Metabolic Trajectories Following Contrasting Prudent and Western Diets from Food Provisions: Identifying Robust Biomarkers of Short-Term Changes in Habitual Diet

Nutrients. 2019 Oct 9;11(10):2407. doi: 10.3390/nu11102407.


A large body of evidence has linked unhealthy eating patterns with an alarming increase in obesity and chronic disease worldwide. However, existing methods of assessing dietary intake in nutritional epidemiology rely on food frequency questionnaires or dietary records that are prone to bias and selective reporting. Herein, metabolic phenotyping was performed on 42 healthy participants from the Diet and Gene Intervention (DIGEST) pilot study, a parallel two-arm randomized clinical trial that provided complete diets to all participants. Matching single-spot urine and fasting plasma specimens were collected at baseline, and then following two weeks of either a Prudent or Western diet with a weight-maintaining menu plan designed by a dietician. Targeted and nontargeted metabolite profiling was conducted using three complementary analytical platforms, where 80 plasma metabolites and 84 creatinine-normalized urinary metabolites were reliably measured (CV < 30%) in the majority of participants (>75%) after implementing a rigorous data workflow for metabolite authentication with stringent quality control. We classified a panel of metabolites with distinctive trajectories following two weeks of food provisions when using complementary univariate and multivariate statistical models. Unknown metabolites associated with contrasting dietary patterns were identified with high-resolution MS/MS, as well as co-elution after spiking with authentic standards if available. Overall, 3-methylhistidine and proline betaine concentrations increased in both plasma and urine samples after participants were assigned a Prudent diet (q < 0.05) with a corresponding decrease in the Western diet group. Similarly, creatinine-normalized urinary imidazole propionate, hydroxypipecolic acid, dihydroxybenzoic acid, and enterolactone glucuronide, as well as plasma ketoleucine and ketovaline increased with a Prudent diet (p < 0.05) after adjustments for age, sex, and BMI. In contrast, plasma myristic acid, linoelaidic acid, linoleic acid, α-linoleic acid, pentadecanoic acid, alanine, proline, carnitine, and deoxycarnitine, as well as urinary acesulfame K increased among participants following a Western diet. Most metabolites were also correlated (r > ± 0.30, p < 0.05) to changes in the average intake of specific nutrients from self-reported diet records reflecting good adherence to assigned food provisions. Our study revealed robust biomarkers sensitive to short-term changes in habitual diet, which is needed for accurate monitoring of healthy eating patterns in free-living populations, and evidence-based public health policies for chronic disease prevention.

Keywords: Prudent diet; Western diet; diet records; food provisions; mass spectrometry; metabolite profiling; metabolomics; nutritional epidemiology.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Biomarkers / urine*
  • Canada
  • Creatinine / urine
  • Diet
  • Diet Records
  • Diet, Healthy*
  • Diet, Western*
  • Electrolytes / urine
  • Fasting
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Metabolome / physiology*
  • Metabolomics
  • Pilot Projects


  • Biomarkers
  • Electrolytes
  • Fatty Acids
  • Creatinine