The Importance of Food

The food people eat provides energy and nutrients. It also serves cultural, emotional, and psychological needs. People can choose to eat a variety of foods that are low in fat, sodium, added sugars, and saturated and trans fats. Eating a balanced diet of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy, low-fat dairy is important for good health.

Food production and processing is essential for providing the world’s population with a plentiful, safe food supply. The definition of food varies by perspective, as defined by nutrition science (substances that supply nourishment) and food law (any edible substance).

Nutrient-rich foods provide the fuel your body needs to function well. A healthy diet includes a variety of nutritious foods such as lean proteins, such as poultry and fish; vegetables; fruits; and whole grains. It also includes dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream. The USDA’s MyPlate plan can help you identify the types of healthy foods to include in your meals and snacks.

Cereal grains are the edible seeds of grasses, such as wheat, rice and corn (maize). They have been a staple crop for thousands of years and are used in bread, pasta, crackers and other baked goods. They are high in fiber and contain important vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, iron, calcium and magnesium.

Throughout history, humans have developed new ways to harvest and prepare food to meet their growing dietary needs. People began farming animals for meat and dairy products, which provided more protein than hunting and gathering alone. People have also developed sophisticated methods to preserve food through canning, freezing and drying processes.

The most common causes of malnutrition around the world are poverty and poor diets. Many developing countries cannot afford to import the foods they need to thrive, and lack of food is a leading cause of death and illness worldwide. In these cases, the solution may involve distributing food to those in need or establishing local farming initiatives to grow more of the necessary foods.

During the past 50 years, people have discovered that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains promotes better health than consuming a higher-fat, more-processed diet. These foods are lower in fat, sodium and added sugars, and provide more fiber. However, it is not always easy to make healthy choices when dining out or preparing meals at home. Eating habits are strongly influenced by culture and can be difficult to change. A person’s personal “non-negotiables” – the foods they refuse to give up no matter what – can be an important factor in choosing a healthier diet.