National Food Institute - Technical University of Denmark (DTU) Danish Food Composition Databank - ed. 7.01


Danish food composition data seen in a historical perspective

by Anders Møller (former Senior Advisor, Food Informatics).
Edited by Ole Hels on basis of original web-article by Anders Møller.

Food composition data - a basic tool for nutritionists

In the Victoria and Albert Museum in London there is a sign with the following text: "Science and engineering, building, agriculture and even cookery depend on accurate weighing and measuring..." .

One of the nutritional science's basic tools - the food composition tables and now the food composition databanks - are also an exponent for this statement. The information in these works has many uses. It is used in the public administration and in the food industry, among other purposes for the calculation of the intake of nutrients. It is used in food consumption surveys, dietary planning and for estimation of the nutrient composition of composite foods. Beyond this, the information is used in nutrition research and education in the field of food and nutrition.

Food monitoring

The food information has an extremely wide crowd of users and this puts forward strong claims for the accuracy, precision and continuous updating of the food composition tables and databanks. As foods undergo constant changes, for example due to changes in the composition of ingredients, changes in the fortification of the foods, etc., the demand of a constant monitoring of foods is required.

In Denmark, food monitoring is the responsibility of the Danish Food Agency. In 1983, systematic monitoring of the Danish foods was initialised to register and follow changes in the composition of foods and to estimate the significance of these changes in the diet of the Danes.

A considerable part of the data appearing in the Danish Food Composition Databank and the official tables published by the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark originates from the monitoring system. After a pause of a couple of years, the monitoring of nutrients is continued in specific focus areas.

Even though Denmark has a long tradition for the compilation of food composition tables with overviews of the content of proximates, vitamins and minerals, it was not until 1983, that the first official Danish food composition tables were published. Before, tables were compiled and published by persons with close relations to nutritional sciences as educational materials.

Many nutritionists in Denmark will recognise names like Richard Ege, Groth-Petersen and Peder Helms, persons, who each in their own way has contributed to the Danish food composition tradition in the last half century. On the other hand, it is not to most peoples knowledge that the Danish food composition tradition has an interesting history of more than 125 years.

Was P.L. Panum the first person on the arena ?

The 'modern' Danish food composition tables history seems to start back in 1866, when the medical doctor, professor in physiology, physiological chemistry and comparative anatomy at the University of Copenhagen, Peder Ludvig Panum (1820-85, after whom the present Panum-institute has been named), gave his 'Contribution to the Examination of the Nutrient Value of Foods' ('Bidrag til bedømmelsen af Fødemidlernes Næringsværdi'). After publishing studies on metabolism and nutrition previously, Panum was occupied with practical nutritional issues. He wrote about foods importance in malnutrition and worked for the use of the results of nutritional science at that age in practice. He recommended 'blodmel' ('blood flour', a powder prepared from pork's blood) and gluten bread (so-called 'power bread') as staple foods and tried at a later stage (1884) to prepare dietary recommendations for hospitals and prisons. Panum's big interest in nutrition was also obvious by his participation (1878) in the 'Society for a Better Milk Distribution in Copenhagen'.

P.L. Panum never published a food composition table in the proper sense of the word, but he made a big contribution to the fact that bad or malnutrition could be the cause of a series of diseases.

Chr. Jürgensen, a pioneer

It was the medical doctor, Chr. Jürgensen (1846-1927), who published the first Danish food composition tables. Jürgensen was born Åbenrå. After primary school in Flensburg, he came to Copenhagen, where he graduated from upper secondary school in 1865. In 1873 he got his medical degree. Chr. Jürgensen established himself in Copenhagen after pre-registration year and studies at several clinics abroad. He specialised in the illnesses of the digestinal tract. He was the first in Denmark to specialise on this subject, and as it was also the case for P.L. Panum, he was not always respected for this.

Chr. Jürgensen: Oversigt over Fødemidlernes Prisbillighed, 1888. Chr. Jürgensen: Oversigt over Fødemidlernes Prisbillighed, 1988. In 1889, Jürgensen opened a clinic for gastro-intestinal diseases and defended his doctoral thesis the same year. Already before his dissertation Chr. Jürgensen wrote a number of theses on gastro-intestinal diseases and dietetics, among these in 1888 'Grafisk Fremstilling af de menneskelige Fødemidlers og nogle Spisers kemiske Sammensætning', eng. 'Graphical Interpretation of Human Food's and some Composite Food's Chemical Composition' (Schubothe 1888). This work is considered as being the first systematic overview of the nutrient composition of Danish foods, with information on the energy-contributing components like protein (at that time named 'egg white components/albumen'), fat and carbohydrate. The 'modern' concept - vitamins - had yet to be discovered.

