Human nutrition

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Food, origin: plants
Food, origin: animals

The human diet consisting of solid food and out of liquids and is used for people to build his body and to maintain their vital functions. His diet also affects his physical, mental , physiological and social wellbeing. The conscious handling of the intake of solid food and drinks is also a widespread component of human cultures and many religions and worldviews .

Raw and cooked foods, which can be fresh or canned, contribute to human nutrition . Malfunctions in eating are called nutritional disorders. The scientific principles of human nutrition are researched in particular by nutritional science and a. imparted in the field of nutritional science.

Nutrition in the course of human evolution

Today's humans eat an omnivorous diet and show more similarities in the digestive tract with carnivorous primate species than with herbivorous ones . The individuals of the genus Australopithecus , from which the genus of humans (the genus Homo ) emerged, however, ate mostly vegetal food three to four million years ago. However, even with the earliest representatives of the genus Homo, the infant phase lasted significantly longer than with Australopithecus and Paranthropus .

Early relatives of man's ancestors

Early stone tool of the Oldowan type

From the abrasion and other characteristics of their teeth it was concluded that the early representatives of the hominini ( Australopithecus anamensis , Australopithecus afarensis , Australopithecus africanus and Homo rudolfensis ) ate a predominantly vegetable diet, comparable to today's baboons . Early evidence of meat consumption are 2.4 million year old cuts on fossil bones from the Ain Boucherit site in Algeria . Notches on wild animal bones from Dikika , which were attributed to Australopithecus afarensis , but possibly also come from crocodile teeth, are 3.3 million years old .

It was not until Homo habilis , whose fossils were around two million years old, that stone tools were found and traces of incision on bones that are considered reliable, is now attributed to the fact that he consumed the meat of large vertebrates to a somewhat greater extent than the individuals of earlier species of hominini. Apparently, additional sources of food - meat and bone marrow - were tapped with the help of stone tools. At least this is the result of 1.95 million year old bone finds that were recovered in Kenya and testify that at that time, in addition to antelope meat, the meat of numerous animals living in water - including turtles , crocodiles and fish - was consumed. Pathological changes in the 1.7 million year old fossil KNM-ER 1808 from Homo erectus were attributed to the consumption of large amounts of predatory animal liver, and the pathological changes in a 1.5 million year old skull bone of an infant (Olduvai Hominid OH 81) has been interpreted as a result of anemia , a disease associated with iron deficiency . There is speculation here that this anemia could indicate that at this point in time an adjustment to a regular consumption of meat had already taken place.

In the further course of human tribal history , especially in the late phase of Homo erectus , the brain volume continued to increase. Many scientists assume an increased need for proteins in this phase, which are more easily accessible in animal food. Homo erectus also learned to deal with fire and began to use it to develop additional sources of food.

Early evidence of hunting

Hunting activities began 450,000 years ago at the latest, as is clearly shown by the remains of weapons from Homo heidelbergensis in Europe. A steadily growing proportion of meat in the diet is assumed, but this is not uncontested in the professional world. On the one hand, bulbs and onions could have made up a higher proportion of the diet of the late Homo erectus (= Homo heidelbergensis ), and on the other hand, the gathering and trapping of small animals such as rodents or turtles could have served to cover their food needs. So the importance of hunting may be overestimated. For example, the wear on the teeth of Homo heidelbergensis was examined microscopically using finds from the Arago cave near Tautavel in southern France . The results suggested a rough diet that consisted of at least 80 percent vegetable components. It should be noted here that the Neanderthals did emerge from the European Homo heidelbergensis , but not the anatomically modern man ( Homo sapiens ). However, the African Homo rhodesiensis , which presumably belongs to the so-called archaic Homo sapiens, is also attributed the consumption of mostly very rough vegetable food because of its heavily worn teeth.

The more than 150,000 year old legacies of the African Pinnacle Point people point to an intensive use of seafood . The oldest evidence of fishing in the open sea comes from East Timor and has been dated to an age of 42,000 years.

