Food composition is a term that is used to describe an analysis of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutritive substances in a given food. In addition to vitamins and minerals, many reports include information on and analysis of phytonutrients and macronutrients within a food. This information can be used for a number of purposes, including to make sure that a certain person, family, or population is getting enough of one kind of nutrient, vitamin, or mineral. It can also be used to define certain foods that may or may not have allergens. An abbreviated version appears on the labels of most kinds of packaged food and is intended for the same sorts of purposes.
There are a number of organizations, including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), that compile and disseminate information on food composition. The information that is available from an organization like the USDA is usually much more detailed than that printed on packaged foods. The full-length report for creamed corn baby food will list many — in some cases, dozens of — vitamins, minerals, lipids, and amino acids. This information can be used to find out, for example, how much lysine is present in 1 cup (240 grams) of this particular kind of baby food.
Many countries, especially developed countries, require that packaged foods include food composition tables. Even very basic foods, such as bottled water, packaged blue berries, and ground beef, are required to have at least an abbreviated table on their package. Imported packaged foods that either do not have a composition table or do not have a sufficient one often must have the required information affixed to the exterior of the package in order for the food to be legally sold within the country to which it has been imported.
Most people use food composition tables for just a few pieces of information. It is common for people to review the calories and fats that are present in a packaged food, for example. For those who are watching their salt intake, sodium content is an important item on the chart. One of its main purposes is to provide information for people to make informed choices when it comes to their diet.