If you eat whole grains, vegetables and dark chocolate, you most likely belong to the most economically prosperous segment of society. If, on the other hand, your diet is low in protein, salty, filled with additives and there are longer breaks between your meals, you probably belong to the poorest segment.
For the first time, researchers at the University of Copenhagen's Department of Food Science have observed that the diets of the rich and poor leave different fingerprints on metabolism evidenced in urine. This is the result of a comprehensive analysis of 2700 urine samples from 1300 people in five European countries.
"The most striking thing is that across gender, ethnicity and nationality, we were able to discern between those who earn more and those who earn less - from their urine," says Alessia Trimigno, a Postdoc at the Department of Food Science, and lead author of the study.
A golden insight into human health
Your urine changes promptly, depending on what you eat and your overall health. All body fluids contain thousands of so-called metabolites detectible using advanced analytical technologies, which are residues of the body's metabolism. Unlike blood which is slower to respond to changes in the body, urine provides a "real time" status of the body disposables.
Metabolites reveal much about diet, current health and a person's predisposition to various diseases. Despite the promise, researchers still only know about one percent of the roughly one million different metabolites.
"We know that metabolites can tell us a great deal more about human health and wellbeing than genes. However, we need more knowledge about how to decode these metabolites. This study marks an important step forward," according to Associate Professor Bekzod Khakimov of the Department of Food Science.
Developing affordable and nutritious food
The study is part of a major European research project, headed by Professor Søren Balling Engelsen from the University of Copenhagen side, that has identified nutritional deficiencies in people living in risk-of-poverty, so as to develop new, low-cost foods with the right nutritional composition for this group.
Within this context, Danish researchers skilled at extracting useful information from large chemical data sets (chemometrics), have been responsible for analysing urine samples from Finland, the UK, Italy, Serbia and Lithuania. They have done so using a new method, called Signature Mapping (SigMa), for metabolomics data processing that they invented and have had the opportunity to test over the course of the project.
CHANCE, an interdisciplinary European project has 17 partners from nine different countries, including ten universities and five food companies.