Who Can Access FCDBs And How?
Who uses FCDBs and what for?
Food composition databases (FCDBs) represent fundamental information resources for nutrition science. Their use, however, is not limited to the field of nutrition science and the public health domain: food industry, legislation and consumers all need and/or use data on food composition.
One of the most well known uses of food composition data (FCD) is in the assessment of nutrient intake at the individual, regional, national or international level. Dietitians and other health practitioners use FCD to assess the diets of their patients, while epidemiologists need to assess diet in order to study the role of food components and their interactions in health and disease. This can be on a small scale but also includes international epidemiological studies and multi-centre research.
National government agencies often assess diets at the population level, through national food consumption surveys, in order to monitor trends in nutritional status and to evaluate the impact of nutrition policy. FCD are also widely used in the development of recipes, meals and menus for therapeutic diets, institutional catering and the commercial food service industry. Dietitians and clinicians need to design therapeutic diets for patients with specific nutritional requirements associated with their condition (e.g. metabolic disorders, diabetes). FCDBs help them to identify foods that are good sources of nutrients of interest. With the increasing focus on children’s diets, menus in schools and childcare settings can be assessed against nutritional standards, often using specially designed meal planning software.
Nutrition for services
FCD are also an important tool in planning menus in care homes, hospitals and prisons to ensure adequate nutrient content. There is also a move towards the provision of point-of-sale nutritional information in food service outlets, which has increased the application of food composition data in the food service industry. The demand for point-of-purchase information on nutrient content has also been a driving force behind the inclusion of nutritional information on food labels. This is in the form of nutrition panels and, increasingly, front-of-pack or ‘signpost’ labelling, which provides information for consumers in a simplified format. Nutrient profiling, a tool for categorising foods on the basis of their nutrient content, is a relatively new application of FCD. It will help assess the eligibility of foods to bear nutrition and health claims under new EU regulations. Other uses of food composition data in relation to food manufacturing include optimisation of product composition when developing new products.
Nutrition for education
FCD are also used to help identify the needs of nutrition education and health promotion and to implement appropriate strategies, such as targeted interventions. They form an integral part of, and an educational resource for, food and nutrition training in schools, tertiary education and, increasingly, in workplace settings. They also have more general applications in agriculture and trade. For example, FCD can be used to monitor the nutrient content, safety and authenticity of foods. Improvements to the food supply, such as plant breeding, and new methods of cultivation, harvesting and preservation can be assessed using FCD. Finally, they form part of the evidence base in support of initiatives on nutrition and biodiversity.
Advances in information technologies allowing rapid transmission of large data volumes (e.g. third generation cell phone technologies 3G, WLAN) encourage the development and dissemination of consistent and coherent FCD through multiple channels, in forms appropriate to local culture, age and needs. In the future, food or health information from web portals could be retrieved at the time and location (at home or in shops) as needed, through the use of ultra mobile computers, mobile phones or stationary devices having incorporated access to the Internet. EuroFIR FoodEXplorer, which enables the simultaneous online search of the national FCDBs linked with EuroFIR, is such a portal and is likely to become a leading food information source.
Access through EuroFIR
The easiest way to access and compare food composition data from across Europe and beyond is by becoming a member of EuroFIR AISBL. EuroFIR AISBL is a single and unique food information resource that allows users to simultaneously search more than 20 national and specialised food composition databases.
As a member, you can access the EuroFIR eSearch facility online and conduct a search based on food name, or a Langual code or descriptor. The data can then be viewed and downloaded as spreadsheets and applied to meet your needs. To find out more about becoming a member of EuroFIR AISBL click here.
The EuroFIR AISBL resource provides an interface for you to search multiple food composition databases at the same time. Some of these databases can also be accessed individually, either for free or a fee – see ‘List of FCDBs’. While you may only be interested in accessing one database at a time, a key benefit of using the EuroFIR AISBL resource is that the food descriptors, food components and value descriptors are fully standardized across the databases for ease of use and comparison.
For more about the benefits of joining EuroFIR ASIBL click here.
EuroFIR's uses and users
EuroFIR has started working with software developers on a web based health advisor and a video game to assist individuals in losing weight and improving their eating habits. Altogether, several diverse innovative uses of FCD can be identified.
- EuroFIR synthesis report 2 on the different uses of food composition databases (364 KB - PDF)
- EuroFIR report on existing innovative tools within the eHealth area which already include food information or in which food information might be included (19,5 MB - PDF)
- EuroFIR report on Report on New Users and New Uses of Food Composition Databases Outside the eHealth Area (7,1 MB - PDF)