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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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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.

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Uses of Data

  • USDA food composition data, developed by NDL, are used in many government databases.  Among these are:
      • USDA-ARS, Food Surveys Research Group 
        • Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Surveys and search tool 
        • FoodLink 
      • USDA-FNS, Child Nutrition Database
      • USDA-AMS Food & Commodity Connection
      • USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
  • Historical -- Compiling USDA food composition tables for over 115 years

The USDA has borne the fundamental responsibility of characterizing the nutrient content of the U.S. national food supply for over 115 years. The first food composition tables were published in 1891 by W.O. Atwater and C.D. Woods, who assayed the refuse, water, fat, protein, ash, and carbohydrate content of approximately 200 different foods.

Today, the National Nutrient Data Bank is a repository of information for up to 150 nutrients for nearly 9,000 foods.  It is made available in our principle database--the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (SR)--on our Web site .  The data can be accessed online or downloaded for use on your PC.  Programs are available to look up the nutrient content of foods using a Windows PC.  Prior to 1992, most of this information was published in the form of Agriculture Handbook 8 (AH-8), which is no longer available in printed form.

  • Core data for commercial and many foreign databases

Food Composition Products developed by NDL include the SR and various special interest databases.  These databases are the foundation of virtually all public and commercial nutrient databases used in the United States and a number of foreign countries. In addition, the data are used by food companies, trade associations, and research institutions.

  • Epidemiological research/national nutritional policy planning

USDA's food composition data are the numerical foundation of essentially all public and private work in the field of human nutrition. Within the Federal government, such efforts encompass metabolic and epidemiologic research, dietary treatment of disease, dietary guidance for healthy individuals, and planning and implementation of national nutrition policies. Nutrition monitoring activities and their results depend heavily on USDA's food composition data.

  • Dietetics and Food Service

In the private sector, food composition data are used in dietary therapy of patients in hospitals and community settings, formal and self-directed nutrition education programs for adults and children, and preventive guidance for obstetric, pediatric, and geriatric populations. The data are essential to the calculation of school, hospital, nursing home, and other institutional menus.


  • The major project of NDL is to maintain USDA National Nutrient Databank. A number of products are developed from this database including the SR, and a number of special interest databases.

  • The Food Surveys Research Group, one of the other labs in BHNRC, relies on our data to develop the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Surveys, used to monitor nutrient intakes in the United States.  Food recipes and other information are also provided to support the survey.

  • NDL has developed a new databank system to evaluate, compile and disseminate this data . This system fully integrates NDL's data processing flow, and incorporates powerful new functionality for data quality evaluation, calculation of nutrient retentions and food yields, formulation/recipe estimations, and dissemination of data in a variety of formats.

  • NDL is responsible for the National Food and Nutrient Analysis Program (NFNAP) in which high consumption food products are identified, sampled and analyzed.  This program is conducted with support from the National Cancer Institute (NIH) and other offices and institutes of the NIH.

  • NDL is working with the Office of Dietary Supplements and other federal agencies to plan and develop a Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database (DSID) to monitor the levels of ingredients in dietary supplement products. Accurate and complete information on the composition of dietary supplements is essential for determining their contribution to the nation's dietary intake.

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Last Modified: 9/20/2016
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