Food is any material consumed to give nutrition to an organism through the digestive process. Food is generally of animal, plant or even fungal origin, and carries vital nutrients, including proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, or other minerals. The human body requires a variety of food types to meet its varied requirements. Animal products, especially meat, are the richest source of protein and other nutrients; plant foods, on the other hand, are a rich source of carbohydrates, vitamins and other minerals, while dairy products, water, fat, and starch are the richest source of calories.
In recent years, however, the food industry has sought to improve the nutrient content of many foods through the use of complex processes, improved machinery, and scientific methods. One study concluded that about forty percent of the US daily caloric intake is derived from food that is processed (that is, commercially processed), rather than organic food. By removing the nutrients and enzymes naturally found in real food, processed food takes about two thirds of the average person’s diet.
Processed food does not contain essential nutrients because it has been stripped of much of its original flavor and texture. Most processed food is high in sugar and salt. A single food, milk, is a complete food that provide essential proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, but is largely lacking in fat, sugar and salt. This is surprising since milk is the most important source of calcium, a mineral that is essential in the development of healthy bones and teeth.
The lack of fat, sugar and other natural antioxidants is perhaps the biggest reason for the increase in the consumption of processed foods. Processed foods also typically contain a variety of ingredients, including artificial additives, colorings, preservatives and other chemicals. One recent study showed that those who consumed more unprocessed foods were less likely to develop heart disease. Because sugar has a high glycemic index, which means that it raises blood glucose levels, increasing the amount of food consumed increases the risk of developing diabetes.
Another surprising truth is that the lack of nutritional value is not the primary reason that we see food choices as limiting. Most people simply don’t get enough carbohydrates, protein or other essential nutrients from the foods that they eat. These three things are essential to human health and are produced in large amounts in plants and other animals. So, if you think that food choice limits your nutritional intake, think again. Vegetables, legumes, whole grains and beans provide most of the nutrients that we need.
If you eat a high-fibre diet, you probably eat more vegetables and other fibrous foods than you do now. You may need to experiment with different types of vegetables to find which ones have the highest levels of vitamins and minerals. You may need to add a third or even a fourth meal a day to make up for the lack of fresh vegetables in your diet. Fruits will provide some vitamin and mineral benefits, but can often be expensive and require preparation, especially if you eat many fruits at once.