Food is any substance consumed by an organism to provide energy, sustain life, or stimulate growth. It is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water. Food is consumed by plants and animals for survival, but also by humans as part of their cultural traditions or for pleasure.
The types of foods people eat vary widely, depending on the region and culture. People living near the ocean may eat more fish than those farther inland, for example. Climate also influences food availability, with warmer places having longer growing seasons allowing for greater yields of crops such as rice.
In developed countries, most people have access to a wide range of nutritious foods. However, many diets are too high in salt, sugar and fats and too low in fruits, vegetables and fibre. These diets can contribute to obesity, heart disease and some cancers. Poor diets are also a major problem in developing countries, where malnutrition can have severe consequences for health.
Some food scientists focus on improving the nutritional value of foods, or finding new ways to prepare and package them. Others work on the sensory properties of food, such as how it tastes or looks. Often, these areas overlap.
No single food provides all the nutrition we need, so a balanced diet is important. Choose foods that are low in saturated fats, added sugars and trans fats, and high in fibre, protein and good-quality carbohydrates. Also, aim for a variety of foods to ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need.
A healthy eating plan is based on whole foods – those that are minimally processed and as close to their natural state as possible. This includes lean meats, fish and poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, whole grains, fresh fruit and veggies. It also includes a limited amount of low-fat dairy, such as milk, yogurt and cheese.
Vegetables are a great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Keep a selection of frozen, canned and steamed veggies in your cupboard for quick meals. Try adding herbs and spices to steamed veggies for extra flavour. Make a vegetable curry, stir-fry or soup. Add a handful of mixed frozen veg to stews and casseroles.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein. Keep a few dozen in the fridge for quick breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Poultry – chicken, turkey, duck and geese – is an important source of protein for many people. Keep some frozen poultry in the freezer for easy meals. Keep some canned (low-salt) tomato sauce and soy sauce in your pantry for a quick meal or stir fry. Stock cubes are a useful addition to your cupboard, but be careful about the salt content. Keeping a few tins of fish in the cupboard can help with convenience when you’re pressed for time.