|Food Composition Data: A User's Perspective (UNU, 1987, 223 pages)|
|The uses of food composition data|
|Need for a standardized nutrient data base in epidemiologic studies|
The current concern in the area of nutrition, diet, and chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and cancer has stimulated an interest in detailed chemical data on foods, and subsequently called attention to some major deficiencies in the nutrient data bases available to support a variety of research activities in this field. This has become especially evident in epidemiologic studies charting the dietary differences between various populations which have markedly different incidences of chronic diseases thought to be associated with diet. Such studies have been able to show international differences in diet by broad, nutrient-food categorizations, but they are limited in assessing dietary risks because of a dearth of detailed information on the nutrient content of many of the foods consumed.
Current diet and disease studies require data on the human requirements or allowances for essential nutrients and quantified data on the ability of the food supply to provide these nutrients. In addition, other components of foodstuffs, including contaminants, intrinsic and extrinsic toxicants, and non-nutritive chemicals, should be identified and quantified to elucidate possible etiological relationships between diet and major public health problems.
Ideally diet and disease studies should take into account the synergism and inhibitory factors of nutrients with each other and with other environmental factors. Factors relating to bioavailability could be calculated and mathematical algorithms developed to adjust intake for other conversion factors related to gut metabolism. For example, the conversion factors for enhanced absorption of non-haem iron in the presence of ascorbic acid can be stored as part of the data system.
At present, no food composition data system exists that provides complete and systemic nutrient and non-nutrient information on food composition. Many foods commonly included in research studies have not been assayed. There are no values for some nutrients in some foods, and in other cases the existing food composition analyses are inadequate. Much of the problem stems from the complex and dynamic nature of human food supplies and the lack of reliable analytical chemical techniques for determining food composition for some food constituents.