Nutrition Research Services

The NIH Clinical Center provides specialized nutrition research services for the Metabolic Clinical Research Unit (MCRU).

An important part of understanding weight regulation is focused on studying how much and what people eat. Weight gain occurs when the amount of energy we take in from our food is greater than the energy our bodies use over time. The food and drink that we consume is converted by our bodies into energy that is needed for bodily processes or for physical activity. Food consumed that is not needed to meet energy needs is stored as fat. As we do things throughout the day, we use this energy. Some activities, like breathing and sleeping, use very little energy. Other activities, like walking or running, use more energy.

Photo of the prepared meals from the Metabolic Research Kitchen

Research Techniques

  • The Metabolic Research Kitchen - In some of the research studies conducted in the Metabolic Clinical Research Unit, our metabolic research kitchen staff prepares controlled meals for study participants. Meals may be controlled for energy, nutrients or specific timing according to protocol needs.
  • Food Preference and Eating Behavior Studies - The MCRU uses a variety of methods to study what, when, and how much people choose to consume. We want to better understand what influences these decisions. Subjects may be asked to fill out various questionnaires about their eating habits. They also may participate in studies where they actually choose what, when, and how much they eat in a test situation. An example would be a food array, where subjects are presented with a wide variety of foods and choose which foods and how much they eat.
  • Computerized Vending Machines - The MCRU has three specialized vending machines. These machines can be stocked with a wide range of foods such as juices, milk, fruits, vegetables, sandwiches, potato chips, yogurt, various desserts, and other choices. These vending machines are useful when studies require ad libitum but controlled access to food see what people choose to eat.
  • Dietary Assessment – Estimation of dietary intake in subjects is used to quantify typical or acute intake of specific nutrients. Food records, recalls, and questionnaires can be used to assess dietary intake of energy, macronutrients, calcium, fatty acids, isoflavones and other nutrients.
  • Body Composition measures - Changes in body composition can be related to disease progression, treatment course, or as a predictor of disease outcome. The nutrition research team offers services such as bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) and circumference and skinfold measurements.