The anatomically modern man

According to current knowledge of the course of hominization , anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) are therefore “naturally” neither pure carnivores (carnivores) nor pure herbivores (herbivores), but omnivores (omnivores). Early evidence of the consumption of cooked, subterranean plant parts was found in the 170,000-year-old soil layers of the Border Cave in South Africa. Ethnographic evaluations of 229 hunter-gatherer peoples that still exist today showed that the proportion of plant-based food varies between 0 and 85%, while animal food makes a contribution of 15 to 100%. This enormous range of food choices is due to the different geographic and climatic living conditions. The omnivorous way of life made it easier for modern humans to develop almost every ecosystem on earth as a living space. While some smaller population groups such as the Evenki in Siberia, the Eskimos and the Maasai still mainly eat meat today, large parts of the South Asian population and rural peoples in the Andes live primarily on plant-based foods.

Around 10,000 years ago, the spread of agriculture led to the so-called Neolithic Revolution . This culturally extremely significant development made it possible for people to settle down and, through the planned use of nature, led to greater independence from external conditions. In some cases, however, this worsened the nutritional situation of the people by drastically narrowing the food supply to a few crops.

Today's forms of nutrition

Ingredients for a varied mixed diet
Prepared food and beer
Phở bò (Vietnamese noodle soup with beef)

First and foremost, what a person eats, how he prepares it (see culinary art ) and ingests it (see food culture ), as well as what he does not eat (see food taboo ), depends on his culture; therefore there are large regional and temporal differences. Since, especially in the industrialized countries , the increase in sedentary activities and the decrease in physical activity have changed the lifestyle and consequently the energy and nutrient requirements have decreased, many people experience a disproportion between nutrient requirements and nutrient intake. In particular, the increase in lifestyle diseases of the modern is malnutrition attributed.

Numerous views, theories and teachings claim to propagate recommendations and guidelines for the "correct" diet. Examples are whole food nutrition , raw food theory, low-carb nutrition, nutrition based on the five elements from traditional Chinese medicine , Ayurveda theory, pescetarianism , vegetarianism and veganism , macrobiotics , and food combining theory and the stone age diet . Answers to the question of the “right” diet are scientifically researched through dietetics . The German Nutrition Society has formulated rules for compilation, which it describes as "complete nutrition".


Nutrients are divided into macro and micronutrients. Macronutrients are proteins , fats, and carbohydrates that the body supplies with energy. As micronutrients is any important nutritional ingredients that make up can not win power, but which are essential for body functions, such as vitamins , minerals and trace elements .


Proteins are primarily necessary for building muscles and cells. They can also be used in the body to generate energy; the DGE recommends that at least 10% of the energy requirement is covered by proteins and amino acids. Since the proportions of the various amino acids from animal sources correspond more to the needs of humans, animal sources have a higher biological value . However, the assumption that 10% is sufficient only applies under very strict conditions (low body weight, no sport, no physical work, etc.), since 0.8 g / kg body weight is considered appropriate for maintaining the protein structures of the body. If muscle mass is to be built up with training or if protein is to be used in the energy metabolism as part of a diet ( low carb ), 0.8 g / kg is by far not enough. The liver can metabolize up to approx. 4 g / kg body weight per day. Where in between the individually correct amount depends on the physical load (training).

Protein-rich foods contain at least 10 g / 100 g of edible mass. However, since animal protein sources do not appear in a vegan diet, protein-rich plants are particularly important. Since vegetable protein sources do not provide the proteins in the same composition (essential amino acid spectrum) as required by the human body, it is important to combine different plants and use a slightly larger amount to prevent a deficiency.


Apple pie with vanilla ice cream

Carbohydrates are one of the three sources of energy production, but unlike the other two, proteins and fatty acids , they are not an essential part of food. According to the recommendation of the German Nutrition Society (DGE), 55% of the energy requirement should be covered by carbohydrates.

The DGE especially recommends carbohydrates from high-fiber plants, as these are absorbed more slowly by the body (low glycemic index ). Due to the low energy density of fiber-rich plants, correspondingly large amounts must be consumed, which should make them the main components of the diet.

