Food is any material eaten to supply nutrition to an organisms. In the human diet, food is generally of animal, plant or fungi origin, and comprises essential nutrients, including proteins, vitamins, fats, carbohydrates, or minerals. It is important to choose the right food, as the correct one will help to maintain the appropriate environment in which the various species can thrive. Plants need a variety of elements to grow and produce food, including: light, water, carbon dioxide, water, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Animals require protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals to survive.
The first step towards a nutritious diet is to understand the nutritional needs of the species involved. Species differ in their physical attributes, ability to breed, size and population, and so it is important to identify which food is needed and how much. Plant foods are complex blends of complex carbohydrates and lipids with a combination of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and other nutrients essential to plant life. Animal foods are simpler blends of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, with a minimal amount of lipids. Fruits, vegetables and grains provide all the calories that the animals or plants need, but not all the nutrients necessary for optimal health.
Food processing makes it easier to produce healthy foods, but the process also makes many of the nutrients less healthy. Processing destroys most of the naturally occurring substance in food, so replacing those nutrients with artificial ones can reduce nutrient quality and increase dietary fiber intake, while decreasing cost. Processing is necessary for meat, dairy products and some processed grains, but it is often avoided by individuals wishing to eat healthy, fresh foods.
A very simple way to become healthier and add more nutrition to your diet is to follow a food pyramid. This system helps to determine which groups of foods provide the most nutrients and which provide the least. An example of a pyramid is a triangle, with each side representing one of the major food groups. The two sides of the triangle – green and red – represent the different nutrient content of each group of food.
When following a pyramid, it is important to balance the number of side dishes you eat on one plate. If you have three sources of carbs (breads, rice or pasta), try to eat at least two different types of carbohydrate on each plate. Also, eat at least three different vegetable servings, but try to eat only two food groups from each plate. Vegetables provide fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, which are important to the body.
With a little bit of effort, you can create a nutritious food intake routine that keeps your stomach full and allows you to eat as many of the healthy eating choices as possible. Start simple by adjusting your diet one food at a time. Your body will reward you with a stronger, healthier lifestyle.