Issue 14 | June 2011
Food and Diet
***Articles reviewed and updated in August 2016***
Humans, like all living things, cannot survive without food. For many of us, though, food is about so much more than sustenance. Culture, identity, religion, relationships, mood, fashion, pleasure – what we choose to eat touches on many aspects of our lives. In this issue, we look at what drives us to eat, what happens to food once we’ve eaten it, and what impact our dietary choices have on not only our health and wellbeing, but also that of others across the world.
Browse through the individual articles, check out our videos and image galleries, and consider our lesson ideas. This issue was first published in 2011; in 2016, all of the individual resources were reviewed and updated for accuracy and currency. Please do note, however, that the PDFs of the original 2011 issue and infographic have not been updated.
Chemistry of consumption
How do we measure the energy in food?
Some necessary molecules we can only get from our diet
Defects in enzymes can lead to disease
How does having an aversion to a food differ from an allergy?
The way we metabolise chemicals varies between populations
Watch or download our animation showing the development of atheroma in the artery
Why do we eat?
Appetite involves the brain, stomach and hormones
What part do our genes play in body size?
Eating food can make us feel good
How do we recognise different tastes?
We use many senses when eating
Why do we process food?
Genetic variation between people means that it’s easier for some of us to eat our greens
What is a healthy diet?
How might your diet affect how you behave?
BMI is one way to define a healthy weight
Will eating less give you a longer life?
Is a Mediterranean diet better for us?
Studying how diet affects health costs a lot and takes a long time
Our parents’ diets can influence our health
Inside the world of white, brown and beige fat
How can a mother’s diet determine her child’s future health?
Watch or download our video, which explores the link between a mother’s diet and her baby’s health
Follow Jennifer as she concludes her journey to find the recipe for a healthy pregnancy
Feast or famine?
Food for thought
Separate food fibs from food facts
A well-balanced diet will usually meet the recommended daily intake for vitamins and minerals
The reputation of superfoods owes more to smart marketing – and magical thinking – than scientific studies
Answers to this question have changed over time
Diets can work, as long as you stick to them
We all need some fat, but not too much
Why do we reach for a cup of tea or coffee when we are tired? Find out how caffeine works and why consuming too much can be bad for you
We’re all encouraged to eat a diet packed full of fresh fruit and vegetables, but what’s the evidence that this is good for us?
What’s the reality of the amount of salt we eat and the effects it has on our health?
What are the pros and cons of giving all over-55s these drugs?
A shooting accident in 1822 was the beginning of a gory but very useful series of experiments to understand how the human stomach plays a part in digestion
Research shows that food preparation is ancient history
When did the term ‘calorie’ fall from favour?
Watch our video about cooking ancient recipes
What actually is appetite? And why do some people become severely obese while others are able to maintain a stable weight without effort?
What factors influence what we eat?
Watch a video on appetite, genes and drugs
Watch a mechanical stomach being used to demonstrate how the human stomach works
See how an experiment to test the delivery of probiotics (or ‘friendly bacteria’) to the intestines could be carried out using a model stomach
Researching health and disease
How do researchers tease apart the interactions of lifestyle and genes in the development of common diseases?
Find out about international cohort studies, which track the health of a given group of people over time. What challenges can this kind of research present?
Nutritional researchers have a tough job getting good results from studies. Why?
What form do these studies take and how do they help us to pin down the role of the human genome’s 20,000 or so genes in different diseases?
Real Voices interviews
Activities and lesson ideas
Discuss this food policy issue from ‘Big Picture: Food and Diet’ in the classroom
Discuss this policy issue in the classroom
Here are some ideas for further activities around food and diet issues that you could do in class
The Wellcome Trust has funded many organisations to produce activities and resources to engage and educate young people about the science of food and diet
Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.