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Surfing for Folate, Selenium and Other Nutrients

By Judy McBride
June 2, 1998

Want to know how much folate (folic acid) you're getting from foods, now that millers and bakers are fortifying breads, flour, cornmeal, rice, pasta and other enriched grain products with the vitamin?

Just take the World Wide Web to the home page of the Agricultural Research Service's Nutrient Data Laboratory: There, you'll find the latest update of the main source of food composition data in the United States, technically known as Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 12, or SR-12 for short.

The database has values for as many as 81 nutrients in 6,000 foods among 22 food groups. It's the only such database worldwide that's free.

SR-12 includes newly revised folate values for enriched grain products and foods in which they are ingredients. Also new are selenium values for many food items. An essential nutrient in the body's antioxidant functions, selenium has gained attention for its purported anti-cancer properties.

Some 8,000 visitors access the web site each month. Many arrive there via one of 400 web sites around the world with links to the USDA nutrient database, according to research leader Joanne Holden in Riverdale, Md.

The database will undergo a major update beginning this year. Laboratory personnel and researchers with the National Institutes of Health and agricultural commodity groups are collaborating on a 5-year program to ensure nutrient data with unprecedented analytical quality for the 1,000 foods that contribute most to the nation's nutrient intake. The program is expected to cost $15 million.

Researchers are rating the analytical quality of the existing data so they can identify what most needs improvement and what is lacking altogether. They are also ranking the foods that contribute most to nutrient intake, based on public health and research priorities as well as on consumption and production patterns. Then they will use state-of-the-art methods to collect representative samples of these key foods nationwide and oversee their analyses in contract laboratories.

Scientific contact: Joanne M. Holden, Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Riverdale, MD 20737, phone (301) 734-8491, fax (301) 734-5643,

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