Food database

I’m putting together a database of all the foods we currently eat. When complete it will show:

1. the nutritional status of the food, including calorific value, protein and vitamin/mineral content

2. whether I can grow the food and if so, how easily, including yield and time to produce it, pests/predators, water and soil nutrient needs and any other factors I can think of.

The idea of the database is to get a picture of which foods are the best to grow, giving a situation where nutrient intake is optimised in terms of growing space, water needs and soil nutrition. It will be searchable and sortable, meaning I can select a particular vitamin or mineral and sort in descending order to find the best food sources, then look at the growing needs for plants containing that substance.

For instance it may be not worth growing a particular crop if it turns out to take a lot of growing space, water and soil nutrients and only gives minimal nutrition and takes a long time to do it. I can’t afford to wait if waiting means starving.

For the nutritional information, I’m using the US Department of Agriculture’s searchable database.

It contains very comprehensive information right down to individual amino acids and fatty acids. If a food isn’t listed there, I try to find any other sources I can.

I’ve done some preliminary sorting and the results are interesting. Far and away the best sources of most minerals and vitamins occur in seeds and seed products. For example, oats (rolled oats/oat bran), linseed, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, brazil nuts, poppyseed, sesame seed, corn meal (polenta) and some others, all consistently appear in the top ten for most minerals and vitamins. That’s why I’m looking at growing some of these things. I’ve tried poppyseed and linseed; they’re easy; wheat, oats, caraway and fenugreek (high in iron) also. I haven’t tried sunflowers but I know they’ll be easy (keeping the parrots off will be the hardest part). And so on.

I know I probably won’t be able to grow enough wheat, for instance, to make a loaf of bread, but wheat (and other seeds) can be sprouted and eaten as sprouts and are just as nutritionally rich as ground grain.

Did you know that brazil nuts are the richest source of the mineral Selenium? They can contain up to 2000 micrograms (mcg) of Se per 100 gm. The recommended daily intake (RDI) is 70 mcg. A couple of brazil nuts a day provides the RDI. Australian soils are low in selenium but not as low as in some areas in China where selenium is so low that the inhabitants suffer a deficiency disease known as Keshan disease.

(Selenium is an essential element in the diet of animals and has a variety of roles: an antioxidant that works in conjunction with vitamin E to prevent and repair cell damage in the body, it is involved in immune function and is necessary for growth and fertility.)

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