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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.

Users and uses of food composition data

While there is a broad range of users of food composition data in each ASIAFOODS country, these fall into definite categories, as follows:

1. Nutrition researchers and health-care personnel, for nutrition and food consumption surveys.
2. Nutritionists, dieticians, and medical personnel, for diet prescription and nutrition management of in- and out-patients.
3. Nutrition educators and dieticians, for diet counselling and meal planning.
4. Nutritionists and food technologists in the foodprocessing industry.
5. Economists, planners, and consumer-protection personnel.

Unmet needs

The perceived needs that the current food composition tables do not meet concern many of the processed foods that have only recently become widely available in ASIAFOODS countries. Virtually all of the tables available list nutrients for uncooked food items, which means that since many nutrient values change with cooking these listings do not accurately reflect what is actually consumed. The vast majority of the population of many of these countries reside in rural areas rather than the urban centres. Since these people are usually poor, they are often compelled, at least on a seasonal basis, to consume what could be characterized as "wild" foods. There is essentially no data on these non-domesticated foods, and any efforts at nutrition intervention or education are handicapped without such knowledge.

One suggestion to come out of the most recent ASIAFOODS executive committee meeting was that there should be a differentiation, when analysing and presenting food composition data, between chemical content and physiologically or biologically active content, e.g. retinol and carotenoids. It has also been suggested that data on selected nutrients be related to the prevalent health problems in each country; for instance, the role that certain nutrients play in the prevalence of cancer, as well as degenerative diseases, is not clear. More attention should be paid to the functional aspects of the nutrients rather than their chemical composition.

Participants at both ASIAFOODS meetings expressed concern that there was a minimal awareness of needs relating to food composition data among planners and administrators in influential positions. These decision-makers need to be motivated and encouraged to support more vigorously those activities proposed by ASIAFOODS.

It was universally recognized that there is currently a shortage of qualified personnel to accomplish the goals of ASIAFOODS.

The recently launched ASEAN Food Habits Project will have a food composition component which will interact very closely with the food-composition data-generation activities of ASIAFOODS.

The future of ASIAFOODS

The initial steps to be taken by ASIAFOODS will be to establish national committees, a secretariat, and effective channels of communication between ASIAFOODS countries. The national committee will be the country's contact point with ASIAFOODS and will determine specific needs, mobilize available resources, and endeavour to establish an environment favourable to the development of good food composition data within the country. The ASIAFOODS secretariat will serve as the contact point for ASIAFOODS with the national committees. The overall activities of ASIAFOODS will be organized and co-ordinated by the secretariat, which will be under the supervision of the chairperson of the executive committee

