What is Food Composition?
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.
Aside from the usuals like carbohydrates, fats and sugar, I like that some brands also include vitamins and minerals.
I have a deficiency in vitamin C, and I like that fruit juices tend to give a percentage of the daily requirement for vitamin C as part of the food composition. Milk fortified with vitamin D also sometimes mentions the percentage. It's good to know so that I can keep track of whether I'm getting my vitamins or not.
@Mor-- I'm not against the idea of kids having a snack once a day. I think that's fine. We all crave a little sweet or salty from time to time.
What worries me more than food composition is the preservatives in the products. Unfortunately, most preservatives and additives are very harmful and their scientific names are strange and long. So no one can identify them unless one knows what look for.
One ingredient I always look out for and avoid is monosodium glutamate. This is a flavor enhancer and also referred to as "Chinese salt" by some. It basically makes one eat the product completely. It creates an urge to eat more and more. It's a tactic that food brands use to sell more of their product. This stuff is found in most snack products. And of course it's dangerous for health.
Product in other countries do not have as extensive food composition tables on their labels like we do in the US. I'd say that our products have a fairly detailed nutritional information table. At least I know all of the salt, sugar, fat, carbohydrate and protein I'm getting. When I was in Egypt this summer, the products either did not have any nutritional information, or they were terribly brief. For example, a package of biscuits mentioned the calories but not the sugar.
I tend to be very careful about what I eat. I try not to overdo salt and sugar. So it was a nightmare to say the least to eat abroad without knowing what exactly it was I was eating.
@Ana1234 - That's OK in theory, but in practice there are a lot of people in the world who need to learn how to read labels properly for their own safety. Reading the label is the only way to be sure that a food item hasn't been contaminated with gluten, for example, which can be dangerous if you happen to have allergies or other problems with it.
And this isn't just a problem for the people with the allergies. Everyone is going to know someone in their life who has to make specialized food choices and knowing how to provide them with safe food is part of being a good human being.
This is one of the reasons I think that food composition and nutrition tables should be written in a much more clear and relevant way than they are now, with more information suitable for diabetics and so forth.
@Mor - They really aren't all that difficult to read if you just want the basic information. I think teaching kids about nutrition in general is better for them, as most of the time the best choice isn't going to come with a food label, since it will be from the produce department of the supermarket.
Once you get to the point where the majority of your diet comes from meals made at home from fresh ingredients, you don't have to worry that much about the few processed items that you do happen to eat because the values will balance out.
I think it's pretty important to learn how to read food composition labels. Important enough that it should really be taught in schools at an early age. Including all the different ways that manufacturers try to put things past their customers, like putting odd amounts in the serving size category (two peanuts should not count as a serving, for example) or emphasizing something like 99% fat free, when the product is loaded with carbohydrates and sugar.
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