Simple sugars quickly get into the blood, from there into the cells and are a readily available source of energy. However, this is not available in the blood for long because the body reacts to large amounts of sugar in the blood with correspondingly large amounts of insulin . The insulin provides u. a. ensure that the excess energy is stored in the fat cells in the form of fat. The control cycle for this is quite complex and is explained in more detail in the article Energy balance of nutrition .


Dietary fiber is the term used to describe largely indigestible food components - mainly vegetable carbohydrates - that cannot be digested at all or not completely by humans and from which little or no energy can therefore be obtained in the digestive tract . Contrary to what the name suggests, dietary fiber is not superfluous " ballast "; it rather supports the digestion of nutrients and, together with sufficient fluid, promotes the peristalsis of the intestine.


Because fats have a very high energy density, the body needs smaller amounts of fatty foods to generate energy. A few fatty acids are essential and are used to synthesize other substances.

Fats are the main component of biomembranes and are also used to generate energy. Many fatty acids occur naturally, but the following classes of fatty acids are relevant from the point of view of human nutrition:

Essential fatty acids are fatty acids that the body cannot produce itself from other substances, but rather have to be taken in through food, and thus belong - in addition to the essential amino acids and some minerals - to the group of essential substances . The essential fatty acids are linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) and α-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid).

The essential fats are involved in the transport of nutrients and metabolic products and are therefore also required for the regeneration of cells. The omega-3 fatty acids are particularly needed for the cardiovascular, immune and nervous systems. A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can cause diseases such as high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol , heart disease, diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis , osteoporosis, depression, bipolar disorder , schizophrenia, attention deficit, skin diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer favor.

When it comes to omega-3 fats, it should also be noted that vegetable sources contain α-linolenic acid (ALA), while fish provides eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Health benefits result from both the plant-based and the animal variant, since the human body can enzymatically convert ALA into EPA and EPA into DHA. However, a health benefit from supplementing omega-3s through the intake of fish oil capsules has not been proven.

The fats are also needed for endurance sports. Since the body can only store a small amount of carbohydrates, the carbohydrate reserves can be used up after just 30 minutes of physical activity. The body accesses fats for longer exercise, which is why a higher amount of essential fatty acids must be consumed for endurance sports.


Minerals are differentiated according to the amount in which they occur or are needed in the body. Here, bulk elements are to be contained in the human body , while trace elements occur in lower concentrations.

Set elements

Electrolytes are electrically conductive salts made from minerals. The elements calcium , chlorine , magnesium , potassium and sodium are particularly involved. The salts are required in all body fluids and all metabolic processes. They play a special role in the transport of nutrients and metabolic products in the blood as well as the nerve functions. The most important compound is table salt . Electrolytes are eliminated in particular through the kidneys with the urine and through sweat. A high consumption of water with a low electrolyte content as well as vigorous physical activity and heat can lead to a lack of electrolytes and thus to water poisoning .

Trace elements

There are essential trace elements for humans that should only be supplied in small quantities. Both a deficiency and an oversupply can have health consequences. Often these elements are incorrectly referred to as "minerals". Some will z. Sometimes supplied artificially through table salt (iodine and fluorine). Because of its mode of action, iron is counted among the trace elements, although the human body contains about 60 mg / kg and the element itself is the fourth most abundant on earth.


Vitamins are vital organic substances that humans cannot synthesize as needed . Vitamins must therefore be taken in with food, they are essential substances . An exception is vitamin D , which can be formed in the skin from 7-dehydrocholesterol under the action of UV-B radiation .

Water requirement

The body needs water primarily because of losses through breathing, for metabolic processes and cooling through evaporation through the skin. The daily water requirement of a person based on body weight ρ is about .

The water requirement V W of a person P with a mass m P of 80 kg is:

Since the body has to dissipate additional heat through evaporation in hot weather and during physical activity, the water requirement can also be higher. One liter of water can dissipate 600 kcal of heat through evaporation. Since the amount of energy to be dissipated is individually different depending on the weather conditions, the specific activity and the physical conditions of the person, the value given is only a guide .

Energy demand

A person needs about 1 k cal (= 4.1868  kJ ) of energy per kilogram of body weight of basal metabolic per hour .

