FoodData Central Data Types
The food supply, and the scientific understanding of relationships between dietary intakes and health, have evolved over the years. USDA’s food composition data resources also are evolving to meet the needs of diverse users, including researchers, policy makers, nutrition and health professionals, and product developers.
In recent years, the rapidly escalating pace of change in the food supply and the growing variety of uses for food data have greatly enhanced the need for transparent and easily accessible information about the nutrients and other components in foods and food products. This need requires a new approach to analyzing, compiling, and presenting food profile information in a scientifically rigorous way. FoodData Central continues to embody this new approach.
FoodData Central contains five distinct types of data that provide information on nutrients and other food components. Although these data types have unique purposes and attributes, they can be used in complementary ways to achieve a variety of research and related objectives. Two of the data types—Foundation Foods and Experimental Foods—provide data that have never previously been available. These data types will be the primary focus of efforts as FoodData Central is expanded and developed in coming years.
- Foundation Foods includes values for nutrients and other food components on a diverse range of foods and ingredients as well as extensive underlying metadata. These metadata include the number of samples, sampling location, date of collection, analytical approaches used, and if appropriate, agricultural information such as genotype and production practices. The enhanced depth and transparency of Foundation Foods data can provide valuable insights into the many factors that influence variability in nutrient and food component profiles. The goal of Foundation Foods will be to, over time, expand the number of basic foods and ingredients and their underlying data. Foundation Foods will be a primary focus of efforts as FoodData central expands and develops in coming years.
- Experimental Foods contains foods produced, acquired or studied under unique conditions, such as alternative management systems, experimental genotypes, or research/analytical protocols. The foods in this data type may not be commercially available to the general public or the data may expand information about the specific food. Experimental Foods are for research purposes and may not be appropriate as a reference for the consumer or for diet planning Experimental Foods data are currently available through links to relevant agricultural research data sources, such as the AgCROS, and will include data from multiple sources. The data in Experimental Foods include (or link to) variables such as genetics, environmental inputs and outputs, supply chains, economic considerations and nutrition research. These data will allow users to examine a range of factors used that may affect the nutritional profiles of foods and resulting dietary intakes as well as the sustainability of agricultural and dietary food systems.
Foundation Foods and Experimental Foods are integrated into the same data system that provides three other well-established and familiar food composition data types:
- Standard Reference Legacy Release (SR Legacy) has been the primary food composition data type in the United States for decades. It provides a comprehensive list of nutrient and food component values that are derived from analyses, calculations, and the published literature. This data type has provided the values for most other public and private food composition databases and has supported a wide range of public policy initiatives, research studies, and diet planning and education activities. SR Legacy, released in April 2018, is the final release of this data type and will not be updated. For more recent data, users should search other data types in FoodData Central.
- Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies 2015-2016 (FNDDS 2015-2016) provides nutrient and food component values for the foods and beverages reported in What We Eat in America, the dietary intake component of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). FNDDS data releases correspond to the NHANES two-year data cycles. FNDDS data facilitate analyses of dietary intakes reported in NHANES as well as many other dietary research studies.
- The USDA Global Branded Food Products Database (Branded Foods), formerly hosted on the USDA Food Composition Databases website, are data from a public-private partnership whose goal is to enhance the open sharing of nutrient data that appear on branded and private label foods and are provided by the food industry. Members of this partnership are:
- Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA
- International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) North America
- GS1 US
- Label Insight
- University of Maryland, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Information in Branded Foods is received from food industry data providers. USDA supports this data type by standardizing the presentation of the data. Branded Foods data are used in a variety of ways, including research studies, food label regulatory efforts, and product development. Beginning in April 2020, data in Branded Foods will be updated on a monthly basis. Monthly updates can be found in the API. In addition, downloads for Branded Foods are generated every six months, and reflect the most-up- to-date version of each product at the time the download is generated.
Essential Features of FoodData Central
To maximize your experience of FoodData Central, keep these essential features in mind
- Each data type’s characteristics contribute to the complexity of the data. To assist in understanding the data in FoodData Central, we recommend users read the Documentation for each data type. This information is available on the Data Type Documentation page.
- Foundation Foods provide extensive underlying metadata for each of its food items, which helps users recognize the potential variability of values across nutrients and food components. For example, one food profile can represent hundreds of analyzed samples providing thousands of pieces of individual data about this food.
- Because of the breadth and depth of the data and the complexity of the system, we recommend users work with FoodData Central on a desktop computer. At this time, mobile view has limited functionality and is not appropriate for extensive searching or similar tasks.
- Not all data types provide data on all nutrients; this is because of the uniqueness of the data types:
- Some nutrients are not found in certain foods (e.g., cholesterol in plant foods, protein in oils)
- Some nutrients in a food have not yet been analyzed. Data analyses are continually conducted and as data on nutrients are obtained, values will be added to food profiles.
- FoodData Central provides the most recent data for all the data types. Users who are interested in previously published data (i.e., historical data) can obtain them by downloading earlier files. See the Download FoodData Central Data page. The USDA Global Branded Foods Database also includes an update log feature in the search results page. This log lists one or more previous food records for that food item, which details specific changes to the food item. In the future, Foundation Foods will also include an update log.
- Although FoodData Central does not currently contain a way to automatically generate a tailored list of food sources of a particular nutrient, across all data types, USDA’s Methods and Application of Food Composition Laboratory has created a nutrition search application for Standard Reference Legacy data. In addition, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Information Center has created a series of tables with food sources for energy and many nutrients, including macronutrients, minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients. You can access these tables at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Information Center.
- Although FoodData Central does not provide a way to automatically modify portion sizes and nutrient values, you can find this functionality in the What’s in the Foods You Eat search tool, located on the Food Surveys Research Group website. You may also want to access the Measurement Conversion Tables on the Methods and Application of Food Composition Laboratory website, which provide a listing of measurements and their equivalents commonly used for food and beverages.
For more background information about FoodData Central, go to the FAQ page. For more detailed information and guidance on dates used in FoodData Central data types, definitions of key terms, documentation of updates to data and for tips on searching FoodData Central, visit the Help page.