Scientists Urge A Move Away From ‘Single-Nutrient Approach’

Instead of focusing on any one nutrient in isolation, scientists are suggesting nutritional geometry, which considers how mixtures of nutrients and other dietary components influence health and disease.

AsianScientist (Aug. 10, 2016) – Existing models for measuring health impacts of the human diet are limiting our capacity to solve obesity and its related health problems, according to research published in the Annual Review of Nutrition.

Human nutrition science has historically focused on a single-nutrient approach, such as the role of vitamin C in human diets and how its deficiency leads to scurvy. But this traditional approach is no longer useful in the face of modern nutrition-related diseases, argues Professors David Raubenheimer and Stephen Simpson from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Center in Australia.

Raubenheimer and Simpson are calling for a radical rethinking of human nutrition science through a new framework called ‘nutritional geometry’—the culmination of more than 20 years of research in the field. Nutritional geometry considers how mixtures of nutrients and other dietary components influence health and disease, rather than focusing on any one nutrient in isolation.

To illustrate the power of the approach, Raubenheimer and Simpson plotted data for the composition of 116 diets, compiled from previous published studies examining macronutrient ratios (carbohydrate, fats and protein) and energy intake in humans.

Their model shows that protein was the strongest driver influencing diet, regulating the intake of fat and carbohydrate. This finding is consistent with the previously observed ‘protein leverage’ phenomenon, in which the strong human appetite for protein leverages the intake of fats, carbohydrates and total energy.

Thus, the new model enables complex problems like obesity to be viewed from a variety of perspectives: from the impact of nutrients on metabolism and the health of individuals, through to the sustainability of global food systems.

“Our framework throws down the gauntlet to the whole field of human nutrition,” said Simpson. “It shows that the prevailing focus on single nutrients is not able to help us understand complex chronic diseases, and that an approach based on nutrient balance can help solve the problem.”

The article can be found at: Raubenheimer & Simpson (2016) Nutritional Ecology and Human Health.


Source: University of Sydney; Photo: Shutterstock.
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