1.3  Food, diet and nutrition

What we eat and drink to help keep us alive and well, to help us grow, develop, work and play is called food. Food is anything edible. It includes all foods and drinks acceptable for that particular society, culture or religion.

Food gives us a feeling of comfort and satisfaction. Eating certain foods establishes our identity. What we eat and how we eat makes up our food habit. Most of our food habits are learned in the home from our parents. As we grow up, our experience and learning help us to change some of these food habits. You are learning about food and nutrition in order to be able to teach and help mothers to change their food habits for the better.

Diet is the sequence and balance of meals in a day. It is concerned with the eating patterns of individuals or a group. Some people may eat twice in a day (breakfast and dinner); others may eat four times (breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner); still others may seem to be chewing all day long.

Nutrition is the interaction between food and the body. It is about the nutrients contained in food, and their action, interaction and balance in relation to health and disease. It is the process by which people can ingest, digest, absorb, transport, utilise and excrete food substances. In addition, nutrition is concerned with social, cultural and physiological implications of food and eating. In general, the science of nutrition is the science of showing how food nourishes the body.

A nutrient is an active chemical component in food that plays a specific structural or functional role in the body’s activity. Sugars, starches and fibre are often grouped together as they are all carbohydrates. Vitamins and minerals are needed in very small amounts and they are called micronutrients.

Almost all foods are a mixture of nutrients. They contain different amounts of sugar, starch, fibre, fat, protein, minerals, vitamins and water. Table 1.2 shows you the different nutrients, their food groups and examples of food sources found in Ethiopia.

  • Think of some of the food types usually consumed in your community. What nutrients do these foods have and what nutrient do you think they might lack?

  • Examples of food types you might have listed include ‘teff’ or maize, which mainly provide carbohydrates; peas and beans, which provide protein; ‘gommen’ which is good source of vitamin A and iron and oranges, which provide vitamins. These foods do not have everything so they need to mix them to get all the nutrients we need. The different types of nutrients that each person’s body needs are shown in Table 1.2.

Table 1.2  Types of nutrients and their food sources. (Photos: Dr Basiro Davey)
NutrientFood groupExamples of foods
Sugar Starch FibreCarbohydrates
Fats OilsFats
Meat and eggs
Vitamins MineralsMicronutrients
Fruit and vegetables

1.2  Planning nutritional care and support in your community

1.3.1  How food keeps us healthy