| Food Composition Data: A User's Perspective (1987) |
|The uses of food composition data|
|Food composition -a key to dietary appraisal and improvement in the United States|
Food composition data needs
Human Nutrition Requirements Research
USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), in its five Human Nutrition Research Centers, helps to define the amounts of nutrients and other dietary substances that promote optimum growth, development, and nutritional health. ARS scientists also study factors affecting the absorption of nutrients in the body. These studies, of course, require a precise understanding of the nutrient content of the diet. Many studies analyse diets for nutrient content; others calculate the nutrient content of diets using food composition tables. The individual centres focus on different research areas. For example, the centre at Tufts University in Boston studies the nutrition factors affecting the aging process, and the one in Houston at the Baylor College of Medicine studies the nutrition of infants and children. One of the research areas of the Human Nutrition Research Center at Beltsville, Maryland? is the development of methods for determining the composition of foods (see chap. 18).
Additional research on human nutrition requirements and the nutrient content of foods and diets is conducted at 58 state agricultural experiment stations. The Cooperative State Research Service serves as a link with the state system. Major research on food components as they relate to various diseases is conducted in another federal agency, the National Institute of Health (NIH), and by means of grants from NIH. While some of these studies include analyses of foods, others use USDA's standard reference tables adapted and extended to meet their own special needs.
Meat and Poultry Products Regulations
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) safeguards the wholesomeness and nutritional quality of meat, poultry, and their products through inspection and analyses. This agency establishes standards, approves labels for meat and poultry products, and monitors the industry for compliance with inspection laws. As well as analysing the nutritional value of meat and poultry products, both domestic and imported, and determining the presence of food additives, it also assesses the nutritional equivalency of imitation and traditional foods and the effects of processing procedures on nutritional quality. For these varied purposes, FSIS conducts laboratory analyses and uses standard reference tables. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Department of Health and Human Services performs similar regulatory functions for foods other than meat and poultry.
Food Assistance Programmes
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) operates 10 major food assistance programmes. Through these programmes, populations at nutritional risk receive food or resources with which to obtain food. Some, such as the Food Stamp Program, provide assistance to the low-income population. Others are designed to help meet the nutritional needs of particular groups, such as children in school and in child care; pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and young children (WIC); and elderly persons. Studies of the effects of programmes on the diets of participants require food composition data, as does the development of standards for programme benefits and compliance.
The legal standard for benefits from the Food Stamp Program is the cost of foods in the thrifty food plan - the least costly of four food plans for nutritious diets developed and costed monthly by HNIS . These food plans reflect food consumption and nutrient levels as reported in the Nationwide Food Consumption Surveys (NFCS), changed only as necessary to meet nutritional goals for 17 food substances. The quantities of foods in the food plans are specified with the assistance of a computerized mathematical model.
Meal patterns for the school lunch and breakfast programmes are designed with the nutrient content of foods they contain as a major consideration. An alternative to using meal patterns as the basis for compliance in the school lunch programme is being field-tested; this involves instead the use of a nutrient standard for the lunch. HNIS has co-operated with FNS in developing software and special data bases for this test. Another programme, WIC, distributes vouchers for foods with nutrient content that will supplement the diets of participants.