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Survey reveals huge gaps in knowledge about what we eat

The nutritional assessment of food is too often simplified to calories and essential nutrients..

UK consumer prices rose by an annual rate of 7.9 percent, down from 8.7 percent in May as food price inflation eased
UK consumer prices rose by an annual rate of 7.9 percent, down from 8.7 percent in May as food price inflation eased - Copyright AFP ATTA KENARE
UK consumer prices rose by an annual rate of 7.9 percent, down from 8.7 percent in May as food price inflation eased - Copyright AFP ATTA KENARE

A new assessment reveals scientific knowledge gaps in relation to food and nutrition. The findings appear in the science journal Nature Food, based on data from the Periodic Table of Food Initiative. The initiative identifies a list of 1,650 foods for biomolecular analysis to advance nutrition and planetary health.

Of the foods listed: 30 percent are fruits; 25 percent are vegetables, 8 percent are nuts and seeds, 8 percent are land animal products and 7 percent are aquatic animal products.

The Periodic Table of Food Initiative (PTFI) Initiative is supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and its public charity, RF Catalytic Capital, Inc. and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research and facilitated by the American Heart Association and the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture).

Of the ‘missing’ foods for biochemical analysis more than 1,000 are not included in any globally recognized food composition databases. Such databases are typically used to issue dietary guidelines and to guide agricultural policies.

This means the information presented on dietary labels is often limited or inaccurate.

According to Selena Ahmed, Global Director of PTFI at the American Heart Association: “We may think we know what we’re eating, but most of the time, we have limited understanding.”

The list was compiled through a global participatory process involving 40 experts from regions around the world. It represents a cornucopia of foods chosen for their contribution to the human diet, cultural relevance, diversity and innovation potential as the climate changes.

Furthermore, the nutritional assessment of food is too often simplified to calories and essential nutrients.

To redress the gap, analysis is underway on hundreds of the listed foods, using sophisticated new technologies (like high resolution mass spectrometry and artificial intelligence) to discover the so-called “dark matter” of food.

Some 476 foods are considered global in nature (broadly cultivated and consumed), while the others are regionally important, originating from either the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Pacific or Europe

As an example, one of these foods — wattle seeds — come from Acacia trees native to Australia and have been used by Aboriginal communities for thousands of years. The list also includes 98 African crops, 56 of which are undocumented in food databases.

The research paper, in Nature Food, is titled “Periodic Table of Food Initiative for generating biomolecular knowledge of edible biodiversity.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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