Energy available from non-staples is an indicator of dietary quality and quantity calculated at the national-level that estimates the percentage of all calories available from non-staple goods in the food supply (all food items, excluding tubers and grains). Staple foods are generally the least expensive food items available and are also the least nutrient-dense, and diets based predominantly on staple foods have been associated with micronutrient deficiencies and low dietary diversity (Arimond et al., 2010 and Ruel, 2003). This indicator does not yield any information on the affordability, access or consumption of non-staple foods by different population groups within a given country, meaning that a sufficient national supply does not ensure sufficient consumption by nutritionally vulnerable groups. Nonetheless, it can be useful for determining whether a country’s food supply contains enough non-staples to meet aggregate population needs. If it does not, then measures should be taken, such as promoting increased production or imports of non-staple foods.
This indicator can be accessed through FAO’s FAOSTAT website. FAOSTAT contains national level food balance sheet (FBS) data, which disaggregate elements of utilization and supply and estimate total food available for human consumption. This information is paired with food composition data to produce information on the national supply of macronutrients (per capita/day). Additional indicators of quality of the food supply using FBS data that are covered in this Guiding Framework include national average supply of protein and national fruit and vegetable availability in food supply, among others.
Method of Construction
This indicator can be calculated using FBS data, which can be found on the FAOSTAT website by selecting the “Food Balance Sheets” option under the “Data” tab. FAO calculates the national estimate of total food availability using data from a number of sources, including government agencies, marketing authorities, and industrial/manufacturing surveys, among others (FAO 2001). This national estimate is calculated as the sum of the elements of supply (production quantity, import quantity, and stock variation) minus the elements of utilization (export quantity, food manufacturing, feed, seed, waste, and other uses). Using food composition tables, FAOSTAT calculates the energy content (kcal) of the edible portion of each type of food available for human consumption. This value is then divided by the population size and by 365 days to calculate the per capita daily average supply of energy from each type of food (or from total food available if these food groups are added together).
To calculate this indicator, the food supply (kcal/capita/day) must first be calculated for non-staple goods. In the FAOSTAT food balance sheets, the “Food supply (kcal/capita/day)” option can be selected under the “Elements” heading, and food groups can be selected under the “Items Aggregated” heading to produce a total food supply (kcal) for non-staple goods. After calculating the food supply for non-staples, the food supply for all goods is calculated by selecting “Grand Total + (Total)” under the “Items Aggregated” heading. The indicator for energy available from non-staples (% kcals non-staples) can then be calculated using the following fraction:
Food Supply of all non-staple foods [kcal/capita/day] / Food Supply of all foods [kcal/capita/day]
For more information on the FAO food balance sheet methodology, see FAOSTAT. For more detail on using FAO data to calculate available energy, refer to Food Security Information Network’s guide to food security indicators (Lele et al., 2016)
This indicator is used to gain an overview of the food availability and, to a lesser extent, food quality available in a country. When data from individual or household surveys are unavailable, this indicator serves as a proxy for food consumption levels at the population level (FAO 2016). Because the data are available annually for nearly all countries, this is a useful indicator for cross-country comparisons of food consumption, as well as for analysis of trends over time within a country. Non-staple items are of particular interest because they tend to be more nutrient-dense than staple goods, and previous research has found an association between the diversity of the national-level food supply and health outcomes (Remans et al., 2013). This indicator has also been identified as one of a suite to be used in measuring the nutrient adequacy component of “sustainable nutrition security” (Gustafson et al., 2016). The inverse of this indicator – energy available from staple foods -- is part of the FAOSTAT Suite of Food Security Indicators and is published annually by FAO in the State of Food Insecurity (SOFI).
Strengths and Weaknesses
Due to the availability and comprehensiveness of the FAO Food Balance Sheets, this indicator is easily calculated and compared across time and place (FAOSTAT). Another strength of this indicator is that it is simple to interpret and lacks sampling and reporting biases associated with dietary recall data (Lele et al 2016).
However, a downside of this indicator is that it does not reflect actual consumption of non-staple foods, but rather the availability of these foods. In addition, as a national-level estimate, it cannot be disaggregated by sex, age, or by any geographic scale smaller than the national level, nor can it detect disparities in consumption of non-staples across population groups or between seasons, as is possible with individual-level dietary data. Although the FBS accounts for food losses incurred at the distribution and processing level, it does not account for plate waste at the household or individual level (Lele et al 2016). It is also important to confirm the definition of non-staple goods, which may vary by context. Some have suggested excluding from the definition all foods eaten regularly and thus excluding roots and bananas/plantains (Gustafson et al., 2016), which may omit commonly consumed foods of nutritional significance (e.g., beta-carotene-rich varieties of sweet potato).
The FAO Food Balance Sheets are the most comprehensive and authoritative database for these data (FAOSTAT).