Table 1. Available food composition data (FCD) in Asia countries

Food composition tables (FCT), latest date published Data generators Data users Data uses Unmet needs Plans
National FCT, 1969 FAO FCT for South- East Asia Nutritional Value Indian Foods Dept. of Health Services Dept. of Medical Research Nutrition/health professionals Primary health care planners Nutrition assessment Formulation of weaning food Nutrition education Not available Not available
National FCT, 1981 Nutrition and Food Hygiene Dept. Hospital dieticians Nutrition workers Child-care centres Food manufacturers Diet management of patients Diet planning Unavailable data for cooked foods, snacks, and other common foods Add new components to FCT
National FCT, 1%7 National Institute for Health Research and Development Nutrition Research and Development Center Other related institutes Nutrition professionals Students Agricultural workers Central Bureau of Statistics Food balance sheets Nutrition surveys Incomplete FCT Collect data on natural foods Re-analyse carotene, vitamin A, Fe, etc.
National FCT, 1982 Selected component FCTs Japan Food Research Laboratory National Institute of Health Nutritionists Dieticians Students Nutrition surveys Selected nutrients related to health problems Develop functional nutrition activities Develop system for updating FCT, etc.
National FCT, 1981 Office of Rural Development National Institute of Health Nutrition professionals Students Planners National economic plans Food balance sheets Menu planning Data for cooked foods, fast foods, infant formulae Upgrade data compilation Edit RDA guide Develop education materials for all levels of knowledge
National FCT, 1980 FAO FCT for East Asia Institute of Medical Research in Collaboration with Food Science and Technology Section of the Malaysian Agriculture Research and Development Institute (MARDI) Nutritionists Dieticians Foods consumption study Insufficient information on local foods Incomplete nutrient contents Limited personnel, equipment, analy sis methodology Management of food composi tion data with computers
No National FCT Indian FCT FAO FCT for East Asia Central Food Research Laboratory - Ministry of Agriculture Planners and decision- makers Nutrition/health professionals Home scientists Research workers Formulate diets, weaning food Lack of nutritive value and toxicity for wild foods Develop sound food and nutrition policy Analyse available wild edible plants
Papua New Guinea          
National FCT, 1978 Tables of Representative Values of Foods Commonly Used in Tropical Countries, 1962 South Pacific Foods, 1958 FCT in Pacific Islands Papua New Guinea University of Technology University of Papua New Guinea Dept. of Primary Industry Not available Not available Insufficient data for root crops, pandanus, tropical fish, and manufactured food Upgrade food ana Iysis equipment within the region
National FCT, 1980 Food and Nutrition Research Institute in conjunction with government and private research agencies Nutrition/health professionals Food technologists Chemists Planners and economists Nutrition information Nutrition assessment/ epidemiology Diet counselling, meal planning, plant and animal breeding Economic planning Analysis methodology limited Insufficient nutrients analysed Insufficient analysis trials of each food item Resolve sampling problems Determine which foods/nutrients to analyse Update FCT
Sri Lanka          
National FCT- 10% Sri Lankan foods and 90% Indian Central Agricultural Research Institute Tea and Coconut Research Institute Ceylon Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research Medical Research Institute National Aquatic Resources Agency Nutrition/health professionals Nutrition educators Nutrition and food planners Not available Complete Sri Lankan FCT Inadequate analytical equipment and facilities Improve lab facilities Request assistance from outside agencies
Composition of Foods Used in Taiwan, 1961 Table of Taiwan Food Composition, 1974 Table of Amino Acid Composition of Taiwan Foods, 1973 USDA FCT for East Asia FCT for Japan Taiwan University Food industry Research and Development Institute Dieticians University students Not available Inadequate and out-of-date FCT Evaluate, re analyse certain food items for FTC
National FCT, 1978 Amino Acid Composition, 19X4 Nutrition Division, Dept. of Health Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University Division of Food Analysis,Dept. of Medical Science Division of Biological Science Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technical Research Nutritionists Health research scientists Dieticians Food industrialists Menu planning Product development Nutrition education Consumer protection labelling FCT lacks information on some minerals, elemeets, fatty acids, sugars in fruits National colla boration project to generate new data New analytical procedures Organize data in tables and computerize

The fundamental objective of ASIAFOODS is the sharing of scientific knowledge and international collaboration relating to food composition data. Useful and effective media for communicating this information throughout the region will need to be identified at the earliest opportunity.

The design and implementation of the activities necessary to realize these ASIAFOODS objectives can best be facilitated by meetings of the complete ASIAFOODS membership. Accordingly, a second ASIAFOODS conference will be convened, which will consist of a business meeting and a technical meeting.

The business meeting will address itself to ratifying the ASIAFOODS statutes as well as developing mechanisms of regional collaboration and liaison with INFOODS. A review of progress achieved with ASIAFOODS activities since the First ASIAFOODS Conference will also be made. Finally, the tasks and responsibilities of the ASIAFOODS executive committee and secretariat will be delineated and personnel will be selected to fill these positions.

The technical meeting will in turn be concerned with working through the INFOODS international guide to the development of food composition tables on a country-bycountry basis, and to detail the needs of each country. Small technical meetings will be planned relating to food chemistry, information systems, and usage of food composition data. These meetings will be devoted to the detailed design of subsequent training workshops, and discussions and planning of training needs and system operation will take place. Training is visualized as occurring on three levels:

1. Inter-country training, whereby two or more countries themselves train laboratory workers in the updating, gathering, and handling of food composition data.

