A food is a substance eaten by living organisms for nutritional support. It is usually of plant or animal origin and contains essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals that are ingested and absorbed by the organism for growth and vital functions. Foods may also provide energy. A healthy diet consists of mostly unprocessed, whole foods that are low in saturated fats and added salts. Foods should be consumed in the recommended amounts daily. The main types of food include cereal grains; fruits and vegetables; meat, poultry, fish and eggs; and dairy products.
A person’s eating habits are influenced by culture and tradition as well as biological needs. The social aspects of eating are reflected in the rituals of preparing and sharing meals. A person’s eating habits and food preferences are also influenced by his or her religion. For example, a Jewish person follows kosher, or Jewish dietary law, when preparing and consuming his or her meals.
People need a variety of foods to maintain good health and avoid chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The body gets its energy from carbohydrates, fats and protein. Carbohydrates come from grain-based foods, including bread, pasta and rice; starchy vegetables such as potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes; and legumes (beans and lentils). The body requires a certain amount of carbohydrates to function properly, so these foods should make up about half of the diet.
The body also needs fats, which help to protect and insulate internal organs, and to form cell membranes. Common sources of fats are vegetable oils, butter and lard, and meats such as beef, lamb and pork. Fish, shellfish and some nuts are also good sources of fats.
Foods that are high in salt, added sugar or saturated fat should be eaten rarely and in small quantities. These are often called “processed” or junk foods. Examples include takeaway foods, cakes and biscuits, and soft drinks. Processed foods are usually low in fibre and other important nutrients.
When planning meals and snacks, choose healthy options from each of the food groups. Include plenty of fruit and vegetables, low fat milk, lean meats, fish and eggs. Try to cook from scratch where possible and eat more whole foods, such as vegetables, soups and casseroles. Keep some frozen and canned foods in the cupboard for quick meal options. Use herbs, spices, sauces and dressings to add flavour to meals.