Jürgensen's food composition tables found widespread use and distribution - also in comparison with present Danish food composition tables. The publication was printed in 8 editions, among which several in German, up untill 1921. The publication contained a table with 'Oversigt over Fødemidlernes Prisbillighed', eng. 'An Overview of the Inexpensiveness of Foods'. As it is the case also in a series of following tables, food prices were included in the tables. The aim of the tables was to a high extent to be used in dietary planning in larger households.

In 1888, Chr. Jürgensen also published 'Mad og Drikke', eng. 'Food and Drinks' (Schubothe), a so-called 'almenfattelig Vejledning for Sunde og Syge', eng. ' Common Recommendations for Healthy and Ill'. It was published in three editions and several languages (Danish, Icelandic and German).

Like P.L. Panum, Chr. Jürgensen worked hard to bring the results of nutritional sciences and dietetics into common practice. In 1890, he received an official scholarship to travel abroad to study bread making and bakery science. After his return to Denmark, Chr. Jürgensen agitated for strong improvements within this area.

In 1905, he started 'Kogekursus', eng. 'cookery classes', for medical doctors and students. It was a great success and he got support from the Government for it’s continuation until 1925. In 1909, he published 'Kogelærebog og praktisk Kogebog for Læger, Hygiejnikere, Husmødre, Kogeskoler', eng. 'Cookery textbook for medical Doctors, Hygienists, Housewives, Cooking Schools' (Schubothe), it was also published in German.

Chr. Jürgensen was convinced that 'the diet' was the most important component in the fight against illnesses.

In the shadow of Chr. Jürgensen's extremely active work, J. Bøkelund published in 1905 'Vore almindeligste Fødemidlers procentiske Sammensætning Under medvirken af M. Larsen', eng. 'Our most Common Food's Composition Expressed Procentually' (16 p., Gad). It is unknown whether this publication had a wider distribution.

Richard Ege influences Danish food composition tables for more than 40 years

With the 'discovery' of the vitamins, the nutritional sciences got a whole new dimension, which - together with the acknowledgement of food's importance for health - constituted the basis for the food composition tables as they are today. Physiological chemistry made it’s entry and got in the 1920'es such an increasing importance for medical science that it separated out and became an independent subject. A very remarkable person in this context was the physiologist, Richard Ege (1891-1974), who was appointed professor in biochemistry at the Biochemical Institute at Copenhagen University's physiological institute, the Rockefeller Institute.

In 1932, Folmer Dam published together with Richard Ege 'Vore vigtigste Fødemidlers Indhold af kaloriegivende Næringsstoffer og Vitaminer med forklarende Tekst', eng. ' Our most important Food's content of energy-contributing nutrients and vitamins with explanatory texts' (18 p., Svegårds Boghandel, Sorø). This publication intended for the education in home ecomomics (in this case: Ankerhus, Sorø) developed into the basis of two publications, which has been revised and improved up to present. It concerns Richard Ege's 'Fødevare- og Ernæringstabeller', eng. 'Food and Nutrition Tables', dels om 'Kosttabeller Ankerhus', eng. 'Dietary Tables Ankerhus'. The latter, especially aimed for use in nutritional education, are still published by Ankerhus Home Economics Academy with Bente Jegstrup and Sigrid Willadsen as authors (Latest edition is 8th revised edition, 2000).

Richard Ege's scientific production is very comprehensive, and after being appointed professor, he got continuously more interested in nutritional problems. Furthermore, he worked strongly for the utilisation of the knowledge in nutritional chemistry for the society. Among other things, after the second world war he contributed to the compulsory fortification of certain cereal products with vitamins and minerals (this compulsory fortification was abandoned 1 January 1987).

Groth-Petersen's tables - Worth noting

E. Groth-Petersen 'Grundlag for Beregning af de Menneskelige Fødemidlers kemiske Sammensætning. En Tabel. (Udgivet med støtte af Statens Husholdningsråd og Den almindelige Danske Lægeforenings Hygiejnekomite)' (90 s., Gad) In 1940, dr. E. Groth-Petersen published 'Grundlag for Beregning af de Menneskelige Fødemidlers kemiske Sammensætning. En Tabel. (Udgivet med støtte af Statens Husholdningsråd og Den almindelige Danske Lægeforenings Hygiejnekomite)', eng- 'The Basis for Calculation of the Composition of Human Food's Chemical Composition (Published with support from The Danish Home Econocs Institute and the Danish Medical Society's Hygiene Committee)' (90 p., Gad). This publication is remarkable and deserves the place as one of the most significant Danish food composition tables - even seen from the present perspective. The tables are prepared with an unusual scientific insight in the table values' uncertainty and variability. The tables take into account the lack of precision of the compositional values are presented with - a concept even present tables are lacking. It is not possible from present values to establish an understanding of the variability of the compositional values, and hence, the uncertainty in the calculations based on the values.

