Meals and Diets – A Guide to Understanding the Nutrient Content of Food
Food is any material eaten to provide nutrition to an organism. Normally food is of plant, human or animal origin, and usually contains essential nutrients, including proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, fats, or minerals. Plants contain chlorophyll (which gives plants their green color) and other compounds that enable photosynthesis – the process by which plants use sunlight to produce food. Animal food is made up of meat, organs, bones and organs, whereas animal products such as milk and eggs are considered to be animal food.
The nutrient value of food is expressed as a percentage of the total calories in the serving size. Common serving sizes include ounces, grams, grains, and cups. Nutrient content is not the only consideration when determining serving size. Also, the label should provide reasonable amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and other nutrients necessary to maintain the health of the human body. The amount of calories in the food should be equivalent to the total calories in the serving, both of which are useful in setting serving size guidelines.
While real food is the food people actually eat, processed food is those that are manufactured, preserved, heated, packaged, served, or sold in containers that do not bear the complete name of the product. In many ways, processed foods are nutritionally identical to fresh foods, but are often lacking in certain nutrients. This can lead to deficiencies in many areas of the diet, and should be taken into consideration when determining dietary needs and following a diabetic diet.
There are two major classifications of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Examples of simple carbohydrates include breads, potatoes, rice, pasta, sugar, fruit juices, and other foods that are rich in simple sugars. Complex carbohydrates are found in legumes, some fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, seeds, and dairy products. These carbohydrates provide energy and are more common in foods that are higher in fat, protein, and salt.
A DV for a food item indicates the percent of the serving that has each of the nutrient listed. For instance, a serving of spaghetti has 80 g of carbohydrates. This shows that the DV for the product is equivalent to one gram of carbohydrate per serving. The value of a DV for a food item does not indicate the percentage of the serving that has each nutrient listed; it only indicates how much of the serving has each nutrient listed. In order to get a true picture of the nutrient content of a food item, it is necessary to know the percentage of the DV it contains.
Another important factor to consider in determining a DV is the serving size, or portion. Meals that are larger in calories but smaller in nutrients are given lower DVs. For example, if a soup has eighty calories and has three servings (one serving of soup and two servings of soup potato), then it will have a DV of four hundred calories. However, a soup with one serving (eight ounces serving) and three servings (two servings of soup and one serving of crackers) will have a DV of six hundred calories, because one serving of soup has fewer calories than two servings of soup potato.