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FoodData Central FAQ

Tell Me More about FoodData Central

What is FoodData Central?

FoodData Central is an integrated, research-focused data system that provides expanded data on nutrients and other foods components as well as links to sources of related agricultural, food, dietary supplement, and other information. FoodData Central can be used by, and has benefits for, a variety of users, including researchers, policy makers, academicians and educators, nutrition and health professionals, product developers, and others.

Why has USDA launched FoodData Central?

The food supply is constantly changing and evolving, with new products and formulations continuously introduced into the marketplace and other products being removed. Moreover, ingredients and raw agricultural products are also constantly changing. In addition, current thinking about the role of diet, health, and wellness is moving beyond a focus on single nutrients to encompass foods, food groups, and dietary patterns.

These diverse trends have implications for research, food policy, dietary guidance, and product development. They are creating a growing number of uses for data about food and an urgent need for transparent and easily accessible information about the nutrients and other components of foods and food products. This need required a new approach to analyzing, compiling, and presenting food profile information in a scientifically rigorous way. FoodData Central embodies this new approach and will provide expanded food and experimental data and additional functionality as the system continues to develop.

What data are included in FoodData Central?

FoodData Central includes five data types. Two of these types, Foundation Foods and Experimental Foods, provide data that have never been available previously. The three other types are the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release (SR Legacy), Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies 2017-2018 (FNDDS 2017-2018), and the USDA Global Branded Food Products Database (Branded Foods). Each of these data types was developed to meet specific needs and has unique characteristics. For example, the data in FNDDS make it possible for researchers to conduct enhanced analyses of dietary intakes reported in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

  • 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 data that do not appear in any other dataset searchable from FoodData Central. The overall goal of this data type is to allow users to focus on the research aspects and deeper understanding of factors related to food composition. Generally, data presented are those that: 1) exist within the context of an experimental design; 2) are derived from new analytical methodology; and/or 3) are based on innovative sampling procedures. In some cases, data presented may expand information about a specific food that appears in other data types. Data for Experimental Foods are for research purposes and may not be appropriate as a reference for the consumer, diet planning, or dietary guidance. Experimental Foods data will be displayed in FoodData Central and some may also be available through links to relevant agricultural research data sources, such as the AgCROS or in scientific publications. Often, data in Experimental Foods will include (or link to) variables such as genetics, environmental inputs and outputs, supply chains, economic considerations, and nutrition research.

    Foods in Experimental Foods include, but are not limited to, those produced, acquired, or studied under unique conditions, such as alternative management systems, experimental genotypes, or research/analytical protocols. The foods in Experimental Foods may or may not be commercially available to the public.

  • SR Legacy provides nutrient and food component values that are derived from analyses, calculations, and the published literature. 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 2017-2018 (FNDDS 2017-2018) contains data on the nutrient and food component values and weights for foods and beverages reported in the What We Eat in America dietary survey component of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
  • USDA Global Branded Food Products Database (Branded Foods), formerly hosted on the USDA Food Composition Databases website, are data from a public-private partnership that provides values for nutrients in branded and private label foods that appear on the product label. Information in Branded Foods is received from food industry data providers. USDA supports this data type by standardizing the presentation of the data. Beginning in April 2020, data in Branded Foods will be updated on a monthly basis. These data can be found in the API. In addition, downloads containing the most recent data will be generated every six months with each new release of FoodData Central.

FoodData Central also contains links to related external data, including:

  • The Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database (DSID), developed by USDA in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and other federal agencies, provides estimated levels of ingredients in dietary supplement product categories commonly sold in the United States. These statistically predicted estimates may differ from labeled amounts and are based on chemical analysis of nationally representative products.
  • The Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD) contains information from the labels of approximately 76,000 dietary supplement products available in the U.S. marketplace. In addition to a list of the contents and other added ingredients (such as fillers, binders, and flavorings), the DSLD includes information such as directions for use, health-related claims, and cautions. This database is developed by the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.
How are the nutrient values in FoodData Central derived?

