WASHINGTON (May 26, 2022) – Sustainable, diverse foods that meet individuals’ nutritional needs can prevent diet-related illnesses and malnourishment; however, scientific understanding of the nutritional benefits of individual foods is still rudimentary. At most, 150 of foods’ biochemical components are tracked in conventional databases, representing only a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of biochemicals in food. The Periodic Table of Food Initiative (PTFI), funded in part by a $5 million grant from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), is a global effort to standardize food analysis and better understand foods’ impact on human health, agriculture and nutrition. The PTFI global launch event, Unlocking Food Composition to Revolutionize Food Systems for Human and Planetary Health, took place May 22, 2022, during the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.
Malnutrition increases disease prevalence globally, perpetuates ill-health and advances cycles of poverty. Additionally, unsustainable agricultural practices, food-based greenhouse gas emissions, market disruptions, food distribution and waste and a growing population are degrading the natural resources that supports nutrition and food security.
“Food and nutritional security are at the center of many pressing global challenges, yet much remains unknown about what’s in our food and how it affects the health of people and the planet,” said Dr. Selena Ahmed, the PTFI global director. “The first step is to standardize not only the way scientists collect food composition data globally, but also what type of data they collect. Then, we will be able to use and share that data to reduce the global burden of diet-related diseases while also reducing the strain on the environment.”
The PTFI is using technology to characterizing and quantifying foods’ biochemical components to foster breakthroughs in nutrition and agriculture. The PTFI is supporting food systems that use land resources more efficiently, provide improved nutrition and respect the diversity of foods consumed globally. The initiative is convening global collaborations across government, academic and industry laboratories to develop standardized protocols to comprehensively measure and evaluate food composition.
Using advanced scientific practices in analytical chemistry, data processing, bioinformatics and machine learning, the PTFI will surpass the number of foods currently available in food composition databases to include more than 1,000 of the world’s most consumed whole foods. The project looks beyond commonly analyzed nutrients to include measurements of bioactive chemicals and metadata including how the food was grown, processed and packaged to allow for discovery of food composition patterns and drivers. With these analyses, the PTFI will enable the global community to develop nourishing diets, possibly with local or underutilized crops, to improve human health and wellbeing, advance sustainability and provide economic opportunities.
“Understanding a food’s biochemical components can transform diets and economies,” said Lucyna Kurtyka, senior scientific program director at FFAR. “In particular, knowing more about underutilized or regional crops can provide us with more options to fill nutritional needs beyond the widely consumed crops. The PTFI is rapidly increasing our food and agriculture knowledge to the benefit of researchers, growers, consumers and the environment.”
“By working with laboratories around the globe to standardize what we look for in food and how, we are on our way to building a more nourishing, regenerative and equitable global food system,” said Dr. John de la Parra, manager of the Global Food Portfolio at The Rockefeller Foundation. “The open-source library of food composition we are building has the potential to impact agricultural practices, nutritional guidelines, health care and how food is processed.”
The PTFI is supported by FFAR, The Rockefeller Foundation and its public charity RF Catalytic Capital Inc. and the Seerave Foundation, and is facilitated by the American Heart Association® and the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture).
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.
The Periodic Table of Food Initiative
The Periodic Table of Food Initiative is a collaborative effort that will enable conditions for rapid acceleration in research and innovation and help address global challenges in public health, regenerative agriculture, nutrition, environment and more. The Initiative is funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and its public charity RF Catalytic Capital Inc., the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research and the Seerave Foundation and is administered by the American Heart Association and Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture). For more, visit www.FoodPeriodicTable.org.