The energy requirement E P of a person P with a mass m P of 80 kg on one day is:

Due to activities, the body has an additional energy consumption, the power expenditure . The total turnover is the sum of the basic turnover and the output turnover.

In a balanced diet - averaged over a period of several days - around 55% of the energy requirement should come from carbohydrates, at least 15% from proteins and 30% from fats. For low-carb diets, the proportion of fats can also be higher and, in turn, the proportion of carbohydrates lower. The prerequisite, however, are particularly high quality fats.

recommended share of primary energy sources in energy demand
Energy source Whole food Reduced diet
carbohydrates 55%
protein 15% 15% ... 20%
Fat (total) 30% 25% ... 30%
saturated fat 7% ... 10%, 0%
monounsaturated fatty acids 10% ... 15%
polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-6, omega-3) 7% ... 10%

If sport or physically demanding work is performed, additional energy must be supplied due to the higher energy consumption. Depending on the intensity of the activity - and thus the stress zone  - the body needs different energy sources.

Covering additional energy requirements
Activity level Load zone protein fat carbohydrates
High intensity Anaerobic zone 3% 7% 90%
Medium intensity Aerobic zone 5% 35% 60%
Low intensity Fat burning zone 10% 70% 20%

Here is

High intensity
Duration of less than an hour with a high level of activity such as fast running (5 km to 10 km), basketball, tennis, hockey, soccer, etc.
Medium intensity
Duration of one to three hours with a medium level of activity such as marathon, triathlon, fast cycling etc.
Low intensity
Duration of more than three hours with a low level of activity such as cycling, hiking, etc.

Energy content of food

The energy content E of a food product is calculated from the mass m of the ingredient multiplied by the calorific value H . For proteins and carbohydrates, the calorific value is around , while the calorific value of fats is around . Ethanol has an energy content of around . The calorific value of other ingredients can mostly be neglected in practice.

According to the packaging, a glass with a volume V G of 200 ml with milk with 3.6% fat has a nutritional value of 3.3 g protein, 3.6 g fat and 4.7 g carbohydrates per 100 ml. The energy content E and the proportions of the respective nutrients in the total energy content are determined:
It stands out clearly that milk with 3.6% fat makes up slightly more than half of the nutritional value of fat.

Especially for people with deficiency symptoms (including obesity), it is advisable to carry out an approximate calculation of the food consumed in a week. Various high-fiber vegetables with low energy density can and should be supplemented in almost any amount.

Nutrition in Medicine

With the specifics of diet in disease, the busy nutritional medicine . In the case of certain diseases, diets are prescribed in addition to drug therapy in order to favor the course of the disease. In medicine there is a basic distinction:

  • Oral nutrition: The patient can eat naturally, i.e. through the mouth ( orally ). The diet may have to be changed, for example , to make it easier for him to eat. If this is not enough either, fully balanced drinking food is used, so-called astronaut food , which covers the entire nutrient requirement, provided the patient drinks a sufficient amount of it. In the case of severe immune deficiency , such as after chemotherapy , only food that is low in germs may be consumed in order to prevent infections with bacteria and fungi .
  • Artificial nutrition : the patient can no longer eat naturally. It must therefore be fed artificially. There are basically two ways of doing this:
    • Enteral Nutrition: Instead of the normal food is appropriate for the type of disease tube feedings through a gastric or PEG introduced probe into the digestive tract. Whenever possible, this approach is preferred because it comes closest to natural food intake.
    • Parenteral nutrition : The food components in solution or emulsion are administered directly into the blood as an infusion via an intravenous access route. For this purpose, the industry offers numerous products in which the food components can either be put together by yourself (two or three-bottle system) or in a fixed combination (all-in-one solutions, three-chamber bags).
Enteral and parenteral nutrition can also be combined. If parenteral nutrition is used as the exclusive form of nutrition, it is called total parenteral nutrition .