The values in FoodData Central are derived through state-of-the-art chemical analyses, computations and other approaches. For more information on how the values are derived for each data source, see Data Type Documentation.

Can I use FoodData Central to access the food composition databases I’ve used before?

Yes. FoodData Central incorporates the two data types that were formerly hosted on the USDA Food Composition Databases website:  The National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release (SR Legacy) and the USDA Global Branded Food Products Database (Branded Foods). In addition, users can access the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies 2017-2018 (FNDDS 2017-2018) release, which was formerly hosted on the Food Surveys Research Group website. Users can use FoodData Central’s filter function to tailor their searches to one or more of these data types. Downloads are available for each of these data types.

How is FoodData Central different from the existing USDA databases I have been using to access food composition data?

All of USDA’s major sources of food and nutrient data are now in one place, making access and use more streamlined. In addition to having access to the traditionally available data types (SR Legacy, the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies 2017-2018, and the USDA Global Branded Foods Database), users now can access expanded information on a growing number of foods through Foundation Foods.  This data type represents a newly rigorous and scientific approach to compiling, analyzing, and presenting food profile information by allowing users access to the data underlying the nutrient and food component values. Additionally, FoodData Central provides links to relevant experimental data and other data sources, such as dietary supplement data.

By including these diverse types of data—food composition (FNDDS 2017-2018, Foundation Foods, and SR Legacy), Branded Foods (USDA Global Branded Food Products Database), dietary supplement, and experimental agricultural data—in one data system, FoodData Central contributes to the alignment of nutrient data with other key data systems, such as public health data and other nutrition and food databases. As a result, the ability of researchers, policy makers, and others to address vital issues related to food, nutrition, and health, can be enhanced.

Can I automatically customize portion size as part of my online searches on FoodData Central?

Currently, FoodData Central does not contain a way to automatically modify portion sizes and thus 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 (MAFCL) website, which provide a listing of measurements and their equivalents commonly used for food and beverages. FoodData Central is constantly evolving. Additional features, functionalities, data will become available over time.

Can I automatically generate a list containing sources of food components, including nutrients, as part of my online searches on FoodData Central?

FoodData Central now has a feature to automatically generate a tailored list of food sources of specific components, including nutrients, across all data types. Serving sizes have slightly different context in each data type. For example, Branded Foods contain serving sizes as listed on the label whereas the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies uses the portion sizes recorded in the survey. FoodData Central’s new search feature can be found here.

When a component and/or nutrient for a specific food is selected, the user will see BOTH serving size measures and 100-unit measures in the same display, allowing them to change the sorting option. While the search feature encompasses all data types, not all foods will have both serving size and 100-unit measures. For example, most of the Foundation Foods include 100-unit measures only. (Please see FAQ 7 for suggested tools to help modify portion sizes and nutrient values.) In addition, in some data types, multiple serving size measures could appear for a component in a food. For example, if the user selects “alfalfa sprouts” in the Survey data type, they will have the option to choose measures for 1 cup, 33g or quantity not specified, 4g. The goal is to make the search feature on FoodData Central simple to use yet comprehensive by providing access to as many foods and measures as possible.

Represneation of the component search, a table with 3 rows. First row: Indentifier, Identifier Type, Type, Description, Serving Size, Serving Weight, Serving size weight unit, serving size, vitamin K per serving size (ug), vitamin K per 100 unit serving (ug). Second row: 75100500, Food Code, Survey (FNDDS), Alfalfa sprouts raw, 33, g, 1 cup, 10.1, 30.5. Row 3: 75100500, Food Code, Survey (FNDDS), Alfalfa sprouts raw, 17, g, Quantity not specified, 5.18, 30.5.

The component search download includes results for the selected component. The download includes results for all four data types and is not limited to the data types selected in the search filters.

How do the data in FoodData Central accommodate the rapidly and everchanging U.S. food supply?

