SNi® and Monash University research on nutrient composition continues 

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SNi® and Monash University research on nutrient composition continues 

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Following the results of a Masters research project on wheat nutritional composition at Monash University, a second student has delved further into the variation between food nutrient composition recorded in international databases. This time, a broader range of food items was investigated, but similarly varied results found. 

The same food commodity produced in different parts of the world can have a differing nutritional composition. Many countries maintain food composition databases for use in diverse applications, in which these data can be found. 

Earlier this year, we reported the results of a project looking at variation in wheat composition from databases around the world. While the macronutrient content of wheat was quite stable in this analysis, the micronutrient content showed large variation, with many outliers. 

A second project has taken a similar approach, but this time for a wider range of foods: milk, eggs, meat, multiple legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Once again, it was the micronutrients that showed the most variation between data sources, in particular selenium and copper. 

This research is important for our understanding of results from the DELTA Model®, which currently relies solely on the USDA food composition data. In this research, the USDA values were found not to differ significantly from the mean nutrient content value found from the other databases for 173 out of 176 points of comparison (the exceptions were selenium content in pumpkin and beef, and, potassium content in carrots). However, it must be emphasised that the micronutrient variation between the individual datasets was very high. 

Map showing the 11 regions for which representative food composition data was used in this project. 

While capturing the nutritional composition of every food item produced in every global region is impractical, this research emphasises the need for caution around micronutrient assessment: micronutrient composition is highly variable, and dietary micronutrient requirements are often set based on average population intakes, rather than a detailed understanding of bodily requirements. There is much still to be understood about these contributors to our diet, but our recent Thought for Food articles on calcium and vitamin E demonstrate how important they are to our health, motivating an urgent need for a greater understanding. 

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SNi would like to thank the Monash University School of Chemistry for their collaboration on this project, and in particular Liam Glare who undertook this research as part of his Honours studies. 

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