Health and Wellbeing

The Basics: What is Nutrition and Food?

When starting a new eating pattern, it’s good to know the basics of nutrition and what the foods we eat are made up of.

Nutrition (also called nourishment) is the process of providing fuel (ie. food) to cells and organisms to support life, for growth, maintenance and repair of worn tissue. Humans need food to supply the “building blocks” necessary to build tissues, to repair tissues as they wear out and die, to keep the body strong, healthy, in good working condition, and to supply fuel for energy.

Good nutrition is vital for good health. It is needed to keep our bodies working properly, maintain a healthy weight and keep disease away. Good nutrition is a daily regime of healthy eating which includes variety and all the food groups in their right proportions for your activity level. For good nutrition a person should eat a well-balanced diet, that is, one that gives you enough nutrients each day and an adequate but not excessive number of calories for the body's energy needs. Children need relatively larger amounts of nutrients and calories because of their rapid growth. Good nutrition is reflected in the growth and function of the body but also in its appearance. The eyes, body size, skin, hair and teeth show whether body nourishment is good or poor. Many common health problems can be prevented or improved with good nutrition. If disease develops, good nutrition helps minimize the effects. People never outlive the need for good nutrition.

Poor nutrition can have a bad impact on health, and may come from eating too much (excess) or too little (deficiency) of some things, eg. a poorly nourished adult will have a decreased resistance to infection and disease, a poorly nourished child won’t to grow properly, will be tired or have poor concentration, excess of certain vitamins or minerals may produce potentially lethal disease states, excess of some foods may result in obesity, heart disease or diabetes. Poor nutrition may result from bad food choices (made with or without nutrition knowledge), from limited availability of healthy choices, from limited access and transport to food shops, or from other reasons. Poor nutrition is a very important factor in the declining health of indigenous people.

Food is any edible substance, made of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, water, non-digestible matter such as fibre and other things. These provide the body with the energy to work well, do its daily tasks, grow, keep disease away and repair damaged parts. No single food provides all the substances the body needs (nutrients) for good health (except breast milk for babies). Most foods contain a bit of each in varying proportions and the body uses each in a different way. Food is eaten or drunk by an animal or human for nutrition or pleasure. It may come from plants, animals or other things such as fungus or fermented products like alcohol. Water makes up about 70% of the body and is essential for health and all the body’s functions. It moves nutrients into cells and gets rid of waste products from the body’s cells. It is important for digestion and circulation. Historically, most human cultures used to get food through hunting and gathering. Today most cultures use farming, ranching, and fishing, and food is transported over longer distances. Most people don’t have to exercise as much as they did in the past. Lack of exercise may also contribute to some of our health problems and diseases.

The diet of an organism refers to what it eats. Dietitians and nutritionists are health professionals who specialize in human nutrition, meal planning, economics, food preparation, and so on. They are trained to provide safe, evidence-based dietary advice and management to individuals (in health and disease), as well as to institutions like IBIS.