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Food and Nutrition; Definitions, History and Nutrients

What is Food?

Food is defined as “any kind of edible, nutritious substance” in dictionaries. Of course, this definition is not sufficient to describe foods. According to this definition, there is no drinkable food available.

Similarly, drugs can also qualify as food according to this definition. However, medicines are not food. On the other hand, there is no clear and standard definition of food in relevant sources. In general, it is seen that a description is made of the physiological effects of food.

As known, foods are not consumed only for their physiological effects; people can consume the food they think is delicious even though they are not hungry or thirsty, but only because they want to.

Therefore, it can be said that people have a taste need for food. If food were only substances consumed during hunger and thirst, it would not be necessary to increase the already good variety of food. In this context, it is needed to make a definition that includes this aspect of food.

In its broad sense,foods contain the energy and/or building blocks necessary for the individual to perform their physiological functions consumed to meet the need for taste and hunger and thirst”.

What is Nutrition?

The absence of a clear and standard definition for food above also applies to the meaning of nutrition. While the descriptions encountered emphasize the physiological aspect of nutrition,  missed “taste and pleasure from food consumption” that an important aspect. Taste and consumption pleasure have a significant effect on nutrition.

We often consume food for taste and pleasure rather than necessity. The purpose and mission of the individual are other factors that affect nutrition. For example, the nutrition program of an athlete or a young person studying for the exam differs in line with its goals and missions.

In this context, we can define nutrition as “taking by mouth the foods the individual has to consume to continue his life activities and/or feel taste and pleasure from consumption.

History of Nutrition

Before the Neolithic period, human beings were hunters and gatherers. This information enables us to conclude that people living at that time consumed the meat of animals they hunted and substances they could collect from nature, such as eggs, honey and fruit.

This period, in which finding food is a matter of life and death, can also be the period when the food obtained is processed, just like the discovery of fire and the cooking of meat.

In the Neolithic period (8000 BC – 5000 BC), a great revolution took place in social life by transitioning human beings from hunter-gatherers to settled life.

In this period, human beings started to domesticate plants and animals, which they saw as food sources, and agriculture was born in this way. In light of archaeological data, it can be said that cereals, meat, milk and eggs of fed animals are consumed as food.

In this period, which lasted for about 3000 years, the development of human beings gained speed.

Adopting a settled life has achieved many developments such as protection from environmental and climatic conditions, facilitation and standardization of food supply. It can be said that the foundations of the civilization we have today were laid in the Neolithic period.

Humans, fed with what they found and hunted before the Neolithic period, could produce more food than they could consume by farming in the Neolithic period. The production surplus has probably improved trade.

However, the point that should be emphasized here is the question of “how could they store and preserve the excess meat, milk and grain produced under primitive conditions of that period.”

Today, meat can be stored for a very long time in cold stores or deep freezers, or milk can be stored for a very long time by powdering it. Foods can be transported over long distances with the developing transportation network.

Likewise, beneficial and safe packaging can be produced now. So, what did people put their food in at that time and how did they preserve it? These questions will take us back to when food processing techniques were developed and fermented foods were born.

The Neolithic period is the period;

  • The meat was dried in the sun and salted,
  • The bread was produced by turning the grain into flour,
  • Milk was put in earthen pots and yogurt was discovered, milk became cheese in the tripe that was used as a bag,
  • Butter was produced by separating the fat from the milk,
  • Wine and vinegar were also produced.
  • In this period, it can easily be said that great diversity and a revolution took place in the nutrition of Humanity.

In The Chalcolithic Age (5000 BC – 3500 BC), it can be said that there is an increase in the variety of food used for nutrition, although there is no high development as in the Neolithic period.

It is known that in this period, Cretans were skilled in olive oil production and sugar cane began to be used as a sweetener instead of honey. In this period, spices and medicinal plants began to be consumed and traded.

It can be concluded that in In The Chalcolithic Age, human beings provided food security to a great extent and went on to ways of diversifying to improve the taste.

The discovery of fishing hooks made of bone dating back to 5000 years ago, the Chinese raising mullet in ponds filled with saltwater and the Egyptians starting their sailing activities on the Nile show that humans included seafood in their diet significantly in Antiquity (3500 BC-476).