2. Regional training, intended for scientists at the supervisory level and to be offered at a specialized regional centre.

3. Inter-regional training, intended for high-level personnel who will visit advanced centres outside the region.

Subsequent to their initiation of these activities, a regional data centre will also be designed; particular attention will be paid to computer hardware selection and installation and the development of appropriate software, and to obtaining the services of a programmer. Arrangements will also be made for software support of INFOODS data interchange standards. There will also be initial training in the use of these facilities for specialists from the various countries of the region.

These activities form the core of the ASIAFOODS plan for the next five years. Drawn up by the executive committee, this plan intends each country in ASIAFOODS to be able to participate and benefit at a level appropriate to its technological capability and political commitment. Rapid progress has been made to date in establishing ASIAFOODS, and increased membership and enhanced scientific and technical collaboration throughout the region are anticipated.

The keen interest in ASIAFOODS and the objectives it is mandated to accomplish clearly reflect the present demand for more reliable and usable food composition data throughout the region. It is intended through the structure of ASIAFOODS to develop collectively a regional food composition data base which will satisfy this demand cost effectively. An international regional organization such as ASIAFOODS, in conjunction with INFOODS, provides a vehicle by which these various objectives can be realized.


The First ASIAFOODS Conference was partially supported by grants from IDRC (International Development Research Center, Canada) and the ASEAN Sub-committee on Protein.

The author would like to thank Mr Andrew Stuckey for his valuable assistance in the preparation of this manuscript.


1. "Minutes of the ASIAFOODS Executive Committee Meeting, Manila, the Philippines, 18-19
February, 1985" (Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University, Bangkok, 1985).

2. Proceedings of the First ASIAFOODS Conference, Bangkok, Thailand, 17-21 September, 1984 (Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University, Bangkok, 1985).

Food composition data in Sweden and the nordic countries

Swedish food composition tables
Swedish national nutrient data bases
Other Swedish data bases
Food composition tables in other nordic countries
Nutrient data banks in the other nordic countries

National Food Administration, Uppsala, Sweden

Swedish food composition tables

The National Food Administration is the central Swedish administrative authority on food matters. It belongs to the Ministry of Agriculture and has two main tasks: to protect the consumer against harmful foods and to help the consumer to evaluate and choose foodstuffs.

The National Institute of Public Health preceded the present administration and one of its tasks was the analysis of food items. These analyses together with data from the literature were compiled into a food composition table, Fodoamnestabeller, which was published by E. Abramson in 1947. Since then, these tables have been revised several times, the seventh edition being published in 1982 [1].

Analyses of foods for a comprehensive Swedish food composition table began in the early 1960s. The National Food Administration published such a table in 1978 and an abbreviated version in 1981. At present, the comprehensive table is being revised and extended to include more nutrients, and a new edition will be available in 1986 [10]. The abridged table was revised in 1984 [9].

Swedish national nutrient data bases

In the early 1960s the National Institute of Public Health developed a nutrient data bank based mainly on the Abramson food composition table and data supplied by the food industry in Sweden. Since 1981, a new data bank has been prepared by the National Food Administration. This bank was first set up in order to expedite nutrient calculations in surveys, and began at the same time that the data collection for an extensive nutrition survey of children was under way in 1980-1981; it was first used for the nutrient analysis of the different food intake forms collected during this survey. The bank at present contains the nutritive values of 1,250 foods and about 1,200 recipes, including a large number of baby foods and certain catering products. For each item, the values for the energy, water, ash, and 31 other nutrients are given. For catering products only 12 nutrients are included (table 1).

