Aberystwyth and Newcastle unis develop food 'fingerprints' test
University scientists aim to discover what someone has eaten by developing a "dipstick test" for urine.
Aberystwyth and Newcastle researchers hope the test, dubbed a "lie diet-tector," will become a vital tool for identifying the causes of disease.
It can work out what food, and how much, has been eaten in previous days.
Measuring chemical "fingerprints" known as metabolites will even show if someone has eaten red, white or processed meat, they say.
Researchers want to expand the list of metabolites - the chemical fingerprints unique to each foodstuff - which can be identified.
The metabolites have already been identified for foods considered healthy, such as raspberries, salmon, broccoli and orange juice.
A spokesman for Aberystwyth University said: "What we eat has a big impact on our health but it is very difficult to measure exactly what, and how much, people eat in everyday life - and people find it difficult to record honestly.
"Measuring what people eat can help prevent illness by showing definite links between particular kinds, and amounts, of foods and specific diseases.
"By testing urine for the chemical "fingerprints" of different foods, the scientists' recent research demonstrated that they could determine whether individuals are eating healthy diets or not."
Professor John Draper heads the team at Aberystwyth Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, where scientists are working on developing a simple test to identify metabolites.
He said: "This kind of test has enormous potential as a weapon against many chronic diseases. It will help doctors, nurses, dieticians and nutritionists to work out what their patients have been eating."
Professor John Mathers, who heads the team at Newcastle University's Human Nutrition Research Centre said: "In the longer run, this kind of test will help to uncover new links between eating patterns and health.
"As our knowledge about metabolite markers of other foods grows, we will be able to add these to our test and it should mean that researchers will be able to say for certain which foods help protect against specific diseases and which we should encourage to promote better health."
Ultimately, the researchers hope to refine their advances to a sensor which can be dipped into a urine sample to provide a read-out of the main foods that the person has eaten.