Stable Isotope Variability in the American Food Supply: Implications for Dietary Reconstruction Applications

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Virginia Tech

Stable isotope ratios of carbon (δ¹³C) and nitrogen (δ¹⁵N) in human tissues, which reflect the stable isotope composition of the diet, offer numerous applications in the field of nutrition. One of the biggest contributors to uncertainty in stable isotope dietary reconstruction applications is potential variability in the isotopic composition of foods. No prior studies have evaluated the existing food carbon and nitrogen stable isotope data in an effort to determine broad-scale patterns and characterize the degree of variability of stable isotopes within the American diet.

The purpose of this investigation was to improve our understanding of the isotopic composition of the modern American food supply by 1.) Determining geographically representative means and inter-sample variability of animal foods 2.) Assessing the impact of cooking on food stable isotope composition.To define the range of δ¹³C and δ¹⁵N values of animal proteins within the American food supply, we analyzed nationally-collected milk, fish, and shellfish samples from the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference and compared these to previously published data from the international literature. USDA milk samples were characterized by low overall variability, although regional variations in δ¹³C values were present. In contrast, seafood samples exhibited high overall variability but were consistent throughout the domestic and international samples. No variations in δ¹³C or δ¹⁵N values were detected throughout the baking or fermentation process in yeast buns or cookies.

The representative values determined in this study can be used as a foundation for interpreting the stable isotope composition of the American diet.

Stable isotopes, carbon, Nitrogen, food, biomarker