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McBurney: ‘Nutrition status measurements will enter the era of home pregnancy testing’

We should ‘shift from measuring food intake to measuring nutritional status,’ argues expert

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By Elaine Watson+

Last updated on 19-May-2017 at 17:08 GMT2017-05-19T17:08:29Z

Image © iStock / NatchaS
Image © iStock / NatchaS

It is time to change the nutrition dialogue from an obsession about what foods we put into our body to objective measures of nutritional status,” according to one nutrition thought leader.

In a white paper  issued ahead of the future food-tech conference  in New York on June 7-8, Michael McBurney, PhD, FACN, argues that adhering to healthy eating advice is important, but the only way to be sure that your body is actually getting what it needs is to test and find out.

Physicians do not prescribe drugs based on records of dietary intake and physical activity coupled with statistics on the probability of a person of a certain age and sex being hyperlipidemic,” observed Dr McBurney, who is adjunct professor in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, and VP science, communications and advocacy at DSM Nutritional Products.

“Blood lipids are measured and then drugs are prescribed, if needed. Why should nutrition guidance be any different?  It is time to change the nutrition dialogue from an obsession about what we put into our body to objective measures of nutritional status.”

New technologies, once approved by the FDA, will make it possible for individuals to measure their own status conveniently, inexpensively from a drop of blood (finger stick). In essence, nutrition status measurements will enter the era of home pregnancy testing."

‘Nutrition status measurements will enter the era of home pregnancy testing’

When it comes to our health, we are already monitoring our weight at home, while blood lipid and blood glucose tests are an increasingly routine part of healthcare assessments, said Dr McBurney.

So as healthcare costs continue to rise, and interest in personalized nutrition grows, why not take this to the next level and test for a wider variety of nutrients, now that we have tools to democratize the data collection and analysis process (eg. services such as ) and enable people to check their broader nutritional status in their own homes or with a health professional, he argued.

“By measuring blood levels of vitamins and EPA+DHA, i.e. by knowing status, one can be guided to make data-driven dietary changes… To feed 8.3bn people efficiently, it is time to invest in promising innovative technologies to assess nutrient, i.e. vitamin, mineral, EPA+DHA, lutein and zeaxanthin, status.”

In the US, claims Dr McBurney:

  • 95%+ of Americans have suboptimal blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, for cardiovascular health.
  • 80%+ of Americans are not consuming recommended amounts of vitamin E.
  • 64% of Americans have serum vitamin D concentrations below 75 nmol/L recommended by the International Osteoporosis Foundation.   

‘We just need to know if our nutritional status is adequate’

But is McBurney – who works for a leading supplier of vitamins and other nutritional ingredients - just giving us a license to ignore MyPlate, eat a lousy diet, test our blood for nutrient deficiencies and pop pills instead of changing our lifestyles?

Of course not, he told FoodNavigator-USA: “MyPlate and other programs are appropriate and should be continued to educate and encourage appropriate dietary patterns.”

Assessing micronutrients status is just about taking control and using a personalized data-driven approach, he said: “One of the drivers of poor health is an inadequate intake of essential nutrients [yet] much of our food preoccupation is driven by concerns about … the benefits of genetic manipulation, chemical contaminants, locally grown, and trust. In reality, we just need to know if our nutritional status is adequate.”

Public data on whether Americans are getting enough vitamin D or E based on population-representative dietary surveys that estimate nutrient intakes can be “fraught with inaccuracies," and only provide a generic picture of intakes, claimed McBurney. But we have the tools at our disposal to be far more targeted: “We are most concerned about the people at greatest risk of deficiency or over-consumption.”

‘Everybody who has their nutritional status measured, and explained to them, has the potential to benefit’

He added: “companies such as  can quantitatively measure vitamin D status from a single drop of blood in 10 minutes.

The same can be done with blood ferritin, B12, or vitamin A. Think about having four nutrients assessed and learning that only nutrient, e.g. iron, was in an insufficient range (i.e. anemic) and being assured that one’s vitamin D status was sufficient. By knowing one’s nutritional status, it is possible to make dietary changes, or stay the course.

“Everybody who has their nutritional status measured, and explained to them, has the potential to benefit. They will learn they are either: 1) deficient 2) insufficient, 3) sufficient or 4) excessively high. If they are sufficient, they can have peace of mind that they should continue as they are doing. For the other two, they may need to make dietary changes.”

‘It is no longer necessary to associate a nutrient with a predominant food or food group’

 Will everyone act on this information? “Probably not,” he acknowledged, but we also know that the more personal data is, the more likely we are to act on it.

 “Individuals can find relief from nutrient-based food concerns. Personal beliefs can be accommodated. The person with iron anemia can be presented with options: eat more red meat, iron-rich plant foods, and/or use an iron supplement. The choice is personal and can be devoid of food bias. A follow-up test will confirm if iron status was repleted or not.”

He also gives a personal example: “My wife and I eat salmon three to four times per week. We are exceeding the ‘at least two servings per week’ recommendations of the American Heart Association. Nevertheless, upon assessment, our omega-3 index was far below the 8% recommended for cardioprotection. Our options were to eat more fatty fish or use a fish oil supplement.

“It is no longer necessary to associate a nutrient with a predominant food or food group. Milk isn’t the primary dietary source of vitamin D and calcium. Vegans have an increasing number of nonmeat food options with iron and vitamin B12.”

He added: “Nutrition policy should shift from measuring food intake to measuring nutritional status. By knowing blood levels of vital nutrients, individuals can find dietary solutions to maintain their health.”

Read Dr McBurney’s whitepaper HERE.

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