U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Agricultural Research Magazine 60(3): March 2012 pp. 8-15; ISSN 0002-161X


For more than 115 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided data on the nutrient composition of foods in the American diet. Over time, a series of USDA institutions responsible for providing this data evolved, and today the data comes from the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNRC), part of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

“Our mission is to ensure that science based nutrient profiles exist for the U.S. food supply,” says nutritionist and research leader Joanne Holden, who heads the Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) at the nutrition center, which is located in Beltsville, Maryland. “We work with other BHNRC, private, and public-sector scientists to acquire, evaluate, and disseminate accurate nutrient-profile data on foods—and now certain dietary supplements—consumed in the United States.” (See “National Food and Nutrient Analysis Program,” page 14.)

Researchers at NDLare the conservators of the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, the major authoritative source of information about food composition used in the United States. Some of the data is also used by other countries in compiling their food-composition databases. “The Standard Reference—called ‘SR’for short—is the foundation of almost all of the food and nutrition databases, whether commercial or nonprofit, used in the United States,” says Holden. “It is critical for national food policymakers, researchers, and those responsible for monitoring nutritional status and dietary intake.”