Throughout human history, food has been central to social life and is often used as a symbol of wealth. In prehistoric times, people hunted animals and gathered plants for their survival. Once agriculture and animal husbandry developed, it became possible to produce and store food in large quantities. This allowed for the development of complex civilizations, which in turn required an even larger supply of food to feed them.
Food provides the energy your body needs to function and to maintain a healthy weight. It also contains important nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, dietary fibre and fat. Eating a variety of foods is key to a well-balanced diet.
Unprocessed (or whole) foods contain the most health-promoting ingredients. These include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meats. Processed foods are those that have undergone some type of processing such as milling, grinding, chopping, boiling, baking, canning, freezing, drying or adding salt and sugar. Processed foods may also contain additives such as coloring, flavoring, preservatives and emulsifiers.
Most healthy eating plans emphasize whole, unprocessed foods. However, some processed foods can be part of a healthy diet as long as they are eaten in moderation and make up no more than 20% of your total daily calories. Look for foods that are low in added sugars, salt and saturated fats, and high in fibre.
Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for the body and are found in foods such as bread, pasta, rice, cereals, fruits and vegetables. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates, which are sugars, and complex carbohydrates, which are starches. Starchy foods are the main source of energy for most organisms.
Diets vary from country to country, and within countries, from region to region. Geographical factors, such as weather and soil quality, explain some of this variation. For example, people living near oceans often eat more fish than those who live farther inland. The availability of different foods also depends on technology and transportation. Improvements in farming techniques and transportation allow for the growing of crops that are not native to a region.
The dietary habits of people can be influenced by their culture, environment and traditions. Many cultures have specific dishes that are considered traditional, and these may be regarded as a symbol of the culture. These dishes are usually eaten on special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays, or may be served as a staple food.
It is important to eat a balanced diet that includes foods from each of the five food groups every day. This can help protect against chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes. Eating a wide variety of healthy foods can also help reduce the risk of obesity.