A particular diet may be chosen to seek weight loss or weight gain. Changing a subject's dietary intake, or "going on a diet", can change the energy balance and increase or decrease the amount of fat stored by the body. Some foods are specifically recommended, or even altered, for conformity to the requirements of a particular diet. These diets are often recommended in conjunction with exercise. Specific weight loss programs can be harmful to health, while others may be beneficial and can thus be coined as healthy diets. The terms "healthy diet" and "diet for weight management" are often related, as the two promote healthy weight management. Having a healthy diet is a way to prevent health problems, and will provide the body with the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
In popular culture, the mass production of food, specifically meats such as chicken and beef, has come under fire from various documentaries, most recently Food, Inc, documenting the mass slaughter and poor treatment of animals, often for easier revenues from large corporations. Along with a current trend towards environmentalism, people in Western culture have had an increasing trend towards the use of herbal supplements, foods for a specific group of people (such as dieters, women, or athletes), functional foods (fortified foods, such as omega-3 eggs), and a more ethnically diverse diet.
Some cultures and religions have restrictions concerning what foods are acceptable in their diet. For example, only Kosher foods are permitted by Judaism, and Halal foods by Islam. Although Buddhists are generally vegetarians, the practice varies and meat-eating may be permitted depending on the sects. In Hinduism, vegetarianism is the ideal. Jains are strictly vegetarian and consumption of roots is not permitted.
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The term "cooking" encompasses a vast range of methods, tools, and combinations of ingredients to improve the flavor or digestibility of food. Cooking technique, known as culinary art, generally requires the selection, measurement, and combining of ingredients in an ordered procedure in an effort to achieve the desired result. Constraints on success include the variability of ingredients, ambient conditions, tools, and the skill of the individual cook. The diversity of cooking worldwide is a reflection of the myriad nutritional, aesthetic, agricultural, economic, cultural, and religious considerations that affect it.
A negative-calorie food is food that supposedly requires more food energy to be digested than the food provides. Its thermic effect or specific dynamic action – the caloric "cost" of digesting the food – would be greater than its food energy content. Despite its recurring popularity in dieting guides, there is no scientific evidence supporting the idea that any food is calorically negative. While some chilled beverages are calorically negative, the effect is minimal and drinking large amounts of water can be dangerous.
Along with changes in food, starting early in the 20th century, governments have issued nutrition guidelines, leading to the food pyramid (introduced in Sweden in 1974). The 1916 "Food For Young Children" became the first USDA guide to give specific dietary guidelines. Updated in the 1920s, these guides gave shopping suggestions for different-sized families along with a Depression Era revision which included four cost levels. In 1943, the USDA created the "Basic Seven" chart to make sure that people got the recommended nutrients. It included the first-ever Recommended Daily Allowances from the National Academy of Sciences. In 1956, the "Essentials of an Adequate Diet" brought recommendations which cut the number of groups that American school children would learn about down to four. In 1979, a guide called "Food" addressed the link between too much of certain foods and chronic diseases, but added "fats, oils, and sweets" to the four basic food groups.
Some foods not from animal or plant sources include various edible fungi, especially mushrooms. Fungi and ambient bacteria are used in the preparation of fermented and pickled foods like leavened bread, alcoholic drinks, cheese, pickles, kombucha, and yogurt. Another example is blue-green algae such as Spirulina. Inorganic substances such as salt, baking soda and cream of tartar are used to preserve or chemically alter an ingredient.