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.
For some foods alternative ingredients can be used. Common oils and fats become rancid relatively quickly if not refrigerated; replacing them with hydrogenated oils delays the onset of rancidity, increasing shelf life. This is a common approach in industrial food production, but recent concerns about health hazards associated with trans fats have led to their strict control in several jurisdictions. Even where trans fats are not prohibited, in many places there are new labeling laws (or rules), which require information to be printed on packages, or to be published elsewhere, about the amount of trans fat contained in certain products.
Diet food (or "dietetic food") refers to any food or beverage whose recipe is altered to reduce fat, carbohydrates, abhor/adhore sugar in order to make it part of a weight loss program or diet. Such foods are usually intended to assist in weight loss or a change in body type, although bodybuilding supplements are designed to aid in gaining weight or muscle.
The application of scientific knowledge to cooking and gastronomy has become known as molecular gastronomy. This is a subdiscipline of food science. Important contributions have been made by scientists, chefs and authors such as Herve This (chemist), Nicholas Kurti (physicist), Peter Barham (physicist), Harold McGee (author), Shirley Corriher (biochemist, author), Heston Blumenthal (chef), Ferran Adria (chef), Robert Wolke (chemist, author) and Pierre Gagnaire (chef).
Edible animal material, including muscle, offal, milk, eggs and egg whites, contains substantial amounts of protein. Almost all vegetable matter (in particular legumes and seeds) also includes proteins, although generally in smaller amounts. Mushrooms have high protein content. Any of these may be sources of essential amino acids. When proteins are heated they become denatured (unfolded) and change texture. In many cases, this causes the structure of the material to become softer or more friable – meat becomes cooked and is more friable and less flexible. In some cases, proteins can form more rigid structures, such as the coagulation of albumen in egg whites. The formation of a relatively rigid but flexible matrix from egg white provides an important component in baking cakes, and also underpins many desserts based on meringue.
For people who are healthy, a healthy diet is not complicated and contains mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and includes little to no processed food and sweetened beverages. The requirements for a healthy diet can be met from a variety of plant-based and animal-based foods, although a non-animal source of vitamin B12 is needed for those following a vegan diet. Various nutrition guides are published by medical and governmental institutions to educate individuals on what they should be eating to be healthy. Nutrition facts labels are also mandatory in some countries to allow consumers to choose between foods based on the components relevant to health.
A functional food is a food given an additional function (often one related to health-promotion or disease prevention) by adding new ingredients or more of existing ingredients. The term may also apply to traits purposely bred into existing edible plants, such as purple or gold potatoes having enriched anthocyanin or carotenoid contents, respectively. Functional foods may be "designed to have physiological benefits and/or reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions, and may be similar in appearance to conventional food and consumed as part of a regular diet".
Wine is a popular and important drink that accompanies and enhances a wide range of cuisines, from the simple and traditional stews to the most sophisticated and complex haute cuisines. Wine is often served with dinner. Sweet dessert wines may be served with the dessert course. In fine restaurants in Western countries, wine typically accompanies dinner. At a restaurant, patrons are helped to make good food-wine pairings by the restaurant's sommelier or wine waiter. Individuals dining at home may use wine guides to help make food–wine pairings. Wine is also drunk without the accompaniment of a meal in wine bars or with a selection of cheeses (at a wine and cheese party).
Population studies exhibit a J-curve correlation between wine consumption and rates of heart disease: heavy drinkers have an elevated rate, while people who drink small amount (up to 20 g of alcohol per day, approximately 200 ml (7 imp fl oz; 7 US fl oz) of 12.7% ABV wine) have a lower rate than non-drinkers. Studies have also found that moderate consumption of other alcoholic drinks is correlated with decreased mortality from cardiovascular causes, although the association is stronger for wine. Additionally, some studies have found a greater correlation of health benefits with red than white wine, though other studies have found no difference. Red wine contains more polyphenols than white wine, and these could be protective against cardiovascular disease.
Various food preservation and packaging techniques are used to extend a food's shelf life. Decreasing the amount of available water in a product, increasing its acidity, or irradiating or otherwise sterilizing the food and then sealing it in an air-tight container are all ways of depriving bacteria of suitable conditions in which to thrive. All of these approaches can all extend a food's shelf life without unacceptably changing its taste or texture.