Table 1. Nutrients in the Swedish National Nutrient Data Base

Energy (kJ and kcal)a Vitamin B6
Water Vitamin B12
Proteina Calciuma
Fata Phosphorus
Carbohydratea Irona
Alcohol Magnesium
Retinol Potassium
Active carotene Zinc
Retinol equivalentsa  
Vitamin D Saturated fatty acids
Vitamin E total Monoenes
Alpha-tocopherol Polyenes
Ascorbic acida  
Thiaminea Monosaccharides
Riboflavina Disacchandes
Niacin Sucrose
Niacin equivalentsa  

a. Nutrients for catering products.

Of special interest are a number of codes containing averages for different food groups. There are, for example, nutritive values for fresh vegetables based on the average consumption of different vegetables. These aggregate codes are used in certain types of planning, and in the calculation of average consumption figures from official statistics, which is carried out in cooperation with the national Agricultural Market Board. These codes are also suitable for nutrient calculations of dietary history forms.

In recipe calculation, food yields and changes of the nutrient content of dishes have been considered. Food-yield factors are based on both American and Swedish values, while factors of vitamin losses are based on different published data. Analyses of nutrient changes during preparation of certain common Swedish dishes are now in progress at the Food Administration.

At present, information on several nutrients is being incorporated: data on additional vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, and also on different carbohydrate fractions (including added refined sugars), dietary fibre, and fatty acids. The enlarged bank will be ready for use in 1986.

The Food Administration's nutrient data-base system is adapted for the user. After a few hours of instruction, a person can enter a seven-day record and calculate the nutrient content. More advanced statistical treatment requires a few days' training. At present, either partial or complete copies of this nutrient data bank are being used by, for example, the Departments of Nutrition and of Home Economics Education in some Swedish universities, by the National Agricultural Market board, by the Material Administration of the Armed Forces, and by some county councils.

Other Swedish data bases

During the last few years several nutrient data banks have been created and still more are planned. Today the Administration is aware of about 30 different systems.

The main applications of these systems are: nutrient calculation and analysis; recipe and product development; diet planning and analysis; menu planning; food production and control; and education and information.

The owners of nutrient data banks in Sweden represent the following categories: national authorities; regional and local authorities; universities and schools; food industries; wholesalers; and publishing and computer firms.

At the national level four national authorities are using nutrient data banks. The Administration can use the bank for nearly all purposes mentioned above but the most important task is nutrient analyses of large-scale nutrition surveys. The system used by the National Agricultural Market Board is applicable to nutrient calculation combined with food-consumption statistics and food-supply calculations.

The county councils of Sweden are responsible for health and welfare. Some of them are now using computers in the planning of cycle menus and of special diets and dietary analyses combined with patient counselling. Local authorities are also using their nutrient data banks for menu planning in different institutions, and for school lunches.

Five universities (in Gothenburg, Lund, Stockholm, Umea, and Uppsala) have access to nutrient data banks. All of them also have close connections with large research hospitals. For research, training, education, dietary counselling, planning of special diets, etc., several institutes and departments need nutrient data banks. Swedish university units that now use nutrient data bases include nutrition and dietetics, medicine, odontology, food science and economics, home economics, psychology, sociology, European ethnology, cultural anthropology, economic history, and economics.

Large food industries use the banks for nutrient analysis for labelling and product information. Recipe or product development with evaluation of proposed product changes is another application.

One Swedish wholesaler has a private nutrient data bank. The test kitchen of this firm uses the bank and provides many restaurants with nutrient-analysis and menuplanning services. For the present, the other wholesalers are buying these services.

The oldest of the private nutrient data-base systems is Diet and Nutrition Data. This company serves different user categories with nutrient calculations and analyses. Other systems are more specialized, serving restaurants, catering companies, hospitals, etc.

Nearly all the nutrient data banks in Sweden are under development; the systems are growing and becoming more sophisticated. At present, a certain co-ordination is desirable.

Food composition tables in other nordic countries


Since 1973 two food composition tables compiled by Peder Helms have been used [2, 3]. Denmark's first official food composition tables were published in 1983, with a revised edition in spring 1986 [6].


