Challenges Associated With the Design and Deployment of Food Intake Urine Biomarker Technology for Assessment of Habitual Diet in Free-Living Individuals and Populations: A Perspective

Manfred Beckmann (Lead Author), Thomas Wilson, Amanda Lloyd, Duarte P.M. Torres, Ana C.L. Goios, Naomi D. Willis, Laura Lyons, Helen Phillips, John M. Mathers, John Draper (Corresponding Author)

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Improvement of diet at the population level is a cornerstone of national and international strategies for reducing chronic disease burden. A critical challenge in generating robust data on habitual dietary intake is accurate exposure assessment. Self-reporting instruments (e.g., food frequency questionnaires, dietary recall) are subject to reporting bias and serving size perceptions, while weighed dietary assessments are unfeasible in large-scale studies. However, secondary metabolites derived from individual foods/food groups and present in urine provide an opportunity to develop potential biomarkers of food intake (BFIs). Habitual dietary intake assessment in population surveys using biomarkers presents several challenges, including the need to develop affordable biofluid collection methods, acceptable to participants that allow collection of informative samples. Monitoring diet comprehensively using biomarkers requires analytical methods to quantify the structurally diverse mixture of target biomarkers, at a range of concentrations within urine. The present article provides a perspective on the challenges associated with the development of urine biomarker technology for monitoring diet exposure in free-living individuals with a view to its future deployment in “real world” situations. An observational study (n = 95), as part of a national survey on eating habits, provided an opportunity to explore biomarker measurement in a free-living population. In a second food intervention study (n = 15), individuals consumed a wide range of foods as a series of menus designed specifically to achieve exposure reflecting a diversity of foods commonly consumed in the UK, emulating normal eating patterns. First Morning Void urines were shown to be suitable samples for biomarker measurement. Triple quadrupole mass spectrometry, coupled with liquid chromatography, was used to assess simultaneously the behavior of a panel of 54 potential BFIs. This panel of chemically diverse biomarkers, reporting intake of a wide range of commonly-consumed foods, can be extended successfully as new biomarker leads are discovered. Towards validation, we demonstrate excellent discrimination of eating patterns and quantitative relationships between biomarker concentrations in urine and the intake of several foods. In conclusion, we believe that the integration of information from BFI technology and dietary self-reporting tools will expedite research on the complex interactions between dietary choices and health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number602515
Number of pages19
JournalFrontiers in Nutrition
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2020


  • biomarker of food intake (BFI)
  • dietary intake
  • habitual diet
  • metabolomics
  • urinary biomarkers


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