Food Database

I’m looking for a free or paid food database, that fits my needs below. Does anyone have any leads?

As far as a food database goes, I think there are probably three tiers of abstraction that a food database could have (#1: Basic food ingredients, #2: Basic food Products, #3: Specific Branded and FDA Labeled Food Products). See below for an explanation of what I mean by each of these.

Every food database I’ve come across is of Abstraction Type #3 (Specific Branded Food Products). Does anyone know of any food database available that is of abstraction levels #1 or #2, as described below? I’m trying to ask users generally about their diets, and I don’t want a database that deals with brands and measurements of food.

#1 Basic food ingredients (DESIRED)
something like “banana, apple, wheat, corn, rye, potato, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, honey, milk, yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, bell pepper, jalepenos, kidney beans, green beans, navy beans”
In other words, it would be a combined list of:
-Dairy Products (milk, yogurt, butter)
-Refined Food Products (cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup)
-Spices & Herbs (salt, pepper, oregano)
-Sweets? (chocolate)

#2 Basic food PRODUCTS (DESIRED)
this might look like: cereal, oatmeal, lasagna, pasta, hamburger, cheeseburger, salad, hot dog, apple juice, orange juice, tea, coffee, ice cream, frozen yogurt, chow mein, chips, crackers, …

#3 Specific BRANDED and FDA Labeled Food Products (NOT desired)
These would be foods that would look something like “Kroger’s Raisin Bran (16 oz.), Lean Cuisine Meatball Lasagna (12 oz.)”

I want a food database that matches the descriptions of #1 above. If there’s one that matches #2, that’s pretty good too. But I definitely don’t want a food database that matches #3.

Anyone have any links to such a food database? Or just a very long list of food on a website somewhere? Any leads appreciated!

Thanks in advance,

Have you looked here:

In reviewing this topic superficially, I’ve noticed that there is a pretty clear tradeoff between:

  1. An easily accessed, standard format database available for a variety of mash-ups/uses.
  2. An accurate, comprehensive assessment of food composition at a fine level of detail.

What you gain in simplicity you lose in precision…

I’m interested in what you find out as you search for a solution. Please share your results and feel free to refine your question.

Most of the food databases I’ve come across contain all three abstractions. Maybe the distinguishing characteristic you’re looking for is that the database is offline, or has an API?

Here are some examples of online food databases; maybe one will fit your needs (or maybe you find an API for one, or write/find a web scraper): - LiveStrong’s TheDailyPlate. I was involved with them for about a year in 2009. They accept user submissions, which are later “verified”. The verification process at some point used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, with poor results. In 2009 I proposed they encourage users to submit photos of the nutrition label, so anyone could verify on their own. As far as I know, they haven’t done that. Rather, verifications are done by moderators. - there’s a checkbox to only search USDA foods. - small database. In her excellent post here on weight loss, Naomi agrees.

There are way more food databases, but as Gary says, the question may need refinement.

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I"m familiar with and have used Calorie Count, LiveStrong and DailyBurn. DailyBurn is the best tool I’ve used in 5+ years of nutrition/calorie tracking.

Sean - are these tools adequate for your needs. If not, tell us a bit more about what you are looking for? is the one I use after 2 years of doing this and switching back and forth among the lot.

The FDA has an ‘official’ database of foods and calories if you’re building an app.

Thanks for all your replies, Gary, Dan, Robert, and Burtonator. I’m looking through all the links you sent me now.

To add some context and clarify, I am looking for a database to use on the backend of my website: Crohnology - A Site to Learn about Crohn’s & Colitis Diets & Treatments. I’m a software developer and will import the food dataset into a table in my backend, so that users of this site can select what foods make their disease flare up, and what foods comfort them. Having this as relational data allows me to do much more interesting things with the information, than if I asked users to just enter these foods into a freeform textbox.

I want the user to be able to enter that one of their trigger foods are “bananas” or “cheese”, and literally just have one option for them to select come up. See, for a great example of how this site simplifies the food options / analysis. Having 20+ different alternate entries / variations for “banana”, like many of the datasets I’ve found, will only serve to confuse my user interface (it is unneeded complexity).

What I realized shortly after asking the question, is that when I asked it, I was really not looking so much for a “database”, but in my head, merely a list. A simple list of foods. In other words, metadata (calories, nutritional breakdown) not needed, just the name. Although, upon reflection, I realized that this nutritional metadata is probably the main reasons these databases exist in the first place. And now I suppose if I had some nutritional metadata on these foods it would be a good thing.