In Finland there are no official food composition tables. However, those published by Osmo Turpeinen and Paavo Roine in 1952 have been updated regularly [11]. A comprehensive mineral and trace-element table of Finnish foods, edited by Pekka Koivistoinen, was published in 1980 [4] and two editions in Finnish by Pertti Varo came in 1980 and 1981 [12].

Data on dietary fibre and available carbohydrates in Finnish cereal products, vegetables, and fruits have been published by Pertti Varo et al. [13,14].

At the Department of Food Chemistry and Technology of the University of Helsinki, vitamin E, carotenoids and fatty acids in Finnish foods are now being analysed.


The National Nutrition Council is responsible for the scientific content of the Norwegian official food composition tables; they are produced and published by the National Society for Nutrition and Health. The first edition of the tables was published in 1958 and the fifth in 1984 [5].


Laboratories in Iceland analyse Icelandic foods and these analyses are published in, for example, the report series of the Agricultural Research Institute (RALA) [8]. Otherwise, British and American food composition tables are used.

Nutrient data banks in the other nordic countries


In Denmark there are about 15 nutrient data-base systems. The official system was developed by the National Food Agency and is available on microcomputers in the agency and from the computer centres of the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus. This system is mainly used for nutrition surveys and is now being completely revised. In the future it will include data on about 100 nutrients and many non-nutrients for approximately 10,000 food items.

Another agency system, DANKOST, suited for nutrition calculation and planning of diets, was developed for microcomputers in 1985.

The Agriculture Computer Centre and the Danish Academy of Engineering are other organizations which own nutrient data-base systems. Several hospitals have systems for menu planning and diet analysis, one of which was developed by the Danish Hospital Institute. At the moment hospitals in the Copenhagen area are developing computer-based menu planning systems. Educational systems for different school levels have been made available by the Ministry of Education. Small systems for weight reduction are also in use.

Table 2. Nutrient data banks in the Nordic countries: Finland, 1985

System owner The State Catering Centre The Dept. of Nutrition, University of Helsinki The Rehabilitation Research Centre The National Public Health Institute
Address Boks 332 SF-00531 Helsinki 53 Finland SF-00710 Helsinki Finland Pettolavagen 3, SF-20720 ABO Finland The Social insurance Institute P.O. Box 640, SF-00101 Helsinki, Finland Mannerheimvagen 166 SF-00280 Helsinki Finland
System name in operation since 1984 1972 New version, 1981 1985
Nutrient data sources Turpheinen; Food Composition Tables, 1980; product information from food industry Turpheinen; Food Composition Tables, 1980; Varo, Mineral Tables, 1982; other food composition tables - Swedish, 1978, British, 1967 Norwegian, 1977, German, 1981; literature; own analy ses; product information Food composition tables - Swedish, 1978, German, 1981, British, 1978, USA USDA Agricullure Hand- book No. 8-1; product information Nordic food composition tables; other tables; own analyses; product information
Number of (a) foods, (b) recipes, (c) aggregated foods, a-b, a-c (a) 360; (b) 78 (a) 450; (b) 400 (a) 500; (b) 400 (a) 450; (b) 700
Nutrients/food 8 60 70 65
Other components/food Food cost data Recipe procedures    
Nutrition recommendation No No RDA and Swedish Nutrition Recommendations No
Recipe calculation        
Food yields No Yes Nutrient changes of every  
Nutrient losses and gains; factors No Yes food item in the recipes  
System is used by The staff of the Centre Scientists and students of the department Scientists, dietitians, etc., of the Centre or the institute The staff of the Institute
System is suited for Nutrition surveys; diet planning; menu planning Nutrition surveys; research; education Nutrition surveys; research; diet planning Nutrition surveys research
System is used for Calculation of nutrients; calculation of costs. Calculation of nutrients Calculation of nutrients Calculation of nutrients
Computer   Borroughs 7800 IBM 30840 VAX
Program source        
Program language APL PASCAL APL PASCAL
Operating data-base management system       VMS/RMS
Access   Modern and terminal Modem and terminal  
For sale:        
Nutrient data-base system No No No No
Nutrient data base No No No No


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