The tables were founded on a mathematical-chemiscal-statistical method developed by Rasch og Groth-Petersen described in Nordisk Medicin, Vol. 3, 1941: 'En Metode til Rationalisering og Simplificering af Kostberegninger', eng. 'A Method for Rationalisation and Simplification of Nutrient Calculations'. It meant, that the direct (concrete) values for a specific component, nutrient, was not used in the calculations. Instead, a co-called 'scale level' representing the range of variability was used. 'Scale levels' had been established for every nutrient represented in the tables. Every 'scale level', expressed as a Roman number, was included in the calculations, and the total of a nutrient calculation was not only the sum of consumed nutrients, but the consumed amount of the nutrient in question on each 'scale level'. This facilitated the evaluation of precision of the final result.

As indicated by L.S Fredericia, The National Vitamin Laboratory, it 'takes some Work and Thinking to Familiarise Oneself with the Principles and get Accommodated with using the Tables in the Right Way. But what is good is not always easy.' Maybe it is due to the tables’ immediate inaccessibility that we have forgotten this important principle.

Richard Ege continued

Richard Eges 'Fødevare- og Ernæringstabeller' (39 s., Nyt Nordisk Forlag) 'Kosttabeller Ankerhus' Back to Richard Ege. In 1941, he published 'Vor Fødes Sammensætning. Arbejdshæfte indeholdende Tavler og Tabeller efter Portionssystemet til Brug ved Husholdningsskoler, Aftenskoler, Undervisning i Skolekøkkener samt ved Husmoderens Planlægning af Familiens Kost- og Fødevarebudget' (84 p., Nyt Nordisk Forlag) og 'Vore Fødemidlers Næringsværdi og Pris' (Munksgaard). In 1952, 'Næringsmiddeltabeller' (Nyt Nordisk Forlag) was published, a special print the tables from Ege's nutritional lessons, and in 1953 'KalorieLexikon' (24 p., Branner and Koch).

In 1963, the 1st edition of Ege's 'Fødevare- og Ernæringstabeller' (39 p., Nyt Nordisk Forlag) was published, in 1970, the 2nd edition and in 1975, after Richard Ege died, the 3rd edition revised by Kirsten Simony.

Ege's 'Fødevare- og Ernæringstabeller' were - like the 'Kosttabeller Ankerhus' - tables that are clear and well-arranged, especially developed for education. The tables contain information about 'indicator' nutrients for about 250 foods.

Danish food composition tables enter the the 'computer age' - Peder Helms

Dr. med. Peder Helms, Nutrition Laboratory, Institute of Hygiene, University of Aarhus was the person that brought food composition tables into the 'computer age'.

In the beginning of the 1970s, Peder Helms published 'Fødevaretabeller. Tabeller over de almindeligste fødevarers indhold af energi (kalorier) og næringsstoffer pr. 100 g.' (eng. Food Tables Tables with the most common foods' content of energy (calories) and nutrients) (Akademisk Forlag) with 2nd edition in 1975. This work was made with 'loose-leaf' tables in a binder, which could be supplemented when new information about foods and/or nutrients was available. Although the idea of making the tables 'dynamic' was obvious as new analytical results appear all the time, it seemed like Peder Helms realized, that result of publishing tables in this way brought along a lot of extra responsibility and commitment. At any rate, the 2nd edition of 'Fødevaretabeller' was also the last.

Peder Helms 'Kostvurderingstabeller' (Akademisk Forlag, 1975)

In 1975, Peder Helms published 'Kostvurderingstabeller' (eng. Tables for Dietary Evaluations') (Akademisk Forlag, 1975), based on the 'Fødevaretabeller' mentioned above. 'Kostvurderingstabeller' is a booklet in a handy format, especially intended for use in nutrition, just like Eges 'Fødevare- og Ernæringstabeller' and 'Kosttabeller Ankerhus'.

Peder Helms 'Fødevaretabeller. Tabeller over de almindeligste fødevarers indhold af energi (kalorier) og næringsstoffer pr. 100 g.' (Akademisk Forlag) At a very early stage, Peder Helms had the feeling for the great advantage of the calculation power of computers. He changed in 1978 the appearance of food composition tables from being manageable tables intended for education, into tables with one page per food and indication of the content of more than fifty nutrients and components.

