Food is one of the human body’s basic necessities, containing nutrients – substances essential for the growth, repair and maintenance of tissues and the regulation of vital processes. Healthy eating may help reduce risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and some cancers.
Throughout history, food has been used for more than just sustenance; it has also served as a source of social identity and a symbol of wealth and status. Today, food is an industry which provides people with an enormous range of products that are both convenient and nutritious.
For most of history, humans hunted and gathered foods from their environment. Eventually, however, some plants and animals were domesticated for cultivation, enabling the growing of crops and the rearing of livestock. The Industrial Revolution ushered in new technologies such as refrigeration and canning, which made mass production and distribution of foods possible. As a result, the modern food industry has emerged which produces ready-to-eat meals, snacks and beverages that provide most of the world’s energy needs.
A balanced diet is key to good health, and should be comprised of whole foods. This means choosing lean proteins (e.g. skinless poultry, fish, beans and nuts), whole grains, low-fat dairy and plenty of vegetables and fruit. It is important to avoid processed foods, which are often high in saturated fat, trans fat and salt.
Carbohydrates provide the body with its main source of energy, and are found in foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates, which are converted to energy quickly, and complex carbohydrates, which are stored as glycogen in the body.
The body requires fats to absorb certain vitamins, and to produce hormones, and it is also needed for the proper function of the immune system. The main sources of fat are animal foods such as meat and dairy, but can also be obtained from vegetable oils.
Nutrient-dense foods can be expensive, but shopping smart can save money. Look for supermarket specials on staples such as rice, pasta and tinned vegetables and stock up when they are cheap. Also, cooking from scratch can be cheaper than buying ready-made meals, which are usually expensive, high in saturated fat and salt and low in fibre and vitamins and minerals.
Eating a variety of foods helps keep the body nourished and provides a range of health benefits, but be mindful of portion sizes. A serving of meat, fish or chicken should be about the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of cooked beans, mashed potato or pasta should be enough to satisfy hunger. It’s also a good idea to drink water rather than sugary soft drinks, and to use lower-calorie sweeteners such as honey or stevia. Also, try to limit takeaway foods, which are typically high in calories, saturated fat and sodium, and which will leave you feeling hungry a short time after eating them. Rather, make your own healthy snack options such as muesli, wholemeal toast or a piece of fruit.