Aim: This paper reviews the historical basis of modern assessment of nutrient composition—from food composition tables and the transition to nutrient databases.
Method: A narrative review was formed beginning with the first, very crude printed food composition tables, to electronic food databases and continuing to how dietary assessment is currently impacted by state-of-the-art techniques and what that means for food composition.
Results: A plethora of studies, especially international studies, have utilised information from food composition via nutrient databases and software designed to extract food composition data into relevant files for dietary assessment. The United States Department of Agriculture's nutrient data bank is widely used, even internationally, and concerns about its appropriateness in other locales needs to be addressed. A number of countries have developed food composition databases unique to the foods of their population. International studies realised a number of problems related to inconsistencies between countries. Essentially, high-quality food composition data requires up-to-date information on food supply, supplement use and potential food contaminants. Food composition tables form the basis for data published on nutrient intakes of individuals via food diaries, food recalls and surveys and, in addition, nutrient claims for some food products; thus, accuracy and reliability are paramount. New tools in dietary assessment, such as food photography, make nutrient assessment more widely available, requiring even more attention paid to the accuracy of food composition databases.
Conclusions: The globalisation of food sources and the need for continuity regarding dietary data present challenges needing reconciliation. International concepts for food composition tables have evolved to address these problems.