Issue 14 | June 2011

High-protein foods

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

Measuring energy

How do we measure the energy in food?

Bare essentials

Some necessary molecules we can only get from our diet

Inherited metabolic diseases

Defects in enzymes can lead to disease

Can’t eat, won’t eat?

How does having an aversion to a food differ from an allergy?

Hard to tolerate

The way we metabolise chemicals varies between populations

Animation: Atheroma in the artery

Watch or download our animation showing the development of atheroma in the artery

Why do we eat?

The science of being hungry

Appetite involves the brain, stomach and hormones

Skinny genes

What part do our genes play in body size?

Happy meals

Eating food can make us feel good

Matter of taste

How do we recognise different tastes?

Sensing food

We use many senses when eating

Part of the process

Why do we process food?

Differences in taste

Genetic variation between people means that it’s easier for some of us to eat our greens

What is a healthy diet?

Diet and behaviour

How might your diet affect how you behave?

A healthy weight

BMI is one way to define a healthy weight

Caloric restriction

Will eating less give you a longer life?

Cultural differences in diet and health

Is a Mediterranean diet better for us?

Diet, disease and development

Studying how diet affects health costs a lot and takes a long time

Epigenetic effects

Our parents’ diets can influence our health

What’s inside your fat cells?

Inside the world of white, brown and beige fat

Building a baby: maternal diet

How can a mother’s diet determine her child’s future health?

Video: Building a baby (part 1)

Watch or download our video, which explores the link between a mother’s diet and her baby’s health

Video: Building a baby (part 2)

Follow Jennifer as she concludes her journey to find the recipe for a healthy pregnancy

Feast or famine?

Eating animals: a meaty problem?

Can we establish new directions for food policy based on sustainable development?

Food miles: what’s fair?

Consider this food policy issue from different perspectives

Food for thought

Do ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria exist?

Separate food fibs from food facts

Do we need to take vitamins?

A well-balanced diet will usually meet the recommended daily intake for vitamins and minerals

Is there such a thing as a ‘superfood’?

The reputation of superfoods owes more to smart marketing – and magical thinking – than scientific studies

Does it matter when you eat?

Answers to this question have changed over time

Which weight-loss diets work?

Diets can work, as long as you stick to them

Is fat bad?

We all need some fat, but not too much

What’s wrong with too much caffeine?

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

Should we be aiming for five a day?

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?

Is eating salt bad?

What’s the reality of the amount of salt we eat and the effects it has on our health?

Should all people over 55 be given statins?

What are the pros and cons of giving all over-55s these drugs?

Historical aspects

Studying the stomach

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

Exploring ancient diets

Research shows that food preparation is ancient history

Killing off the calorie

When did the term ‘calorie’ fall from favour?

Video: Ye olde kitchen challenge

Watch our video about cooking ancient recipes


The anatomy of appetite

What actually is appetite? And why do some people become severely obese while others are able to maintain a stable weight without effort?

The anatomy of appetite: annotated image

What factors influence what we eat?

Video: Hungry for progress

Watch a video on appetite, genes and drugs

Video: Modelling the stomach

Watch a mechanical stomach being used to demonstrate how the human stomach works

Video: Testing digestion with a model stomach

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?

International cohort studies

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 studies

Nutritional researchers have a tough job getting good results from studies. Why?

Genetic studies

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

Real Voices interview: Julie Wilson

Meet a nursery assistant living with phenylketonuria

Real Voices interview: James Wannerton

Meet the man who can taste sounds

Real Voices interview: Georgine Leung

Meet Georgine, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation in London

Activities and lesson ideas

Lesson ideas for ‘Eating animals: a meaty problem?’

Discuss this food policy issue from ‘Big Picture: Food and Diet’ in the classroom

Lesson ideas for ‘Food miles: what’s fair?’

Discuss this policy issue in the classroom

More lesson ideas for ‘Big Picture: Food and Diet’

Here are some ideas for further activities around food and diet issues that you could do in class

Further resources and activities on food and diet

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

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic