The Tracks Stop in Africa: Advocating for a Diverse Food Tracker for All

USDA launches tool to track nutrition and activity


by Tambra Stevenson

WASHINGTON, DC—“Where are the African, Caribbean and even Kosher foods on this list?” Tambra Stevenson, a nutrition educator, inquires to Constance Schneider, Ph.D., R.D., lead for the Food Substitution Project. In the colorful handouts on the table, Chinese and Hispanic foods are on the list of ethnic foods. Schneider of University of California-Davis shares the food tracker with the room of nutrition program coordinators and state leaders. The food tracker is handy tool for people to assess their nutrient intake of their daily meals.

However if you eat African or Caribbean foods, you may not find those foods. With educating the nutrition community, that can change. During the committee update on Thursday at the National Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Conference in Washington, DC, the project lead states ‘African American’ foods are on the list. However Stevenson, a conference participant, emphasizes: ‘African foods. There is a difference.’ After the round table, one west African participant thanks Stevenson for raising the issue.

In an email to Schneider, Stevenson states, “Given the growing and prominent population size of foreign-born Africans and Caribbean [population] particularly on the East Coast, having readily available user-friendly nutrition information is key in addressing the public’s health. Furthermore many people in the area who are not African or Caribbean descent consume these foods. Therefore I find it relevant and pertinent that these foods are included within the Food Tracker and ethnic food database.”

She goes on to state: “To assist in this effort, an ethnic crop specialist focused on West African foods at the University of the District of Columbia can provide a list of ethnic produce. Also as there are international food databases through the UN which capture this data as well.”

The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion within the United States Department of Agriculture is the lead agency to craft the Super Tracker. The newly created site empowers people to build a healthier diet based on personal preferences that also meet nutrient needs and stay within their Calorie allowance.  The online interactive tool pulls nutrient information from the USDA national nutrient database.

How do I add a new food to the Foods Database?

The new foods database in CRS5 comes from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s (CNPP) MyPyramid Foods Database. CNPP will be continually updating the food list and associated databases in the MyPyramid Tracker and welcomes your contributions of new foods. If you are unable to find a food in the MyPyramid Tracker and are interested in adding the food to the food and nutrient databases please compile the following information:

  • Food descriptor
  • Nutrients (visit the USDA National Nutrient Database for the required format and the current food listing)
  • Recipe
  • Moisture loss or gain due to cooking or preparation Pyramid serving equivalent

Once you have complete information for each of the items above, send a message to the NEERS5 Help Desk and request instructions for submission. 

Currently if someone can’t find certain foods in the Tracker, then a person can compile the nutrient information to send to USDA. That course of action isn’e t feasible for many with the time constraints and learning curve. And that’s why one EFNEP conference participant chose to become a USDA visiting scholar for two weeks to travel to USDA labs in Beltsville, MD to work on ethnic food databases. With the enormity of the project, that mission was not accomplished.

Tambra Raye Stevenson, MS is the President of the Student Dietetic Association at the University of the District of Columbia. You can reach her on twitter.com/tambra or at tambra.stevenson@alumni.tufts.edu.

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