Food is anything that can be eaten or drunk to provide energy and nutrients. It includes beverages, such as water and tea, and solids like fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, beans and nuts. People eat different foods depending on their preferences, needs and available resources. The quality of the food they eat is also important. Unsafe food that contains harmful bacteria, viruses or parasites can cause disease and malnutrition. People’s access to food may also be limited by geography or weather conditions that affect growing seasons and crops.
People’s diets vary greatly from country to country and even within a country, influenced by factors such as geographic location, climate and culture. The diets of urban and rural people differ, as do those of the rich and the poor. The availability of food in a region depends on weather conditions, the ability to grow crops and the cost of transporting the crop. The types of food available in a region can be influenced by the availability of water, soil and sun, and cultural traditions.
Staple foods supply starch (for energy), some protein, micronutrients and dietary fibre. Rice, wheat, maize and potatoes are staple carbohydrates in many countries. Legumes and oilseeds are good sources of protein and some fat, and also contain micronutrients and dietary fibre. People eat poultry (eggs and chicken) and fish for animal protein. Milk and other dairy products are high in protein, calcium and vitamin D. People also consume a variety of processed and fortified foods to add important nutrients that are difficult or impossible to obtain in the local diet.
Some foods are naturally fortified, such as iron-fortified cereals and some breads. Other nutrients are added to food during processing, such as salt and vitamin C. Processed foods can be time-saving and convenient, and they often have added flavours and textures that appeal to the palate or the sense of smell.
The amounts of different nutrients that people need varies with age, sex and activity level and can be affected by illness or pregnancy. To get enough nutrition, it is important to eat a range of foods from all groups.
To help improve their diets, people should minimise added sugars and sweeteners, which have empty calories and contribute to weight gain. They should also reduce the amount of fat in their meals, especially saturated fats, which can increase cholesterol and lead to heart disease. Instead, they can try cooking methods such as sauteing and stir-frying, which use smaller amounts of oil and heat the food quickly at high temperatures. Baking is another healthy cooking method, and can be used to make casseroles, puddings and cakes. To make their diets more nutritious, people should also try to include more fresh fruits and vegetables.