Food is any substance consumed by organisms to obtain the energy and nutrients needed for growth and maintenance. It can be of plant or animal origin, and consists of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and/or water. It is eaten by animals or plants and absorbed by their cells to be used as a source of energy or stored for future use.
People have a wide variety of foods to choose from, and eating a balanced diet is important for good health. A balanced diet includes foods from each of the five major food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein. Each of these groups provides different types and amounts of essential nutrients.
A healthy diet is one that is low in saturated and trans fats, and has moderate levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It also is low in sodium, and contains fiber. People should eat plenty of whole grains, lean meats and fish, and nuts and seeds. They should also limit processed and sugary foods, as these can be high in calories and sodium.
Eating a varied and nutritious diet can help prevent many diseases. For example, it can lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. A diet that is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can also protect against eye disease, bone loss, and cancer.
Food can also be culturally significant, reflecting a society’s traditions and beliefs. In addition, it can provide a sense of comfort or pleasure, such as in the enjoyment of a favorite dish or the social aspect of dining with family or friends.
Historically, human evolution has been driven by the search for food. In the past, primitive humans hunted and gathered, later developing horticulture and pastoralism. These techniques enabled domestication of crops such as wheat, barley, oats, and rye, and the cultivation of fruit, vegetables, and herbs.
In modern times, improved methods of processing, preservation, and storage allow people to enjoy foods from far-flung locations. For example, Spanish olive oil, French cheeses, and Norwegian sardines can be found on dinner tables in Australia. Local customs and traditions also influence what foods are enjoyed, such as roast beef with Yorkshire pudding in England or noodles in China. The way in which food is prepared and served can have a profound impact on its taste, smell, and appearance, as well as its nutritional value. For instance, frying foods such as chicken and bacon can lead to increased fat and cholesterol intake while grilling or broiling can be healthier.