WHAT MAKES A FOOD COMPOSITION DATABASE (FCDB)?

The following pages give an overview of food composition databases (FCDBs). The simultaneous access to a mulitple set of different FCDBs through the EuroFIR eSearch facility is a unique benefit for our members.

Introduction 

Food composition tables or databases (FCDBs) are resources providing detailed information on the nutritional composition of foods, usually from a particular country. Originally, these resources existed only in printed form, with the oldest tables dating back to the early 1800s. Nowadays, a trend towards electronically available FCDBs can be observed. They can hold large amounts of data and allow easy access to and manipulation of data. More recently, many European FCDBs have become available online on the Internet, a move influenced by EuroFIR within Europe.

FCDBs usually contain information on a wide range of components, including:

  • Energy
  • Macronutrients (e.g. protein, carbohydrate, fat) and their components (e.g. sugars, starch, fatty acids)
  • Minerals (e.g. calcium, iron, sodium)
  • Vitamins

In addition, some FCDBs have values for individual amino acids and/or vitamin fractions (e.g. individual carotenoids, such as lycopene and lutein). Some specialised databases are also available; for example, bioactive compounds are included in the EuroFIR eBASIS database, in the US isoflavone database and in the French Phenol-Explorer database.

An extract from the UK FCDB is shown below.

Example – Composition of foods per 100 g edible portion

Food Protein g Fat g Carbo-hydrate g Energy kcal Energy kJ
Grapefruit, raw 0.8 0.1 6.8 30 126
Grapefruit, canned in juice 0.6 Trace 7.3 30 120
Grapefruit, canned in syrup 0.5 Trace 15.5 60 257
Grapes, average 0.4 0.1 15.4 60 257
Guava, raw 0.8 0.5 5.0 26 112
Source: FSA (2002) McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods, 6th Summary Edition. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry. © Crown copyright. Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO.

Variety

Similarly, the number and range of foods covered varies by FCDBs. For example, the latest release of the Swiss FCDB, which was published in 2009, contains 935 foods, while the latest release of the long-established USDA FCDB includes over 7.500 foods. Some databases include a wider range of processed foods, composite dishes and recipes as well as foods prepared and cooked in different ways. For example, cod fish might be included as fresh, frozen, dried, raw, grilled, baked, fried in different fats and oils, coated in batter or breadcrumbs or salted.

Limitations

While food composition data are fundamental information resources to many fields of work, especially in public health and nutrition, they do have limitations. These include:

  • Variability in the composition of foods between countries, owing to, for example, season, cultivar or variety, brand, fortification levels
  • Incomplete coverage of foods or nutrients leading to missing values
  • Age of data (limited resources mean that, inevitably, some values are not current)

Now find out how FCDBs are made