Four Ways to Assess the Complexity of Food Systems


Food is a material used by organisms to obtain energy, grow and maintain processes of life. Though some plants, algae, and some bacteria make their own food through photosynthesis, most organisms obtain their daily food through the consumption of other living things. According to the Fifth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, “Food is anything used by living organisms to provide energy, growth, or nourishment.”

Complexity of food

There are many different ways to measure the complexity of the food system, but no single method can capture all of these elements. Instead, we need a framework that can provide insight into key aspects of the complex dynamics in the food system. The Committee on Complex Systems outlines four distinct ways to assess food systems and discusses specific methods for these complex dynamics. Below are examples of these methods. Let’s start with the simplest: food preparation. Depending on the method of preparation, food can have many different effects on the health of individuals, communities, and planet.

Influence of diet on health

Over the past two decades, the study of the influence of diet on health has increased tremendously. The discovery of biomarkers has helped identify both the positive and negative effects of food. The heart-rate variability (HRV) is one such biomarker. A decrease in HRV is associated with a wide range of conditions including obesity, diabetes, and inflammation. Researchers have identified certain aspects of the diet that enhance HRV and may help to combat these conditions.

Ingredients found in food

We can get a glimpse of what’s in our foods just by looking at the ingredients listed on the label. The Open Food Database contains over 69,000 ingredients and over 2 million co-occurrence relationships. It is useful for gaining insights into food production, distribution, and consumption habits. We can also use it to study food allergies and eating disorders, as well as obesity. Some common ingredients found in packaged foods include salt, sugar, and water.

Health benefits of certain foods

We’ve all heard of superfoods. These foods contain important nutrients that fight certain diseases and prevent others. However, there’s more to these foods than meets the eye. For example, fruits and vegetables are known to prevent cancer and lower cholesterol. Other benefits include lower blood pressure and improved immune function. Additionally, nuts may also help fight diabetes mellitus and osteoporosis. But what exactly are these foods? And why are they so good for us?

Sources of nutrients found in food

Vitamin C and other essential vitamins and minerals are among the essential nutrients found in food. Insufficient amounts of vitamin C may cause scurvy, a condition in which internal bleeding occurs due to sore gums and skin. Minerals are substances necessary for the correct functioning of the body’s skeleton. Examples of minerals include calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and sodium. Table 2.2 lists some of the most common sources of these nutrients.

Impact of additives in food

Many food products use artificial additives to increase their appearance or taste. These include colour stabilizers, flavour enhancers, and non-sugar sweeteners. Processed foods also contain emulsifiers, humectants, and carbonating agents. These food additives may be added to increase the shelf-life of a product, enhance its appearance, or mask the unpalatable properties.