Stable Isotope Ratios as Biomarkers of Diet for Health Research

Annu Rev Nutr. 2015:35:565-94. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-071714-034511. Epub 2015 May 27.


Diet is a leading modifiable risk factor for chronic disease, but it remains difficult to measure accurately due to the error and bias inherent in self-reported methods of diet assessment. Consequently, there is a pressing need for more objective biomarkers of diet for use in health research. The stable isotope ratios of light elements are a promising set of candidate biomarkers because they vary naturally and reproducibly among foods, and those variations are captured in molecules and tissues with high fidelity. Recent studies have identified valid isotopic measures of short- and long-term sugar intake, meat intake, and fish intake in specific populations. These studies provide a strong foundation for validating stable isotopic biomarkers in the general US population. Approaches to improve specificity for specific foods are needed; for example, by modeling intake using multiple stable isotope ratios or by isolating and measuring specific molecules linked to foods of interest.

Keywords: carbon-13; isotope ratio mass spectrometry; nitrogen-15; nutritional epidemiology; sulfur-34.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Biomedical Research
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Sucrose / administration & dosage
  • Europe
  • Fishes
  • Food
  • Food Analysis
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen / analysis
  • Isotopes / analysis*
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Meat
  • Nitrogen Isotopes
  • Oxygen Isotopes / analysis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sulfur Isotopes
  • United States


  • Biomarkers
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Dietary Sucrose
  • Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes
  • Oxygen Isotopes
  • Sulfur Isotopes
  • Hydrogen