A massive project, led by professor Barry Popkin at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health is creating a huge map of what foods Americans are buying and eating. Remarkably, the database has the ability to sort one product into what it really is – thousands of brands and variances.

For example, take chocolate milk. It has long been classified by the government with 2% fat as one item. The researchers however, using scanner data from grocery stores found thousands of variations of 2% chocolate milk, and averaged them out. They found that the milk actually has 11 more calories per cup than the government stated it had. Information like this can he helpful in targeting nutritional guidelines, help with disease research, and even push companies to cut down on some ingredients. “The country needs something like this, given all the questions about our food supply,” says Popkin. “We’re interested in improving the public’s health and it really takes this kind of knowledge.”

New York University professor of nutrition, food studies and public health, Marion Nestle says the data will be helpful in pressuring companies to make changes for the better. She believes companies often use “the research isn’t there” as a defense against making changes recommended by public health groups. “What people eat is the great mystery of nutrition,” Nestle says. “It would be wonderful to have a handle on it.”     www.huffingtonpost.com   5/20/13

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