The food we eat provides energy and nutrients necessary for survival. It is normally absorbed from the digestive tract and used by the body to maintain vital processes and furnish energy for physical activity. Food can be either plant- or animal-based.
In addition to providing nutrition, food can be culturally significant. People may use food to express their emotions, celebrate events, and establish social bonds. Food can also serve as a medium for cultural transmission, such as in the case of the spread of new foods during the Renaissance, when tomatoes and potatoes made their way from the Americas to Europe.
Food is an important part of every human culture, and the food habits of different cultures are often quite different. In some cases, these differences are based on geographic factors, such as the availability of certain types of fish in cool coastal regions or the ability to grow rice in hot, wet lowlands. In other cases, food can be determined by religion or tradition. For example, many Jewish households eat gefilte fish on Passover, while most Hindus refrain from eating meat because of their belief that it is sinful.
Humans are omnivorous, meaning they consume both plant and animal products. Historically, humans obtained their food by hunting and gathering. But the development of agriculture allowed for larger crop production and better preservation techniques, which opened the door to a more varied diet.
The most common sources of energy for the human body are carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy. Fruits, vegetables and grains provide the body with fiber, which is also important for a healthy diet. Fats provide more than twice as much energy as carbohydrates and help to insulate and protect the body. Fats are found in animal products, such as butter and lard, and in vegetable oils.
Diets vary between countries, and within a country, they can be further divided by age, economic status and gender. In general, people who live in urban areas eat more processed and prepared foods than those who live in rural areas. In developed nations, people with higher incomes tend to eat more food and are less likely to suffer from malnutrition. People living in poverty, however, are more likely to experience hunger and even starvation if there is a poor harvest or drought.
A food that is high in sugar, unhealthy fats and calories and low in nutrients is called junk food. These foods can be highly addictive and may lead to weight gain and health problems.
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