There are now 30-40,000 food products on supermarket shelves in Australia (1), and more than 120,000 world-wide (2). The vast majority have crept into the food system over the past few centuries as food production has evolved – gradually at first then escalating over the past 50 years – from foods to nourish (derived from plants or animals) to extracted ingredients to branded manufactured products. How is a food transformed from its raw state to become a branded manufactured food product?
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.
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?”→