With this publication, Peder Helms created the foundation for the establishment of a database for nutrients in Danish foods and together with Gretchen Klotz. Peder Helms prepared in 1979 the data foundation for the dietary calculation systems of the Agricultural Productivity Committee's Home Economics Committee at the Agricultural Computing Centre.

Already by then, Peder Helms had developed computer based nutrient calculation systems for microcomputers like the Swedish ABC80 as well as the Hewlett-Packard pocket calculator with pen barcode scanner.

Behind all the newer tables (Richard Ege, Ankerhus, Peder Helms) lies the enormous amount of work, which the Danish National Vitamin Laboratory since the first half of the 20th century has carried out with respect to analysis of foods. Since the beginning of the 1950s, the Laboratory published it’s studies of nutrient contents in Danish Foods in a Danish publication series called: “Statens Husholdningsråds Tekniske Meddelelser”.

When the Danish National Food Institute was established, the National Vitamin Laboratory was incorporated into that, and the Laboratory’s work with analysis of Danish foods was transferred as a part of the Food Institute’s work.

The official Danish food composition tables from the beginning of the 1980s

'Levnedsmiddeltabeller' (790 s., Dafolo Forlag) fra 1983 In 1981, a project agreement was reached between the Danish Meat Trade College in Roskilde and the National Food Institute about preparing the basis for a Danish database of nutrients in Danish foods. The work with compiling the tables is now assigned to Anders Møller

As indicated earlier, Peder Helms’ ‘Næringsstoftabeller’ in 1978 was a break through with the ideas of food composition tables up to then: from being work done by hand to actual databases.

However, some years go by with converting data from paper into an electronic format. In the first official Danish 'Levnedsmiddeltabeller' (eng. Food Tables)(790 p., Dafolo publishers) from 1983, edited by Anders Møller, all the basic work was carried out with editing sheets for every single food item. After final acceptance of the editing sheets the data was put into a databank, which at that time was placed on a micocomputer. The 1983-tables are printed out from this first food data bank. The 2nd edition of ‘Levnedsmiddeltabeller’ from 1985 (also Dafolo publishers) is based on corrections of the original data put into the databank 1982-83.

'Levnedsmiddeltabeller 1989' (864 s., Levnedsmiddelstyrelsen) 'Levnedsmiddeltabeller, aminosyrer, kulhydrater og fedtsyrer' (812 s., Levnedsmiddelstyrelsen 1991) In 1989, The Danish Food Agency published the first tables, which were based on an official Danish food composition databank: ’Levnedsmiddeltabeller 1989’ (864 p., Levnedsmiddelstyrelsen) edited by Anders Møller. These tables contain information of approximately 770 Danish food items with up to 50 informations (basal information, vitamins and minerals) for each food item. It is at the same time the first edition, which contained results from the systematic collection of food data – the so called monitoring system.

In 1991, The Danish Food Agency published a supplement to the 1989-tables: ‘Levnedsmiddeltabeller, aminosyrer, kulhydrater og fedtsyrer’ (eng. Food Tables, Amino Acids, Carbohydrates and Fatty Acids), edited by Anders Møller, Erling Saxholt and Bent Egberg Mikkelsen.


4. udgave af 'Levnedsmiddeltabeller', (1718 s., Levnedsmiddelstyrelsen), redigeret af Erling Saxholt In 1996, the Danish Food Agency published the 4th edition of 'Levnedsmiddeltabeller', (1718 p., Levnedsmiddelstyrelsen), where all information (basal information, vitamins, trace elements, amino acids, carbohydrates and fatty acids) again was put together in one publication, as in the first edition of ’Levnedsmiddeltabeller’ from 1983. The 4th edition was edited by Erling Saxholt and contain up to 100 informations for every item of 826 foods.

Food composition data on the Internettet – The Food Databank

From the year 2002, food composition data have been published on the Internet at the website: The Food Databank version 5 was published in 2002 and version 6 in June 2005. Version 7 was published in December 2008.


The text above is an attempt to give a historic overview of the development of food composition tables in Denmark. Although there are more food composition tables in Denmark, some of the most significant ones have been selected above.

No country is able to produce food composition tables only based on own analyses without leaving tables with lots of missing values. When looking at the sources to the many Danish tables, it is clear, that a lot of foreign sources exist. This is not only the case for Denmark, and there is through time – especially recently – numerous international initiatives.

Reproduced with permission from Anders Møller, Danish Food Information

Department of Nutrition  -   Mørkhøj Bygade 19  -  DK-2860 Søborg, Denmark  -  Phone +45 35 88 70 00 Updated 2008-12-01