Alright, now that I’ve clarified my question, I’ll get back to reviewing the links you guys sent. Thanks! Let me know if this added context changes your suggestions! Thanks!

P.S. an API also works, but a dataset might be preferable.[hr]
Upon review, it looks like none of the presented solutions yet fit the bill. I’m beginning to wonder if this is a database I’m going to have to create on my own. The links that Dan mentioned are sorta okay for what I’m after in regards to the data content (although most of them are still more complex than I’m after), but the big caveat here is that they are all web-based tools, not easily (or maybe legally) downloadable datasets.

The dataset you linked me to, Gary, is unfortunately simultaneously too complex in some categories (too many slightly different food options), and incomplete in others (no food options in many food categories).

I’ve talked to the developer of (which performs like I’d desire my app too), and he mentioned he had to mostly create his own database to get this level of simplicity.

If anyone has any leads given this new info, would love to know.

Thanks for your help so far guys. :slight_smile:

Thanks Sean for this really good clarification. I think you are hitting on a key problem with the personal data ecosystem in general. We are all dependent on competent performance of neighboring layers, and would benefit from standardization on these layers, but “competent” turns out to depend heavily on the use case, and use cases vary quite a lot in the details. This works against standardization. So there are a lot of people “rolling their own” in all areas. The lesson from previous rounds of tech evolution is that it’s unrealistic to expect not to have to break down and recompose your system several times to accommodate the evolving architecture. It won’t be pretty, but that’s what we’re in for. In other words, you probably WILL have to create your own database to “speedily” move on with your project, and then replace it down the road if a standard emerges. This is not the answer you probably wished for, but at least having a clear view can allow you to allocate “just enough” time to it, knowing it isn’t a permanent solution. At the detail level, designing for modularity will also help you in the future when the standards change. (This is easier said than done, I know.)

In the United States, you will probably want to look at the USDA FNDDS–you can download the CSVs or an MSAccess DB here:
I believe it has everything you are looking for…except it is limited with respect to ethnic foods. We need to get it harmonized with the EuroFIR and the Brazilians and India as well.

this one isn’t too shabby; i tried out test searches by signing up for mypyramidtracker. i’ll have to work around the fact that the downloads are .exe files (i’m primarily on OS X). if the database flags branded food products differently than food ingredients, i can probably ignore the branded food products when i hook it up to my search functionality. thx for this.

still open to other suggestions, but somewhat pleasantly surprised by this. thx Mateolan.

you may want to look again, like I said, you can download the csv files…

update: is a good resource and example of how a human-readable abstraction on food in action. I still haven’t found the perfect solution, but I’ve held of my search for now.

Hey guys, update:

The University of Minnesota’s Food & Nutrition Database( seems like it might be a really great option. I’m looking into it. It seems to have this idea I was interested in: a “core foods” database as they call it.

Thanks for adding the post on the University of Minnesota’s Food & Nutrition Database. Have you come across a database that has the QR codes for the same type of products?

Also, are you using the University of Minnesota’s Food & Nutrition Database? And are you happy with it?


I am not yet using the UoMinnesota Database (mostly just been a reprioritization thing). Haven’t seen anything with QR codes yet.

Not quite sure my solution meets your needs.

TextCalories enables you to track your dietary and fitness activity using text messaging and the Internet. Outside of text messaging, what sets us apart from many of the dietary tools out there is you can create your own custom database of foods.

So, while it would take a little work, you could create caloric values for the ingredients in your regular foods, then send the ones you consumed and TextCalories will track it against a daily caloric budget. Right now we are limited to calories, but plan to get to the nutrient level (sodium, carb, protein, etc.) in the near future.

Again, not sure it meets your criteria but figured I’d throw it out there
TextCalories in 2 minutes:

David Chase
TextCalories | |


Although, you are searching for databases that contain ample options for abstractions #1 and #2, here are some other important things to consider when looking at food and nutrient databases. Look for the three C’s - Is the database comprehensive, complete, and current?

For a head-to-head comparison of the leading food and nutrient databases, take a look at the International Nutrient Databank Directory

The University of Minnesota NCC Food and Nutrient Database is a comprehensive database with approximately 18,000 foods and 163 nutrients/food components. Nutrient completeness is 99-100%. This database also provide many options for abstraction #1, #2, and also # 3 that you listed on your wish list.

For more details, please visit us at

Good luck on your quest!


I really like to track my foods. They meet your requirements about brands and labels.

Not a food database, but evidence-based information on thousands of global food ingredients and their impact on health:

You can try - free food database, calories counter, and diet diary.

Check showcase on youtube: