diet (in nutrition)
diet, food and drink regularly consumed for nourishment. Nutritionists generally recommend eating a wide variety of foods; however, some groups of people survive on a very limited diet. The traditional Eskimo diet, for example, depended heavily on meat, but Eskimos ate nearly all of the animal; organ meats are rich in vitamins and minerals. Vegetarians exclude meat (and sometimes by extension dairy products) from their diet, often for philosophical reasons. Others exclude only red meat, but eat poultry and dairy products. To maintain a healthy diet, vegetarians need to eat a wide variety of plants whose nutrients complement each other, providing a balance of amino acids and vitamins.
Cultural, Regional, and Practical Factors
Until the advent of refrigeration, the most important factor in a person's diet was availability; diets varied according to animal migrations and the growing seasons of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Another factor in food selection can be religion. Muslims, for example, are forbidden to drink alcohol.
Diets vary throughout the world. North Africa, with many Muslims, and the Middle East have similar diets. A starchy food (see starch), such as rice, boiled and pounded yam mush, or cassava, is often accompanied by a spicy stew of fish or chicken with vegetables. Other popular dishes include curries, kebabs (marinated meat threaded on a stick and roasted), couscous (steamed wheat semolina), falafel (a spiced fritter), and yogurt. Many Asian diets are based on rice, which is often served with bite-size vegetables and meats accompanied by spicy seasoning. In Europe, bread is often the main starch, but Italy is noted for pasta, a nutritious noodle made from wheat and usually topped with a sauce, such as a small serving of cooked tomatoes garnished with cheese. In Scandinavia, fish in general, and herring in particular, are main staples of the diet.
Food has always been subject to cross-cultural influences, often as a result of colonization and migration of people. Thus, French influences can be seen throughout Asia, particularly in Japan and Indochina; Dutch influences in Indonesia and South Africa; and Indian influences throughout the Commonwealth of Nations. Certain foods, such as dumplings, are found in slightly different forms in all cultures. North American cuisine is an amalgam of Native American foods, such as corn-on-the-cob, and immigrant cuisines, including that of Africans.
Diet in the Twentieth Century
In the 20th cent. diets have been transformed by refrigeration, improved and faster transportation, advances in food preservation, and new farming methods that prolong the growing season and increase the yield per acre. As a result, foods are available more regularly, items purchased in one season can be frozen and consumed in another, and prices have become more competitive. After World War II, increased advertising, particularly on television, and the growing number of households in which all adults are employed, contributed to an increased consumption of unhealthy fast foods. Efforts in the 1980s and 90s by health experts to educate the public about the importance of a healthy diet has had some impact. People are eating more fruits, grains, and vegetables, and less red meat, and are aware of the need to control their weight. The latter has given rise to many ineffective, and sometimes dangerous, fad diets that do not provide all of the necessary daily nutrients. Successful weight control requires a carefully planned regimen of exercise combined with a diet based on the nutrition information supplied by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid (see food pyramid).
See D. and P. Von Welanetz, The Von Welanetz Guide to Ethnic Ingredients (1982); J. Newman, Melting Pot: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide to Food and Nutrition Information for Ethnic Groups in America (1986); S. Quandt and C. Ritenbaugh, Training Manual in Nutritional Anthropology (1986); B. Griggs, The Food Factor: An Account of the Nutrition Revolution (1988).