How healthy is your diet? The most specific answer you could probably muster might be something like "pretty healthy" or "not really that healthy."
But now, a new urine test provides a more specific and reliable answer to that question, according to a small new study.
The test detects and measures the levels of certain biological markers that are created when foods such as meat, fruit and vegetables are broken down by the body after a person eats them, the researchers found. [7 Foods You Can Overdose On]
These markers can more objectively indicate whether a person eats a healthy diet — for example, one that is rich in fruits and vegetables, said lead study author Isabel Garcia-Perez, a research associate in the Imperial College London Department of Medicine. The test can be run in 5 minutes, according to the study.
In the study, the researchers asked 19 people to follow four different diets that ranged from very healthy (high in fruits and vegetables) to quite unhealthy (with lots of high-fat foods and low in fruits and vegetables). Each person in the study followed each of these four diets: They stayed at a lab, on four separate occasions, for three days at a time, and during each stay, the researchers collected the people's urine samples in the morning, afternoon and evening.
Then, the researchers analyzed the urine samples for the various chemical compounds that are produced when the body breaks down food. Some of these compounds indicate that a person has recently eaten a certain type of food, such as red meat, chicken, fish, or fruits or vegetables. Other compounds provide an even more detailed look at a person's diet by indicating that he or she has recently consumed specific foods, such as grapes, citrus fruits or leafy green vegetables, according to the study, published today (Jan. 12) in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.
Based on the results of their tests, the researchers created a model profile of urine compounds that indicates that a person is eating a healthy diet that's rich in fruits and vegetables. [Pee a Rainbow: Scientist Snaps Shot of Colorful Urine]
This model urine profile can be compared with any person's urine profile, to provide an instant indicator of how healthy the person's diet is, the researchers said.
In their study, the researchers also tested the accuracy of the new test by looking at urine samples and dietary information from 225 people in the U.K. and 66 people in Denmark from a previous study. The researchers were able to accurately predict these people's diets based on just their urine samples, according to the findings.
The new test could be used in research that looks at people's dietary habits, the researchers said. Typically, the information on people's diets that is used in studies is self-reported. In contrast, the new test provides information that is more objective and accurate, the researchers said.
However, the work on the test is still in its initial stages, and it is not commercially available yet, Garcia-Perez said. The researchers are working on developing the test further, she told Live Science. Once the test is developed further, it could also be used one day in weight-loss programs to monitor whether people are following their diets, Garcia-Perez said.
Originally published on Live Science.