Problems with nutrition

All animals depend on a number of nutrients that their bodies cannot synthesize on their own. These nutrients are called essential (vital). This also includes vitamins . Vitamins (Latin: vita = life) are required in the smallest amounts (µg / kg per day). They mostly act as cofactors to enzymes. While plants do not need vitamins, humans cannot produce some substances themselves and are therefore dependent on their intake. Of essential amino acids and the essential unsaturated fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acid, humans need larger amounts every day (mg / kg per day).

Malnutrition and malnutrition

If the amount or the composition of a diet does not meet the requirements of the human organism, one speaks of malnutrition or malnutrition. These terms are sometimes used synonymously; Malnutrition is, however, more broadly defined than malnutrition, since malnutrition describes both an undersupply and an oversupply of food components. Malnutrition, on the other hand, always means an undersupply of certain essential nutritional components. Malnutrition due to oversupply, especially with food energy, is generally associated with the nutritional situation in industrialized countries, while malnutrition is seen as typical for so-called developing countries. Despite the general oversupply, the inadequate supply of individual food components is a frequent cause of illness, even in industrialized countries. Here it is caused by an incorrect food composition, but also occurs as a secondary effect, for example as a result of disease-related malabsorption . Special forms of nutrition such as vegetarianism, on the other hand, are not in themselves a cause of malnutrition; on the contrary, they are often even linked to a better nutritional status.

In industrialized countries, overeating , the most common cause of malnutrition, is responsible for a large part of the high and steadily rising costs in the healthcare system. Obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, both directly and indirectly by promoting other risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes mellitus. Both excess and undersupply of food energy also have a negative impact on the immune system and reduce infection resistance. Among the malnutrition is the protein-energy-malnutrition (PEM), with the clinical pictures marasmus and kwashiorkor , the most common form of malnutrition and especially to be found in industrially less developed countries. Other forms of malnutrition to be found on a large scale are micronutrient deficiencies, in particular anemia, and vitamin A and iodine deficiencies. In contrast, the vitamin D deficiency with the clinical picture of rickets , the vitamin C deficiency ( scurvy ), thiamine deficiency ( beriberi ) and niacin deficiency ( pellagra ) occur less frequently .

Diet-related (alimentary) diseases

Malnutrition and malnutrition can in turn cause or favor diseases, such as scurvy in the case of vitamin C deficiency, beriberi in the case of vitamin B1 deficiency or diabetes mellitus in the case of obesity (severe overweight). For these and other diseases, especially for the deficiency diseases , the relationship with miscarriage or malnutrition is scientifically proven.

Furthermore, there is a large number of diseases, in particular the diseases of civilization, for which it is discussed whether they are at least partly caused by modern diets, for example arteriosclerosis , high blood pressure and cancer . So far there has only been scientific proof of this assumption for a few diseases. In general, connections between diet and illness are difficult to prove for methodological reasons. For most diseases of civilization, there is most likely not just a single cause but a combination of causes, including genetic predisposition, insufficient physical activity, diet and environmental impact.

Food policy

On a global scale, the Food and Agriculture Organization ( FAO ) of the United Nations ( UNO ) deals with food policy issues that are of central importance to mankind. In the so-called developing countries in particular, the FAO is fighting malnutrition and malnutrition with various projects. In the process, traditional sources of food are being tapped, as in the Edible Forest project , which promotes the consumption of insects in tropical and subtropical regions for an adequate supply of animal protein.

In Germany , the issue of nutrition plays a political role both at the federal level and at the respective state level. While it is currently part of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture at the federal level , there are different responsibilities in the federal states, in some cases it is assigned to consumer protection there. The most important development in nutrition policy is the national action plan IN FORM - Germany's initiative for healthy eating and more exercise . It is a joint initiative by the federal, state and local governments to improve the eating habits and physical activity of the entire German population. This action plan, based on a cabinet decision of June 2008, is coordinated at the federal level in matters of nutrition by the BMELV, based in Bonn.


See also


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reference books

  • Hans-Albrecht Ketz, Friedbert Baum (Ed.): Nutrition Lexicon. 1st edition. Fachbuchverlag Leipzig 1986, DNB 860764060 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Nutrition  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Diet  Quotes

Individual evidence

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