Nutrimarkers is the study of how our diet impacts our bodies. Participants track their food intake, and sensitive equipment the pick up the resulting biomarkers.

Blood samples can be done at home now, with blood spot testing — a drop of blood on a piece of paper is all that’s needed, and can be sent by post to the labs.

In UCD they use technologies such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy and Mass spectrometry to analyse the biological samples for small molecules related to what we ate.

Personalised Nutrition Advice

With all this information, we can get nutrition advice tailored for us individually. What diet is best to lose weight, to improve fitness, or to help with chronic disease management.

In a previous study, Lorraine’s group personalised the advice even further, using DNA and information from dried blood spot samples from participants to tailor the diet plans. They went on to see improvements in dietary intakes over control groups.

Nutrition in Disease Prevention

Many 21stcentury diseases have lifestyle components — diabetes, heart disease, IBS. Getting accurate information on diets will get a much better idea of how much these diseases are nutrition related.

What’s the Future of Nutrition Advice?

Lorraine also talked about other applications for the food tracking.

Dieticians in the Irish health service are under-resourced. Doctors currently rarely look at nutrition, so are missing out on an important tool for overall health.

People want this advice from a recognised health resource.

There’s so much conflicting advice currently in nutrition. Diet’s change with the fashion — Atkins, low-fat, low-carb. Everyone’s confused about what they should be eating.

Getting quick and reliable testing in the GP’s office, and then giving personalising food advice to individuals will be a powerful tool for better health.

All the research in nutrigenomics also leads into many other fields, like personalised medicine. Everything Lorraine’s group is finding out about how our bodies react to foods due to factors like DNA and the microbiome relates a better overall understanding of diseases.

Nutrition Study in UCD

Lorraine and her team — Helena and Taci are currently running the A-Diet study from UCD.

The team are recruiting 200 volunteers over two years, with blood and urine samples analysed every month.

This study is a more comprehensive follow-up from a previous Europe-wide study of 1600 people where they just used blood.

If you would like to sign-up to the study, it’s not too late. You can contact the A-Diet team here.

Further Information


We discuss the latest in self-tracking, health and technology at Dublin’s Quantified Self Meetup.

Quantified Self has previously had an evening on nutrition.

Originally published at