In this period, sugar cane consumption spread to geographies; and The Indians discovered the technique of obtaining sugar crystals from sugar cane in 350 BC.

Although trade was developing, the variety of food consumed by human beings was limited by the environment and climate. Considering that the discovery of America (1492) has not been made yet, it can be said that the civilizations of the known period were deprived of today’s much-loved and widely consumed foods such as potatoes, eggplant and tomatoes.

Mehmet The Conqueror passed away without being expressed as a joke. These vegetables were not available in Ottoman cuisine until the 1700s. However, it should not be forgotten that Ottoman cuisine also presented exceptional tastes to human beings.

It is possible to say that the Industrial Revolution (1760) impacted human nutrition at least as much as the Neolithic era. Developing technology and science have increased human food production, packaging, storage and transportation capacity to very high levels.

As a result, the storage period of the food has been significantly extended. The development in question enabled food produced in one part of the world to be transported quickly and to very long distances without spoiling.

The 2000s was a decade in which the food processing technique went to the next level. After being isolated from foods, unique molecules such as vitamins, minerals and fatty acids can be offered as food supplements.

However, visually differentiated diet types such as consuming only plant foods have also developed and become a trend. On the other hand, serious studies such as meat production are carried out in the laboratory. In this context, it is predicted that a severe breakdown may occur in the type of diet and the type of food consumed by human beings soon.

Although the industrial revolution and communication tools have made nutrition globalized and uniform, human beings have a wide variety of foods from spaghetti to kebab, from grasshoppers to mussels.

History of Food Science

It is known that in the Chalcolithic Age (5000 BC – 3500 BC), plants thought to have medicinal effects were traded. This information means: That these days, Humanity discovered that some foods had different functions besides quenching hunger and thirst and began to consume them for this purpose.

The saying of Hippocrates (460 BC – 377 BC), “Let food be your medicine and your medicine food,” also shows that human beings are trying to explain nutrition and foods to the extent that time allows. In the 10th century, Ibn-i Sina (980-1037) emphasized that foods should be eaten according to the season; pointed out the harm of overeating.

Although the content and functions of nutrients were still not known, it was known that nutrition had significant effects on health. Until the 19th century, all foods consisted of only one nutrient.

In the 19th century, It was discovered that foods are composed of components of different structures such as carbohydrates, lipids and proteins, not consisting of a single building block. However, these building blocks were not well explained; all these components were thought to provide only energy.

After the 1850s, it was discovered that these components have different functions and properties. As of this date, it has been revealed that foods have carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, minerals and vitamins.

Looking at the period,

• Lavoisier (1743-1794), who explained the fermentation chemistry and some analysis principles of organic compounds,

• Gay-Lussac (1778-1850), who introduced analysis methods that enable the determination of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen ratios in dry vegetables,

• Berzelius (1779-1848), who introduced the term protein to the literature and Mudler (1802-1880), who researched amino acids formed as a result of protein breakdown at the same time,

• Liebig (1803-1873), who in 1842 divided the foods into two classes those containing nitrogen and those without nitrogen,

• Studies of scientists such as Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), who provided the understanding of fermented foods and revealed the relationship between food and microorganism with his studies on microorganisms, are important milestones for the science of nutrition.


It is known that foods consist of macronutrients and micronutrients. While the four macronutrients (water, carbohydrate, protein, and lipid) constitute 99% of food in general; Although micronutrients are present in meager amounts in food, they have significant physiological effects.


1. Water (see Water and Health and Water in Foods)

2. Carbohydrates (see Nutritional importance of carbohydrates and Carbohydrates)

3. Proteins (see Nutritional importance of proteins and Proteins)

4. Lipids (see Nutritional importance of fats and Lipids)


1. Vitamins (see Vitamins; Health and Nutrition)

2. Minerals (see Minerals; Health and Nutrition)

3. Other micronutrients (food additives, phenolic compounds, natural toxic compounds, compounds formed during food processing, microorganisms, etc.)

The compositions of some foods are given in the table below. Some of the minerals and vitamins are included in the table as an example. Each nutrient will be covered more extensively in the respective chapters. (Fe; Iron, Mg; Magnesium, Ca; Calcium, mg; milligram, IU; international unit. Values are average.)

nutrients in some foods
nutrients in some foods

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