Food is any substance consumed by living things to get the energy they need for survival. It usually comes from plants or animals and contains essential nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Humans need to eat food in order to survive, but food is also culturally significant and can evoke an emotional response.
People have been cultivating, cooking and preparing foods for thousands of years. Before agriculture, humans were hunter-gatherers and ate what they could find in their environment. With the invention of farming, however, people were able to grow their own crops and store food for future use. This changed the way that people ate and led to a more structured food system.
Today, most people buy their food from stores or markets and cook it at home. They may also eat at restaurants or a school cafeteria, called a refectory. Food is a complex subject, influenced by many factors from biology to culture. Understanding the different types of food can help people make healthy choices for a balanced diet.
The basic building blocks of food are carbohydrates, proteins, fats and water. Carbohydrates provide energy for physical activity, while proteins and fats are needed to build and repair tissues. Vitamins and minerals are found in a variety of foods, and they serve multiple functions. For example, calcium and phosphorus are essential for bone health, while antioxidants can protect cells from damage.
Most Americans eat too much sodium (salt) and added sugars, and not enough fruits and vegetables. To improve their diets, they should eat a variety of foods from all the major food groups.
Eating a balanced diet can help people maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Healthy eating habits also can boost brain health and elevate mood.
Choose Whole Ingredients
When possible, eat unprocessed or minimally processed foods to get the most nutritional value out of your meals. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy are great choices. If you must purchase processed foods, look for options with few ingredients and avoid those with added sugars or salt.
When shopping for food, consider buying local or organic produce to support farmers and the environment. When purchasing packaged foods, read the label to identify the source and check for added sugars, sodium and trans fats. When cooking at home, select recipes that call for whole grains instead of refined flours and cut back on added fats, such as butter or oils. Using a salad spinner to remove excess moisture before serving can help prevent food spoilage. Purchasing frozen or canned foods that are low in sodium can save time and effort when getting dinner on the table. Lastly, when shopping, bring a list and stick to it to eliminate impulse buys. This will keep your grocery bill down and help you stay on track with your dietary goals.