| Food Composition Data: A User's Perspective (1987) |
|International food composition data|
|The status of food composition data in Asia|
Generation of food composition data
The pace of development of food composition analysis differs for each country within a subregion, as it does between the subregions themselves. Generally speaking, however, South Asia appears to be in a more initial stage of development and East Asia at a more advanced stage, with the South-East Asia subregion Iying somewhere between. Several countries in East Asia, for example, have within the last few years published revisions of their national food composition tables, incorporating many new foods as well as analysing more nutrients such as amino acids and fatty acids. None the less, even in this subregion there remains a large deficiency in the number of nutrients analysed. Some vitamins, fatty acids and cholesterol, dietary fibre, and trace minerals are examples of nutrients that remain to be analysed in many countries. Indeed, Nepal and Sri Lanka in South Asia are obliged to use food composition tables from India, since their own national tables are extremely limited.
For each country in the region to develop its own food composition tables, revisions must be made in the method of generating data. Currently, methods of food analysis are not uniform and there is a general lack of standardization and quality control. Also, the systems or formats for data presentation are dissimilar, and this can affect the system of data generation. The data contained in any food composition data table have to be unquestionably reliable in terms of accuracy, not only for national domestic use, but also for use outside the country. This goal - a reliable and readily understandable food composition table - is within the mandate of ASIAFOODS and INFOODS.
The food-analysis methodologies that will be used by ASIAFOODS member laboratories can be developed and refined on a regional or subregional basis. This will provide for both regional standardization and significant savings, since each country will not need to develop, test, and refine each particular analytical methodology on its own.
Nutrients will be determined using the same methodology and analysing the same specific constituent, and they will be measured in the same units. Consequently, all food data generated within the ASIAFOODS region will be compatible and interchangeable; and food composition data generators, compilers, and users will have made the first major step towards international collaboration.
For the major of the countries in ASIAFOODS, food composition data are made available through published food composition tables which have been produced within the country. These national tables are then augmented by regional ones, which have been produced either by international agencies or the governments of developed countries. A few of the countries in ASIAFOODS must rely solely upon these foreign data tables, somehow cobbled together so as to satisfy the requirements of users within that country.
Even for those countries that have the capacity to produce their own national food tables, there are numerous problems associated with these tables as they currently exist - principally those of revising, updating, and formating data, and the lack of a standard system for presenting data. The cost and effort involved in editing and publishing a national food composition table rules out the possibility of publishing frequent revisions. This means that the tables are unable to reflect technological advances in food composition analysis or the additional data available through the analysis of new foods.
The recent striking advances made in nutrient analysis, i.e. vitamin A determination with highperformance liquid chromatography, casts doubt on much of the published food composition data as regards vitamin A. Furthermore, since the cost of updating current food composition tables can only be justified every 10 to 20 years or so, the time lag between the development of new analytical techniques and the publication of values for nutrients often undermines users' confidence in the tables. In countries where multiple food tables are in use, nutrient values for the same food often differ, again undermining the user's confidence in all the tables involved.
Currently, food composition tables must present all available food composition data that might be required by the broadest existing user group. The ease and cost of publication and distribution of tables could be improved if it were possible better to determine the needs of more specific user groups and to tailor more specialized tables to meet the demands of those groups only.
Countries that publish food composition tables (and here it should be noted that not all countries publish those data in tabular format) often design them according to fairly arbitrary national criteria. This means that the tables from different countries can be slightly or enormously different, in terms of the structural and visual organization and presentation of their food composition data. Beyond this, the data can differ in other technical ways which can make two tables completely incompatible or compatible only through cumbersome calculations. The frustration of this situation for those countries that must rely on a package of foreign food composition tables for national use does not need to be elaborated upon.
With data generation standardized, data compilation can also move ahead to the point where any food table in the ASIAFOODS region can be used by any nutrition professional anywhere else in the region with complete facility. Through INFOODS, this same consistency is to be extended worldwide. With the long-standing as well as the more recent migration of Asian populations around the world, and with the recent upsurge of interest in Asian foods and diets, there is an increasing global demand for reliable, easy-to-use, and understandable food composition tables relating to the foods of Asia. In addition, as Asian countries export more and more of their agricultural produce around the world, the need to know the exact nutrient composition of these foods will also increase. Information regarding the availability, generation, users, and uses of food composition data, as well as unmet needs and plans for the future on a country-by-country basis, is presented in table 1.