Claudia Dziuk O’Donnell, Chief Editor, Prepared Foods-- For decades, when food formulators needed an estimate of the nutritional content of ingredients for products they were formulating, they would start with data from the USDA-ARS’s Nutrient Data Laboratory. The Nutrient Data Laboratory’s stated mission is "to develop authoritative food composition databases and state of the art methods to acquire, evaluate, compile and disseminate composition data on foods available in the United States."

Some of the first versions of data were printed booklets of tables with values for nutrients such as fat, calorie and vitamins of both commercial food products and also of raw or processed food ingredients. However, for several years now, the USDA’s searchable “National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference” has been available online. See  A recent update, Release 21, provides an array of nutrient content information for 7,412 foods. For example, values for some 10 minerals, over 22 vitamin forms, over 15 fatty acids and 17 amino acids are given for powdered, dehydrated bananas.

As interest by ingredient suppliers, food and supplement companies and consumers has increased in nutritional components such as antioxidants, isoflavones, choline and other “emerging” nutritionals, the USDA, in conjunction with other research facilities, has provided values of these components in foods. The following databases may be of particular use to those involved in the development of functional foods, beverages and dietary supplements.

* Proanthoycanidin Content -– Created in 2004 by the Nutrient Data Laboratory and Food Composition Laboratory, USDA-ARS; The Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center, USDA-ARS; Mars Inc.; and Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. It has information on six subclasses of proanthoycanindins in 205 foods.

* Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) –- Created in 2007 by the Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center and the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. It has information on the ORAC value of 277 foods.

* Flavonoids -- Release 2.1 was issued in 2007. It has values on five subclasses of flavonoids (e.g. flavonols, anthocyanidins) for 385 food items.

* Choline -- Release 2 was issued in 2008. The USDA and the Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina created it. It has values of six choline metabolites including betaine for 400+ common items.

* Isoflavone -- Release 2.0 was issued in 2008. Isoflavones included in the database are daidzein, genistein, glycitein and total isoflavones for 557 foods. For some items, coumestrol, biochanin A and formononetin content are also included.

From the December 22, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash