Food is any nutrient-rich substance that people and animals consume for energy and to stay alive. Most of the food we eat comes from plants and animals. Humans get the most nutrition from foods that are whole, or minimally processed, and rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Food also provides pleasure, comfort, or entertainment.
People have been experimenting with and preparing foods for thousands of years. The first civilizations relied on hunting and gathering for most of their food. Later, they learned to grow crops and raise domesticated animals. Some people avoid eating foods of animal origin, a practice known as vegetarianism. Others add or substitute plant-based ingredients, such as beans, nuts, and seeds, for meat in their diet.
Almost all food is processed in some way before it is eaten. Processing may involve cooking, salting, freezing, drying, smoking, or canning. The main reasons for processing are to eliminate micro-organisms that cause disease and to extend the shelf life of the food. Most processed foods are high in sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats. These foods can contribute to weight gain and heart disease.
The best food choices are those that are low in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats and rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. A healthy eating plan focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and dairy. These are often called the “Five Food Groups.”
Eating a variety of foods can help people obtain all the nutrients they need to stay healthy. Foods provide a wide range of other health benefits, including lowering the risk of certain diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
For example, eating foods that are high in dietary fiber can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Some types of dietary fiber can also decrease the amount of fat in a person’s body.
Many of the foods associated with specific countries or cultures are inventions of immigrants. For example, the famous Indian dish chicken tikka masala was invented by a Pakistani immigrant in Glasgow, Scotland. Adding different foods to your diet can introduce new flavors and textures.
It is important to limit highly processed foods because they are high in calories, saturated fats, and trans fats and can contribute to weight gain and heart disease. However, it is also important to enjoy your favorite foods in moderation. If you eat a food that is high in fat or calories, try to prepare it in a healthier way, such as baking instead of frying or using a smaller portion size. You can also experiment with recipes that use fewer calories-rich foods, such as adding fresh herbs to grilled fish or trying a low-calorie dessert. Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet can also help cut down on calories.