Food is the source of energy and nutrients that living organisms need to survive. It contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats and vitamins, which the body uses to grow and repair tissues and to regulate vital processes.
People have used many ways to obtain food over time, including hunting and gathering, horticulture, pastoralism and the development of agriculture. However, the main way people eat is through the consumption of animals and plants.
Meat, poultry and fish are common sources of protein in diets around the world. The United States, Australia, Brazil and Russia are among the world’s largest beef producers, while Europe produces a substantial amount of pork. Sheep, pigs, goats, camels and other wild animals are also eaten as meat.
Milk and dairy products are an important part of a variety of diets throughout the world. In the Maasai people of East Africa, for example, milk is a major part of their diet and is consumed in various forms, including butter, yoghurt, cheese and fermented milk products like miso.
Soy milk is another alternative to cow’s milk, which is made by soaking and grinding soybeans with water. It is about as rich in protein as cow’s milk and is commonly eaten in parts of Asia.
Vegetables are an essential part of any healthy diet and are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. They can help to prevent heart disease, cancer and a number of other health conditions. They also provide an excellent source of calcium and potassium which can help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and strokes.
Fruits are a great source of vitamin C, which is needed to keep the immune system strong. They are also a good source of antioxidants, which help to protect cells against free radical damage.
Eating a varied diet and avoiding foods that are high in saturated fats, salt and sugar can help to keep you healthy. Limit your intake of fatty meats and full-fat dairy products, and consume plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
Avoid processed food and junk foods as they have high kilojoules and are often filled with added sugars. Try to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet, and eat more legumes (beans) and nuts.
Vegetarians and vegans can also benefit from a varied diet. They can also choose foods that are high in iron, zinc and calcium which can help to strengthen the immune system.
Choosing a wide range of foods from each of the 5 food groups, in the amounts recommended, helps to ensure you are getting all the essential nutrients your body needs. This is especially important if you have health problems such as diabetes, obesity or cardiovascular disease, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
It’s also worth considering the glycemic index, which is a measure of how quickly your blood sugar levels rise after eating certain foods. Refined carbohydrates and sugary foods have a high glycemic index, while fruits, vegetables and lean proteins have a low one. This means that foods with a low glycemic index will cause a lower spike in your blood sugar levels and a slower decline in them, compared to those with a high glycemic index.