A computer system has been developed which facilitates standardized and in-depth collection and analysis of dietary intake information required for nutritional research. The system uses a hierarchically arranged database of food descriptions. A user identifies a consumed food by traversing a hierarchy and reaching a leaf node food item via a succession of selections from menu displays. If a food contains ingredients or was cooked with additional fat or salt, multiple traversals of the food hierarchies are necessary. The system assigns one or more food codes and determines the gram weight of the food consumed using everyday measures such as cups, slices, ounces, etc. It then uses these food codes and gram weights to calculate nutrient content. Utilizing binary trees and physical pointers to expedite data retrieval from this nearly 10 Mbyte database permits the system's use in conducting real-time interactive interviews.