Food & Nutrient Research

Publish that nutrient data
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Gaëtan Godin
B.P.H.E. M. Sc.

Many moons ago (do people still use this kind of expression) I was involved in an energy balance study. I needed to estimate the energy expenditure of a small primitive population and somebody else was responsible for determining energy intake. I did my part but soon found that the food intake was not easy to estimate. There was a grossly inadequate nutrient database for that population and the software just did not exist, then, to  make this a reasonable project.

A brief look at the requirements for nutrition research immediately shows that it is not as simple as just taking a food quantity and multiplying it by its nutrient concentrations to get nutrient intake.

Typical food databases have over 50 nutrients per food. A person eating 20 different foods a day over three days (a typical recall) would give rise to 50 x 20 x 3 = 3,000 calculations. A small study would have 100 or more participants, 100 x 3,000 = 300,000 calculations.

Then we may want to separate these results

  • by meals (up to 7 meals a day)
  • by food groups (15 groups)
  • by day of the week (weekend vs working days)
Whoops, we need a computer! ...and software  ... and research protocol

We take for granted that the software will do accurate calculations, it is how the data leading to those calculations is stored and how easy it is to export the calculations that is essential. Food research calculations give rise to many variables (one per nutrient, meal code, day code, date, food group code, subject variables, etc) so you need some kind of statistical software as well. There are many choices here (SAS, SPSS, some open source) but you need a way to get your calculations into them. Full export capabilities are needed as an integral part of the software.

Click on any of the links below to get software that satisfies all those criteria.

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You are a scientist
(we talk later about You are a teacher or You are a student)

If you are gathering food intake data you are a scientist. You either want to survey what people are eating or you want to relate what they are eating to something else like a particular ailment (heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, etc.) or to their general well-being.

In science we compare groups. Is one group better than another? Two things can affect the answer:

  • the size of the difference
  • the accuracy of the measuring tools

If the size of the difference is greater than the variability of the measuring tools then we know the groups are different.

In nutrition we are looking for small differences. To see them we need accurate tools. The tools we have are

  • food intakes and
  • food databases.

From those two we calculate nutrient values.

Food intake variability can be made as small as possible by training interviewers and creating code books which ensure that different interviewers make the same decisions about foods and quantities eaten when faced with similar situations.

Food databases are now readily available. In science it is important that reported results can be repeated. Standard food databases must be used. If one uses the same techniques and the same databases one should get the same results.

There are many food databases available. Popular and well supported databases include the most recent releases from  the United States Department of Agriculture (USDASR25) and from Health Canada (Canadian Nutrient File - CNF).

Not all foods are available from just those two sources. It is important to document foods that come from other, non-standard, sources. A good system will provide tools to separate these sources. It will also allow the use of new foods, either obtained from research (internet sources) or created by recipes.

The good news
Software does exist to make this easier, even enjoyable....
Download_candat_purchase Download_candat_trial

What do you need in software? In short, a comprehensive system that helps you through all the steps of gathering and calculating nutrient data and then allows you to send that information to statistical software to answer those questions about differences between groups.  ...and in a way that makes your answers credible and reproducible. No small task!

Software needs to:

  1. Manage your foods:
    • in the standards and the extra foods needed
    • in listings to view food nutrients in various ways (sorted, selected, calculated ratios)
    • in listings to create code books
  2. Manage your configuration tables - nutrients and food groups:
    • in nutrient tables
    • in food group definitions
    • in recommended nutrient intake (RNI) values
  3. Manage your subjects:
    • in intake data (food recalls)
    • in data validation (food codes, units, outlier values)
    • in calculating and reporting nutrient values
    • in producing RNI reports
  4. Manage your recipes:
    • in ingredient data
    • in intake data (food recalls)
    • in calculating and reporting nutrient values
    • in converting recipes to foods for use in intake data
    • in producing reports (by recipe type, preparation time, etc.)
  5. Manage your questionnaires:
    • in questionnaire definitions
    • in intake data (food history questionnaires)
    • in converting questionnaire intake data to suject intake data
    • in data validation (food codes, units, outlier values)
    • in calculating and reporting nutrient values
This software exists, here is the entry page to it.
(click on the image)TaskModulesEach one of the topics above is dealt with in the software...
and these are the entry pages to those topics:
(click on the images)

FMT top menu

TCD top menu

SMR top menu

RMR top menu

QDI top menu

Of course, behind each task are features which allow you to input and manipulate your data. Eventually you export this data, relate it to the objectives of your study, document your methods, report your results, discuss the earth shattering conclusions, publish it all and wait for your Nobel prize.

To get this software

Candat is available as a trial version. The trial version has all the features of the purchased version.  If you need an extension to the trial please just get in touch with us and we can discuss it.

When you are ready to purchase Candat simply follow the links on the website pages. Press one of the buttons below.

To learn more

This page has links to the home page of the website documenting Candat and food research. Please use those links if you need more specific details about the features and benefits of using Candat.  To access the online course you need only register or download one of the trial versions and login.

You are a teacher

As a teacher you may need to teach students how to do food & nutrient research. Some of our most active users were students using Candat for their theses.

The modules in Candat and their corresponding Tasks are an excellent structure for a curriculum. From the first class the students can be entering intake data and seeing nutrient reports.

The mechanics aside you can then dig into the thorny issues of food and nutrient research:

  • How was the intake data collected?
  • Is it a true representation of this individual's usual intake?
  • What do you do about foods that are not in the database?
  • How many days of intake do you need for a better representation?
  • What changes during the day, week, season are you not capturing?
  • What are the advantages or disadvantages of self-reporting over recall interviews?
  • When would you use food history questionnaires?
  • What kinds of questions would you put in the questionnaires?
  • What is the difference in nutrient results obtained from recalls as opposed to food history questionnaires?
  • Would you get better questionnaires if the questions were based on actual recalls obtained from individuals in the target population?
You are a student
(please see You are a teacher, above)
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...and last, but not least, you need  expert help backed by many years of experience in both nutrient research and software. That support comes with the software, please see the testimonials.
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