Uncovering the nutritional landscape of food

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Abstract

© 2015 Kim et al. Recent progresses in data-driven analysis methods, including network-based approaches, are revolutionizing many classical disciplines. These techniques can also be applied to food and nutrition, which must be studied to design healthy diets. Using nutritional information from over 1,000 raw foods, we systematically evaluated the nutrient composition of each food in regards to satisfying daily nutritional requirements. The nutrient balance of a food was quantified and termed nutritional fitness; this measure was based on the food's frequency of occurrence in nutritionally adequate food combinations. Nutritional fitness offers a way to prioritize recommendable foods within a global network of foods, in which foods are connected based on the similarities of their nutrient compositions. We identified a number of key nutrients, such as choline and α-linolenic acid, whose levels in foods can critically affect the nutritional fitness of the foods. Analogously, pairs of nutrients can have the same effect. In fact, two nutrients can synergistically affect the nutritional fitness, although the individual nutrients alone may not have an impact. This result, involving the tendency among nutrients to exhibit correlations in their abundances across foods, implies a hidden layer of complexity when exploring for foods whose balance of nutrients within pairs holistically helps meet nutritional requirements. Interestingly, foods with high nutritional fitness successfully maintain this nutrient balance. This effect expands our scope to a diverse repertoire of nutrient-nutrient correlations, which are integrated under a common network framework that yields unexpected yet coherent associations between nutrients. Our nutrientprofiling approach combined with a network-based analysis provides a more unbiased, global view of the relationships between foods and nutrients, and can be extended towards nutritional policies, food marketing, and personalized nutrition.

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Kim, S., Sung, J., Foo, M., Jin, Y. S., & Kim, P. J. (2015). Uncovering the nutritional landscape of food. PLoS ONE, 10(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0118697

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