Food is any nutrient-rich material eaten or absorbed by humans and animals to sustain life and promote growth. It can be found in plants and animals, as well as in the sea and air. Humans consume food to obtain energy and nutrition, as well as for pleasure and to express culture.
Prehistoric humans hunted or gathered foods from nature for sustenance, but with advances in agriculture and animal husbandry people now have an abundant source of food that can be grown, stored, and transported over long distances. This allows us to have a diverse diet and maintain optimal health.
When it comes to eating healthy, we know that a varied diet with foods from each of the 5 food groups daily in recommended amounts is important. It is also important to avoid too much of some processed foods, which are typically high in salt, sugar, unhealthy fats and additives. These should be considered ‘discretionary choices’ and consumed sparingly.
Eating a wide variety of nutritious foods provides the body with everything it needs to function properly. A balanced diet includes lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats such as olive oil, fatty fish, nuts and seeds. The right amount of these nutrients helps to lower cholesterol, control blood pressure, reduce inflammation and prevent heart disease, as well as promoting healthy skin, weight loss, strong bones and teeth and good mental wellbeing.
In addition, the type of food we eat has a significant impact on our dietary fibre intake, which is critical for gut health. Foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains provide the dietary fibre our digestive system needs to work optimally. The soluble fibre from these foods is also beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight as it fills the stomach, so we feel full after meals and don’t eat too much.
The dietary fibre in food also helps to prevent diabetes and heart disease by controlling blood sugar levels. It helps to keep the bowels regular, prevent constipation and promote healthy teeth and gums. It also has the ability to lower the risk of depression and boost mood by reducing stress levels, which is why it’s so important to include these foods in the diet.
The most nutritious foods are unprocessed or minimally processed, such as natural fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains and plain yogurt with no added sugar. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that help prevent disease and maintain a strong immune system. These foods are also low in saturated fat, trans-fat and sodium. Unprocessed foods are also a good source of protein, which builds and repairs tissues and muscle, and essential fats that protect the body against infection and help with brain function and memory. They are also a great source of dietary fibre which lowers cholesterol, regulates blood sugar, controls appetite and helps to lose weight. They are also full of flavour!