McCance and Widdowson's Tables of Food Composition

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Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics (1999), 12, 1–5

McCance & Widdowson’s Tables of Food Composition: origins and clarification of the Fifth edition A. E. Black∗ and A. A. Paul†
∗Medical Research Council, Dunn Clinical Nutrition Centre, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2DH; †Medical Research Council, Human Nutrition Research (formerly Dunn Nutrition Laboratory), Downham’s Lane, Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 1XJ, UK

The evolution of the McCance and Widdowson’s Tables of Food Composition is briefly described and some confusions that exist over the Fifth edition are clarified. Key words: Food tables UK.

Introduction
Food composition tables are absolutely basic tools for the work of the dietitian and the human nutritionist. Every dietary prescription is built on the data in the food tables. Every study of the relationship between diet and health depends on the use of food tables to calculate nutrient intake. It is essential therefore that those who use the tables fully understand how they are compiled and what are their limitations. Food tables need to reflect the foods eaten in the culture in which they are to be used, in terms of the types of foods and their origins. Where used to analyse dietary intake data, recipes that reflect the local cultural patterns are an additional requirement. As agricultural and food manufacturing practices change, the food tables need to evolve to keep up with them. In the UK we are fortunate in having an excellent set of food tables. They have evolved over a period of now nearly 60 years and there is a continuing rolling programme for updating. However, this does mean that the

tables exist in several editions. Users need to understand when each edition appeared and how each differed from its predecessors. They need to know which edition has been used to analyse a given study. If embarking on a reanalysis of old data they need to choose the most appropriate version. If embarking on analysis of a new study, they need to use the most recent data. If buying nutrient analysis software they need to know which version of the tables are built into the programme, whether the writers of the software will provide regular updates as new data become available and whether the package has facilities for the user either to add new foods or to update old ones. This paper briefly reviews the evolution of the UK food tables and seeks to clarify some confusions that have appeared in recent years.

First and second editions of McCance and Widdowson
McCance and Widdowson’s Tables of Food Composition evolved from early work by R. A. McCance. In 1925 he was given a grant by the Medical Research Council to study the amount of carbohydrate in foods used in the treatment 1

Correspondence: Dr Alison E. Black, Medical Research Council, Dunn Clinical Nutrition Centre, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2DH, UK. © 1999 Blackwell Science Ltd

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A. E. Black and A. A. Paul
at the point of consumption. They included published data mainly from the third edition of McCance and Widdowson, information from manufacturers, the nutrient composition of a substantial number of recipes calculated from data in the third edition and experimentally determined moisture loss, and a limited number of special analyses carried out by the Laboratory of the Government Chemist. The DHSS tables went through several versions. The first (pilot 1963) version was refined for the second (1967) version by dropping items not used and adding some found to be necessary. A third (1969) version was essentially a rearrangement and renumbering of the foods items in the second version. The food tables remained unpublished but were readily available and widely used by those conducting dietary surveys in the 1960s and 1970s. A quick way to identify which set of tables has been used in the coding of any particular survey is to look at the Code Number for a frequently used food. The codes numbers for ‘milk, ordinary’ for example in 1963, 1967 and 1969,...
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