Plasma Protein Biomarkers of Healthy Dietary Patterns: Results from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study and the Framingham Heart Study

J Nutr. 2023 Jan;153(1):34-46. doi: 10.1016/j.tjnut.2022.11.008. Epub 2022 Dec 21.


Background: Molecular mechanisms underlying the benefits of healthy dietary patterns are poorly understood. Identifying protein biomarkers of dietary patterns can contribute to characterizing biological pathways influenced by food intake.

Objectives: This study aimed to identify protein biomarkers associated with four indexes of healthy dietary patterns: Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI-2015); Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI-2010); DASH diet; and alternate Mediterranean Diet (aMED).

Methods: Analyses were conducted on 10,490 Black and White men and women aged 49-73 y from the ARIC study at visit 3 (1993-1995). Dietary intake data were collected using a food frequency questionnaire, and plasma proteins were quantified using an aptamer-based proteomics assay. Multivariable linear regression models were used to examine the association between 4955 proteins and dietary patterns. We performed pathway overrepresentation analysis for diet-related proteins. An independent study population from the Framingham Heart Study was used for replication analyses.

Results: In the multivariable-adjusted models, 282 out of 4955 proteins (5.7%) were significantly associated with at least one dietary pattern (HEI-2015: 137; AHEI-2010: 72; DASH: 254; aMED: 35; P value < 0.05/4955 = 1.01 × 10-5). There were 148 proteins that were associated with only one dietary pattern (HEI-2015: 22; AHEI-2010: 5; DASH: 121; aMED: 0), and 20 proteins were associated with all four dietary patterns. Five unique biological pathways were significantly enriched by diet-related proteins. Seven out of 20 proteins associated with all dietary patterns in the ARIC study were available for replication analyses, and 6 out of these 7 proteins were consistent in direction and significantly associated with at least 1 dietary pattern in the Framingham Heart Study (HEI-2015: 2; AHEI-2010: 4; DASH: 6; aMED: 4; P value < 0.05/7 = 7.14 × 10-3).

Conclusions: A large-scale proteomic analysis identified plasma protein biomarkers that are representative of healthy dietary patterns among middle-aged and older US adult population. These protein biomarkers may be useful objective indicators of healthy dietary patterns.

Keywords: AHEI-2010; ARIC; DASH; Framingham Heart Study; HEI-2015; aMED; healthy dietary patterns; proteomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Atherosclerosis* / epidemiology
  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Proteins
  • Diet
  • Diet, Mediterranean*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proteomics


  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Proteins