The Institute of Food Research is hosting a three day international conference, from 14th-16th September, on food composition and sustainability diets, bringing together 170 experts from 50 different countries to exchange ideas and opinions on the latest developments in the field.
The aim of this will be to extend a scientific definition of what a sustainable diet is, taking into account food production and ecosystems, nutrient content of foods, biodiversity, different agricultural systems and sustainable development, highlighting recent research and policy developments. Defining a sustainable diet presents challenges for food composition researchers where variable and geographic differences in nutrient content are often ignored, often due to limited funding restrictions, and sampling programmes have been based on the notion of obtaining “nation-wide” mean values for nutrients in foods based on population consumption data.
Other topics to be covered during the conference include recent research on traditional and ethnic foods in relation to sustainability and health, as well as updates on the latest database developments, and on the state-of-the-art analytical methods including a workshop on dietary fibre methodology to ensure that the latest data is as accurate as possible.
We are all used to seeing nutritional information on food packaging, telling us how much fat, protein or carbohydrate it contains. But the science that goes into analysing, producing and updating that information, and many more detailed aspects of the composition of foods, also serves many other purposes. It is used by nutrition experts, dietitians, public health professionals, industry, academic researchers and regulatory bodies to inform and influence their decisions. These bodies represent many nations, and it is through conferences such as this, which is supported by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, that coordination and best practice is shared.
The Institute of Food Research has a leading role in the UK’s food composition databases. IFR’s Paul Finglas leads the UK’s Food Databanks National Resource Platform, which, in conjunction with the Department of Health and other organisations, maintains the UK’s own food composition database and ensures that it meets the needs of its users. The platform is also developing novel ways of exploiting this data, such as in software and web-based applications for consumers in the UK and throughout Europe. Key to this is ensuring the UK’s database integrates with others across the world, and in the EU this is supported through the EU FP7 project, EuroFIR Nexus, which is the follow-up project to the original EuroFIR Project of 2005-2010. EuroFIR has developed an online food data platform linking 28 national food databases, and hosted by EuroFIR AISBL, a non-profit membership-based organisation based in Brussels (www.eurofir.org)