Plasma protein biomarkers are indicative of healthy eating habits

Biomarkers for specific nutrient intakes exist, but biomarkers of a complex dietary pattern are needed to characterize the biological pathways influenced by food intake and to understand the mechanisms by which healthy diets protect against disease. Du and colleagues conducted a study to determine whether protein biomarkers could be developed that can distinguish between dietary patterns, and their findings are reported in the January 2023 issue of The journal of nutrition.

Food frequency questionnaires and plasma samples were collected from 10,490 men and women who participated in the ARIC study. Aptamer-based proteomic analyzes were used to identify proteins, and multivariable linear regressions were used to determine associations between 4955 proteins and dietary patterns. The healthy eating indices used included the Healthy Eating Index 2015, the Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010, the Dash Diet and the Alternative Mediterranean Diet. This work was replicated using a population from the Framingham Heart Study.

There were 282 proteins associated with at least one of the healthy eating patterns, with the largest number associated with the Dash Diet (254) and the 2015 Healthy Eating Index (137). Twenty proteins were associated with all four patterns, while 148 proteins were associated with only one dietary pattern. Diet-related proteins have been enriched in five unique biological pathways. Six of the seven proteins available in the Framingham Heart Study showed consistent direction and were significantly associated with at least one of the dietary patterns in that study. The authors concluded that the proteins identified through these proteomic analyzes may be useful indicators of healthy eating habits.


Du S, Chen J, Kim H, Walker ME, Lichtenstein AH, Chatterjee N, Ganz P, et al. Plasma protein biomarkers of healthy eating patterns: Results from the Community Atherosclerosis Risk Study and the Framingham Heart Study. Journal of Nutrition, Volume 153, Number 1, January 2023, pages 34-46.

Figure 2 (Featured Image) Proteins associated with healthy dietary patterns in the ARIC study. (A) Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI-2015), (B) Alternate Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI-2010), (C) DASH Diet, and (D) Alternative Mediterranean Diet (aMED). The horizontal dashed line indicates the Bonferroni-adjusted threshold for statistical significance (P < 0.05/4955 = 1.0 × 10-5). Multivariate linear regression models examined the association between individual proteins and 4 healthy dietary patterns, adjusting for age, sex, race center, education level, alcohol use status, cigarette smoking status, score of physical activity, body mass index, diabetes status, and estimated glomerular filtration rate. Coefficients Β represent the highest protein difference per 1 SD in the respective dietary pattern score.

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