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New Plant Nutrient Database Launched

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
September 3, 2004

The Agricultural Research Service has launched a database for phytonutrients known as "proanthocyanidins," a subclass of flavonoids, in 206 selected foods. Phytonutrients are beneficial compounds found in plant-based foods and are widely studied by the scientific community because of purported health benefits.

Proanthocyanidins are abundant in certain fruits, nuts, beverages (such as red wine and purple grape juice) and even some chocolates. Those in cranberries, for example, may help protect against urinary tract infections. Other health associations of these powerful antioxidants include a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and blood clotting.

The unique food-composition resource was released this month on the World Wide Web by scientists with ARS' Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center working at the Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL), Beltsville, Md., headed by nutritionist Joanne Holden. Collaborators include scientists at the ARS-funded Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center (ACNC), Little Rock, Ark.; Mars Inc., of Hackettstown, N.J.; and Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., of Lakeville, Mass.

ARS researchers, led by chemist Ronald Prior at ACNC, adapted an earlier method for analyzing proanthocyanidins in foods. They used it to analyze proanthocyanidins in nationally representative food samples procured by the NDL. The new compilation is based on acceptable data extracted from reviews of existing scientific literature, as well as data analyzed by researchers at ACNC.

The new database complements several other databases, including a flavonoids database developed earlier by the NDL, and will impact previous estimates of the total flavonoids in foods. For example, the range of proanthocyanidins in various small apples is between 70 and 140 milligrams each, but the sum of other known subclasses of flavonoids in the same samples is only about 5 to 13 mg.

The new database will be valuable in the continuing investigation of the health benefits of consuming diets rich in plant foods. To access the new database on the Internet, go to:

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.