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Category: Science

The Healthy Eating Index: How does America Score?

The Healthy Eating Index logo.

The Healthy Eating Index logo.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Have you ever heard of the Healthy Eating Index? The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) measures the quality of Americans’ food choices. At USDA we use the HEI to see how closely Americans are following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate. The HEI assigns scores to diets on a scale in which the maximum score of 100 indicates that the diet meets all Dietary Guidelines recommendations. The HEI shows us that the diets of most Americans could use some improvement. For example, HEI scores for 2007-08 averaged about 53.5 points out of 100 points, and these scores have not changed substantially since 2001-02. Using the HEI we can also compare how food choices and overall diet quality differ among males and females and in certain age groups, such as HEI scores for children and adolescents.

The HEI includes 12 components, each of which measures one aspect of dietary quality. These components represent all of the key Dietary Guidelines food choice recommendations. Nine of the components focus on the types of foods that Americans should eat more of, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains. Three components focus on foods or nutrients that are over consumed and Americans should eat less of, including refined grains, sodium, and calories from solid fats and added sugars (empty calories). Read more »

100+ Years of Tracking Nutrients Available in the U.S. Food Supply

Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply: Macronutrients per Capita per Day, 1909-2010. Click to enlarge.

Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply: Macronutrients per Capita per Day, 1909-2010. Click to enlarge.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

What’s in the food we eat? Have you ever wondered if the foods past generations ate as children were more nutritious than the foods you now eat, or vice versa? Well, let’s take a look at the amount of nutrients available in foods for over 100 years!

The Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply is a historical data series beginning with 1909, on the amounts of nutrients available in the food supply for consumption (not nutrients consumed), on a per capita per day basis, as well as percentage contributions of nutrients by major food groups. The series provides data for food calories and the calorie-yielding nutrients which are protein, carbohydrate, and fat (total, saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and individual fatty acids); cholesterol; dietary fiber; 10 vitamins; and 9 minerals. Food supply nutrients are closely linked to food and nutrition policy, with prominence in areas related to nutrition monitoring, Federal dietary guidance, fortification policy, and food marketing strategies. Read more »

NIFA Small Business Grant Could Help Quench Thirst Around the World

Robert Sorber operates the MicroDesal, which may successfully remove heavy metals, nitrates, phosphorus, and bacteria, making water safe to drink.  Photo by Isaac Madsen

Robert Sorber operates the MicroDesal, which may successfully remove heavy metals, nitrates, phosphorus, and bacteria, making water safe to drink. Photo by Isaac Madsen

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Clean drinking water for the world is a pretty tall order, considering that the United Nations says nearly a billion people currently go without it.  But, that’s exactly the vision that Karen Sorber had when she co-founded Micronic Technologies in 2008 as a family business.

Now a Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is bringing the company one step closer to making that dream a reality.  Micronic Technologies has introduced “MicroDesal,” a technology that takes well water with unsafe nitrate levels and treats it to the point where the water meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean drinking water safety standards.  Nitrates are unsafe for humans – especially children and pregnant women – and livestock. Read more »

Watching Our Water

Preventing movement of agricultural chemicals from crop fields to streams is a key part of protecting our water quality.  Here, an ARS scientist examines a farmer’s subsurface drain pipe.  Photo by ARS.

Preventing movement of agricultural chemicals from crop fields to streams is a key part of protecting our water quality. Here, an ARS scientist examines a farmer’s subsurface drain pipe. Photo by ARS.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

There’s no farming without water. Recent droughts in the United States and elsewhere underscore our need to conserve water in agricultural production, and studies have identified agricultural management practices that help protect water quality.  USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers are making key contributions to these efforts.

For instance, ARS scientists use moisture information collected by satellites to develop the Evaporative Stress Index.  In 2012, this tool predicted that drought conditions were developing weeks before other drought monitoring networks made the same call. ARS researchers also use satellite data to design methods of estimating rainfall amounts in regions where setting up sampling stations would be a challenge, work that has long-range potential for improving precipitation estimates globally. Read more »

Helping Honey Bees’ Health

The black dot on this honey bee is a varroa mite--a parasite that sucks vital fluids like a tick, although it also acts like a mosquito transmitting viruses and other pathogens to the bee.

The black dot on this honey bee is a varroa mite--a parasite that sucks vital fluids like a tick, although it also acts like a mosquito transmitting viruses and other pathogens to the bee.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

You’ve probably heard that the honey bees in this country are in trouble, with about one-third of our managed colonies dying off every winter. Later this week, we will learn how the honey bees survived this winter. With severe weather in a number of areas in the U.S. this winter, a number of us concerned about bees will be closely watching the results.

While scientists continue work to identify all the factors that have lead to honey bee losses, it is clear that there are biological and environmental stresses that have created a complex challenge that will take a complex, multi-faceted approach to solve.  Parasites, diseases, pesticides, narrow genetic diversity in honey bee colonies, and less access to diverse forage all play a role in colony declines.  To confront this diverse mix of challenges, we require a mix of solutions – the odds are that we won’t find one magic fix to help our honey bees. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Helping America’s Farmers Rise to the Challenge of Climate Change

Farmers, ranchers and foresters have long understood the need to care for our land and water—not only because preserving those resources for our children and their children is the right thing to do, but because they know that our farms and forests are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for.

Science and technology has expanded our capability and improved our understanding over the years, but this core mission remains the same. Today’s farmers and ranchers have risen to the twin responsibilities of producing safe, affordable food while employing cutting edge conservation practices on their operations to conserve water, minimize runoff, prevent soil erosion, and preserve wildlife habitat. They know that this will only become more critical as we take on the challenges of feeding a growing global population and dealing with the impacts of a changing climate. Read more »