The food supply is constantly changing and evolving, with new products and formulations continuously introduced into the marketplace and other products being removed. Moreover, ingredients and raw agricultural products are constantly changing. This means that values for nutrients and other food components reflect those found in particular foods sampled at particular times from particular locations and analyzed or computed with techniques available at that time. These values are therefore a “snapshot in time,” and may well change over time. By providing extensive underlying metadata, the Foundation Foods data type allows users to gain a better understanding of these complexities. The number of foods in this data type will continue to grow and the data will be updated as new information becomes available.

How is the display for energy changing in FoodData Central?

Energy data in FoodData Central represent physiologically available energy, defined as the value remaining after digestive and urinary losses are removed from gross energy (Merrill and Watt, 1973). Energy values in FoodData Central are calculated when fat and protein analytical values are available for a food. Carbohydrate content, referred to as “carbohydrate by difference” in the tables, is expressed as the difference between 100 and the sum of the percentages of water, protein, total lipid (fat), ash, and alcohol (when present).

Most energy values are calculated using the Atwater general factors of 4, 9, and 4 for protein, fat, and carbohydrates, respectively, and are displayed in the food profile as Metabolizable Energy-Atwater General Factors. Those energy values calculated using Atwater specific factors for foods as outlined in the USDA Handbook 74, are displayed as Metabolizable Energy-Atwater Specific Factors. Whenever possible, profiles of foods with energy values calculated using specific factors will also include values calculated using general factors. Beginning with the October 2020 release, energy values displayed in a food profile will be expressed in kilocalorie (kcal) only.

Table with two rows. First row states Energy Atwater General Factors, 85, kcal, Calculated. Second row states Energy Atwater Specific Factors, 77, kcal, Calculated.

The goal of FoodData Central is to supply users with the best quality food composition data while providing a deeper understanding of and greater transparency around the data. USDA encourages users with an interest in energy to understand the variability in these measures and the factors that lead to differences in the data. Ultimately, the user can decide what data best suit their needs.

Why are some data reported as less than (<) values in FoodData Central?

The October 2020 release of FoodData Central introduces Limit of Quantification (LOQ) as a new field. LOQ is the lowest amount of measure in a sample that can be quantitatively determined with acceptable precision. In FoodData Central, LOQ values are represented with less than (<) values. LOQ values may not be available for nutrient values in older Foundation Foods. Calculations performed such as nutrient totals and statistical averages use zero to calculate results. In addition, unavailable LOQ values may be reported as zeros.

Why does FoodData Central now include data for components, including nutrients, and what is the difference?

With the goal of continuously providing the most comprehensive and current data, FoodData Central will now display data for food components, including nutrients. It is important to understand how FoodData Central defines the terms “nutrients” and “components”. Nutrients are substances that by scientific consensus have been shown to be indispensable to the body’s functioning and are essential for growth, energy, maintenance, and optimal health. Examples of nutrients include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Components refer to constituents other than those needed for basic nutritional needs. Components typically occur in small quantities in foods and may have an effect on health. Examples include phytosterols and oligosaccharides.

One distinguishing factor between a nutrient and component is that Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), which include Recommended Daily Allowances, have been established and published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for nutrients.

Additional data for and information about components will be forthcoming in FoodData Central.

Accessing the Data in FoodData Central

How can I access the data in FoodData Central?

The data can be accessed either through a search, using the search filter function, or through a download. See Download Data for more information.

How do I conduct an online search on FoodData Central?
A basic online search on FoodData Central involves four easy steps:
  • Step 1: Use the Search FoodData Central box, which is found on each page of the website. You can search for a current item by its name or by one of the numbers that uniquely identifies that item within a particular FDC data type (e.g., NDB number, FNDDS Food Code, or GTIN number).
  • Step 2: Use the “Filter Search Results” on the left side of the screen to select the data type you want to search. The numbers in parentheses after the data type indicate the number of foods in that type related to your search. If you want to search all of the data types, leave all the boxes checked. If you want to search one or more specific data types, unselect the boxes next to the data type you do not want to include in the search. Click Search.
  • Step 3: You will see a Search Results page that provides a list of items from the data type(s) you selected. Click on the item that best matches the food you are interested in.
  • Step 4: The resulting page provides nutrient and other food component values, portion size information, and other information about the item and how the data were derived.

