Biomarkers exist for intake of specific nutrients, yet biomarkers of a complex diet pattern are needed to characterize the biological pathways influenced by food intake and to gain an understanding of the mechanisms whereby healthy diets protect against diseases.  Du and colleagues conducted a study to determine if protein biomarkers could be developed that are capable of distinguishing between dietary patterns and their results 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 participating in the ARIC study.  Aptamer-based proteomics analyses were used to identify proteins and multivariable linear regressions were used to determine the associations between 4955 proteins and dietary patterns.  The healthy eating indices used included the Healthy Eating Index 2015, Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010, Dash Diet, and the alternate 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 being associated with the Dash Diet (254) and the Healthy Eating Index 2015 (137).  Twenty proteins were associated with all four patterns, whereas 148 proteins were associated with only one dietary pattern.  The diet related proteins were enriched in five unique biological pathways.  Six of the seven proteins available in the Framingham Heart Study showed a consistent direction and was significantly associated with at least one of the dietary patterns in that study.  The authors concluded the proteins identified through these proteomic analyses may be useful indicators of healthy dietary patterns.


Du S, Chen J, Kim H, Walker ME, Lichtenstein AH, Chatterjee N, Ganz P, et al.  Plasma protein biomarkers of healthy dietary patterns:  Results from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study and the Framingham Heart Study.  Journal of Nutrition, Volume 153, Issue 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) alternate Mediterranean Diet (aMED). Horizontal dashed line indicates Bonferroni-corrected threshold for statistical significance (P < 0.05/4955 = 1.0 × 10−5). Multivariable linear regression models examined the association between individual proteins and 4 healthy dietary patterns, adjusting for age, sex, race-center, education level, alcohol drinking status, cigarette smoking status, physical activity score, BMI, diabetes status, and estimated glomerular filtration rate. Β-Coefficients represent the difference in proteins per 1 SD higher in the respective dietary pattern score.