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100+ Years of Tracking Nutrients Available in the U.S. Food Supply

Posted by Hazel A.B. Hiza, PhD, RDN, USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion in Food and Nutrition Research and Science
Jan 28, 2020
Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply: Macronutrients per Capita per Day, 1909-2010. Click to enlarge.
Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply: Macronutrients per Capita per Day, 1909-2010. Click to enlarge.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

What’s in the food we eat? Have you ever wondered if the foods past generations ate as children were more nutritious than the foods you now eat, or vice versa? Well, let’s take a look at the amount of nutrients available in foods for over 100 years!

The Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply is a historical data series beginning with 1909, on the amounts of nutrients available in the food supply for consumption (not nutrients consumed), on a per capita per day basis, as well as percentage contributions of nutrients by major food groups. The series provides data for food calories and the calorie-yielding nutrients which are protein, carbohydrate, and fat (total, saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and individual fatty acids); cholesterol; dietary fiber; 10 vitamins; and 9 minerals. Food supply nutrients are closely linked to food and nutrition policy, with prominence in areas related to nutrition monitoring, Federal dietary guidance, fortification policy, and food marketing strategies.

“The United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service (USDA/ERS) food availability data series has evolved from a check on America’s readiness for World War II to a major component of the Nation’s nutrition monitoring system. In 1941, USDA published the first comprehensive data system to assess the availability of 18 food commodities. By 1949, information on food availability back to 1909 had been compiled and added to the data series. By 1961, USDA was measuring the per capita availability of 53 commodities.”Today, the data cover several hundred commodities and American eating habits can be tracked for over a century.1

The nutrients available in the food supply are calculated by using data on the amount of several hundred foods available for consumption from USDA/ERS food availability data system and information on the nutrient composition of foods from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Percentage of Nutrients from Various Food Groups are Provided in the Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply Series
Percentage of Nutrients from Various Food Groups are Provided in the Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply Series

All of the nutrient values per capita dating back to 1909 are recalculated with the most up-to-date food composition values available. Hence any changes in these values because of improvements in laboratory analysis and sampling practices are accounted for over the entire series.

Nutrient content data have been revised for over a century. Newly updated tables in Excel format are available, from 1909-2010 on the USDA/Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion web site. These data are of interest to agricultural policymakers, economists, nutrition researchers, and nutrition and public health educators. The nutrient content of the food supply data are invaluable for monitoring the potential of the food supply to meet nutritional needs; for examining relationships between food supplies, diet, and health; and for comparing food availability trends with dietary intake trends of Americans.

  1. Morrison. R.M., Buzby, J.C., & Wells, H.F. Guess Who’s Turning 100? Tracking a Century of American Eating. USDA, Economic Research Service, Amber Waves, March 2010.
    Early Assessment of Nutrient Availability
    Early Assessment of Nutrient Availability

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Comments

Lily
Jun 01, 2014

Good

Robert Tate
Jan 21, 2017

What I would like to know is the nutrient density of specific fruits and vegetables now compared to fifty years ago. Thanks Bob Tate

Chris Martindale
Jan 20, 2020

What is the relative nutrient density of today's foods with those 100 years ago?

Ben Weaver
Feb 03, 2020

@Chris Martindale - thank you for your comment. It is difficult to accurately compare nutrient content from over a century ago to current times. Methodologies to determine nutrient content of foods have evolved over the years and changes in nutrient values over time have occurred due to several factors, including changes in farming techniques, improvements in laboratory analyses, sampling practices and technological advancements. However, you can get a historical overview of the estimated contribution of nutrients from foods available for consumption in the US Food Supply found at www.fns.usda.gov/USFoodSupply-1909-2010. For more recent nutrient content data, you may visit ARS at www.ars.usda.gov/northeast-area/beltsville-md-bhnrc/beltsville-human-nutrition-research-center/food-surveys-research-group/docs/fndds-download-databases.

Liesel
Jan 27, 2020

The link for USDA/Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion web site does not work