For more information on searching FoodData Central using downloads, see the Download Data page.

Is it possible to download selected portions of FoodData Central?

Yes. Data contained in FoodData Central can be downloaded. Individual data types within FoodData Central—Foundation Foods, Standard Reference (SR) Legacy, the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS) 2017-2018, and the USDA Global Branded Food Products Database—can be downloaded separately. The download files are available both as an Excel-compatible CSV delimited ASCII file and as a Microsoft Access database (version 2007). It is not possible to directly download the results of a food search at this time.

Is FoodData Central accessible through an application program interface (API)?

Yes. FoodData Central’s API provides application developers a mechanism to incorporate nutrient data into their applications or websites. NOTE: The API on the USDA Food Composition Databases website was discontinued on March 31, 2020. Users are encouraged to use the new API system on FoodData Central. See the API Guide for details on how to take full advantage of the API. Obtain the API with the API Key.

Is FoodData Central mobile friendly?

At this time, only a basic view of search results is available for viewing on mobile devices. Advanced filter features, such as searching by data type, are not yet mobile-enabled and are available only in desktop view. Users are encouraged to use a desktop computer to conduct food item searches.

Can I access other releases of the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS) and earlier releases of Standard Reference (SR) and their related documentation on FoodData Central?

At the current time, FoodData Central offers the 2017-2018 release of FNDDS and the April 2018 release of SR Legacy. To access earlier releases of FNDDS as well as details about the data and documentation, visit the Food Surveys Research Group (FSRG) website. To access earlier releases of Standard Reference (i.e., SR17 through SR28) and their documentation as well as other historical food composition datasets, visit the Methods and Application of Food Composition Laboratory website.

Can I still access food composition data on the USDA Food Composition Databases website?
No. SR Legacy and the USDA Global Branded Food Products Database, which were housed within the USDA Food Composition Databases website, have been moved to FoodData Central. The USDA Food Composition Databases website is no longer operational.

Using FoodData Central

What are some ways to use the results of FoodData Central data searches and downloads?

USDA has been the authoritative source of food composition data for more than a century, and the primary source of publicly available data on the nutrients and other components found in foods. Users of these data include academic research institutions, federal agencies, nutrition and health professionals, software developers, foreign governments and organizations, the food industry, restaurants, and others. By combining a robust mix of food, nutrient, and other food component data in one system, FoodData Central can strengthen current uses of the data and facilitate new uses.

The data in FoodData Central can be used in a variety of ways, such as

  • Monitoring the food consumption patterns and nutritional status of the U.S. population;
  • Conducting research studies in a variety of academic, government, and non-government settings, including epidemiologic studies and clinical trials of diet-disease relationships, assessments of the nutritional status of communities, and economic studies on the impact of price on food and nutrient consumption;
  • Supporting the development of tools for research, such as specialized nutrition databases and dietary recall instruments;
  • Informing food and health policy, program, or regulatory action, such as food safety and food fortification policies, and Nutrition Facts Label regulations; and
  • Developing commercial nutrient analysis software and applications for private sector purposes.
When will I see new data in FoodData Central?

Data in Foundation Foods and the USDA Global Branded Food Products Database are updated periodically. Data in the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS) are updated every 2 years in conjunction with the biennial National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) What We Eat in America dietary data release. SR Legacy is the final release of the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference; these data will not be updated. Each of the data types in FoodData Central provides date information indicating when the data were last updated. For more information, see Download Data .

Moving forward, does USDA plan to create or include new types of data in FoodData Central?

As new data from existing sources as well as new sources of data become available, they will be added to FoodData Central. In the future, FoodData Central will include new entries for all data types except for SR Legacy and will provide additional functionality.

Where can I find additional information about food and nutrition?

USDA provides food and nutrition information for the general public on the following websites: