By Dr. Mercola
How healthy is your diet? Have you ever wondered if recording what you eat on a day-to-day basis might be helpful in determining how your eating habits might be affecting your health, and maybe even your long-term well-being?
Well, now there's a test for that, or there will be within two years, according to a study published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.1 It's a urine test developed in collaboration by Aberystwyth University in Wales, Newcastle University in the U.K. and Imperial College London.
Scientists say the test could be used to "unlock the biological markers" to help improve your nutritional profile, using proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to analyze urine samples and detect the structure of the chemicals produced in your body as it processes food. Medscape says:
"The analysis can reveal whether we have eaten red meat or fish and indicate whether we are eating fruit and vegetables.
The test is sensitive enough to indicate some specific foods such as oranges, grapes and leafy green vegetables. It can also tell how much fat, sugar, fiber and protein a person has eaten."2
Interestingly, test results may be able to help people who are at risk of such diseases as type 2 diabetes, as well as those who struggle with obesity. The test is quick and convenient, lasting about five minutes.
One of the most important things this test does is circumvent the biggest hurdle in many nutrition and diet studies — that being the inability to correctly measure what people really eat — because about 60 percent of them misreport.3
How Healthy Is Your Diet?
In trials, the scientists were able to tell which diets were healthy and which weren't after 19 volunteers spent days eating a carefully controlled set of meals, a BBC article related. Four different diets, each with "varying degrees of healthiness," were administered to the subjects, whose urine was sampled morning, noon and night.
Meals in the "very unhealthy" category included things like sugary cereal for breakfast and fried sausages and waffles for lunch. People in the healthy group munched on things like boiled eggs, steamed salmon and grilled chicken with vegetables for dinner. According to Live Science:
"Each person in the study followed each of these four diets: They stayed at a lab, on four separate occasions, for three days at a time, and during each stay, the researchers collected the peoples' urine samples in the morning, afternoon and evening."4
Researchers involved in the study believe analyzing urine samples would be a more accurate way to determine if someone is following a healthy diet — better than a food diary ever could.
One reason is because food diaries are often either incomplete or grossly under-reported, said scientist and professor at Imperial, Gary Frost, Ph.D., who added:
"The bigger you are the more likely you are to under-report what you eat. People find it difficult to open up to what types of foods they eat at home, which is a major problem.
If someone is very big and their profile says they're eating lots of energy-dense foods like meat, then you can try to change that profile and then test them again later. It remains to be seen, but people might respond better to that and there is a desperate need for tools to help people change their diet."5
Analyzing the compounds in urine samples produced when the body breaks down food is done to help researchers "determine if a person has recently eaten a certain type of food, such as red meat, chicken, fish or fruits or vegetables."
Tests Can Help Individuals or Large Groups of People 'in the Real World'
Scientists' next steps will likely be targeted toward "refining the technology" by testing it on groups and communities, but in the real world rather than in a clinical lab. Additionally, they hope the test can be used to help people on weight loss programs, and even rehabilitate patients trying to get healthy after suffering a heart attack.
Frost says testing large numbers of people would create a profile of what someone — or an entire country — is eating. In the U.K., the hope is that the information they glean will help health authorities develop better public-health campaigns. Dr. Isabel Garcia-Perez, another researcher from Imperial, explained:
"This will eventually provide a tool for personalized dietary monitoring to help maintain a healthy lifestyle. We're not at the stage yet where the test can tell us a person ate 15 chips yesterday and two sausages, but it's on the way."6
Professor John Mathers, Ph.D., one of the study scientists from Newcastle University, said their research marked the first opportunity to gain an objective assessment of people's overall health "without all the hassles, biases and errors of recording what they've eaten." Dr. Des Walsh, from the UK Medical Research Council, explained:
"Though this research is still in its early stages, it's grappling with essential methods in food and diet studies where advances are really needed.
Measuring what we eat and drink more accurately will widen the benefits of nutrition research, developing better evidence-based interventions to improve an individual's health and reduce obesity."7
What Your Urine Color May Indicate
Scientists had already determined that urine, being a byproduct of blood filtration from your kidneys, was yellow due to a pigment called urochrome from the breakdown of hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells.
Pale yellow urine usually indicates your body is properly hydrated; if it’s clear, you may actually be drinking too much water.8 Bodybuilding.com notes:
“Although dehydration is a far greater concern than overhydration, some people actually drink far more water than they need to. Normal, healthy pee actually has a yellow color from a pigment called urochrome.
It's true that the darker that yellow becomes, the less hydrated your body is. However, drinking so much water that your pee is clear can actually cause an imbalance in your electrolyte levels.”9
When your urine is dark yellow and even orange tinged, it could be because you haven’t been drinking enough water. Then again, it could be because you’ve recently eaten carrots. If it’s fluorescent yellow, it may indicate you’ve been taking B vitamins.
If your urine color is pink or red, it could indicate blood (in which case you need to see your doctor), perhaps from strenuous exercise.
It could also be from a urinary tract infection, or UTI (which begs more oversight and perhaps a trip to your doctor), enlarged kidney stones or certain medications. Eating blackberries, beets or rhubarb can also turn urine pink.
Blue or green urine occurs due to a rare condition involving high calcium levels — or it could be the asparagus you just ate, which also gives urine a distinct odor, described as reminiscent of boiled eggs or cabbage, in some people. Medications you take may also turn your urine brown, dark yellow or dark pink.
The Sweet Smell of Urine and Other Interesting Aromas
Not just colors, but certain other urinary conditions may arise, such as perceptible sediment, which probably denotes a future flare of kidney stones.
Cloudy urine may be caused by a UTI, kidney or metabolic problem, or lymph fluid in the urine, aka chyluria. Other possibilities are phosphaturia (phosphate crystals) and a pituitary problem known as antidiuretic hormone (ADH).
Sweet-smelling urine may indicate uncontrolled diabetes. Some people have diabetes and don’t even realize it, but the smell of their urine may be an indicator if they knew what to “smell” for.
A fruity aroma is another way to describe it, as well as a “yeasty” odor. If you detect this smell in your urine, it would be wise to consult your doctor.
There’s actually a disorder known as “maple sugar urine disease,” or MSUD, a genetic metabolic disorder, evidenced by an inability to metabolize certain proteins and, of course, that unique fragrance. Redurine.com explains:
The inability to metabolize proteins can cause loss of appetite, which results in general weakness and other nutrient insufficiencies.
… Patients sometimes experience seizures and general fever-like symptoms like vomiting and nausea. Severe MSUD can damage the brain through severe physical stress from infections, fever or very poor diet.10
Because MSUD is passed down from parents who have it, their children should also be tested for the condition. Doctors typically use a plasma amino acid test or urine amino acid test for this purpose. Afterward, more testing is usually done after signs of ketosis and excess acid in blood (acidosis) is indicated.
It’s interesting that cancer has been detected by dogs who “smell out” the disease, sometimes from peoples’ urine, with 97 percent accuracy.11
How to Optimize Your Health by Paying Attention to Your Urine
You’ve heard since grade school to drink six to eight glasses of water a day. While this may not be a one-size-fits-all rule, it’s important to drink enough to lubricate your joints and help flush toxins from your system.
When you learn that 5 percent of your urine is made up of urea, uric acid, minerals, salts, enzymes and various substances that would cause problems if they stayed too long in your body, and that the other 95 percent is water, it makes sense as to why drinking adequate amounts of water is crucial to your health.
At the same time, as you drink more water, you’ll most likely feel the need to urinate more often. Don’t ignore it because you “don’t have time,” or some other excuse. You can bring on some very unpleasant symptoms, such as painful urination and even a UTI, if you make a habit of it. When you have to go, go. Also, when your child says he or she has to go, either let them or take them. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
As you get older, you may not experience thirst in a way that will urge you to drink as much pure, fresh water as your body needs. But whether you’re young or older, paying attention to the amounts of water you drink throughout the day — as well as to the color and odor of your urine — may be a simple way to optimize your health.