Food and Nutrition

Although many people think that food and nutrition mean the same thing, they don’t. Food refers to the plants and animals we consume. These foods contain the energy and nutrients our bodies need to maintain life and support growth and health. Nutrition, in contrast, is a science. Specifically, it is the science that studies food and how food nourishes our bodies and influences our health. It identifies the processes by which we consume, digest, metabolize, and store the nutrients in foods, and how these nutrients affect our bodies. Nutrition also involves studying the factors that influence our eating patterns, making recommendations about the amount we should eat of each type of food, maintaining food safety, and addressing issues related to the global food supply. When compared with other scientific disciplines such as chemistry, biology, and physics, nutrition is a relative newcomer. The cultivation, preservation, and preparation of food has played a critical role in the lives of humans for millennia, but in the West, the recognition of nutrition as an important contributor to health has developed slowly only during the past 400 years.

It started when researchers began to make the link between diet and illness. For instance, in the mid-1700s, long before vitamin C itself had been identified, researchers discovered that the vitamin C–deficiency disease scurvy could be prevented by consuming citrus fruits. By the mid-1800s, the three energy-providing nutrients—carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins—had been identified, as well as a number of essential minerals. Nutrition was coming into its own as a developing scientific discipline.

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