Scattered throughout the food and diet literature is the suggestion that to ensure optimal health we should return to the eating patterns before the 1960s. This concept was popularised by Michael Pollan. In his book In Defence of Food2 one of his food rules is ‘don’t eat anything your great-grandmother would not recognise as food’. His implied take-away message is we should ‘eat real, proper, simple food’ – not the kind from a packet. Others have suggested going back two generations further ‘eat the way your great-great-great-grandparents ate, and you’ll live a long life’ 3, or even to ‘eat at the table of your ancestors’.4
I wondered whether this could be true and whether I could prove it. To begin with, my great-great-great-grandparents number 32. To find if that statement was true, I would have to trace my family history to those 32 ancestors, understand their backgrounds, deduce what they probably ate, then contemplate if foods they were eating in the manner they were eating them was still available to me and could improve my own longevity.
This was an intriguing concept and I decided to investigate.
Food is such an integral part of our daily lives, you would think there would be a short, simple and universally accepted description. Alas, this is not so and there are several and somewhat conflicting definitions. Today there are over 120,000 (1) foods available world-wide and up to 40,000 choices in Australian supermarkets (2). Food-types range from basic food commodities to extractions from foods to products with a multitude of ingredients. This is a brief outline of the various definitions of the different foods and food product types, and descriptions of what is classified as food and what isn’t.
“Food” can be simply described as substances (including drinks) that nourish us, vehicles for nutrients of carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Nutrition textbooks define food in this manner, as substances ‘derived from plants or animals that can be taken into the body to yield energy and nutrients for the maintenance of life and the growth and repair of tissues’ (3).
The three important elements therefore that define a food from a nutritional perspective are: (1) it must contain at least one nutrient (2) it must perform at least one function of keeping us alive or healthy, and (3) it is derived from plants or animals – or in some cases fungi or insects. It follows that no substance can be defined as ‘food’ unless it satisfies those three elements.
Food regulations governing supply and food safety, however, have a broader sweep and describe ‘food’ as ‘anything that is intended or offered for human consumption’ (4), which can include animals, plants, prepared or partly prepared; ingredients; additives; anything used in its preparation; anything coming in contact with that substance, such as processing aids; or chewing gum (5-7). In other words, anything edible.
Therefore, although from a supply perspective, ‘food’can be any substance that we can consume (all the items on supermarket shelves), not everything we consume as food or within foods is actually ‘food’ (from a nutritional perspective) as some foods, and some substances added to food, provide no nutrients, do not contribute to the primary function of food, or are not derived from plants or animals.
Food is comprised of many distinct chemical substances which can broadly be divided into nutritional and non-nutritional components.(6-8)
Nutrients are chemical substances in the food we eat that interact within the body and are needed throughout the whole of life. There are six main types of nutrients in foods, divided into 2 main groups. Continue reading “Food. What’s in it?”→
Breaking away from guidelines that focus on nutrients, researchers in Brazil have developed a system of food classification based on the degree of food processing. They call this NOVA – ‘The Star Shines Bright’ – and have applied this to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population (1). Continue reading “Food Processing # 1”→
FOOD. Photo by Leonie Elizabeth. 03 February 2018.
What is Food?
Food is such an important part of all our daily lives that one would think there would be a universally accepted simple definition. When I went hunting for one, I found that there was no clear definition.
Medically defined, food is described as ‘a nourishing substance that is eaten or otherwise taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, or promote growth’ (1). Legal definitions in food regulations on supply have a broader sweep effectively describing food as ‘anything that is intended or offered for human consumption’ (2) which can include animals and plants, prepared or partly prepared; ingredients; additives; anything used in its preparation; anything that comes in contact with that substance, such as processing aids; or chewing gum (3-5). Continue reading “ACHIVED: Food. What is it?”→