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Dark Matter of Nutrition. Do we know which diet is best for us?

For hundreds of years, the significant impact of diet on our health has been extensively studied. This revealed how nutrients and other dietary compounds play crucial roles in human health.

Food is anything consumed to provide nutritional support. It serves purposes such as energy provision, tissue building and repair, and the regulation of bodily processes. At its core, food consists of molecules that interact with the body's molecules, shaping how the body functions.

Food influences our health through various molecular mechanisms. Some molecules are directly absorbed for metabolic activities like providing energy, while others, such as polyphenols, regulate metabolism. Many molecules feed the bacteria in our gut, transforming these compounds into other substances that are further changed before being absorbed by the body.

Our food provides our bodies with the necessary "information" and materials to function optimally. Without the correct information, our metabolic processes can suffer, leading to a decline in health.

Overconsumption of food or consuming the wrong types of food can result in issues such as obesity, malnutrition, and the development of diseases like arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.

Recent advancements in understanding how diet influences health have expanded beyond the typical 150 key nutritional components catalogued in national databases. These components include calories, sugar, fat, vitamins, and others.

However, this knowledge covers only a fraction of the more than 26,000 distinct biochemicals found in our food. For example, garlic contains over 2,306 distinct chemical components, many of which have documented health effects.

This immense chemical diversity in our foods can be likened to the ‘dark matter’ of nutrition, as most of these chemicals are not fully recognized in studies or widely known to the public.

A recent study found that red meat consumption delivers nutrients transformed by gut bacteria into a compound called TMA. The liver converts TMA into TMAO, increasing heart disease risk. Garlic, olive oil, and red wine reduce TMAO by blocking TMA production. Current protocols tracked only one of the six compounds involved in the process.

This raises questions about how heavily engineered ultra-processed foods consider the 'dark matter' of nutrition, balance, and molecular interactions and their long-term health effects. Without fully understanding this 'dark matter,' consuming whole and minimally processed foods becomes a necessity, not a luxury, if we wish to live longer and healthier lives.



Albert-László Barabási -

FOODB Database -


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