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FOOD TODAY 05/1998

What do you mean by nutrition? (Part 4)

Food TodayThis is the last in the series of articles (Obesity, Nutrient Groups, Iron Deficiency) based on the EUFIC background paper, "What do we mean by Nutrition?"

People are living longer than ever before. The average age of death in the mid 19th century was 40, today it is almost 80. Along with better hygiene and the advancement of medical care, there is no doubt that dramatic improvements in the availability, quality and safety of the food supply have contributed to this remarkable achievement. But there is no point living longer if the years gained are spent in sickness rather than in health. So what is the dietary contribution to both a long and healthy life?


Eating is not just for nourishment, it is one of life's great pleasures. A food will not do anyone any good unless it is eaten. All five senses contribute to the eating experience.

Taste and Pleasure

  • Taste - Sweet, sour, salt, bitter (umami-meat flavour)
  • Smell - Integrated with taste - smoky, spicy, fruity, sweet
  • Sight - Expectation - colour, size, shape, appearance
  • Touch - Lips, mouth and throat feel - firm, moist, smooth
  • Sound - The noise of food being eaten - crunchy, sizzling

Food also contributes to our enjoyment from a social point of view. Sharing a meal is a great way to relax and strengthen social bonds. Food also plays a part in our cultural identity. Traditional dishes, meals and festive foods vary between countries, regions and religions.


Apart from human milk for infants, no single food provides all the nutrients required by the human body. Each food or dish contains a different mix of nutrients, and it is the way foods are combined to make up the whole diet that is important. The differences in food habits between nations demonstrates that there are many routes to a healthy food mix.

Eat the right amount

It is now believed that increasingly sedentary lifestyles are making it harder for people to control their weight. Taking action to increase physical activity is the key, as this boosts calorie needs, making it easier to eat the "right" amount of food.

The scientific balance

It is now known that tipping the balance in favour of carbohydrates rather than fat helps to regulate the appetite and contributes to long-term health. In addition consumption of about five portions of fruit and vegetables a day provides important antioxidant vitamins and other compounds which protect against heart disease and cancer.

Eat, drink and be merry

There is no such thing as a good or bad food, all types of foods contribute to a good diet as long as moderation is practised. Enjoyment and the social and cultural aspects of eating are just as important to our long-term well-being as the basic nutritional components. There is enough stress in modern life without adding extra anxiety about what we eat.

Tips for a healthy mind and body

Practise moderation in what you eat for most, but not all of the time - The occasional indulgence will make you feel good. Enjoy a wide range of foods - The nutritional quality of the diet should be judged over a period of days not during one meal. Take regular physical exercise - To stimulate your mind and body, and to regulate your appetite.

Terms used in this article
Physical activity
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The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) is a non-profit organisation which communicates science-based information on nutrition and health, food safety and quality, to help consumers to be better informed when choosing a well-balanced, safe and healthful diet.

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