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Foodomics: The science of food

The saying ‘you are what you eat’ is the idea that the food you put in your body today impacts your health tomorrow.

The food we eat directly impacts our health and the likelihood of developing certain diseases. For example, excess food can result in obesity which has several comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Additionally, individuals can also have predisposed digestive disorders, such as lactose intolerance, which prevents them from eating certain foods.

In the past decade, society has become more engaged with their health and general fitness. Simultaneously, individuals have become more aware of the growing impact of global climate change and the need for sustainable food production. One of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century is our ability to sustainably feed 9-10 billion people by 2050, while reducing environmental impact (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss).

A recently emerging discipline, known as foodomics, aims to answer new social demands about health and safety. It is intertwined with food sustainability and greenness. In this blog, we will explore foodomics and the benefits of this discipline for optimising human health and well-being.

What is foodomics?

Foodomics attempts to provide a global vision on the relationship between food and health through the use of -omics technologies. It covers different fields of research including food science and associated sustainability. It was first defined by Alejandro Cifuentes in 2009 as “a discipline that studies the food and nutrition domains through the application and integration of advanced omics technologies to improve consumer’s well-being, health, and knowledge.”

The discipline requires the collection and integration from several working areas, where food, advanced analytics techniques and bioinformatics all play a role. Unlike more traditional genomics approaches that explore the interaction between genes and diet, foodomics takes a wider view. It enables a more holistic evaluation of the health benefits of different food ingredients by integrating findings from all relevant methodologies – mainly genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics. Such comprehensive data, provides insight into the therapeutic effects of functional foods and food supplements. It aims to improve our understanding of how food can promote health, prevent diseases or increase individual performances. It is necessary to not only identify potential bioactive molecules, but to also understand the mechanisms through which these molecules induce changes at different levels (cell, tissue and organ) and demonstrate their efficacy.

Applications of foodomics

Human health

Nutrition is considered one of the most important factors affecting health. Diet, physical inactivity and use of tobacco and excess alcohol are the main factors responsible for noncommunicable diseases. These diseases account for almost 70% of all deaths worldwide and pose a huge socioeconomic burden. Foodomics can help decipher how food interacts with genes and subsequently proteins and metabolites. Researchers could then use this information to identify biomarkers to monitor dietary interventions and design novel strategies to manipulate cell functioning through diet. It could also help with the development of personalised interventions by exploring why different individuals respond differently to food. Alternatively, foodomics can be relevant for the development of ‘nutraceuticals’ and ‘functional foods’ by identifying and characterising bioactive compounds.

Most notably, Valdés et al applied foodomics to explore the effect of polyphenols extracted from rosemary on colon cancer cells. They found, using H-29 colon cells, that rosemary extract inhibited cell proliferation. Elsewhere, several studies have explored the incorporation of microalgal biomass into foods to improve nutritional, physicochemical and sensorial attributes. This is a great strategy to enrich our diet with many nutrients and health-beneficial components. Additionally, findings have supported the possible use of red microalgae as novel nutraceuticals due to their hypocholesterolaemic effects.

Food safety and quality

Foodomics also plays a critical role in assessing the quality and safety of food through the identification of potentially hazardous compounds. This is particularly important for food allergies, which represent a major public health burden. Food allergies are often the result of protein components and their degradation products. Some of the most important sources of allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. Mass spectrometry-based proteomics can effectively detect food allergens that are usually overlooked by traditional nucleic acid detection or ELISA-based antigen-antibody reactions.

Food contamination during production, processing, transport and storage represents an issue of great economic and public health importance. In order to ensure food safety and prevent the outbreak of foodborne diseases, foodomics can help detect pathogens and/or their toxic metabolites. For example, a study used mass spectrometry with chromatography to identify the metabolic fingerprint of juice contaminants.

Unravelling complex matrices

Food consumption involves the ingesting of complex matrices where bioactive molecules are found together with other molecules. These molecules can act synergistically or antagonistically. Unravelling the impact of food matrices is an emerging topic. The complexity of food matrices has implications for their breakdown and digestion. Techniques to study food bio-accessibility and models simulating food digestion and absorption are available. Researchers have used foodomics to understand digestion of starch, proteins from cheese or to study food-protein digestion and derived functional and active peptides. Understanding the biotransformed fraction of the food metabolome is important to better understand how diet affects human health.

Gut microbiota

Multicellular organisms do not exist as independent entities. Instead, they are host to millions of commensals, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms. This complex ecosystem interacts with diet and the host, playing a fundamental role in essential physiological processes such as immunity and metabolism. Rapid and short-term alterations of gut microbiota are seen upon dietary changes, and long-term dietary modifications can produce even more profound effects. There is growing evidence demonstrating the role of foodomics in studying changes induced at the molecular level by diet and microbiota. This provides opportunities for the improvement of health through diet manipulation.

For example, mice fed on high-salt diets undergo changes in microbiota richness and diversity. In addition, their protein profiles also show dynamic changes. Moreover, metabolome modifications induced by coffee and cocoa have been observed, highlighting potential activity to be monitored. Omics approaches are particularly important in studying the relationship between gut microbiota and irritable bowel syndrome. Here, they could help understand the involved metabolic pathways and help to discriminate healthy and diseased individuals.


Food is the external environmental stimulus that correlates with people in their lifetime. It is closely related to the occurrence and development of various diseases, including diabetes and cancer. There is an increasing demand for molecules, foods and diets that can promote or restore health. Increasing evidence is emerging showing the possibility of producing functional foods and nutraceuticals from plants (or their by-products) and algae. Nonetheless, a key challenge will be getting a deeper understanding of how diet, microbiota and interindividual variability can impact phenotypic changes in healthy and diseased individuals. Understanding the differential response between these groups, will help the development of personalised therapeutic interventions through the tailored manipulation of diet.

Image credit: By pch.vector –

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Foodomics / Health / Microbiome