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Pamela Pehrsson prepares an Alaskan Arctic char before nutrient analysis. Link to photo information
Nutritionist Pamela Pehrsson prepares an Alaskan Arctic char before nutrient analysis. The fish was harvested in the Point Hope region of Alaska by Alaska Natives. Click the image for more information about it.

Food Samples Travel Thousands of Miles for Analysis

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
September 9, 2005

A database that lists the nutrient content of traditional foods commonly eaten by American Indians and Alaska Natives is being developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) nutritionists and colleagues. To that end, Alaska Natives have been hunting and fishing for foods that represent their daily fare--not to eat, but to be shipped to ARS for nutrient analysis.

Brined salmon, caribou rump meat and bearded seal meat are just a few of the samples being packed in dry ice and shipped from the Point Hope region of Alaska to the ARS Nutrient Data Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. Other remote locations from which food is being collected include the Ft. Hall ShoBan reservation in southern Idaho and a large Navaho reservation in Arizona.

The project is coordinated by Pamela Pehrsson, a nutritionist with ARS' Nutrient Data Laboratory, and colleagues.

The native foods that have already been analyzed are being added to a comprehensive nutrient database of more than 7,000 foods. The database is available on the Nutrient Data Laboratory website. The efforts will ultimately fuel the USDA-ARS American Indian/Alaska Native Foods Database, a special interest database that will be released as a stand-alone resource on the same website in 2006.

The data for these unique foods are important for providing wider representation within nationwide food consumption surveys, since dietary practices among these communities differ from those of the general U.S. population. As a result, the database will enable nutrition researchers to more accurately assess nutrient intake within these populations. The data are also important to the ability of health care workers to provide appropriate nutrition guidance within native communities.

Read more about this research in the September issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief in-house scientific research agency.