Metagenomic estimation of dietary intake from human stool

February 7, 2024


Dietary intake is tightly coupled to gut microbiota composition, human metabolism, and to the incidence of virtually all major chronic diseases. Dietary and nutrient intake are usually quantified using dietary questionnaires, which tend to focus on broad food categories, suffer from self-reporting biases, and require strong compliance from study participants. Here, we present MEDI (Metagenomic Estimation of Dietary Intake): a method for quantifying dietary intake using food-derived DNA in stool metagenomes. We show that food items can be accurately detected in metagenomic shotgun sequencing data, even when present at low abundances (>10 reads). Furthermore, we show how dietary intake, in terms of DNA abundance from specific organisms, can be converted into a detailed metabolic representation of nutrient intake. MEDI could identify the onset of solid food consumption in infants and it accurately predicted food questionnaire responses in an adult population. Additionally, we were able to identify specific dietary features associated with metabolic syndrome in a large clinical cohort, providing a proof-of-concept for detailed quantification of individual-specific dietary patterns without the need for questionnaires.