A new framework for human nutrition may be the latest weapon in the war against obesity.
The University of Sydney’s researchers, David Raubenheimer and Stephen Simpson, called 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.
It is hoped this new model will assist health professionals, dietitians and researchers to better understand and manage the complexities of obesity.
“Our framework throws down the gauntlet to the whole field of human nutrition. 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,” said Simpson.
Human nutrition science has historically focused on a single-nutrient approach, which is predicated on a lack of resources or micronutrient deficiency. For instance, the absence of vitamin C in human diets is a known cause of scurvy.
But this traditional approach is no longer useful in the face of modern nutrition-related diseases, the authors argued, which are driven by an overabundance of food, an evolved fondness for foods containing particular blends of nutrients, and savvy marketing by the packaged food industry which exploits these preferences.
“Our new approach provides a unique method to unify observations from many fields and better understand how nutrients, foods and diets interact to affect health and disease in humans,” said Raubenheimer.
He added, “The ‘nutritional geometry’ framework enables us to plot foods, meals, diets and dietary patterns together based on their nutrient composition and this helps researchers to observe otherwise overlooked patterns in the links between certain diets, health and disease.”
To illustrate the power of the approach, the researchers 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 showed that protein was the strongest driver influencing diet, regulating the intake of fat and carbohydrate.
The study appears in the journal Annual Review of Nutrition.