On Nutrition: Explore the National Agricultural Library

As I waited with my cup of tea for a webinar to begin, I jotted down what I knew about our National Agricultural Library. It belongs to Americans. It is related to the science of agriculture. And it’s a storehouse of valuable information.

I had no idea what that all entails. The USDA National Agricultural Library is one of five national libraries in the United States. And it houses one of the world’s largest collections devoted to all the sciences related to farming, forestry, ranching, food quality and nutrition.

It all started in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the United States Department of Agriculture into existence. From there began a collection of all we have learned about food production and nutrition.

As the webinar began, USDA experts walked us through the resources, some familiar, some not. Most amazing to me was that all this reliable information is in one place … and literally at our fingertips.

Type in nal.usda.gov to get started. Under the Topics tab, choose Human Nutrition and Food Safety. That’s where you can browse various resources in detail.

Explore the ins and outs of vegetarian eating, for example. Or find up-to-date guidance on nutrition for certain health conditions, such as how to eat when diabetes strikes during pregnancy. Or how to deal with eating disorders such as anorexia or binge eating.

Maybe you just want to know what nutrients are in that avocado you just ate. USDA’s Food Data Central is the place to go. It offers nutrient information on 440,000 foods. Or let’s say you need a list of foods high in a certain nutrient, such as dietary fiber. You can do that too.

From this same site you can access nutrition.gov, which pulls together easy-to-understand nutrition advice based on sound research. For example, you’ll find a video about how to separate nutrition facts from fiction.

Need more scientific or technical information? Find research from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, usda.ars.gov, on this site as well. This agency’s job? To find solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day from field to table.

Need more specific information? Several tools are included to search for what you need. It’s like having a trusted librarian right at your side.

The National Agricultural Library even offers a collection of resources about the history of agriculture in our country. There’s historical data on how dietary guidance has evolved over the years. And documented accounts of how farmers fed our nation during the World Wars.

To be sure, there are a lot of voices competing for our attention in the field of nutrition. Be encouraged that these credible resources are based on the most current scientific evidence to date. And yes, I learned, they are updated as new facts become known.

Barbara Quinn-Intermill is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to [email protected].