Food is a substance that provides energy and nutrients for growth, body processes, and maintenance of the human organism. Absorption and utilization of food is facilitated by the digestive system. People obtain food by eating plants and animals, or by consuming raw foods or processed foods. The composition of foods varies widely between cultures and regions of the world, as does the manner in which food is prepared, served, and eaten.
Most prehistoric humans were hunter-gatherers who relied on the natural resources available in their environment for their survival. Subsequently, they developed horticulture and agriculture, which enabled them to cultivate crops and raise animals in controlled environments. People also learned to preserve and store food, which further enhanced their ability to stay alive in adverse environmental conditions.
A balanced diet is vital for good health and well-being. Ensure that you get enough protein, carbohydrates and fats, and avoid processed or sugary foods. Try to eat fresh, whole foods that are high in fiber and vitamins and minerals. Choose lean meats and fish, as well as vegetables and fruit. Keep in mind that serving sizes are often misleading – for example, a box of macaroni and cheese may contain 1 cup (240 g) but the actual portion size is much smaller.
Many processed foods are high in salt, sugar and unhealthy fats and can contribute to weight gain if eaten regularly. It is best to eat these foods in moderation and make sure you are getting enough fibre, protein, calcium, vitamins and iron.
Eating healthy can be a challenge for busy people, but there are simple ways to improve your diet. Stock your cupboard and fridge with healthy foods that are quick to prepare. For example, try adding tinned or frozen vegetables to curries and casseroles, shop for cheaper cuts of meat and use a slow cooker for one-pot meals.
It is important to eat when you are hungry, and not out of boredom or other emotions, as this will help prevent over-eating. If you are not satisfied after a meal, try having another small serving or snacking on a piece of fruit. Avoid drinking too much caffeine or alcohol as these can cause headaches and bloating.
Food has been an important part of culture since prehistoric times, and rituals around food have served social as well as nutritional purposes. People often express their cultural identity through the food they eat, and cuisines have spread worldwide as people have travelled.
In some countries, poor harvests or drought can result in malnutrition and even famine. A lack of food will affect urban and rural populations differently, as city dwellers tend to eat more processed foods. Rural inhabitants depend on local produce and are first to suffer when they lose access to nutritious foods. They also may not have the financial means to buy replacements. In these cases, government programs often provide food aid to prevent hunger and malnutrition. In other areas, famine can occur as a result of political conflict or war, as was the case in Yugoslavia during the 1990s.