Today's consumers in Europe can benefit from an unprecedented variety of food and food products, as well as an unparalleled amount of information about food, to help ensure that diets
are nutritious. In particular, many modern food labels provide detailed information to help consumers understand the nutritional content of the foods they purchase. As a result, consumers are better able to
make informed decisions with regard to which foods, and in what quantities, are best for good health.
Foods are derived from both plants and animals, and most foods are complex mixtures of different components. They contain energy and nutrients to help the body grow, maintain and
repair itself. They contain water, without which life would not exist, and many ingredients to help the body function normally. Finally, foods also contain a very large number of components that affect texture,
colour and flavour, making foods appealing and, therefore, pleasant to eat.
Our bodies need about 40 different nutrients to maintain health. Some are required in relatively large quantities and are known as macronutrients, carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Micronutrients are needed in smaller quantities and include vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
Carbohydrates and fats are the major sources of energy in our diets, Proteins also contribute energy, but their more important role is to provide amino acids to promote growth (in children) and to repair body
tissues. Vitamins generally help regulate body processes, as do contain minerals and trace elements. Minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus also provide important growth and repair functions in
bones and teeth. Sodium, chloride and potassium help maintain the composition of body fluids.
Different people have different energy needs. Very active people - athletes, those with physically active jobs - need lots of energy from food. People who are less active or who have sedentary jobs need less
energy. Men usually need more energy than women and adults need more than children. Requirements for nutrients also differ at different ages and stages; for example, during rapid adolescent growth and during
pregnancy, people need extra protein and minerals. When it comes to micro- nutrients, however, daily requirements vary less between individuals than they do for macronutrients.
Good Foods" or "Good Diets" ? :
Because of the immense diversity in the composition of foods and the broad range of needs for balanced nutrition, no single food can supply all the essential nutrients. Therefore,
one of the most fundamental principles of healthy eating is variety: the need to consume a broad range of foods on a regular basis. Said another way, there really is no such thing as "good" or "bad" food or
"healthy" or "unhealthy" food; all foods can play a role in the diet, It is what is eaten in combination and over a period of time - at meals, in snacks, over a day or a week - that is really important, For
example, a meal that is lower in a particular nutrient can be balanced by one richer in that nutrient on another occasion. Balance is achieved over time. It is the combinations of foods and whether they supply
the needs of the particular individual which determine whether a diet is "good" or "bad".
Choosing A Balanced Diet :
Foods are generally classified into broad groups based largely on their biological nature and/or the nutrients they provide. The basic categories of food include: cereals and other
foods rich in carbohydrates such as potatoes; vegetables and fruit; meat and fish and other sources of protein; milk products. These food groups are sometimes used to develop models and guides to help consumers
select foods that make up a balanced diet. Examples are the pyramid model, which is used in the United States (US Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Information Service, 1992) and the plate model, which
has been developed into a National Food Guide in the UK as part of the Health of the Nation strategy (UK Health Education Authority, 1994).
There is a danger that these food classifications over- simplify the process of building a healthy diet, since some foods can be categorized into more than one group. For example, some bean-type vegetables,
(soybeans, peas, green beans, white beans, kidney beans, etc.) are also important sources of protein and are, there-fore, alternative options to replace meat. Similarly, cheese, which is a milk product, is an
alternative protein source to meat. Also, none of these approaches to food classifications take into account composite foods such as ready-prepared meals or cooked food such as fried potatoes.
So, in today's real world where people consume large amounts of pre-prepared foods - either at home or in restaurants or other public places - there is a need to understand that these composite meals contain
food products from mare than one food group, but not necessarily in the best proportions.